Koji Igarashi set a new standard in the Action/Adventure genre back in 1997 with his unique take on the Castlevania series coming in the form of Symphony of the Night. It’s non-linear, exploration-based gameplay resonated with players, who dubbed the style “Metroidvania.” In 2015, after leaving Konami, Igarashi launched a crowdfunding project for a spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night. After a long, four-year development cycle, the game released on June 18th for most of the world. People could finally stop holding their breaths, as the end result was much closer to Symphony of the Night, and a lot less similar to Mighty No. 9, whose development cycle had been just as long, but was plagued by numerous issues.
What we have here, then, is a crowdfunded game that actually delivered on what it set out to do. For the most part. Not everything went off without a hitch, and there have certainly been some unresolved issues, but on the whole, Bloodstained’s campaign has gone off much better.
What Is It?
You’ll play as Miriam, a young shardbinder created by alchemists as a means of keeping themselves relevant in a society that begins to value science and material posessions more than spirituality and mysticism. Miriam wakes up ten years after a terrible event. Now she must pursue Gebel, another shardbinder, who set the horrible events in motion. As the story progresses, the game does a good job at introducing new characters, while also re-enforcing the relationships the main protoganists have. The writing is fine, but if you’re expecting a complex narrative, you’re not really going to find it here. Still, what is here serves its purpose and doesn’t really feel like it gets in the way.
To bring the game to life, the development team hired a cast of well-known and highly talented voice actors. David Hayter plays the role of Zangetsu, the demon-hunting samurai you’ll run across during the game. Zangetsu was also the main character in the Curse of the Moon prequel game that came out last year. Robert Belgrade also makes an appearance as Orlok Dracule, the vampire librarian who in no way is meant to remind you of Alucard. No way at all. None, nope, not the same person. All of the voice actors turn in decent performances, though some really could have used some more lines.
Why Should I Care?
One thing that made Symphony of the Night so fun to play was the feeling of mobility you had. Alucard moved swiftly around the levels, and controlling him felt great, due in part to the responsiveness of the controls. That combined with the fluidity of the animation and the smooth movement meant that you felt connected to your character. Bloodstained manages to pull off much of the same trick. The movement feels smooth, the controls are responsive (except for the Switch version) and the game feels very much like what a real sequel to SotN would have been.
Much like SotN, Bloodstained employs a save room and travel room system. Unlike its predecessor, Bloodstained does improve on the travel room. In the past, these travel rooms only let you travel to a specific part of the castle. Here, once you find a room, you can travel to any other room you’ve discovered. You can also go back to town this way, which means you’ve always got a save point nearby. There will be occasions where you need to get to town immediately, and you’re not near a travel room. For this eventuality, Bloodstained has a Waystone item which teleports you immediately to your base. Have a handful of these on hand at all times, that way you’ll never be in a situation where you need to save but can’t.
The game’s main mechanic is the Shard system. Miriam will absorb shards of crystal which will i
Added to the shard system are crafting and cooking systems. Back at base, you can have Johannes, your alchemy wielding friend, create new items for you using materials and recipes you find throughout the castle. He can also prepare meals which will grant you permanent stat boosts, as well as act as healing items. Finally, he can also enhance the shards you collect to make them more useful.
It’s fair to point out that the game’s side-quests mostly amount to finding a specific item, meal, or killing a specific number of enemies, and turning the quest in for a reward. They’re not difficult to do, but they’re not obnoxious, either, so it’s worth just taking them when you have the opportunity.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night if a gorgeous game. With the exception of the Switch version, which took some significant visual compromises, the game looks brilliant on every platform. It also sounds fantastic, with a soundtrack by industry veterans, headed up by Michiru Yamane. The sound design also features a number of subtle details, like the sounds of Miriam’s footsteps being different over hollow or solid surfaces. This can actually help clue you into breakable floors in some areas. There’s also the brilliantly done sounds of settling glass when you go through a travel room. Truly, the game just sounds amazing on every platform, even the Switch isn’t left out, here.
This is a game full of tiny details. Some items allow you to alter how you perceive the game, like the glasses that will zoom the camera in to make things easier to see. It gives the game the feeling of playing some of the GBA Castlevania games. These sorts of things, small as they might be, give you the sense that the team behind it is really passionate about what they’re making.
Passion can only get you so far, though, and as of right now, there are a number of technical issues that still need to be resolved. Here are some notes on each of the versions to help you decide which one to get.
The Nintendo Switch version is currently a mess. With the lowest resolution, half the framerate of the other platforms, long load times between rooms, and input lag of up to 150ms, the Switch version is, in a word, Compromised. Currently, the development team is focusing on fixing this, but as of this review, the only thing the Switch has going for it is the ability to play it on the go.
The PlayStation 4 versions of the game fare much better, doing a good job of hitting and staying at 60fps. If you have a PS4 Pro, you’ll have a better experience, as framerate dips are infrequent. There are some instances when you kill some enemies or acquire a shard for the first time where the game will freeze for a brief moment, but other than that, the PS4’s performance is quite good.u
Xbox One and Xbox One X have some issues. The base Xbox One runs into slowdown when things get hectic, while the X seems to drop frames for no reason anyone can nail down, yet.
Finally, there is the PC version, which is easily the best version of the game. If you have a decent gaming PC from the past three years you should be able to have a great, smooth experience with Bloodstained. If you’ve got some high-end hardware to throw at the game, it’s possible to take the experience up to sublime levels. 4K and high framerate are possible with this version. With a few ini tweaks, you can also get ultra-wide monitor support.
Each version has its pros and cons, but every version also has its share of crashes. The development team seems to be aware of the issues now and should be working on fixes, but these technical issues mar what is an absolutely brilliant game.
If you have been waiting for a successor to SotN, and none of the other games in this genre have appealed to you, this is the game you’ve been waiting for. Just be aware, that in its current state, Bloodstained has some jagged edges, and they can cut you.