Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night Review - Not Dead Yet

  • First Released Jun 18, 2019
  • PC
  • PS4

Castle freaks.

In the years since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night helped define the genre, "Metroidvania" has gone from a bold archetype to a bullet-point feature. Quite a few games have iterated and riffed on Metroidvanias. But Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi isn't riffing on the genre with his latest project, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, so much as returning to convention. But despite being relatively safe, Bloodstained is more than just its creator; its impeccable craftsmanship in level design and combat, quality-of-life improvements, and unique flavor help it stand on its own in a crowded landscape.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night feels comfortable and familiar, even down to the color-coded map that reveals itself during the course of the game. Like its predecessors in the Castlevania series, your hero Miriam needs to strike even the most basic of enemies four or five times to defeat them, and the lack of agility at first can feel stiff and restrictive. This can actually seem discordant with memories of games like Symphony of the Night, but the familiarity will return as Miriam grows more powerful and the game becomes more recognizable along with her.

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This isn’t to say that Bloodstained has left the formula entirely untouched. A series of Techniques found in tomes around the castle teach weapon-specific move sets similar to a character-action or fighting game. With the increased emphasis on differentiated weaponry, the game introduces "Shortcut" loadout slots that allow you to quickly swap between different sets of equipment. It's a small quality-of-life touch, but it's smartly implemented.

The biggest addition comes from Shards, or pieces of the demons and other monsters that imbue you with extra powers. The Shard system combines the Spells, Relics, and Familiars from Symphony of the Night into one system that’s more robust and versatile. Shards come in five forms: Conjure, Manipulative, Directional, Passive, and Familiar. Conjure summons a weapon or creature, while Manipulative makes more lengthy changes to your current state. Passive offers buffs and other benefits, and Familiars accompany you, giving aid. Directional has the most variety by far, offering tons of projectile-like weapons that can be pointed anywhere using the right-stick. Unfortunately, Directional shards are also used for a few abilities that are crucial to navigation, forcing you to manually swap them when needed or take up a couple of Shortcut slots.

By the nature of its Shard system and other power-ups and abilities, Bloodstained isn’t often a terribly challenging game. Gaining a few more levels to take on a challenging new area or boss is quick and breezy, and the sheer variety of weapon types makes it easy to fit the game around your play style. Like many old-school games, seeing your way past the challenges requires patience in learning the enemy patterns, cheesing your way through with special abilities, or some combination of the two.

Other additions like crafting weapons and cooking meals for permanent buffs add a little more nuance to Bloodstained, and a nice variety of ways to improve your stats. In general, the powering up only goes in one direction. You aren’t often forced to make tough decisions about trade-offs, aside from a point or two from one stat or another in choosing equipment. This feels unusual by modern standards, but helps drive home the idea that the genre is about empowerment. Going from weak and overwhelmed to a capable and professional monster slayer makes for more satisfying progression.

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Occasionally, Bloodstained does show slight technical issues. It suffers from slowdown at points, especially given certain Shard abilities, and some areas are noticeably more plain than the lush gable rooftops of Arvantville or the gaudy brilliance of the Dian Cecht Cathedral. The interior of the castle on the whole is gorgeous, and the disparate environments show a keen eye for design with differentiation. The less ornate parts of it stand out, but only because the rest is so well put-together. [Editor's note: The Nintendo Switch version fares worse, with a number of technical problems including reduced visual fidelity and an unstable frame rate that affects gameplay. Stay tuned for our separate Switch review.]

True to its lineage, Bloodstained is full of secrets to uncover and nooks to explore. The castle design unfolds beautifully over the course of several hours, instilling a constant sense of curiosity and exploration. The layout is subtle and inviting; points that are meant to be accessed sometime later are clear without feeling restricted or frustrating, and it rarely leaves you at a loss for what to do next. A pin feature lets you mark points of interest to return to later, too (though its unintuitive button mapping means it’s easy to place a flurry of them accidentally). Accessing the "true" ending is a clever puzzle within this platformer formula, which opens up even deeper layers of the castle that beg to be explored.

The castle design unfolds beautifully over the course of several hours, instilling a constant sense of curiosity and exploration.

Being a Castlevania game in all but name places some restrictions on how explicit the game can be with its references and callbacks. Some are more blatant than others, but Bloodstained consistently impresses with creative solutions to raise the specter of Castlevania while skirting just on the right side of originality. From weapon descriptions to a hidden 8-bit-styled stage to one of the super-tough optional bosses, Bloodstained pays homage to its legacy with too many Easter eggs to count. These fun winks are clear messages to long-time fans, but not so obvious that they should be distracting for newcomers.

That cheeky tone informs the entire game. While the story itself is bland and unremarkable, the style and trappings around it are anything but. This is gothic horror at its most silly, with demons occupying the castle corridors alongside giant puppy heads and homages to the indie hit Shovel Knight. Even some of the dialogue is clearly in on the joke. A quest giver in the main hub has a comical level of bloodlust over her revenge quests. An undead ferryman drops an unsubtle hint about how you could open a path for him if you only had a giant hand. A demon barber who opens up cosmetic options is conspicuously named Todd. Bloodstained is full of little touches like these, which let you know that despite its dour name and setting, the game is comfortable enough with itself to be absurd.

