Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night (2019)

Bloodstained is a Kickstarter game that delivers on its promise to be a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night “Spiritual Successor” 100%. Back in 2015, Koji Igarashi, the creative mind behind the newer Castlevania titles left his employer, Konami and wanted to make a new Castlevania game, but without the license. So he turned to Kickstarter and crowdfunded the game. 4 long years later, and what seemed like tons of delays and even other projects being released beforehand… the final product is excellent, if not just a tad bit too familiar.

Bloodstained is Castlevania without Dracula. For me, that was the defining reason why I played the Castlevania games, and why I think the Netflix series holds its own as well. Dracula has been part of pop culture for almost 90 years, but most don’t even know what drives Dracula, besides his bloodlust for human flesh to stay “alive” or anyone else in the stories besides Dracula. Without Dracula, I thought I would hate Bloodstained, but the gameplay was solid enough to keep me engaged, even if the story is pretty lame.

I tried to get into the story, and what is there is fine, but with ridiculous character names, it is really hard to take it seriously. Miriam is a Shardbinder, a sort of human imbued with magical powers and she battles her former friend Gebel (pronounced “Jee-Ball”) and others, I found myself immediately looking at my phone during the voice acted cutscenes.There is an assumed backstory that is never really touched on and made me question if I missed out on story, or if there is a book with more lore tied to it somewhere on the internet. The ingame cutscenes are presented with the 3D character models in an idle animation, with blocks of text between the two characters interacting. Almost like a Visual Novel style, and it gives it a very cheap feeling vibe to a game that is a solid $40 release.

Other than the game's visuals feeling a bit on the budget side of things, I had a blast with this game. I keep saying it, but it’s true, it is so rooted in the Symphony of the Night style of game, that it really is very hard to come up with anything new to say about it. The map gets uncovered as you progress, and the castle is blocked off in certain parts until you beat a boss and acquire a new power to help you go further into the castle. RPG lite elements help keep you switching out weapons, armor and familiars, but there is something new here as well. The Shard System, which allows you to Mega Man your way through the game as you randomly get drops from enemies you defeat who will give up their power for you to summon at will (as long as you have the magic power to make it happen)

There are a ton of shards to swap out and figure out which ones suit your playstyle. For me, just like with Symphony, I found a couple overpowered ones that made the game a breeze after the first  hour or so. It’s a shame that this didn’t change, as I was having fun with the game, and only in the last hour did I actually have difficulty with the final gauntlet area of baddies and the final boss.

Another similarity to Symphony is the way the game can end if you just fight the boss as soon as you come across him. I fought him and killed him on the first try and got a quick bummer ending and a game over screen. I looked it up and realized there was still a huge chunk of the game I had left and continued on for a few more hours. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of this as I shouldn’t be punished for going and playing the game without looking stuff up online. I also lost a ton of interest in it after I beat the boss and saw how easy it was.

For a game that took 4 years and lots of delays, it could have turned out horrible. What we got was a game that sticks so closely to a known formula, that it has a hard time being its own game. I was surprised with how much fun I had with Bloodstained, and the accomplishment I had with exploring every nook and cranny, and finding most of the secrets on my own.Having a new world opened up and getting to explore a new castle with new creatures is a joyful experience, and with the addition of the Shard System, something that can radically change the way people play the game. If Konami isn’t going to make a new sequel to Castlevania, Igarashi will on his own, with the help of the internet.