Title: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Publisher: 505 Games
Genre: Action-RPG, Exploration
Audience: PEGI 12
Release Date: 25.06.19
Price: £34.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a spiritual successor to the landmark side-scrolling action-RPG/platformer Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This game isn’t just adopting this genre as inspiration, though. It was also directed by Koji Igarashi, one of the central figures responsible for developing Symphony of the Night and subsequent handheld sequels. Initially funded through Kickstarter, Bloodstained has seen a long development cycle. Did 4 years of development time lead to greatness? Continue reading this Rapid Review to find out!
Initially, Bloodstained feels a bit sticky, and a little unpolished. I was turned off by the art style in the opening hours of the game, and everything about the movement and combat just felt a bit slow. This is largely due to recent games in the genre like Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight putting mobility at the forefront of the game. After getting used to Bloodstained though, it grew on me. First, while the character art leaves something to be desired, as I got to know the people behind them I came around to them. The visuals are also bolstered by strong enemy design, which is varied and surprising. The one visual element that never truly wowed me was the backgrounds. While not terrible, I felt like they rarely popped, and instead often looked stale and boring.
The core of this game is its gameplay, which we’ll get to, but first a quick note on the story: if you’ve played a Castlevania before, the tone of Bloodstained will click instantly. This is a goofy, cheesy story that manages to reach just a bit beyond its means. The result is B-movie goodness that offers just enough narrative complexity to avoid being a total throwaway. It’s a story that won’t move you, but it never really tries to in the first place.
Instead, the real star here is the gameplay. While the combat and movement felt sticky and slow to me at first, I quickly warmed to it. This is a game about input choice. You are committing to a sword swing or gunshot, with long recovery times and limited ability to cancel out of attacks. Once you grow into it, it works well and gives each weapon lots of depth. Speaking of weapons, the range of equipment available is quite extensive. With 10 different weapon types and plenty of variation within each category, there’s a lot to explore. The frustrating part to me was how few of these weapons clicked with me.
I found about 4 weapons that felt viable to me across the spear, sword, and greatsword categories throughout the game. While this could simply be a preference, I found it a bit sad that I wasn’t pushed to change tactics more frequently. The game also features crafting, cooking, and side quests systems that similarly feel tacked on to a degree. The crafting and cooking provide real, tangible benefits, but farming for materials felt a bit trivial. One less trivial element on display is shard powers, which are key to your progression.
Each of the 100+ enemies (with very few exceptions) can drop a power shard. These shards offer a wide range of benefits, from powerful attacks to mobility abilities. I did find that, much like the above-mentioned weapon issue, I used just a few different shards throughout the game, despite over 100 being available. I would have liked more incentives to switch up my playstyle.
This brings me to what troubled me most in my time with Bloodstained. The difficulty in the game is an up and down rollercoaster. While I appreciate a game that lets you feel powerful, then challenged, Bloodstained felt uneven to me. Much of this has to do with the bosses, with some feeling brutally hard near the beginning and ending of the game, and others feeling trivial nearer to the midpoint. On top of this, many of the steps you must take later in the game seem obtuse and frustrating. Paired with some severe technical issues in certain areas (on PS4, with the Switch version being far worse), this isn’t a perfect game.
From a value perspective, completing the story will take you around 12 hours. There are optional bosses to seek out as well, and I anticipate completing everything would result in a 20 or so hour experience. Only you can decide if that justifies the price, but with 13 promised DLCs coming for free, the game’s value will presumably go up considerably in the future.
But, with all that said, I still enjoyed my time with Bloodstained. This is a game that, despite some missteps, knows what it’s doing. It pulls the right elements from its predecessors, I just wish it had picked up a few more tips from more recent games in the genre. It is still a must-play for any Castlevania fan.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night from the PlayStation Store on the following link, https://store.playstation.com/en-gb/product/EP4040-CUSA07963_00-BLOODSTAINED0000