Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review - Ritualistic
Updated: Jul 7
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a metroidvania that, unsurprisingly given its developer, is much more on the "vania" side of the equation. You're primarily exploring a giant gothic castle, there are enemies who are disembodied flying heads, you can fight with a whip, and there may even be vampires involved. It isn't trying to be subtle.
I have minimal experience with the prior Castlevania games, which I imagine will be true of almost everyone who is still reading reviews for Bloodstained in 2022. I know that backstepping and sliding have been series staples for ages and that much of what I liked or disliked about this game was probably done deliberately to call back to Symphony of the Night, etc, but I don't have the series familiarity to say for sure.
At any rate, Bloodstained started out strong. The central feature is the ability to collect "shards" from enemies to gain their abilities, almost Mega Man-style. The starting area gives you just enough different enemies and freedom to explore that you'll probably have a few different shard and equipment options by the time you reach the boss. As the game goes on, though, this system starts to show its flaws. Shards can be upgraded either by acquiring more of the same one or by spending specific resources to up their rank, but both of these resources are acquired as random drops that can have rates in the low single digits. Is it worth killing the same enemy over and over again until you get lucky and the 5% chance for a shard hits? It's hard to tell, because you can't know what a shard is in advance and most won't give you more than a very high-level description of what making them stronger will do. Because it can be a lot of effort to increase rank, this system also encourages just picking one and sticking with it. If you've already got one shard at rank 8 that's good enough, is it worth swapping to a new one you'd have to level up from scratch? Even if it is, how many of the 120+ shards will that be true for?
Systems starting well and showing their faults over time is, unfortunately, a trend with this game. It also shows up in bosses, which are interesting and fun at first but gradually become damage sponges that take far longer to kill than feels justified. The faults of the cooking system necessitated that, though, because you can carry a practically unlimited number of healing items as long as you're willing to grind for ingredients. If bosses didn't have massive health bars in response, they'd all be trivialized by having a few pork curries in your pocket. All this is made worse, for me at least, but the movement, which ironically doesn't really go anywhere. You start with a jump, a slide, and a backstep, and all you add by the end is a double jump and a few situational abilities. Miriam is slow and never gets any faster unless you use one of your two accessory slots on specific items. I'd have loved a dash or run button both to make boss fights speedier and to spend less time walking across the game's occasionally very long rooms.
My last major criticism is that Bloodstained's world feels more like a Neuschwanstein-esque abomination of random architecture than a coherent building. This is probably intentional, but it killed my interest in any of the zones. In something like Hollow Knight or even Vigil: The Longest Night, areas feel connected and have implicit or explicit backstories that keep you interested. Bloodstained doesn't have any of that. Areas are connected to each other with no clear logic beyond rule of cool. Many enemies have nothing to do with the zone in which they appear and, outside of a few areas dedicated to a specific boss, there's nothing clearly connecting the story and the area you're exploring. You're in a desert now because the game needed a sand area. Does this make sense for a demonic castle from hell? Sure. But it's far less interesting than a world that lets me piece together the story from its design.
Oh, and don't have a bad ending triggered by fighting a boss too early that that kicks you back to your last save, devs. That's horrible design. If you absolutely must make a room that is going to give me a bad end whether I win or lose, at least reset from right before I entered the room. Or give me some kind of warning.
All of this probably sounds like I absolutely hate the game, but I don't. I enjoyed it quite about until the problems started to stack up too much at around the 80% completion mark. It was fun for just barely long enough to earn a recommendation on sale, but not long enough to bother finishing.
Time to beat: Probably about 15. I feel like I was 2-3 hours away from the ending after playing about 12.