A New Castle Awaits
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the latest title from former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi and companion title to last year retro-inspired Curse of the Moon release. With gorgeous HD visuals captured in a 2.5D art style, smooth platforming physics and rewarding combat gameplay, Ritual of the Night is a worthy re-imagining of the popular Castlevania formula. If this is the new direction of the popular Dracula action-adventure series, I’m all in for future releases in the series.
Check out our video summary review of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night below:
Coming as a sequel to the 2018 Curse of the Moon title, Ritual of the Night presents a much more modern take on the game design. While Curse of the Moon invokes nostalgia with its 8-bit visuals and retro inspirtion, Ritual of the Night adds a sleek HD paint job with plenty of new gameplay elements and mechanics added for a more versatile experience. The game looks gorgeous with its 2.5D art style as each region within the expansive map creates a haunting feeling the deeper you plunge into the castle.
Fending Off Dreadful Abominations
As you take on the role of Miriam players will begin their trek through the relentless and winding castle layout in true side-scrolling, platforming fashion. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night adopts the gameplay design that’s become so familiar from Castlevania series and challenges players with tactical combat mechanics, waves of enemies and unique environmental puzzles centered around the precise nature of platforming. Players can easily lose themselves within the many different directions to explore in the expansive map, but the game does an excellent job to ensure specific scenarios help point the player in the right direction towards satisfying progression.
Within the dark and mysterious castle players will come across dozens of dreadful monsters and abominations. Nearly everyone and everything you stumble across presents a danger to the player, so it’s important to continue onward with concentrated focus and determination. Otherwise, you might find yourself on the raw end of a battle, effectively triggering the ‘Game Over’ screen causing the player to lose all progress after the last time saved. It’s a bit of a learning curve at the start of the game, one that can easily deter the faint of heart if not careful.
The map is sprawling within Ritual of the Night with tons of different and surprising regions to navigate through, all composed of different rooms, or sections, all waiting to be discovered and explored. While most of these rooms consist of incoming enemy encounters or hidden treasure chests containing beneficial items or new equipment, a few of these rooms scattered across the entire map provide the player with save spots and teleporting checkpoints.
The game doesn’t feature auto-save in order to keep its adventurous design, so players must remember to save their progress before shutting down the game or taking on one of the many boss fights. Save areas also refill the player’s health and mana meters which can be a saving grace when deep into exploring a new section of the map with no extra healing items and close to death. The checkpoint rooms can also come in handy as they allow the player to transport between other checkpoint areas. They’re typically found relatively close to Save areas, so utilizing these teleporting rooms to save progress becomes something of second nature the further you dive in.
While exploration is big part of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there’s also loads of enemy situations to keep the player on their toes. The game tosses a diverse line up of different enemies of all sizes each with their own attack patterns and special abilities. The player has an effective basic melee attack depending on which weapon type is equipped. One-handed swords, two-handed great swords, firearms for range, clubs, spears or just using your feet as your weapon, there are tons of weapons you collect and try out in order to find your preference.
Along with different attacks based on each weapon, players will also be able to perform special attacks by mastering specific button inputs. Similar to most fighting games around, these unique button inputs use up a bit of your mana meter – which refills over time – but can deal some heavy damage if executed to perfection. However, using the many melee weapons to your advantage is only part of what Ritual of the Night brings to the table in terms of combat abilities.
The Power of the Shard
What makes Miriam so special is her ability to absorb ‘shards’ and learn new magical skills. Every standard enemy in the game has a chance to drop one of these shards to be absorbed by our protagonist. Every unique shard – and there are TONS of them – offers up a unique skill in one of five different shard categories. These shard abilities use up precious mana but can make dealing with tougher enemies a breeze depending on your play style.
Shard abilities are broken up into conjure, manipulative, directional, passive and familiar categories. The conjure category allows players to summon help in the form of an ally used for a quick dose of damage dealt against your foes. Manipulative offers players the ability to alter certain aspect within the game world, typically to help advance further in the game. Directional provides players with a range type attack that’s fired off in the direction of which you’re aiming. Passive shards are specific stats that are buffed whenever you have the shard equipped. And familiar category shards summons a more permanent companion at your side to help deal with the many enemies you’ll come across.
Players may only equip one shard in each category. And with the game featuring dozens of unique enemies to encounter, there’s equally as many shards to collect. Shards may also be upgraded in a couple of different ways in order to enhance their capabilities as well. Collecting specific materials allows players to increase the shard’s effectiveness, but additional shards collected of the same type will also increase its rank. Of course, shards may also be sold to the game’s shop keeper to pile on more coin for other useful items and consumables. This is a stable method of accumulating coin, especially if you have multiple shards where you’re not using the specific ability.
Players won’t just need to find new combat abilities as there are also a few different navigational skills to acquire as well. With such a large and expansive map, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually stumble across sections that require additional skills in order to proceed further. Unique learned skills like the coveted double jump, swimming or the ability to move through narrow openings as a beam of light all open up the game into even greater and more advanced sections of the map. With these abilities offered, there always seems to be a satisfying experience upon making headway further and further into the game.
Building Your Way
There are also plenty of pieces of equipment to try out in the game as well. With all of the previously mentioned melee weapons to collect, there’s an equal amount of armor pieces in play, too. Head gear, chest plates, scarfs and two accessories help beef up player defense, offense and other useful stats. Creating your build becomes a necessity for survival, especially creating one that allows you to adapt to your most acquainted play style.
However, players won’t have to adjust to only one build of character. Ritual of the Night allows players to create multiple builds and assign them into separate shortcuts in the game. After creating your custom build and assigning it to the shortcut key, players can effortlessly and quickly swap between different builds to suit every type of occasion. This is a certain quality of life feature for those players able to adapt and learn multiple play styles throughout the adventure.
While players may direct most of their exploration towards discovering more equipment and weapons, there’s also a good amount of materials, ingredients and consumables to collect as well. Players can use certain materials to craft new weapons and armor, cook with found ingredients and recipes for permanent stat increases and aid ailments and restore health with a variety of different consumables. Of course, if you’re having trouble finding hidden treasure chests, players can also utilize the game’s shop to purchase the necessities you need.
Through all of the hordes of enemies, tons of different rooms to explore and items to collect, players must show their grit with a variety of different boss encounters. Each boss has unique abilities to adapt to and often times strategic advantages to make note of. The intense action of triggering powerful shard abilities and putting your powerful gear to the test comes full force when squaring off against these more worthy opponents. However, once defeated, each boss rewards the player with some more story dialogue and often new abilities or weapons to help you out along the way.
The long-running and beloved series of Castlevania brought forth its own style of gameplay when the series debuted back in the 1980s. Former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi makes a stunning return to the series with his spiritual successor to the coveted Castlevania franchise, Bloodstained – and the new sequel – Ritual of the Night – captures the essence that many fans of the “Vania” series love, while introducing new mechanics to allow the formula to grow into something even greater.
When taking the plunge into what Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has to offer, players may be a bit skeptical after the opening hour or so. The difficulty curve in the beginning can be a bit daunting, but with enough perseverance, Ritual of the Night flourishes into a must-play title for any fan of the “Metroidvania” genre. As worthy as any title can be when holding up the Castlevania flag, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night takes some interesting turns in the formula; turns that could very well lead to the resurgence of a classic series in the modern era.
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