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Review

Review: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

After many years, a leng­thy delay and a spin-off game ear­lier this year, Blood­stai­ned: Ritu­al of the Night has final­ly been released. As the spi­ri­tu­al suc­ces­sor to Cast­le­va­nia, Blood­stai­ned has a lot to live up to and, for the most part, it deli­vers a solid metroid­va­nia expe­ri­ence.

With Blood­stai­ned attemp­t­ing to emu­la­te the feel of a Cast­le­va­nia game, it should come as no sur­pri­se that the set­ting would be simi­lar in many ways. Miri­am, a woman that has been part­ly crystal­li­sed due to expe­ri­ments by alche­mists, wakes up from a coma to find that the world has been inva­ded by demons. The source of this inva­si­on lies in a cast­le that appeared not long after the demons star­ted atta­cked, so Miri­am sets off to try and end the other­world­ly inva­si­on. It’s a decent enough pre­mi­se, and a good excu­se to have a simi­lar game world as Cast­le­va­nia, but the sto­ry never does anything too inte­res­ting. Sto­ry sce­nes are few and far apart, giving litt­le time to the alrea­dy limi­ted amount of cha­rac­ters and plot lines. This isn’t exac­t­ly a sur­pri­se con­si­de­ring the series it’s taking inspi­ra­ti­on from, even if a more enga­ging set of cha­rac­ters would have at least given more impact to some of the later boss fights.

Unsur­pri­sin­gly, Bloodstained’s game­play should also feel incredi­b­ly fami­li­ar to tho­se who have play­ed the DS Cast­le­va­nia games. Miriam’s move­set is near iden­ti­cal to a typi­cal Cast­le­va­nia protagonist’s, from the back­wards dodge to the various move­ment abi­li­ties she unlocks during the game. This fami­lia­ri­ty is far from a bad thing, sin­ce it’s always been the stron­gest part of the Cast­le­va­nia series. Even the wea­pons that you find during the game are most­ly the same as later Cast­le­va­nia games, inclu­ding a selec­tion of swords and the ico­nic whip. It’s fun to expe­ri­ment with dif­fe­rent wea­pon types, though many of them will see litt­le use due to their lack of ran­ge or long ani­ma­ti­ons.

Pro­gres­si­on is also hand­led in a fami­li­ar way, requi­ring you to defeat bos­ses to unlock new ways to explo­re the cast­le. It’s a for­mu­la that’s always worked well, so it’s no sur­pri­se that this is still an excel­lent way to encou­ra­ge play­ers to explo­re the ent­i­re­ty of the map. Most are­as are uni­que from one ano­t­her, and the­re are a lot of hid­den are­as and items to be found. The addi­ti­on of map mar­kers makes it easier to remem­ber whe­re pre­vious­ly locked are­as were, and the­re are a decent amount of tele­port points to speed up explo­ra­ti­on. Some parts of the cast­le can feel a litt­le too simi­lar to what we’ve seen in the Cast­le­va­nia series, though with how long it’s been sin­ce a main­li­ne ent­ry in that series some fami­lia­ri­ty in the area the­mes isn’t so bad. At its best, making your way through the varied are­as in Blood­stai­ned is stream­li­ned and there’s always some­thing new to dis­co­ver.

Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, the­re are a few missteps that can break this flow and lead to a less rewar­ding expe­ri­ence. The first comes in the form of the crystals that enemies drop, which reward Miri­am with new skills that she can use. Crystals are not gua­ran­te­ed drops out­si­de of bos­ses, and for some enemies it can take many kills befo­re you final­ly acqui­re their abi­li­ty. It’s yet ano­t­her car­ry-over from some of the Cast­le­va­nia games, and isn’t a bad inclu­si­on even if the abi­li­ties you gain from crystals are even less balan­ced that the wea­pons. For some rea­son though, one crys­tal that is requi­red to pro­gress through the game is drop­ped by a regu­lar ene­my, ins­tead of a boss fight. This makes it very easy to miss, sin­ce the­re are no other skills in the game that must be gai­ned this way to pro­gress.

At least this is only a one-off pro­blem, com­pa­red to the repeated­ly unin­te­res­ting boss fights. The bos­ses of Cast­le­va­nia were usual­ly visual­ly inte­res­ting and had some inte­res­ting mecha­nics, but here many of the boss encoun­ters end up fal­ling flat. On your first play­th­rough, whe­re you’re locked to nor­mal dif­fi­cul­ty, a lar­ge amount of boss fights end quick­ly and don’t requi­re much skill. As for the fights that last a litt­le lon­ger, many of them eit­her have boring move­sets or bare­ly any attacks at all. The­re are still a coup­le of stan­dout boss fights, but even then they still don’t reach the same heights as the genre’s best examp­les of bos­ses. Some­thing that likely adds to the lack of impact bos­ses have is the rela­tively poor 3D work. Many area and mons­ter designs are inven­ti­ve, but the visu­als over­all pale in com­pa­ri­son to other modern metroid­va­nia games. Cer­tain are­as and boss fights also suf­fer from frame­ra­te issu­es on a stan­dard PS4, making the some­ti­mes sim­plistic visu­als look even wor­se.

Con­clu­si­on

Even with its imper­fec­tions, Blood­stai­ned: Ritu­al of the Night is a good first attempt at crea­ting a suc­ces­sor to the Cast­le­va­nia fran­chise. The­re are defi­ni­te­ly many are­as that would need to be impro­ved in a poten­ti­al sequel, but Ritu­al of the Night has some solid foun­da­ti­ons that can be build upon in the future. As it stands, Blood­stai­ned is still an easy recom­men­da­ti­on for tho­se that miss the Cast­le­va­nia fran­chise, as long as you take into account the game’s short­co­m­ings.

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