By Tyler Lubben / June 28th, 2016
As someone who contributed to the Kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, I was ecstatic to discover that Koji Igarashi (a.k.a. IGA) would be releasing the game’s E3 2016 demo to the public. As someone who didn’t donate enough for that particular perk, I was crushed to find that I would not be one of the lucky ones to play it. At least, that’s what I thought initially. In a cruel (or fortuitous, depending on your perspective) twist of fate, our Review Manager, Josh, would be unable to access the demo due to technical issues. So, suddenly finding myself with access to the demo, I was extremely interested in seeing how The Next Great Castlevania Successor is coming along. I can say with absolute certainty that, if this demo is any indication of how things are progressing, Bloodstained is going to be nothing short of an instant classic.
I know that Bloodstained has a story, but it wasn’t featured in this demo, and I wasn’t as concerned with that as I was the gameplay anyway, so I won’t bore you with the details. What I will bore you with is just how quickly I felt IGA’s distinct style almost as soon as I fired the game up. Our protagonist, Miriam, finds herself in the bowels of a ship infested with monsters, and she needs to fight her way to safety. The game gives you a few minimal tutorial messages at the beginning, teaching you how to jump, move and attack. It’s all pretty straightforward, though it was a bit offputting that everything was based off Xbox controls, though this isn’t surprising, since the demo was shown off at the Xbox booth at E3. Unfortunately, most of the menu options were disabled for the demo, so I wasn’t able to make any changes to the controls, but it was easy enough to acclimate myself.
The demo isn’t particularly long — I had it all finished up in about 30 minutes — but the devs were able to cram in a fair bit to give players a taste of what to expect from the full game. Castlevania fans will likely find a great deal in common with the 1997 classic Symphony of the Night. Miriam moves, jumps and attacks in a fashion very similar to SotN’s Alucard. She starts off with a basic attack, but weapons you find along the way can be equipped from the pause menu. These will change your stats, as well as affect the speed and movement of your attacks. There’s not a huge selection in the demo, but it’s enough to give you an idea of how Miriam will be able to take advantage of her arsenal in the finished product. As you traverse the ship, Miriam will destroy lanterns and kill enemies, which will usually drop money (apparently useless in the demo) or blue flowers that will refill her MP gauge more quickly — a clear parallel to the Heart items that players would collect in the old Castlevania titles.
However, Bloodstained still has a couple original elements in case some people might accuse it of simply ripping off IGA’s previous works. Aside from simply collecting weapons, the main way that Miriam increases her repertoire of attacks is by receiving shards from fallen enemies. In a rather visceral little cutscene, Miriam is impaled by a shard of glass containing the essence of an enemy and absorbs its power. She is then able to emulate the attacks that enemy had previously been using. Of course, you might point out that this is not unlike the soul collecting mechanic in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, but rather than simply giving Miriam new attacks, the abilities she absorbs can actually be used to solve puzzles and help her advance.
While, like the souls in AoS, enemies will randomly drop the shards Miriam can use, certain enemies appear guaranteed to provide her with the tools she needs to advance. In the demo, this comes in the form of a strange cannon-like enemy that spits fireballs. Once defeated, Miriam receives the Fire Cannon shard, a “directional” ability that lets her shoot a fireball in any direction using the right stick. The fact that Miriam suddenly has a way to attack enemies coming from any direction is pretty great on its own, but this excitement was compounded by the fact that I suddenly realized her newfound abilities would allow her to interact with the environment in ways that I hadn’t thought of before. Specifically, the stage is populated with a few cannons that can made to fire by lighting their fuses with your new magic. This will allow you to blow holes into walls, creating new ways to advance or shortcuts to help you get around more easily. More than anything, I’m interested to see what else might be done with this “Directional” ability. Fire Cannon is only one shard that can be equipped to this slot, and I’m curious about what else might be done with it. Could Miriam eventually be shooting enormous lasers out of her hands? Maybe some kind of Grapple Beam a la Super Metroid to help navigate large gaps? Either way, IGA has certainly gotten my attention with this one.
One thing I was particularly pleased with was the level of polish the graphics had received since I last saw an update on the game. In particular, I had previously been put off by the animations of Miriam in a video update from last April. I can’t say for sure what had me so bothered, but seemed as though the game was using 3D sprites just for the sake of it, regardless of whether or not they looked right. Fortunately, things have improved greatly with the new cel-shaded style, and whatever filters they’ve applied to Miriam and the other enemies in the demo have made them absolutely pop. Looking at the screenshots already included here, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought Bloodstained was actually using 2D sprites after all. It’s a fantastic look for the game, and I can’t wait to see the finished product once the team has been able to apply even more polish.
I don’t want to spoil everything about the demo for those who haven’t had the chance to try it out yet, but suffice it to say that the boss battle at the end was fun, though seasoned Castlevania veterans likely won’t find it too challenging. Instead, I’m just going to mention a couple little touches that I noticed which really show that the spirit of Castlevania is alive and well in Bloodstained. If you remember in SotN, Alucard’s sprite would not simply flip around when you moved from left to right. Rather, the sprite would go through a little transition animation as Alucard moved to face the other direction. It was a very cool little detail, and one that Bloodstained worked to emulate. Of course, considering that the game does feature 3D models, you might expect more fluid motions out the gate, but it’s still a great transition between the classic 2D and updated 3D sensibilities. I also appreciate the minor details like how Miriam will have to recover from a long fall for a moment before continuing to walk again, much the same as Alucard. Plus, it isn’t totally noticeable, but certain items you equip will actually show up on Miriam’s model — the most obvious here being the headband she’s wearing in most of these screenshots, rather than the odd horns she has in most character art. It seems as though she’s wearing those horns by choice. Who would’ve guessed? Either way, after playing through this demo, I can say that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is definitely on its way, and, after this small taste, I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished product in early 2017.