Alright, I’ll admit that wasn’t my wittiest title ever.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was a game that I’d been incredibly excited and nervous to play. Symphony of the Night is easily my favorite Castlevania game (I’m basic, I know), so I was excited to see a return to formula without the cruel commanding hands of Konami dictating its fate. Still, there have been plenty of Kickstarter disasters. Maybe Ritual of the Night would fall into the Mighty Number 9 trap! I was so nervous that I couldn’t bring myself to buy it for months, despite the glowing reviews given to me by the internet and a trusted buddy. I was just too afraid that it’d be disappointing!
Luckily, I was wrong. As I so often am.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a perfect game. Far from it! The story is lackluster, the characters are weak and forgettable, and the game seriously lacks in the visual department. But a video game, first and foremost, should be fun to play! Thankfully, this game was a ton of fun from beginning to end! I had a hard time putting it down until I had beaten it! Even then, I was seriously tempted to go back and play it all again!
Especially since I knew there was a ‘Skip Cutscene’ button.
Story: That Skip Button is Looking Really Tempting
Spoilers, if you care. Which, honestly, you shouldn’t.
The story is bad. Like, really bad. So bad in fact that I forgot what it was and had to check the wiki to remind myself what happened! That is never a good sign, people!
In the 18th century England, during the Industrial Revolution, the Alchemy Guild feared that the new dependence on advanced technology would make them obsolete. In order to prevent losing their wealthy patrons, they studied methods to summon demons (always my first impulse when my Patreon is failing) and created Shardbinders, humans with demonically-charged crystals called Shards fused into their bodies. The Guild then sacrificed these Shardbinders in order to summon demons in order to scare the world into submission. But instead, they brought about a near cataclysmic event. Out of all the Shardbinders, only two survived: Gebel, who miraculously survived the ritual, and Miriam, who avoided the ritual altogether by falling into a mysterious coma.
You got all that? Good. Because that was just the opening exposition dump! Now we can actually talk about the plot of the game. Jesus Christ, fucking kill me!
Ten years later, Miriam, your player character, awakens to find out that Gebel has summoned a castle from Hell and intends to take revenge by destroying England. Thus, accompanied by alchemist Johannes, you’re sent away on your quest to stop Gebel, destroy the castle, and save England! Along the way, you’ll meet Zangetsu, a gruff demon-slaying samurai hell-bent on killing the demon at Gebel’s side, a nun named Dominique who totally isn’t evil we swear, and another alchemist named Alfred who totally is evil we swear why would you think otherwise, who will all either help or hinder you on your quest to stop/save your former friend!
Despite my lengthy and convoluted summary, the story in this game is exceptionally simple. Too simple, in fact! So long as you’re familiar with Castlevania stories, or anything even remotely similar, you should be able to predict what will happen well before it does. Except it’s likely that it’ll be far more exciting in your head.
It doesn’t help that the characters are about as likable as a mound of sand. None of them have any personality and they’re about as deep as a puddle after three minutes of light rain. All of them are cliche and boring. Thanks again to the wiki for reminding me what their names were.
The dialogue is also absolutely atrocious! Every single line is either a) exposition regarding the plot or b) character threatening another character. The typos sure don’t help, as they make the whole thing feel sloppy and rushed! It is so boring and lifeless that I was half-tempted to skip every single dialogue scene and just get back to playing!
A temptation I will gladly give in to during subsequent playthroughs.
If I were judging this game purely off of its narrative, then I’d tell you to stay far away from it! Hell, I probably would never have bothered to finish it! Luckily, I’m not talking about a novel or a movie. As a video game, I need to judge Bloodstained mostly by its gameplay.
But first, I need to talk about the graphics. Which means that the negativity train is going to keep on rolling!
Presentation: A Fairly Nice PS3 Launch Title
Yeah, this game isn’t much for the eyes. It isn’t necessarily bad, mind you. There is a lot here that I like! But it is far from the most visually polished game I’ve ever talked about.
Let’s start with the character models. From a distance, they look pretty good! They have a fair amount of detail, their designs are unique and interesting (especially some of the monsters) and they’re animated fairly well! You’ll spend most of the game looking at them from a distance, which is great.
Because good lord they do not hold up to closer inspection! Specifically, the faces. They just look… off. They look like someone took a mound of clay and tried to make a face out of it, then tried to animate it! The mouth movements are stiff and robotic, the eyes are dull and dead, and the facial expressions aren’t very expressive. To put it bluntly, they suck. Really bad.
Then there are the environments. These are a mixed bag. Some are very detailed and pretty to look at! Others look like the textures are late to the party and forgot to text the game that they won’t be coming. When you enter a room, it’s a coin toss whether what you’ll find inside is nice to look at or not.
Now, thankfully, there is one thing in this category that doesn’t have a negative latched onto it: the music! This soundtrack is a fucking banger! Every single track, from the somber piano to the roaring electric guitar, is a delight to listen to! Out of all the video game soundtracks from 2019, this one is easily my favorite!
Overall, this game is pretty poor in the visual department. The graphics are far from impressive, even by indie game standards. Thankfully, it is saved by the incredible music, which makes the lackluster visuals far more tolerable.
But it is nowhere near the best aspect of the game. Oh no. That belongs to the most important part of a video game: the game itself!
Gameplay: Hey Kids, Remember SOTN?
Yeah. It’s Symphony of the Night. There are a few cosmetic changes here and there to give it its own identity. But if you’ve played the PS1 classic, then you’ve basically played this one.
The gameplay loop is simple. You run around, grabbing various items and powerups to become stronger and explore more of the map. You continue to do this until you’ve murdered all of the bosses and the credits roll.
There are various powerups you’ll get that can help you traverse the map. There are the typical ones, like a double jump and water-breathing. But then there are the more unique powerups, like the ability to flip the screen on its head, warp through small spaces, travel as a beam of light and bounce off of reflective surfaces (that one is my favorite) so on and so forth.
This is all thanks to the game’s unique Shard system. See, when you kill enemies, they’ll sometimes give you a Shard, which offers you a unique ability to use either in combat or in the traversal. There are a ton of different abilities you can get, from launching small monsters to aid you in a battle to boosting your abilities with certain weapons or giving you new traversal options. There are a ton of Shards, all of which offer up a ton of customization.
Some of these things are pretty pathetic. But some of them, if put in combination with others, can break the game! Like the super-speed Shard that makes you Naruto run (not a joke) and the super-jump that lets you jump infinitely! Put those two together, and you’ll move so fast that Sonic the Hedgehog would be confused!
And… that’s about it. It’s a Metroidvania game. You run around, explore, and kill shit. It’s an incredibly simple but addictive formula. It’s short but sweet from beginning to end.
I’ll admit, this game isn’t as solid as some of the other Metroidvania games that have come out in recent years. Sorry, but Hollow Knight has forever raised the standard for the genre! Still, this is a rock-solid game. Even if it doesn’t always look great and the story is terrible.
If you have a lot of nostalgia for Symphony of the Night, then I’d recommend checking this game out. It is a bit rough around the edges, yes. But it is a ton of fun to play from beginning to end! Masterpiece? Absolutely not. But a worthy addition to the genre? Fuck yeah!
Hopefully, if we see another Bloodstained game sometime in the future, it’ll be able to rise above and become a truly phenomenal Metroidvania game. Or at least one with a better story. That’d be great.