It’s that sense of comfort in its own skin that makes Bloodstained such a treat. This isn’t a bold modernization of the genre or a departure from its roots. It is exactly what it set out to be: a return to the style of a bygone era, with a few modern improvements. Its perception was always going to be affected by how well it invoked the feeling of a classic Castlevania game, but Bloodstained does that and better. With more flexible combat and level design that always beckons to check just one more room, Bloodstained shows that a modern Metroidvania can stand alongside its predecessors as an equal.

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The Good
Interconnected level design that unfolds beautifully
Versatile Shards and weapons provide combat flexibility
New quality-of-life features modernize while fitting right in with classic gameplay
Goofy sense of humor keeps gothic tone feeling light and enjoyable
The Bad
Some technical hiccups, especially in graphically-intense areas
Some navigational powers oddly assigned to commands usually used for combat
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

About the Author

Steve played approximately 17 hours of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on PS4. He ill needs a savior such as you. Review code was provided by the publisher.
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Avatar image for siotan

Someone is loving this game. I translated this review in russian, for my blog. It seem good game.

Avatar image for txuzai

What technical hiccups?

Avatar image for Dark_Metamorphosis

@arkel: It means it was once a new and exciting idea and now it is just a formula that is easily repeated

Avatar image for kyotoforever

Loving this game. We've been missing Iga and his Castlevania contributions for too long (since Konami has fallen apart). This feels like a great update to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in many ways.

Great game, easily 8 - 8.5 out of 10 and just a nice change of pace.

Avatar image for dr_derogatory

I've been playing this on a launch PS4, and aside from the unfortunate technical issues, it has been pure nostalgic bliss. It truly plays like a current gen SotN, only with more variation to the gameplay. Ran into some massive slowdown while going around the outside of the clock tower. I'm not sure if there was just too much going on in the background or what, but it was definitely slowdown to the point that it was distracting. Even with the technical issues aside, I give the game easily an 8 and probably an 8.5. I feel like the GS review is pretty on point. At least from what I've experienced.

Some of the enemy designs are brilliantly hilarious. Highly recommend this game if you're at all a fan of the Metroidvania genre.

Avatar image for chisoxrule

I went with the XBox version since it seems that the Switch version is dog$#!t compared to the others. No regrets!

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

This game is a masterpiece, easily as good as Symphony of the Night and an easy 9.5/10.

Avatar image for aross2004

@Thanatos2k: This.

I was so in love with Spiderman that I didn't want it to end. Hadn't felt that way about a game in a loonnngggg time, but here I am having that feeling once again.

I've held off as long as I could, time to finish it off...

Avatar image for tingtong

It could’ve been a little better or some things touched up on IMO but not that big a deal…like there’s a familiar that looks more like a pink flying dwarf rather than a fairy; maybe a bit more elegant/classy in some ways… no spoken dialog might’ve helped with that since the main character isn’t exactly what I was expecting… although some of the voice acting & characters are good. There needs to be a boomerang. I’m on PS4 Pro with a bomb TV but faces are still jaggedy at close-up.

I could go on but again just minor nitpicking.. I only paid $32 for it at Walmart & its basically the only game I’m playing atm which says a lot. Definitely a solid 8.5…it deserves some extra credit just for being unique in an oversaturated market.. the next time we see a game like this is anybody’s guess.

Avatar image for edwardnygma

I bought this but haven’t played yet due to backlog. Too bad we don’t have a Belmont as the lead. Looks great!

Avatar image for Acheron18

I played it in 4k on PC and the only place I noticed the FPS dropping was during a certain attack in the Valefor fight.

I backed the game on Kickstarter and I couldn't be happier with the result. I wanted a new Symphony of the Night and that's exactly what I got.

Avatar image for girlusocrazy

I'm playing it, and it's so good. Glad they didn't F with the formula. That 3DS Castlevania should have been like this. Yeah Igarashi didn't work on that I know, but he made tons of blueprints for people to follow and still nobody can put it down like this.

And I can't believe how good it looks, I was worried in the early days, but it looks so good it's like damn, my eyes get weirded out from looking at it. It's playing SotN in 4k HD.

Avatar image for blowfish82

@girlusocrazy: Iga has worked on every single one afaik.

Avatar image for girlusocrazy

@blowfish82: No, his first was Rondo of Blood and he didn't work on the Mercury Steam ones

Avatar image for blowfish82

@girlusocrazy: Youre thinking of someone else.

Iga has worked on every single GBA\DS\3DS Castlevania. He had nothing to do with Rondo and I dont believe he was involved in the series back then.

