By William Haderlie / July 26th, 2019
|Title||Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night|
|Release Date||June 18th, 2019|
|Platform||PC Steam, PlayStation 4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
Kickstarter games are at a fairly dour place currently when it comes to public perception. Some of the first rumblings of real trouble began when Mighty No. 9 ended up disappointing the overall gaming public, even many of their own backers (myself included). But that event pales in comparison with the recent controversy surrounding Shenmue III, where a chosen platform (Steam) was made unavailable after the developer took a monetary influx by a competing platform. If you can’t trust the companies or individuals creating the Kickstarter to back up their promises, then the whole system comes falling down. There were also some rumblings of similar issues with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Not only was the game seriously delayed, but some of the early builds caused concern, and then there was the dropping of support for PS Vita and Nintendo Wii-U versions of the game. However, both of those consoles are also not even being supported by their own manufacturer any more, so more leeway was given. ArtPlay and Koji Igarashi did earn some goodwill with the release of the 8-bit side project, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, especially because it turned out to be such a fantastic retro game. But all that would have evaporated in an instant if the main game would have turned out bad.
All four of the playable characters from Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon have returned, even if the alternate universe events have no real bearing on this story. However, instead of Zangetsu being the primary character, it is Miriam. Gebel also features prominently, but this time as an antagonist. Because of the style of Metroidvania, it makes a lot more sense for the two Shardbinders to take the spotlight. While Koji Igarashi is rightfully famous for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, in many ways Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is more similar to his GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS entries in the Castlevania franchise. The structure of the castle and story is most similar to SotN, but the combat style and character building is most like Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on personal taste, but for me that is a very good decision. For as much as I love the style, music, and characters of Symphony of the Night, I do consider the monster ability system to be a pretty serious improvement to the overall formula.
As a Shardbinder, Miriam has the ability to transform a defeated demon into an ability shard and then to absorb that shard into her own body and increase her power. Gebel also has that ability, but apparently he tried to absorb too many shards or one of sufficient power seems to have corrupted him. Miriam, driven by a previous promise they made to each other, is now on a journey to save her friend from himself. As a gameplay mechanic, the shard system is fairly deep. The shards themselves have a fairly low drop rate (most hover around the 5-10% rate), and then once you obtain them they can be leveled in two ways. Certain characteristics of the shards can be improved by gaining more shards of the same type (up to 9), and then another set of characteristics (usually attack power) can be improved by leveling up that shard using materials at the Alchemist. The materials to upgrade shards from Rank 1-4 are usually pretty easy to come by, the 5-7 materials are slightly more dear, and the 8 and 9 Rank materials are almost always endgame. While that system is certainly a little on the complex side, the important result of this system is that you can find an ability that you really like and then farm up all the materials you need to make it an endgame viable skill. There is no real one way to get through the game, and only the navigational abilities (almost all of which come from bosses) are totally necessary.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night doesn’t only copy over the skill system from games like Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. In my opinion, it actually improves on it in subtle ways. You can have up to 5 different shards bound to Miriam at any time. They are divided up into different classes; Conjure, Manipulative, Directional, Passive, and Familiar. Conjure are single button use abilities that can vary from something protective (such as the amazing Welcome Company, which surrounds you by a shield of poltergeist paintings) to some highly damaging boss abilities that fill practically the whole screen. Typically the more flashy offensive abilities in Conjure use the most MP of any shards, but you can make a high MP and INT build for Miriam that will make your nukes a lot more efficient and powerful. Manipulative skills are a strange set that you must hold down a button in order for them to be active. There is an important traversal skill in this category, but mostly it is to buff Miriam in specific ways. They are typically pretty low on the MP cost, but they drain it continuously while holding down the button. Directional are aimed with the right analogue stick, and are mostly offensive ranged abilities, but a couple very important traversal shards are also bound to Directional. Therefore it is probably the most important shard slot to have different versions bound to your Quick Select menu. So that when you reach an area where you need to get past a specific obstacle, you can do so without having to go through all the menus. Familiars should be familiar (pardon the pun) to anyone who plays Igarashi games, but as you would expect they also have a level combined with their Rank and Group upgrades that you see with other shards. Basically, they have their own AI and attack/buff/defend Miriam with increasing skill the higher their level is.
I skipped over Passive shards because they are important to address separately. A very subtle mechanic that you only learn from being observant is that there is a major characteristic of Passive shards that is totally different than all the others. When you Rank a Passive up to 9, you will notice that you gain a passive buff that applies to your character whether she is still equipped with that shard or not. Additionally, by gaining a larger Group (more of those shards up to 9), a larger percentage of that buff will be applied to your character. That buff is still not as high as it would be if you equip that shard actively, but they do stack on each other. What you see above is the result of having every Passive shard in the game ranked and grouped up to 9/9, and then equipped with an extremely powerful weapon that you can only get through some serious Alchemy. And Alchemy represents the most important system overall in the entirety of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Not only do you upgrade shards, but you can create new ones, as well as all the best weapons and armor in the game and even crafting food.
One system that is entirely new to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (at least to my knowledge) is their food system. Sadly they don’t exactly explain it very well, and initially it seems like you only use food for emergency health restoration and to complete a series of quests (to be fair, that quest line does have fantastic rewards). Once you eat a food for the first time, you will see a mark to the left of that item, and that is because each time you imbibe a food for the first time, it adds a Passive buff that you see in the far left of the screenshot above. Once you have eaten every food in the game, you will see a Total Bonus that you see on the far right. One of the coolest buffs is that 8.0/sec MP Quickcharge. It makes many really nice Manipulative shards like Accelerator free to use with effectively no MP cost. Getting all the ingredients for all the food and all the weapons and armor that you can craft represents the largest long term challenge for any real completionist out there (like myself), but it was also very satisfying.
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