Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
From Contra and Gradius to Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid, few companies could boast the impressive list of hit franchises in the Konami stable. However, for many, the Castlevania series is the one nearest and dearest to their hearts, especially 1997’s Symphony of the Night. Of course, the Konami that many players grew up with appear to be dead and gone as the company seemingly imploded a few years back and turned their back on some of their best franchises in the process. The chances of ever seeing a true Castlevania game again appeared to be slim until Koji Igarashi, the man behind Symphony of the Night popped up with a Kickstarter. The rest is history as the Kickstarter was a resounding success and backers eagerly awaited what promised to be the return of Castlevania in all but name.
Due to the tremendous amount of hype, there’s no way that Bloodstained could ever live up to the expectations of everyone, but thankfully it still managed to deliver on everything it promised. Players step into the boots of Miriam, a young woman whose body was altered by alchemists to give her the ability to absorb the power of demons. This was accomplished with the use of shards, which caused Miriam and those like her to become known as Shardbinders. Thanks to the nefarious goals of the alchemists things did not end well for the Shardbinders, but Miriam was spared a horrible fate when she went into a deep sleep. Ten years later she wakes up to a world where Gebel, a close friend, and fellow Shardbinder, has turned to evil and summoned a massive demon-infested castle. It’s up to Miriam to make her way through this castle and stop Gebel before his demonic hordes can destroy the world.
Those who played the 8-bit platformer, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, will recognize many of the characters in Ritual of the Night but don’t expect a continuation of the story. What players will find, however, is Metroidvania title that strays so close to Symphony of the Night at times that it’s a wonder Konami didn’t unleash their lawyers. RoTN is a side-scrolling platformer where the focus is on exploring a massive, sprawling castle that is filled with all manner of demons. When Miriam takes down these demons they drop a variety of useful items, but it is their shards that are the most useful.
Impressively, each and every creature in the game has their own shard, which when equipped will provide Miriam with some type of attack or power. These can be as simple as summoning a swarm of bats to hurl at your foes to completely changing Miriam into a different character with different attacks. Not all the shards are created equally, though, so you’ll find a few that are next to useless as well as some that are so overpowered that they can break the game. All of the shards can also be upgraded, provided you find all the right components.
Shard use is tied to your magic bar, so you can’t always rely on them and will sometimes have to resort to using weapons. Thankfully, RoTN has no shortage of weapons either, so you are spoiled for choices when it comes to ways in which to off your foes. Slip on some kung-fu shoes if you want to dish out flying kicks or get in close and stabby with your daggers. One-handed swords are great for swift attacks, but massive two-handed swords and spears can dish out more pain at the cost of speed. Those who are feeling nostalgic can even equip a whip. Finally, it’s not far into the game that players will be able to enlist the aid of a familiar too and they can do everything from help you with attacking to providing healing or pointing out secret walls.
Visually, ArtPlay has gone for the “everything except the kitchen sink” approach. RoTN makes use of 3D models, but keep the action on a 2D plane for that classic Castlevania feel. There’s a huge amount of enemies to fight although a few of them do look like they should have stayed on the pages of the concept art book. Many of the enemies not only look nearly identical to their Symphony of the Night counterparts but also act in virtually the exact same manner. While this is great from a nostalgic point of view, the game also comes with a strong sense of deja vu at times. The same goes for the different environments found within the castle. There were times where we stepped into a room and it immediately felt like we were back in Symphony of the Night. Once again, some players will love this familiarity, while others will be disappointed at the lack of originality. From a technical standpoint, everything ran great and even in 4K, the framerate remained smooth.
Overall, the graphics are detailed and colorful, but some of the enemies like the giant dog heads look very out of place. There’s plenty of variety when it comes to the backgrounds and because of the demonic nature of the castle, they don’t have to adhere to the laws of reality either. This means that you can have lava-filled caverns in one area before venturing into ice-covered caves the next or make your way through giant libraries with shifting bookcases before jumping around on the gears of a massive clock-tower. The castle can be a maze, but luckily you have a small mini-map that can be used to figure out where you are at all times. This map can be enlarged to see where you should be going, but we would have liked to be able to add some notes too. Sometimes you encounter dead ends or locked doors that can only be accessed with new powers or special keys and it’s easy to lose track of where to go if you are not careful.
As with any Metroidvania title, there is a fair amount of backtracking required to get through RoTN, but as with other Igavania titles you have the benefit of teleportation rooms to help you get around. You’ll also need to find special save rooms to back up your progress and getting to one of these while low on health is always tense. Like the Castlevania series, you lose health by simply touching enemies and a few of them have animation cycles that can easily chew through your health bar if you are not careful. Enemies also respawn instantly when you leave a room, which is great if you are grinding for items, but not so great if you are lost.
Just before you enter the castle there is a small town that has been ravaged by the demons, which serves as your hub for buying, selling, upgrading, and crafting. Here you’ll also find a few of the surviving town folk who will reward you if you kill specific demons, find specific items or bring them specific food with which to stuff their faces. All of these are just fetch quests and often the rewards are not worth the effort, but you might as well do them for the sake of completion. The crafting aspect of the game also sees you walking around with implausible amounts of materials in your pockets, which can then be used to make food or upgrade your shards.
The soundtrack for RoTN is generally quite good, but we kinda expected more memorable tunes by Michiru Yamane who was responsible for the tunes on many of the Castlevania titles. It could be that unlike Igarashi she didn’t want to stray too close to Castlevania when it came to making the music, but none of the tunes stuck in our head as they did with her previous work. Of course, this doesn’t mean that any of the songs are bad as the soundtrack is still very good and a good match for the visuals. RoTN also features full voice acting and players have the option to choose between English and Japanese. We were perfectly fine with the English voice-overs, which includes the likes of David Hayter, best known for voicing Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series. However, some of our team found the Japanese voices to be far superior, so it’s good to have the option to switch at least. Most of the story is told via static scenes with character portraits, but there is also a smattering of 3D scenes thrown in for good measure.
Although RoTN is perfectly playable with a keyboard you are going to want to use a controller for the best experience. Jumping, double jumping, using directional shard attacks, and perform the backstep move to dodge enemy attacks just feel much more intuitive with a controller. The inventory system can feel a bit cumbersome initially until you figure out what is where and usually you don’t have to dig around in it too much unless you want to change weapons or armor.
All in all, there’s no denying that Ritual of the Night tries very hard to be Symphony of the Night, which is both good and bad. Exploring a massive castle while whipping every candle in sight is a nostalgic rush for anyone who has grown up with the Castlevania series, but at the same time, it can feel a little too familiar. Fans of Castlevania will undoubtedly have a blast with this game and completing everything it has to offer should keep players busy for quite a while. Free updates, such as a new playable character and “randomizer” mode also added to the replay value of the game. Anyone expecting something radically new and innovative from the game will be disappointed, but those who want a familiar Symphony of the Night experience will find it here.
- Processor: AMD FX-4350 / Intel Core i5-4460
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 280X / GeForce GTX 760
- Storage: 10 GB available space
- Additional Notes: If you have a potato PC or above, you’re ok.
- Processor: AMD FX-6300 / Intel Core i5-4590
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 290 / GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
- Storage: 10 GB available space
- Additional Notes: The only potatoes you use are the tasty kind.