Fans of the exploration and action of the Castlevania series are going to feel right at home in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a spiritual successor to producer Koji Igarashi’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Despite the difference in name, there are so many similarities and comparisons between the two games, right down to the point of certain aspects being duplicates of what one might find in the former. And yet even though Bloodstained could’ve just been called Castlevania, that doesn’t take away the fun factor of exploring the many areas of a giant castle and fighting hordes of demons while powering up with new abilities and magical powers. As a descendant of one of the pillars in the genre, Bloodstained does enough very well to be enjoyable and addicting to play.
The main character is Miriam, a young woman who can use a dark power tied to shards on her body that also happen to be consuming her over time. This effectively turns her into what Bloodstained calls a Shardbinder, someone who can harness magic from crystals. Her abilities mirror that of another Castlevania game hero, where she can take on the powers of enemies she defeats in battle. Miriam is tasked with stopping her childhood friend Gebel, another Shardbinder who has similar abilities, from overriding the world with demons after bringing about the appearance of a dark castle. If that also sounds familiar it’s because it really is to those who’ve played any Castlevania game. While the story isn’t complex or as lore enriched as it’s clear inspiration, Bloodstained has just enough interesting story to pull you through the hours spent roaming around a large castle.
Speaking of which, the controls are solid and the gameplay is exactly what one would expect if you’ve played any Symphony of the Night-inspired game. Miriam can level up by defeating enemies and equip an array of armor and weapons, of which she can attack differently depending on what you have on hand. Things get much more interesting as Miriam gains new powers from gathering shards from defeated enemies, which can range from allowing you to double jump, move underwater, or launch any number of projectiles and magical attacks around you.
Some powers help with getting around some puzzles, while others might not seem as useful most of the time. You might stick with one specific set of shards for a long time, least until you actively go exploring and grind out for more shards from enemies.
Shards can be leveled up and made more powerful as you collect them and enhance their abilities in the game’s crafting hub early on, but you’ll have to make frequent return trips in order to utilize it to the fullest. While it can be tedious to gather more shards and materials to boost up your powers, it can be just as bad when trying to enhance your armor and weapons. Finding the right items that you need for armor craft and cooking items can be a task in of itself, and disappointing in some cases where the reward isn’t worth the trouble. There are various ways to help speed this up, including some side quests and bonus areas where you can fight more and more enemies, but they too don’t always yield enough to make this less of a chore.
The boss fights in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night have the same over-the-top nature as most Castlevania enemies. However, most bosses can feel like a high wall to overcome with their devastating damage output and seemingly broken effects. Some bosses will knock you back across a room after hitting you, forcing you to traverse a distance to get back within attack distance, only to be hit again and forced into the same scenario. This doesn’t happen with every boss, but the majority of these fights have this issue towards the latter half of the game. Combined with how much they take away your health bar, and you might find yourself incredible frustrated over it.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t without its other issues. Load times can be inconsistent in random spots, such as going from one room to the next and reloading a save file after getting a game over. It might not be as bad as the legendary Game Over screen from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but it’s noticeably long enough to become a nuisance when you want to get back into the game after dying. Other bugs and glitches can randomly occur throughout as you explore the castle. Sometimes defeating an enemy will drop an item but you won’t be able to pick it up.
Dropped items can get stuck mid-air or on the corners of walls and be untouchable, leading you to miss out on a lot of helpful materials for crafting or health items. On occasion some enemies will have bugged movement patterns, leading to them being stagnant or repeating the same action over and over again. While a quick update will eventually fix issues like this, they appear frequently enough to stand out in almost every area of the game.
If you’re lucky enough to catch any of the multiple endings that Bloodstained has in its story, you can mess around with a few neat extras. There’s a Boss Rush and Speed Run mode that will let you replay the game in a different way, which allows you to use the powers you’ve found in your game file. The more fan-service extras come from the Sound Mode, which has a few special messages from a few popular voice actors that fans of Castlevania will immediately recognize. This stuff is goofy and has nothing to do with the game itself, but it’s great 4th wall breaking fun that will make everyone laugh.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night doesn’t do much to change things up from its biggest inspiration, but fans of this genre will like it that way. However, anybody unfamiliar with Koji Igarashi’s previous work will still find playing through Bloodstained a fun and addicting experience that has a lot of less-than-subtle similarities to older games. The bugs and glitches that pop up definitely need to be ironed out, but they aren’t enough to completely ruin the time you spend exploring what Bloodstained has to offer.
This review was based on a digital review code of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night for PlayStation 4, provided by 505 Games.