Koji Igarashi attempts to achieve an almost Sisyphean task with Bloodstained Ritual of the Night. It’s not only positioned it as a celebration of Metroidvania but also amongst the greatest and most funded Kickstarter games to date. The latter feat alone is a huge accomplishment.
Igarashi spearheaded the development of Bloodstained Ritual of the Night after leaving Konami in 2014, having become disillusioned with the company’s direction. He formed ArtPlay, and, having received countless requests from his fans to continue making Metroidvania games, launched his Kickstarter campaign in 2015. It successfully raised over US$5.5 million.
Despite several delays, the game has now been released to PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch, and is considered a ‘spiritual’ (if not actual) successor to Castlevania Symphony of the Night.
Bloodstained Ritual of the Night (PS4) Review
Bloodstained Ritual of the Night is set in a somewhat altered version of the late 1700s in which industrialism is on the rise and alchemists are unhappy about the changing values of humanity. In order to halt this momentum away from their faith, the alchemists create Shardbinders.
These are humans whose bodies have been infused with magical crystals that grant them demonic abilities. The alchemists plan to use them to summon demons to the world to send a strongly worded message to humanity.
The Shardbinders are ultimately ritualistically sacrificed to destroy the demons but two survive. As Miriam, you awake from a coma years after the ritual to discover that your friend Gebel has also survived the ritual. Unfortunately, he’s lost his humanity to the process and set out on an epic revenge quest.
Your task is to fight your way through the demon-ridden castle he has manifested and put a stop to these shenanigans once and for all.
Complicating this is the fact that, though Miriam has somehow retained her humanity, she must gain more and more shards to defeat Gebel, but with every shard she gains, she becomes less human.
Kill Those Murderers Dead!
Aside from that minor spot of bother, the shard system is very cool. Each demon you kill has a chance of dropping a shard that lets you gain a special ability, or to strengthen that ability if you already possess it. These shards fall into one of five categories.
For example, directional shards could have you firing off pillars of flame or a sort of flying hog that floats around and attacks your enemies. You might have one of several familiar shards, summoning a familiar that follows you around and assists in combat.
I adore Bloodbringer; he’s my manic-depressive sword buddy with issues.
Some shards are passive buffs. Or, you might be able to summon a chair, because, why not?
Shards work via a sort of mana system. Executing a shard ability drains you of some of this energy poo, and different abilities can cost more or less than others to cast. Managing this, particularly in boss fights, can be a challenge.
Naturally, most of the fun in Bloodstained Ritual of the Night lies in the creative wackiness of the fights themselves. The weapons you can wield are many and varied. Whether you favour guns, whips, daggers, ninja boots, or two-handed swords—there’s something for everyone.
I had a ball experimenting with some frankly absurd weapon and shard strategies to find out what worked for me and what the game even allowed.
Fine and Normal
The demons you’ll encounter will absolutely floor you. I can’t count the number of times I’d enter a new area of the map, only to be stunned into inaction as I tried to come to terms with what the heck I was looking at.
They are utterly ridiculous and I for one am delighted by this. There exist some very typically demonic aesthetics, but juxtaposed against those (often in the very same location) are novelty sized cats, disembodied dog heads, some sort of playboy bunnies, flying pigs, and much, much more.
Each has its own abilities, combat styles, and weaknesses. They make it a joy to explore new locations and to wonder what improbable creature might lurk within.
Quirkiness is not limited to your enemies; even your allies are a little bizarre.
There’s Johannes, an alchemist who helps you to craft gear and frets that you’re not eating enough or staying up too late. Dominique will trade items with you and provide gentle hints as to where to go next if you’re a bit stuck, as well as some interesting insights into her companions’ psyches.
Todd the Barber is cursed with the oddest curse ever; to barber his way through 666 hairstyles. Zangetsu is an enigmatic fellow who can pull off many cool maneuvers without the need for shards; as Dominique remarks, he just DOES these things as though it’s completely normal.
Other characters will send you off on quests, perhaps to kill a number of particular demons or to fetch them a certain item. You’ll be rewarded accordingly. Quests don’t contribute much towards progressing the narrative, but the rewards can be very helpful in pushing further through the map, whether you’ve received gear or potions or crafting components.
It’s Called Fashion, Look It Up
The gear you can collect is (almost) your typical RPG gear, consisting of stats like defence, strength and intellect. However, the most exciting and obviously most important part of wearing gear is that most of it will actually appear on Miriam as she wears it.
And wearing a cowboy hat with elf ears after visiting Todd to get your hair styled is a top-shelf fashion choice, let me tell you.
The PS4 control system for the game is, for the most part, extremely intuitive. Shards are easy to aim and fire off even when the environment around you has erupted into utter chaos, combat makes sense, and the menu systems are easy to navigate.
The one niggling problem I experienced was in closing my map. I found that I kept trying to close it with the standard ‘back’ button, thus leaving many markers all over my map which made it hard to recognise any markers I had intentionally left. I struggled with combat combos too; however, I’m improving with practice.
I haven’t encountered any game breaking bugs, but I’ve noticed a little bit of lag in the action of demons in some locations. Additionally, the grammar of the text in the game is sometimes a little bit ‘off’. It bothered me somewhat, but not enough to break my immersion.
A Labour of Love
Though its gothic setting is stunningly rendered and the soundtrack is the best I’ve heard from a game so far this year, the magic of Bloodstained Ritual of the Night lies in what it accomplishes through its little details.
Moments like a fairy sitting on Miriam’s shoulder if you idle, a piano in a hauntingly beautiful garden and Bloodbringers changing appearance as it grows stronger.
The many blink-and-you-missed-it shout-outs to Castlevania. These little touches all serve to create a loving reimaging of the Castlevania series that fans so dearly wanted.
On top of this, Igarashi and his team have clearly listened to all of the feedback from fans and backers throughout the development of Bloodstained Ritual of the Night.
When they said that the lighting needed improvement, Igarashi and team went back to work on that. And, oh my; the lighting in the game is now something to behold. This ability to listen to feedback and actively use it to improve the game certainly shows Igarashi’s commitment to delivering a quality game.
This is the Metroidvania we’ve all been waiting for. If you’ve never played Metroidvanias, this is an easy entry point (example: me). If you have, you’ll adore its mechanics, absurdities, and inexplicable moments.
Many of us remember and love Igarashi’s Castlevania series deeply, and Bloodstain Ritual of the Night taps directly into that love in a profound way. It’s one of those games you just know you’re going to play throughout your life, already earning itself a kind of future nostalgia.
Bloodstained Ritual of the Night was reviewed on PS4 using a digital key provided by the developer.