Five years is a long time, and the metroidvania genre has grown substantially in that period, but sometimes you don’t want a variation on a familiar theme. You want the same game in a new package. Rejoice, because with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, that’s exactly what you’re getting.It should, considering that was the whole pitch of the Kickstarter back in 2015, and that the team behind it is led by Symphony’s assistant director, Koji “Iga” Igarashi. Granted, not all attempts at crowdfunded spiritual successors to beloved games end up successful (looking at you, Mighty No. 9) but the stars have aligned for Bloodstained. Ritual of the Night has emerged as a game worthy of its heritage.
But Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi isn’t riffing on the genre with his latest project, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, so much as returning to convention. But despite being relatively safe, Bloodstained is more than just its creator; its impeccable craftsmanship in level design and combat, quality-of-life improvements, and unique flavor help it stand on its own in a crowded landscape.It’s a sprawling place full of heavy chandeliers, grim-looking statues and monsters keeping watch. From the entrance hall to the gardens, towers and even the caves below, every inch of this castle is waiting to be explored and plundered, and for the most part its backdrops are varied enough to make you want to see what’s around the next corner.
It took a series of games in one genre—the action platformer—and borrowed from another to codify something that felt new, a genre that, over time, was collected under one of the worst colloquialisms in games: “metroidvania.” Decades later Koji Igarashi,While the gameplay is familiar, an interesting new world with its own heroes, villains, and stakes (not the vampire-killing kind) has been created, and every aspect of it seems to be designed specifically to support the mechanics of this type of game. You play as Miriam, an orphan girl with the ability to absorb and wield a ridiculous number of demon powers. A lot of care was put into Miriam’s design, and she’s cosmetically customizable as well – it’s a shame that the supporting cast did not receive the same TLC as our heroine and are all pretty ugly.Like its predecessors in the Castlevania series, your hero Miriam needs to strike even the most basic of enemies four or five times to defeat them, and the lack of agility at first can feel stiff and restrictive. This can actually seem discordant with memories of games like Symphony of the Night, but the familiarity will return as Miriam grows more powerful and the game becomes more recognizable along with her.
Matched with an impressive stream of highly unique and memorable enemies, ranging from the truly horrifying to the horrifying hilarious (giant-unicorn-cat-thing, I’m looking at you), each area feels as though it’s been crafted with care and precision. The score, visuals, and enemy design complement each other, all painstaking stitches in Bloodstain’s engaging tapestry that entices exploration, tempting you to press ever onwards in search of the next enemy, the next chest, the next secret wall, and the next level up reward.Shards come in five forms: Conjure, Manipulative, Directional, Passive, and Familiar. Conjure summons a weapon or creature, while Manipulative makes more lengthy changes to your current state. Passive offers buffs and other benefits, and Familiars accompany you, giving aid. Directional has the most variety by far, offering tons of projectile-like weapons that can be pointed anywhere using the right-stick. Unfortunately, Directional shards are also used for a few abilities that are crucial to navigation, forcing you to manually swap them when needed or take up a couple of Shortcut slots.
The locations gradually expand from typical haunted castle areas like cathedrals and secret labs to some surprising environments you wouldn’t normally expect to find, um, indoors. There are also darkly beautiful sights in the castle that showcase impressive lighting effects and moonlit vistas. Even the save rooms and fast-travel locations look great.Bloodstained ignores the modern conventions of these games, as well as their conveniences, like swift, speedy movement and the ability to strike in directions other than right in front of you. Their absence makes Bloodstained feel like Symphony of the Night, but also reminds you that Symphony of the Night is 24 years old.
You can’t possibly try out every shard and weapon combo while steadily exploring. There’s just too much, and on normal difficulty—which is fairly easy, barring two required bosses and the extra-hard bonus ones—sorting through combinations introduces far too much tedium when it’s easy enough to find one build and stick with it. Experimentation feels more necessary on higher difficulties, where tougher foes make builds matter more and new strategies mean the difference between progress and frustration.Exploring the castle’s many secrets is a delight, and there is a dizzying array of weapons and powers waiting to be bent to your will. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, one of the greatest games ever made, finally has a worthy successor on consoles and now on PC.