By William Haderlie / July 26th, 2019
It is a well known issue in video game development that pixel art is a very expensive and time consuming process. So even if 8-bit style games are quite popular in the indie space, total pixel drawn 16 and 32 bit games are much more rare and tend to be on the smaller side. So for a Kickstarter funded project, it is understandable that they were not quite able to use full pixel art for their game. But that is possibly going to be the most controversial part to the game now that it is fully out. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that the classic Igarashi Castlevania games have a very special and beautiful look to them due to that pixel art design. However, this game still does look quite pretty, and a lot of that has to do with the wide variety of enemies and environments. The lighting was also massively improved since several of the demos came out during development, and the end result does look nice. But I can’t say that it will please everyone, and that is one aspect where expectations will have to be slightly tempered.
One advantage of switching to rendered graphics is that it makes Miriam’s look much easier to alter. You can find an enemy (named Todd) early on that is not interested in fighting, and is much more interested in cutting hair. He opens up a Hair Salon that will not only allow you to change her hair style and color, but also her costume and eyes and skin tone as well. You can also alter how she looks depending on what you wear on your head and many accessories as well, so chances are that your Miriam will look quite a bit different than mine does. Unfortunately, reaching the barber is a lot easier than finding all the recipes that he will need to fully unlock his shop. Gaining recipes in general is a very large portion of your progression in the game. Even if you have the materials you need to craft something (with few exceptions), you will need to find the associated recipe book around the castle before you can craft it. Because HP/MP/Ammo upgrades and recipe upgrades are so essential, there is even more reason than in previous Metroidvania games to fully explore that map. And Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has one of the largest maps in the entire sub-genre.
You can actually defeat Gebel fairly easily within a few hours of starting the game. Even starting from scratch I would say that you could do it in under 15 hours pretty easily. But if you have actually played that seminal game, SotN, then you should know why you got that Bad Ending screen after defeating him. Even by the story, you should know that Gebel is only being controlled by someone or something else, the real trick is figuring out how to cure him of that influence. Without a guide it did take me a while to figure out, but once I did it seemed a bit obvious. The only part that wasn’t obvious was getting to the real Zangetsu fight. In order to do that you will have to find an armor that protects you from spikes, and without a guide that is quite well hidden. But I actually like the fact that they don’t just hand it to you and that you have to really search. It’s a rather old school mentality, but it’s not like the Glasses you needed to reach the Upside Down Castle were easy to find either.
I really enjoyed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night my first time going through the game on Normal difficulty. But I think the game is even better on Hard and Nightmare mode, something that I don’t often say for other games. Not only do enemies do more damage in Hard Mode, but enemy placement is also different and you will often find much more powerful demons than you are used to in areas you weren’t expecting them. Then with Nightmare Mode they take that enemy placement from Hard, make them do even more damage, and then limit Miriam to Level 1. As such, unless you really want a severe challenge, it’s best to go into Nightmare from NG+, where you have some equipment buffer. But it is nice to have some added value to the game with those modes, as well as the Boss Rush and Speed Runner modes. Boss Rush is as you would expect, but Speed Runner is a very cool idea where it saves your game with an auto-save at each screen transition. Something you wouldn’t want for a normal Metroidvania run (it ruins the tension of trying to find that next Save or Teleport room), but it is good for speed running strategies and events.
This game ended up being even better than I was expecting when I backed it on Kickstarter, but that doesn’t mean it is free from issues. Because I played it on Steam, I didn’t encounter many of the issues from the console releases (especially the Nintendo Switch), but there were still a couple. The first issue was that I had a few (3 or 4) crashes over the first week of release, and they only happened when I opened up books from the bookcases. Thankfully that has not happened since the first hotfix, but it was annoying and lost me some serious progress a couple times. The persistent issue is the slowdown. It’s not like the old Castlevania games are free from slowdown either, but this is also 2019 and processing power is not a real limiting factor for a game like this. As you would expect when going from a large company like Konami to a very small indie, where you feel the pinch the most is in QA. It isn’t enough to make me not enjoy the game, but it is enough to be really the only thing that I would knock down the score for. Despite those issues, so many things more than make up for it, and that especially applies to the music. The art design is solid throughout, but nothing compares to the soundtrack to this game and it will strongly stack up against any of the classic Castlevania games it was inspired by.
Honestly for as dismayed as I was over Mighty No. 9, I am even more surprised at how good Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night turned out. It is a good reminder that no single person can make or break a video game. They are truly a team effort where the directorial vision is important, but cannot compare to the execution needed from a large number of individuals. While not a perfect game, this title easily stands up to its peers as the best offerings of the Metroidvania genre. If you are not into that genre, than this is distinctly not for you. I’ve seen several reviews and opinions from people who don’t like this game, but they also wouldn’t have liked any of the other games in the genre. So it is a niche, but it does that niche better than anything else in the last 10-20 years. My first time clearing the game took me about 25 hours, which is a bit long for the genre, but as I said the castle is particularly large and the alchemy is very deep. Subsequently I have also beaten it on Hard and Nightmare, so all together I’ve spent over 50 hours playing it. That is a whole lot of game for $39.99 asking price, and it was even less for me as a backer. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a great reminder that all is not lost in the realm of backer projects at Kickstarter. There are just some persistent issues that will need to be addressed going forward.
Review Copy was from being a Kickstarter backer, but not to any tier over the price of the game itself.
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