Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you.
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch (soon, in a week)
Genre: Metroidvania action adventure game from the guy who started the trend
The thing is, we’re living in a world where games like Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, and Timespinner exist and do not charge you RM163 for the same kind of dearth and experience. In fact, the Castlevania Collection that features Igarashi’s Symphony of the Night is on offer right now, it kinda makes one hesitant on spending money outside of Kickstarter and Metroidvania legacy obligations.
But hey, you get to play dress-up with the game’s protagonist. So that counts for something, right?
The plot is thus: you’re a shardbearer named Miriam who has to take down her kin Gebel since he’s wreaking havoc with demons and stuff. The game inserts its narrative in simple-yet-awkwardly-produced cutscenes to give context and flesh out this version of Europe, where Miriam has to collect shards to become more powerful and perhaps be more demonic than human. Not a win-win proposition when you think about it, eh?
However, if you played every other Castlevania game from Koji Igarashi and Konami pre-F*** Konami, you’ll find the obligatory “bad guy at the end of the level is not what he seems” followed by the Metroidvania staple “extra section based on the existing map but with tougher bits”. Narrative-wise, it’s not going to shock and awe your inner core.
But that’s fine: at least we get some Metroidvania gameplay from the man who popularized the genre, so we should be seeing some new iterations here and there, right? Welp, prepare to be enamoured yet disappointed at the same time.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is basically a spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, right down to its nitpickey flaws. Everything about this game feels too familiar the longer you play it, from the stage layout and Metroidvania tropes right down to some familiar power-ups.
I get that Igarashi and his team wanted to create a spiritual successor to a late 90s title he worked on, but the game doesn’t seem to throw in a number of curveballs like its indie inspirations throughout the years.
The randomized approach of Dead Cells, the multi-character and gadget system of The Iconoclasts, the engrossing world of Hollow Knight in its muted art style, and the time-jumping and narrative consequences of Time Spinner.
In my 12 hour+ playthrough, I have neither nor experience anything in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night that makes me go “this is superior to those other titles I just mentioned”.
And they all cost less than the total sum of Igarashi’s Kickstarter “masterpiece” on PC and consoles. That’s just iffy when you think about it.
Some Shine In This Blood Moon
Still, this all-too-familiar-yet-still-kinda-fun game is presented to us in a shinier 3D coat of paint and brimming with some new features here and there.
For one, you get to craft weapons and buff up the shards you collect via your alchemist buddy Johannes. Shards are what you need to cast your spells and do your cool Metroidvania skills like dash super-fast, or walk underwater as you would on land, double-jump, or fire out a plethora of projectiles or even summon a bunch of paintings to shield yourself from harm.
Whether they’re offensive spells or seemingly one-trick pony spells that are occasionally cast to get through an obstacle, you can rank them up to make them more practical. That one shard that lets you move faster underwater? Rank it up so that you can regenerate health while in the depths of the river underneath the obligatory bad guy castle.
The Shortcut system also lets you customize Miriam’s setup and switch them up on the fly. Want to go from a spellcasting-focused Miriam with high Intelligence to a brute-force Blood Umbrella-wielding waifu with elf ears and absurd levels of strength and defense? Just press the appropriate trigger and switch away mid-combat.
Speaking of which, I had a helluva time dealing with the game’s plethora of bosses. They’re fun, challenging without being too infuriating (seriously, just be patient and spot patterns to exploit), and break up the monotony of trudging and backtracking in a genre renowned for this sort of thing.
All these features, coupled with a pretty and giant out-there castle filled to the brim with lovely Michiru Yamane-made music do make Bloodstained: ROTN offer a modicum of fun in a genre already played out.
Bloodstained: ROTN is part comfort food, part throwback, and part return to form for Koji Igarashi, ready to take on the world post-Konami and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The problem is that there have already been other indie fares that supersede the late 90s and 2000s Metroidvania fares that feel more refined and superior than even the efforts of the genre’s master.
It’s fun and mostly polished in the right areas, don’t get me wrong, but the feeling of deja vu is all too apparent and leaves little room for major surprises and twists in the formula. Igarashi and co. may have created a solid action gaming experience, but he hasn’t done much to advance or revolutionize the template he created eons ago. Heck, even his contemporaries and game developers who were inspired by SOTN did a much better job at capturing the Metroidvania 2D magic while bringing something new to the table.
Just like a comfortable pair of jeans, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is fine to wear and makes you feel good inside. However, you end up yearning for something more stylish, trend-setting, and eye-catching in the long run.
In a gaming field where we search for the kind of games in a genre that transcend its template, Igarashi and co. is fine just playing and covering his past hits in a brand new 2019 package.
- It’s a spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night with some improvements.
- Decent open-world 2D action-adventure fare.
- Polished graphics & fine-ass music.
- Fun boss battles that test your mettle.
- Feels too similar to its inspiration.
- No major surprises & shake-ups to the formula.
- Janky cutscenes and transitions.
FINAL SCORE: 70/100