For anyone who has been aching for Castlevania—to see a return to games like Portrait of Ruin, Order of Ecclesia, or Symphony of the Night—Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is what you have been waiting for. With twisted halls filled with a variety of gruesome creatures, a huge array of combat styles and spells, delightful gothic rock tunes, and a sprawling, gloomy world to explore, it’s everything a monster hunter could ever want.
You have no idea how hard it was to stop playing the game so I could review it. NO IDEA.
You play as Miriam, a person capable of taking crystalized monster abilities into herself to gain new powers. Then again, so can Gebel, who’s called up an evil castle and is generally being a troublemaker with his nasty home. You need to put him down, and luckily, you have a few hundred ways you can do it.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night offers vast quantities of offensive abilities, meaning you’ll rarely lack for something new to try. You can use kicking boots, swords with all manner of attack speeds and striking arcs, whips, axes, and far, far stranger offensive weapons. You also continually get shards from foes which unlock various magic powers that can offer passive buffs, familiars that will attack enemies, mobility powers, and ranged or melee spells.
All of these powers encourage you to keep experimenting as you play, constantly reinventing yourself as you go along. Enemies drop useful goodies and new magic abilities that you can put to immediate use, compelling you to try something new every few minutes. It keeps combat fresh, and even if you’re the type to find one play style and settle on it for that run, you still feel that little twinge of desire to try something new—well, maybe on the next run.
Combat has a pleasant ebb and flow to it, flitting between making the player feel powerful and powerless. Both Miriam and her foes do a lot of damage, so there’s often this sense that you’re cleverly steamrolling through the game, popping foes like candies, until you hit something that swats you for a ton of damage. Suddenly, your movements become a bit less aggressive and more cautious, and those foes you carelessly fought moments ago are now approached with care.
It creates this kind of dual enjoyment from the game, drawing upon the appeal of feeling like a total powerhouse, but at any moment, you can make a mistake and take three or four hits that chew up your health. This leans more into horror, where a few poor choices can lead to death, adding a pressure and fear to the game. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night dances across this line to great effect both ways, allowing for both feelings to drive you forward.
You never know which foes will drum up these feelings for you, as there are many monsters from folklore and the developers’ imaginations to cut you down. Sludge-covered ghouls, blade-wielding barbers, hulking demons, and jerk paintings all mean to do you harm, each with their own special attacks to be learned and dealt with. While they vary in how much trouble they’ll give you, each offer various attacks you need to figure out and overcome, adding tons of variety in how you approach a fight. There are just so many to fight that you are always adapting, which keeps you invested in battle.
And there’s the powers you get from these foes. Each enemy has a small chance to drop one of those shards that gives you one of its powers, so every attack you learn may be one you can use. This makes backtracking through old areas fun, as even if you’re lost, you’re gaining experience to get stronger AND possibly gaining new powers. These shards also get stronger if you have multiple copies, so it’s always exciting when you pick up duplicates.
You also gain crafting items from enemies as you fight, which can be used to make new equipment or different foods (which give you permanent stat buffs). Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night just constantly rewards players as they fight monsters and explore the castle, so you always have something to look forward to even if you feel like you’re just messing around.
It rewards your eyes and ears as well. The castle is gorgeous, and will take players to all manner of different, creative places. The enemies look stunning in their variety and cleverness as well, showcasing creatures of folklore and cruel imaginations that offer as much uniqueness in looks as they do in combat abilities. There’s just always something new and striking to see, from winding, windswept towers to the colossal, deadly dragons that encircle them.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s gothic rock soundtrack carries it all forward on driving, powerful songs and soothing tunes. It can shift from calming and lovely to menacing to pumping you up, depending on where you are, each song creating a personality for the fight or location you’re exploring. The quality of the music should come as no surprise, having been composed by Michiru Yamane (who’s kind of been making Castlevania music for a while). Her touch ties an already-excellent game together.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is like one great treasure-hunting adventure. It constantly rewards and values your time spent with it, offering up riches, items, and spells for every moment you spend playing it. It allows for endless ways to approach situations through combat and magic, and is filled with places that draw you in deeper as you take in their sights and sounds. It is everything that was great about Igarashi’s Metroidvania titles all rolled into one, and feels like it will be as timeless a game as Symphony of the Night.
It’s also an unapologetic, bold statement that it wasn’t the Castlevania IP that made it great, but the visions and creativity of the wonderful people who poured themselves into it.