Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night from Artplay and 505 Games released onto PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch in June 2019 and we’ve spent a significant amount of time with the game since release. With former Casltevania series producer Koji Igarashi heading up development and a massive amount of Kickstarter funding to boot, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night had some extremely high hopes to live up to. Thankfully, the game delivers on its promises and is a masterpiece worthy of any self-respecting gamer’s video game library.
In Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, players will take on the role of Miriam, a Shardbinder. Shardbinders are humans that have been experimented on by Alchemists in a time when greed and profit mongering began to fester in human society. The Alchemists turned their backs on mankind and decided to teach the world a lesson in humility by summoning forth demons to wreak havoc. Shardbinders were a creation of theirs that served as catalysts for summoning demons. Shardbinders were offered up by the Alchemists in a ritual that cost the Shardbinders their lives. All of the Shardbinders presumably died in the summoning ritual. After some time, the church managed to vanquish all summoned demons but the toll it took on the world was high. The Alchemists paid for their mistake but two of their Shardbinders remained. One of which was Miriam, who mysteriously fell into a mysterious slumber before the Shardbinder ritual and the other, Gebel, a Shardbinder who miraculously survived the same ritual that cost all of the others their lives. Ten years have passed since the original summoning catastrophe and Miriam awakens from her sleep.
Miriam and Gebels’ past is explored by the game through its visual novel-esque storytelling and fully animated cutscenes. Playing as Miriam, as you explore the game’s world, you’ll come across bookshelves and journal entries which flesh out the story further. Starting off aboard a ship, Miriam is heading to Arvantville, where an enormous demonic castle has been summoned by Gebel, who has since taken to summoning demons himself to cause destruction.
Gameplay in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night involves side scrolling dungeon exploration and demon slaying. The core gameplay elements are extremely solid with Miriam’s movement being fluid and her jumping ability being a core feature for the platforming elements incorporated into the game. Players will occasionally have to solve puzzles to progress such as moving concrete blocks and pulling switches which open up new paths. Defeating demons is key to gaining new abilities known as “Shards” in-game. Shards, when equipped can transfer a demon’s power to Miriam and she’ll be able to use it at the cost of Mana.
Exploring Bloodstained’s map is one of the game’s most enjoyable features. Players can run through areas and avoid enemies if they want to but it will hamper their progress eventually as the shards they get from defeating demons augment Miriam’s capabilities in-game. Defeating enemies also helps you to level up and gain more attack damage and HP/MP. Farming certain enemies is a valid strategy to progress further before taking on tougher boss enemies. In fact, we’d recommend doing so to familiarize yourself with demons, their weaknesses and their abilities.
Story progression in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is locked behind boss enemies and the abilities Miriam can gain from them. For example, an early boss in the game unlocks the ability to double jump. Without this, Miriam is unable to access certain areas in the castle and thus cannot progress further. The game therefore funnels you into a set path but gives you the freedom to explore at your own will until you hit a block of sorts. It never feels claustrophobic or limited though and you can still have fun exploring until you eventually realize you’re missing something to progress. Figuring out where to go and what to do is not necessarily hard but you do have to pay attention to specific locations because you’ll be able to do something else there later when you’ve unlocked a new ability.
The in-game characters do assist with guiding you towards the right path with conversations that take place back in Arvantville. Arvantville Village is where Miriam and the Church’s base of operations have been set up. Johannes, an Alchemist that’s working for the Church serves as Miriam’s friend and craftsman and is located here. Players will be able to bring him ingredients and he’ll cook up a meal or will be able to enhance demon shards to power them up. Dominique, another member of the Church has also set up a store in the base where she is able to sell goods to you. Talking to either of these two can sometimes lead to advice and progression hints being given out to assist you in your journey to stop Gebel.
Miriam is able to attack with a range of weapons that is by no means paltry. Whips, guns, swords, maces, spears, and more are on offer and Miriam can use them all. Each weapon type has a technique which can be used when learned and some of these are incredibly enjoyable to pull off. For example, Miriam reciting “1, 2, 3” in French while performing a series of kicks with the Kung-Fu boots is fantastically done and the attack animation is superb. Another example would be using a Katana to unleash a powerful slash wave attack. Unlocking new weapons by finding them in chests during exploration or by purchasing them leads to some excellent gameplay strategies.
Later on in the game, Miriam is able to unlock equipment shortcuts. This effectively allows you to save a number of equipment loadouts and switch to them on the fly while in battle. There’s no cumbersome menu fiddling involved since you’ll literally switch from one set to another within seconds using the shortcut method. Having a range of equipment builds pre-determined and set up means that you can take on any situation in the game without much hassle and can truly experiment and have fun with the different weapon types without worrying too much about being confined to one type. Playing the game as a gunslinger is a different experience to playing the game as a sword user and being able to switch between weapon types and an entire equipment loadout on the fly is one of the game’s best features when it relies so heavily on enjoyable combat when exploring. The different playstyles therefore also add to the game’s longevity and keeps it fresh.
Graphically, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night features an anime-esque aesthetic that’s bright and vibrant. It exudes stylistic chutzpah in every aspect and the entire game is all the better for it. The complete graphical overhaul that changed the game from its original bland and dark colours to what we currently have here is one of the best things that happened to the game. Character designs are gorgeous and so too are the enemy designs and environments. Unreal Engine 4’s visual prowess has delivered and the flashy effects are great in action. The soundtrack of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night features a lot of catchy tunes that you’ll find yourself humming after a play session. The themes used for specific locations are all excellent and the voice acting in the game is exceptionally good.
Playing through the game extensively though, there are still a few minor hiccups that will be ironed out in a future patch. Enemies will occasionally drop item bags which cannot be picked up since they seem to be dropped in awkward spots on the screen and Miriam has more than once been stuck mid-animation when traversing water. The game also suffers from some occasional slowdown and frame rate drop when too many enemies and effects are on screen but this isn’t game-breaking. At the time of writing this review, there is a known game-breaking bug though with regards to a key item spawn, which prevents you from progressing to completion, however a patch to fix this is being worked. The main story is around 13 hours long and if you’re a completionist, you’re looking at around 35 hours or more to 100% the game.
Overall, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night deserves every single drop of praise it gets. It’s a labour of love that reminds us of a time when games were filled with heart and soul. When story, gameplay and design elements were fused together to create a seamless blend of tasty content that satiates anyone’s hunger. Yes there are some minor hiccups right now but even with this, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a must-buy title.
Editors note: The switch version suffers from many issues, however, the developers behind the game have promised to fix them.