What is a Man?
When you await the arrival of something that gives you an intense longing, it can either make receiving it the most amazing experience ever or it can be a supreme let down. I backed the kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night in 2015, long before I wrote for this site and long before the Nintendo Switch was unveiled. As an avid fan of Metroidvanias and Koji Igarashi, supporting this game was a no-brainer. Symphony of the Night may be one of my favorite games of all time and this was IGA’s chance to make a true spiritual successor. Now, the four-year wait is over, and the game is out for all to enjoy. Was it worth the wait? Read on children of the night, and you shall see.
Bloodstained is the long-awaited return of Industry Veteran, IGA, to the genre that he helped to create, Metroidvanias. Metroidvanias have evolved since the term was coined, but his brand of the genre tends to feature gothic style levels, light RPG elements and sometimes wall meat. In Bloodstained, you control Miriam, a young woman that had been experimented on by alchemists bent on harnessing the power of demons. The whole affair left her with the ability to conjure power from these demons and use it to fight the horde.
The story of ROTN (Ritual of the Night) revolves around Miriam’s journey to save her friend, who was also a test subject of the alchemists. Her friend, Gebel, is now controlling the creatures of the night from a mysterious castle. What follows is an 18 to 20-hour tale that isn’t treading any new ground, but can be enjoyable. The later half of the story picks up and I found myself more invested in the life of Miriam and her revolving cast of side characters.
A Miserable Little Pile of Secrets
One of the problems found in Bloodstained’s early development cycle involved the way the characters felt. Nothing can make or break a game more than a game that just feels like rubbish to play. Thankfully Bloodstained, for the most part, plays fantastic. Getting used to how Miriam controls may take a moment or two, but once you find the right weapon/shard combination, it becomes very rewarding.
You will be constantly changing weapons and gear as this game is littered with more weapons than I thought possible. But the basic weapon archetypes push you into certain styles of gameplay. I found myself gravitating towards great swords and axes, but the game features daggers, whips, short swords, guns and spears. The different permutations of each weapon numbers in the hundreds.
To add more diversity to the game’s combat, ArtPlay introduces the shard system. There are six different types of shards that can be equipped at once, ranging from skills that summon a creature to help you fight, or gain the ability to manipulate gravity. These are acquired by conquering normal enemies, bosses and finding hidden crystal globes throughout the castle. These shards can also be leveled up by collecting more of the same shard or using alchemy to strengthen them.
But Enough Talk, Have at You!
Using alchemy to create equipment and consumable items is another giant aspect of this game. Your comrade, Johannes, is one of the last good alchemists who offers his services to you. With his help, you can upgrade shards, make new outlandish weapons and armor, or even just prepare fried potatoes. The necessary ingredients can be found all over the castle or bought from the shop next door. Needless to say, this game is huge and has mountains upon mountains of options to make your Miriam basically unrecognizable from my Miriam.
The castle in Bloodstained is huge, gigantic even. In my almost 19-hour journey through it’s strange and varied locations, I completed 98.5% of the map, and I know that eventually I will go back to see more of what it has to offer. Upon completion of the game’s “true” ending, you unlock two extra modes, Boss Rush and Speed Run mode. While it is not present for the time of the review, ArtPlay and 505 Games have promised 13 pieces of free DLC, which will drastically change the game in the future.
Kill Those Murders Dead!
Now we must discuss the look of Bloodstained. It pains me to say, it is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Comparing the Switch version to other consoles and PC, it is obvious that some sacrifices had to be made. But with gorgeous games like Mario Odyssey and Smash being on the Switch, it makes me think that it was just a terrible port job. I hate saying this as I want this game to be perfect, but it isn’t. Some of the textures on the levels look unfinished and character models can look wooden. ArtPlay has stated they are working on a patch to “fix” graphical issues, but until then, be warned that this game can look like a PS2 title at times.
Back onto greener pastures, the music in Bloodstained is fantastic. Composer, Michiru Yamane, also of Castlevania fame, returns with a host of other composers to craft a soundtrack that is both nostalgic and refreshing. Her style drips of Castlevania, but every track is new and exciting. The voice cast are also something to give praise to as they feature big names such as David Hayter and Erica Lendbeck. Both actors have been featured in numerous properties and bring their characters to life with ease. It cannot go without mentioning that Robert Belgrade, the voice of Alucard in the original Symphony of the Night, plays a very special character in the game that I won’t spoil, but it is very much a nod to Castlevania.
Sadly, this is where the praise ends and the harsh reality sets in. There is a lot wrong with Bloodstained and these issues are noticeable from the very beginning. Words in certain text boxes will be missing completely, character models don’t load correctly and halfway appear, and the joy of sometimes falling through the floor for no apparent reason are just a few examples. There were also a few times when a sound effect, such as an explosion, continued to play long after I left the screen. This happened during the final boss and I had to listen to a glitched explosion during the last screen long after the battle was over.
One of the most egregious issues in Bloodstained are the load times. I understand that moving between certain areas in the castle or fast traveling can cause loading, but it should not be required when jumping from one screen to the next. There are many sections that require you to travel vertically and if jump button isn’t held down the whole time or the right direction isn’t pressed, you will fall back down and suffer another load screen. When this happened, and it happened often, I felt my immersion with the game break completely. As stated earlier, ArtPlay plans to fix these issues but proceed with caution, because no timeline was given.
Finishing ROTN left me feeling bittersweet. After a four year wait, I finally have the game and IGA fulfilled his promise of bringing back the gothic action game everyone was asking for, but I can’t help but feel that it should have been delayed a bit further. In today’s industry it is very common for publishers to release an unfinished game only to release patches weeks and months later for it to be “complete”. Bloodstained is a complete game, but the bugs, glitches and lack of optimization crippled the experience.
- Satisfying Metroidvania Gameplay
- Hundreds of Items to Collect
- Superb Soundtrack
- Extensive & Odd Load Times
- Bugs & Glitches Galore
- Poor Visual Optimization
Bloodstained is an satisfying & fun game that is setback by its numerous glitches, which sadly changes it from a great game to just a good game.