Disclaimer: I am only 19% of the way through this game. It’s so big!
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an amazing homage to the Metroidvania genre. Fans of the genre know what to expect: a huge environment to explore; moderately-paced monster mayhem; and a constant supply of new weapons, armor, and magic spells to keep gameplay fresh. This game offers all this and so much more. Every move, every corridor, every sight and sound oozes polish, and I’m having a blast playing it. Don’t take it too seriously, and prepare to be impressed. This game is as ridiculous as it is awesome.
**mild story and item spoilers for the first fifth of the game ahead**
The year was 1793, and the industrial revolution was in full swing. Man was shaking off the chains of faith and gods, and picking up hammers and labor. This was clearly the wrong decision, because somehow it caused a volcano eruption that spewed demons everywhere. The demons did what demons do, and a lot of people died.
Alchemists came up with a plan to make the demons go away, but the price for their services was steep. The alchemists transplanted crystals into people, called Shardbinders, and then performed horrifying rituals on them. Nearly everyone subject to a crystal transplant died. For whatever reason, the demons hated this practice, and they retreated. Then everybody went back to industrially revolutionizing.
The game begins ten years after the success of these rituals. Of the many Shardbinders created, only two survived: Miriam, the main character, who was bound to a crystal and then immediately fell into a coma so she could conveniently skip those pesky rituals, and Gebel (“JEE-buhl”), who went mad from the whole experience. Miriam and her alchemist friend Johannes board a ship to track down – and confront, if necessary – their old friend before his madness brings the demons back for good.
Yes, the plot is very anime. No, it doesn’t make much sense. Yes, the silliness makes it awesome.
Bloodstained is powered by the Unreal engine. All of the backgrounds and characters are 3D, so all of the onscreen movement is smooth as butter, and loaded with extra details. The very first screen finds Miram aboard a clipper ship at sea. She traverses it as in most traditional side-scrolling action games, but watching the whole “level” rock back and forth in the waves as she explores from one side of the map to the other is a treat.
The game hosts a cornucopia of diverse locations, from the clipper ship battered by a devastating storm, to rat-infested sewers beneath the smoldering wreckage of a town, to a moonlight-soaked castle summoned from Hell itself. The mise-en-scène of each of the myriad areas considerably enhances player immersion, which is rare in a side-scroller.
There are other level effects, too. The camera changes perspective as narrow stairs wrap and curl around cylindrical towers, which evokes a stunning sense of world depth and character – Miriam is not just running from left to right; she’s traversing an actual world.
It’s awesome to have so many 3D backgrounds and detailed characters, but this fidelity comes with a price, as there is occasional artifacting and texture collision. Also, in a few rooms overstuffed with enemies, the framerate slows down considerably. But these issues are rare, and the time spent experiencing them is thankfully only momentary.
The gameplay is perfect. Just as with any Metroidvania, destroying hanging lanterns will replenish Miriam’s magic supply. Save rooms are strategically placed to recharge her health before hideous boss fights. The items Miriam collects help her traverse the world with greater ease. New items help her reach previously-inaccessible rooms to find even greater treasures. Each weapon controls differently and has its own advantages and disadvantages to consider when building the optimal playstyle. I have four friends who are currently playing this game, and none of us has the same build or gameplay experience. The controls are amazing, too. Miriam’s moves and attacks are incredibly precise, and they need to be to combat the 128(!) unique monsters in the game.
Each monster has its own unique appearance and attack. Some of them are silly, and some of them are downright horrifying. Every other room seems to make me utter a “wtf” under my breath as I either smile or recoil in fear of its inhabitants. I have entered several rooms only to say “nope!” and turn and run the opposite direction, only to return after having gained a level or so.
Every aspect of this game is customizable, from Miriam’s appearance to her playstyle. Defeated monsters have a chance to explode. When they do, a gigantic crystal breaks from their corpse and rams into Miriam’s body. This process gives her an additional magic ability. Some are straightforward attacks, like launching a fireball or conjuring a bouncing ball of water, and others are more nuanced, like summoning a flying sword that slashes at monsters and yells a lot.
Everything Miriam collects can be improved: shards can be refined to increase their spellpower, the food she grows can be cooked to make dishes that provide permanent stat increases, and weapon and armor can be crafted and transmuted into stronger versions of themselves.
The Kung Fu Shoes, for example, are lightweight and fast, allowing Miriam to deal many swift blows before dashing out of the enemy’s range. In contrast, the Claymore is slower, but deals more damage and has a longer range. In true RPG fashion, there are attributes to consider when deciding which weapon to equip against the next room full of monsters. Some might be weak against light or poison, while others could resist fire or thunder.
The music is breathtaking. Each orchestral score is every bit as catchy and fun as it is complex and epic. Fans of Symphony of the Night’s memorable score will not be disappointed.
The sound is wonderful. Everything from Miriam’s light footsteps to the screams of attacking enemies wonderfully contributes to a very believable world, albeit one filled with ghouls and werewolves.
The dialog is deliciously over-the-top. One can’t help but laugh in joy as characters recite pulpy lines like “Our powers don’t make us good or bad – our choices do!” while sweeping violins are interrupted by hammered piano keys to accentuate each silly revelation.
Drawbacks and Conclusion
As quirky and endearing as the dialog can be, it unfortunately also features some typos. One of Dominique’s lines is “He drew a little scetch here at the bottom of a burly man leaping a great chasm.”
There are also a few bugs: as mentioned before, there is a small amount of texture collision and artifacting in a few rooms. Sometimes the rumble function on my controller turns on, and won’t turn off until after I’ve cast a spell. Finally, thanks to Geekly Grind’s Daviot for pointing out issues with the PC version’s beta save files affecting save files in the full game. Each of these issues is reportedly known, and the developers are working to address them.
Blodstained: Ritual of the Night boasts tight gameplay, impressive graphics and music, and a constant stream of rewarding enjoyment. If you have ever enjoyed a Metroidvania, you owe it to yourself to play Bloostained and see the genre at its apex. Yes, it’s pulpy and ridiculous. And highly rewarding. You’ll love every second of it.