I’ve never hidden my love for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night; I think it’s one of the best 2D games I’ve ever played…and boy, have I played a lot of them. Even now, I still boot up the XBLA version just to take a romp through Dracula’s castle for fun!
It’s been more than 20 years since I first formed that opinion and no game has managed to even come close to dislodging it.
That is, until Bloodstained came along.
What is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night?
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a 2D IGAvania (also known as Metroidvania). It’s a 2D platformer with a massive map and RPG elements, wherein exploration and discovering new abilities slowly opens up the game’s map.
It began life as a Kickstarter project headed by Koji Igarashi (IGA).
Aiming to create the spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night, Bloodstained was one of the most successful gaming Kickstarter projects ever! However, the game was beset by delays, taking 4 years before it’s finally released.
As Miriam, you’ll explore a huge demonic castle (and its immediate surrounding), in your quest to stop Gebel, who’s out to wipe out humanity with his army of demons. The plot’s paper-thin (though it is supplemented by journal entries you can find in the game) but it’s coherent enough to give you motivation.
Playing Bloodstained, you can’t help feeling as if you’re playing a Castlevania game. More to the point, it sorely feels like a Symphony of the Night remake but with a different plot and lead character.
It’s a very apt comparison, as Miriam plays much like Alucard does although she does lack his transformations and brings a few new tricks to make her interesting.
However, the basic gameplay remains the same as Konami’s classic.
Miriam levels up as she kills baddies, she can equip herself with a ton of different equipment and most of her weapons have hidden special moves. Jumping around, slashing at enemies and backdashing is just as fun (and responsive) as it was in any of the Castlevania games. Miriam is a great new character, and while she has barely any personality in the game, there’s definitely potential for her.
The foes arrayed again Miriam are what you’d expect, so no surprises there. Enemies are taken from myth, with a ton of familiar faces and enemy archetypes from the Castlevania games makes the leap. Some have different names (like the Dullahan heads) but others (like the Buer) retain theirs. Your job is of course to kill them all and get their shards to increase your powers.
Despite the huge area, enemy variety is a bit light, with the same enemy models (either recolored or resized…sometimes both!) used throughout the game. It’s a incredibly disappointing, especially since the game took 4 years to come out. You’d think they’d use that time to at least come out with more enemies to fight…
Alucard + Soma = Miriam.
Like Soma Cruz (another Castlevania hero), Miriam gains more powers (in the form of shards) as she slays enemies. Randomly dropped, these shards can give Miriam a ton of different abilities; from firing a holy beam to summoning a shield to block all damage to summoning a familiar to aid her in battle.
Shards can even be upgraded with materials that enemies drop, which makes them stronger or give them upgraded abilities. In fact, you can also craft weapons similarly, though you can’t upgrade their stats.
Speaking of weapons, there are a ton of different ones in Bloodstained. You have swords, whips, greatswords, guns…even boots (if you’re into kicking) to use against the demons that stand in your way.
Some of the weapons are unique too, such as the steam greatsword that boosts your damage the longer the attack button is held or the sword that slices multiple times in one hit. The game even tracks your mastery of the weapon skills, making for a very comprehensive experience.
The similarities to Castlevania don’t end there either.
The environments in Bloodstained are all similar to what you’ve encountered in past Castlevania installments too; from the clock tower with flying medusa (or rather Dullahan in Bloodstained) heads, to a mechanical library, to an underground cavern to a hauntingly Gothic cathedral. The castle in Bloodstained is pretty much Castlevania in everything but name.
Hell, Robert Belgrade (Alucard’s voice actor in Symphony of the Night) even reprises his role as the character (though he’s called a different name in the game).
It might seem all too familiar but I certainly didn’t mind at all with 20+ hours (and counting) playtime. If you’ve enjoyed any IGA or Metroidvania game, you’ll definitely love playing Bloodstained.
Bloodstained’s has IGA’s biggest game map to date and finding all the secrets the game has to offer will take you a while, especially if you’re a completionist.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on where you sit), 100% map completion doesn’t get you any hidden ending (you do get a trophy though) but you’ll DEFINITELY want to have at LEAST 99% map completion.
Getting 99% will let you challenge Orlok Dracule…or as you and I know him, Alucard!
Orlok’s special boss battle is one of the best fights in the game, as he unleashes all the moves Alucard’s capable of. Backdashes, teleporting with fireballs…even morphing to bat, wolf and mist. It’s definitely one of the hardest battles in the game but it is incredibly satisfying when you win.
What to do?
Finishing the game (there are two different endings) unlocks a New Game Plus mode, which allows you to restart the game and carry over most items/ shards and equipment on a higher (or lower) difficulty.
New Game Plus mode is the only way to get all of the endgame weapons as each require materials that are dropped only once per playthrough. If you want everything the game has to offer (and the trophy that goes with it), prepare to spend some time replaying the game.
There’s also a Boss Rush mode, a Speed Run mode (both available once you beat the game), a multiplayer mode and two more upcoming playable characters to look forward to in upcoming content patches.
Tunes to die for.
Apart from the awesome gameplay, there’s another very good reason why you should be playing Bloodstained; Michiru Yamane’s incredible soundtrack.
The score is definitely one of Yamane’s best works and handily holds its own against Symphony of the Night’s venerated music. They deftly blend Yamane’s style of classical and modern music, creating hauntingly awesome beats to listen to.
While I still think Symphony’s music is a tad better (perhaps it’s due to nostalgia), I’m still incredibly smitten by Yamane’s Bloodstained music (especially the sweeping theme from the title screen) and have the whole OST in my phone in FLAC and listen to it whenever I’m outside.
The voice acting isn’t bad either.
In fact, this is perhaps one of the areas where Bloodstained is clearly superior to Symphony of the Night. David Hayter (Solid Snake himself), Kari Wahlgren, Robert Belgrade and Fred Tatasiore are just some of the killer voice talent the game has in store.
Visually, there’s little to hate about Bloodstained, though the art does look a tad underwhelming in 3D (when compared to the awesome 2D sprites of the 2D Castlevania games).
The 3D models can do with a little more detail (especially for the main characters) and I’d kill for more enemy variety instead of just recolored (and resized) enemy variants too. Plus, some of the backgrounds (like the fire and ice caverns) look damn generic and are completely uninteresting to explore.
The bottom line.
There’s no doubt about it, Bloodstained is the Symphony of the Night of modern times.
It’s not as great as Symphony of the Night was (the 2D sprites for that game are still unmatched) but it’s more than worthy enough to stand side by side with that classic.
If you love Symphony of the Night or just IGAvania/Metroidvania games in general, you owe it to yourself to nab Bloodstained on the PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One or PC.
It’s out on the Nintendo Switch too, but it’s plagued by performance issues and lower visual fidelity. Why settle for an inferior experience right?
Despite the Kickstarter scandal regarding 505 Games, Bloodstained is pretty much what IGA promised to all those who backed the game in the original Kickstarter pitch.
In this case at least, you really do get what you pay for. Now, the question is when will IGA start on the sequel?
– Awesome gameplay.
– Tons of customization.
– Lots to unlock.
– Music not as great as Symphony of the Night.
– Some of the areas are kind of generic.