Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review

After a crushing five-year wait, Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is finally upon us. Let’s get this out of the way right now: that wait was super worth it. I’m not saying this is a perfect game. Far from it, in fact! But there could be no better spiritual successor to the storied metroidvania legacy Igarashi himself began all those years ago. For better or for worse, this is the game you’ve been pining for.

I don’t know your skill level. Maybe you eat games like this for breakfast every morning. Maybe you speedrun Symphony of the Night every weekend, for a lark. For me, these bosses offered up some serious grief. In a good way, I promise! The struggle and the suffering all built to that moment of ineffable relief, that tipping point where you can take proper breaths once again. While the challenge level isn’t always consistent, I was consistently satisfied with the combat. Between that and the aesthetic, I was immediately enthralled.

What Is A Man?

Trust me when I say this next bit is absolutely a compliment of the highest order. The story, the dialogue, the voice acting, all of these are pure ham. I can’t adequately describe the joy I felt upon learning this fact. It was like stepping into a high-def portal to the late 90’s. Watching Gebel chew up the scenery while doing his evil routine is a true wonder to behold.

You’re given ample opportunity for weapons testing almost immediately. Swords, clubs, daggers, and whips all change your combat rhythm. Do you want to be fast or forceful? What kind of strike arc works best for you? What do you think looks the coolest? All of this ends up being mission-critical info, but I relished the chance to find out. Each weapon feels distinct, enough that changing things up can be hazardous. Yet change things you must. If nothing else, certain bosses just require certain weapons. Not explicitly, but you learn fast which attacks are less likely to get you killed. I hovered between the great swords and the katanas. There’s no substitution for power like that, you know?

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

While there’s no shortage of gear to kit yourself out with, none of it can replace your hard-earned skills. My equipment configuration was never what crushed all those bosses. Instead, I was forced to memorize their moves, perfecting the deadly dance until I squeaked by on sheer luck and solid grit. Changing your gear also switches up your appearance, however. For this reason alone I was compelled to track down every piece I could. I have a well-documented fascination with character customization. How can one save the world and slay the damned without also looking super rad?

My previous comments about difficulty are time-sensitive ones. In the beginning, you’re batted about by enemies like a crash-test dummy. The second boss was a forge fire, turning my bones to ash and wind. But over time, I continuously accumulated experience and shards. Eventually you turn into a serious badass. This is a wonderful feeling, but it’s one you must trade for a challenge. Unless…! Unless you get adventurous and crank up the difficulty. Normal and Nightmare mode are two very different conversations about challenge. All of my misgivings about power creep go out the window as the game is turned up in toughness. I promise if you’re a Metroidvania maniac looking for a tough time, you’ll get some mileage out of Bloodstained.

Trade Your Soul For Skills

Ritual of the Night feels exactly like the Castlevania RPGs of old. The enemies, abilities, and the general aesthetic are all quite familiar. This is either a benefit or a detriment, depending on how nostalgic you get for Symphony of the Night. I adored those games, thereby all these familiar refrains were sweet clean air on a sunny day. If you’re looking for something brand new from Igarashi, you’ll have mixed feelings about this game. Even the weird old foibles all carry over. It’s just as easy to get lost, the dialogue is ridiculous, and the combat is deliberately limited. No you can’t strike upwards, and a pox on you for even suggesting such a thing. Once again, this a pristine Igarashi game, with all its fabulous flaws intact.

Scoring this game feels disingenuous. I know it’s got problems. The pacing is weird, you can spend a lot of time wandering around, your move set is limited, and we’ve seen all this before. The Metroidvania genre has made leaps and bounds since its creation with Symphony of the Night. On the other hand, this game feels so damn good! Every strike and every skill is pure, like a fine decanted wine. The level grinding, the power acquisition, the wild monsters, and that sparkling aesthetic all put a real humming in my blood. The thought of thirteen DLC releases on the way makes my heart race. While the score below is technically accurate, know that in my heart, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night gets an easy nine out of ten. I’ll be exploring this weird world for quite a while yet, and I suspect that many of you will be doing the same.

***A PS4 code was provided by the publisher***