Avatar image for girlusocrazy

@blowfish82: Yeah, but that speaks to my point, you said "Iga has worked on every single one", he def didn't work on the 8-bit and 16-bit games

Avatar image for Pierce_Sparrow

I love the Metroidvania sub genre and Bloodstained is exactly what I wanted it to be. I've already gone through it, but I know it's a game I'll return to from time to time when I get that itch for SotN style game.

Avatar image for edwardnygma

@Pierce_Sparrow: Do you have any other recent Metroidvania fave? Love the genre.

Avatar image for dr_derogatory

@edwardnygma: It's a couple of years old now, but Hollow Knight is brilliant. Top notch in almost every respect. Highly highly recommended.

Avatar image for edwardnygma

@dr_derogatory: Thanks!

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

@edwardnygma: Timespinner was pretty good.

Avatar image for edwardnygma

@Thanatos2k: I’ll check it out thanks.

Avatar image for Pierce_Sparrow

@edwardnygma: Recently, no. I haven't played anything like SotN in a long time. I think there's a couple games from the past year or two that have popped up on steam though.

Avatar image for edwardnygma

@Pierce_Sparrow: Great genre. Thanks anyway

Avatar image for ProjektInsanity

This game is EXACTLY what the kickstarter set out to be: a modern SotN, and by god, I love it for that.

Avatar image for sakaixx

I want to buy this game as fan of the PS1 Castlevania Symphony of the Night but I have so much backlog I cannot right now. Definitely adding this game to wish list, hopefully I can complete all backlog by September and finally play this game.

Avatar image for evilross

This game has been a addiction to me since I got it on launch day. I played SotN when it first came out, I was in my teens.

This is the first game that fills that void.

BTW, there was no mention of the music in the review. In case your wondering, it’s freaking awesome. And there is a rock star demon that sheads on guitar and launches fire and energy bolts from his solos. And yes, you can get his shard.

Avatar image for yxw

This game has been in my ps4 since launch with both me and my kids taking turns since launch. A couple of very minor technical problems aside, it is a SOTN lovers dream! I am waiting patiently for my boys to go do there thing so I can drop the last boss tonight.

Avatar image for angrycreep

@yxw: I am currently playing the game and the game is really good and this is definitely much higher than just an 8. Some of this reviewers are very tuff with their score but if I have to score the game my self I'll give this game a well deserve 8.8

By the way IGN gave this game an 8.8 in their review

Avatar image for zmanbarzel

@angrycreep: So rather than a score that equals “Great” on the Gamespot scale, you’d give it...a score that equals “Great” on the Gamespot scale?

Avatar image for angrycreep

@zmanbarzel: Forget about the dumb Gamespot scale that never makes sense. An 8.0 score is not the same as an 8.8 score. It should be "really good" in the scale. I leave it at that and let you go through your thoughts a little more

Avatar image for imajinn

Having 100% completed it, my opinion is definitely higher than an 8. The patch fixed the dips in frame rate from what I've noticed. This game definitely left me craving more.

Avatar image for angrycreep

@imajinn: I agree this is a really good game and deserve a much better score.

Myself would score the game much higher and give it a well deserve 8.8

By the way IGN gave this game an 8.8 in their review

Avatar image for blowfish82

Not a single hiccup or technical problem and I have about 14 hours 99.60 percent and I think some of the best equipment like the the engame Rheva sword and the cashmere armor (not what its called).

Literally not a single jump or deviation ever from 60fps.

Avatar image for Kefke_Wren

What's a character-action game? Do you mean a spectacle-fighter?

Avatar image for zmanbarzel

@Kefke_Wren: "Character-action game" usually covers games like "Devil May Cry," "Bayonetta" and (Xbox-era) "Ninja Gaiden."

Avatar image for Cikatriz_ESP

The crafting/cooking system deserves more praise than it’s been getting in reviews.

Avatar image for dani3po

The patch released today seems to have resolved the drops in the frame rate. The truth is that I found it incredible that such a technically unambitious game would suffer this kind of problems on an Xbox One X. Otherwise, the game is pretty great.

Avatar image for blowfish82

@dani3po: Calling it technically unambitious is completely wrong, thats why you are so "surprised." Whole game had to be visually stripped to get it to run on Switch.

Avatar image for cetaepsilon

This is game is truly easy to pick up and difficult to put down. Although 30 hrs into game I'm already overpowered I still want to figure out a new way to slay monsters. Animation is smooth, loading is fast, on PC it's only 15 seconds. I can whack demons for a few minutes before going back to work. Also one thing for sure is I have more fun here than I did playing Hollow Knight. I don't like doing Dark Soul-ey thing just for the sake of prolonging the game.

Avatar image for girlusocrazy

Instant buy

Avatar image for owlcoholic


Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night More Info

  • First Released Jun 18, 2019
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an exploration-focused, side-scrolling platformer featuring RPG and crafting elements from Koji Igarashi.
    Average Rating31 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Published by:
    505 Games
    Action, Role-Playing
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Blood, Partial Nudity, Violence