Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

After a fully funded Kickstarter and years of development and developmental updates, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is finally out as of last week. Nintendo Switch owners had to wait until this week to get their hands on the game. That said, this review only focuses on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC builds of the game. Here's the SuperPhillip Central review of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Offer tribute to this marvelous Metroidvania

Kickstarters with famous video game names and personalities attached to them have decidedly not had the greatest level of successes. The most obvious example of this would be Keiji Inafune of Mega Man fame and Mighty No. 9, which turned out to be one nightmare of a game. Then, there was Yooka-Laylee, which fared better critically, but also did not come near the glory of the game it was modeled after: Banjo-Kazooie.

Now, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night comes from Koji Igarashi, the mind behind Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and other games cut from that cloth. These Castlevania games are so beloved that a moniker was named after Igarashi, the "Igavania" games. Obviously modeled after Igarashi's previous works and meant to serve as an ode to the genre, does Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night prove that the third time is indeed the charm with Kickstarter games?

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night makes no attempt to hide its Castlevania: Symphony of the Night gameplay influences, as that's what fans really wanted out of the project to begin with, but at the same time, there's enough freshness here to make for a game that has plenty of surprises in store for players.

If you've played any type of Metroidvania, then you know what to expect. You have an expansive interconnected world to explore that is separated by individual areas, and the keys to progression are new abilities earned from defeated bosses and through other means. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a bit unique in that it's more open than past Igavanias, allowing players a bit more freedom in which areas they choose to explore and when. Yes, many paths are gated off and deemed inaccessible until you acquire the right ability to pass them, but when my brother and I played our own save files, we saw ourselves venturing to alternate areas and completing some of them in a different order. That said, this less rigid structure also leads to some situations where you can be completely in the dark about where to go next and how to proceed. It's a common thing in Metroidvania games, but it's especially noticeable in this particular game.

These foes may think they have an advantage on Miriam, but the odds are actually stacked against THEM.
Like Symphony of the Night, our heroine Miriam can slay enemies and, with enough luck, earn their abilities through shards. Each shard comes in one of five types and can be equipped in a menu. Some allow Miriam offensive skills like the ability to launch a flurry of arrows at enemies, while others are passive, granting Miriam more luck, giving a higher probability of rarer item drops. Furthermore, shard abilities can be enhanced within the game, as well as have them magnified by collecting more of the same shard--up to nine.

There is a great variety of shards to earn, and some shards have rare drop rates, meaning you'll have to enter and exit rooms to respawn a foe with the desired shard you want until they finally give you it. This is also how item drops work with the game's sizable collection of items, materials, weapons, armor, headgear, accessories, and more. Some foes can be quite stingy in dropping the rarer items, some of which have a very low percentage chance of parting with them, but with enough persistence (and some luck-enhancing abilities), they'll eventually drop the shard or item you're looking for.

While you won't have to grind too much for this Morte Bone's shard,
 other foes will prove to be far less willing to let Miriam have their abilities.
A friendly character in the game will allow you to synthesize said items to form new crafted goods of all varieties--enhance and upgrade equipment and all that good stuff. Once you create a given item, it is able to be purchased freely in a nearby shop. Though tracking down the necessary materials for an item you're wanting can be a trite overwhelming, as there are a ton of enemies that drop different materials at varying drop rates. It can be challenging to remember which enemy drops what, but there is some help with the in-game catalog of items and bestiary of foes.

That said, what isn't so helpful is the actual map of Bloodstained, which should be an adventurer's most helpful tool for navigating around the game world. It currently lacks any sort of map legend, so without the assistance and knowledge of the Internet I had no clue what the various symbols on the map meant. Each individual area on the map is hard to distinguish at a glance, making it so areas on the map blend in together. A simple recoloring, making it so each unique area is a specific color, would make a world of difference in reading the map in an optimal way.

While deciphering the in-game map isn't the best, the sheer wealth of ways Miriam can dish out damage to demons, devils, the undead, and any other horrors that stand in her way certainly is. She's more than happy to oblige in her enemies' collective death wish. To do this, she has an arsenal of weapons she can utilize--boots, swords, daggers, spears, whips, staffs, greatswords, axes, firearms, and much more--as well as her aforementioned shard abilities, the latter use magic points (or MP) that slowly replenish when not in use. Bookcases found around the massive platforming playground of Ritual of the Night bestow new weapon techniques that can unleash powerful attacks on foes with specific controller inputs, many similar to a fighting game. All of these options bring a multitude of methods and manners for Miriam to mercilessly massacre foes. Although some of these can be gamed to make Ritual of the Night a less-than-challenging adventure overall.

Miriam has a slew of weapons she can acquire. One might call this one a killer of vampires. Maybe.
With all of the shards and equipment you have to switch through in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, it means you're constantly entering and exiting menus to switch up your current loadout. While there are shortcuts to save your favorite shard and equipment builds to, any time you earn better equipment, you have to also replace each build mapped to each shortcut for the changes to stick. This isn't the most time-consuming process at first, but it slowly and steadily adds up over the course of the game, especially as you earn better and better equipment.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a tremendous Metroidvania game, and it's a promise fulfilled as a quality game in the same vein as the director's Castlevania works. However, I can't call it a particularly outstanding game without mentioning the problematic technical issues that the game is riddled with--some being more obnoxious than others. For one, there is some noticeable severe instances of the frame-rate hitching when attacking enemies on occasions. It doesn't happen especially often, but it's there more than I like. Worse than the hitching is the immense slowdown in specific areas of the game, most evident in a late-game boss fight. Finally, and this is the most frustrating of all--the game has crashed on me on the PlayStation 4 version twice, losing valuable progress in the process.

'Tis but a flesh wound?
Furthermore, the presentation of Ritual of the Night doesn't hit all of the high notes with this particular symphony. While the art design is delightful with wonderfully done and designed architecture, areas can come across as utterly garish. One specific area near the bottom of the map has bloom overload, and it's simply an eyesore. Fortunately, the sound side of Bloodstained fares much better with the splendid and masterful musical works of longtime Castlevania composer Michiru Yamane as well some rather good voice acting to spice up the presentation and special story beats.

My, what big teeth... and tongue... and everything else you twin dragons have!
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is possibly my favorite of Koji Igarashi's Metroidvania games, and it would be my absolute favorite for sure if it wasn't marred by its current technical issues and lack of polish. The gameplay and level design are top tier, the boss fights are exciting and entertaining, and the level of challenge in the game is certainly there. I've never been so engrossed with a game in this style in a long time, and even with its many technical faults, I'm still in love with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It's a Kickstarter-funded game with a notable personality behind it done right, and it's about damn time.

[SPC Says: B+]

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