Moonlight spilled over the courtyard, piercing the veil of clouds and glistening off the various blades, both steel and grass. The ivory piano keys shimmered as Miriam’s slender fingers danced along them, her movements as swift and precise as a dancer. In the next instant, she was ten feet above the piano, violet bolts of lightning crackling along the wings of a small fairy like creature as it exploded into tiny specks of dust. In yet another moment, she’s facing off against a huge knight in onyx colored armor, her orchid blade impacting his in the spectacular clash of swords for the briefest of moments before her blade slid down the middle of the knight’s armor, cleaving him in two and causing him to vanish into the abyss.
If this all sounds vaguely familiar, then you may be a fan of Koji Igarashi, producer and/or writer on many of the modern Castlevania games. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the end result of a 2015 Kickstarter campaign, a venture meant to showcase the fact that demand for these types of games, dubbed “Metroidvanias” was still high despite the fact that the last game Igarashi worked on in this genre was Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, released back in 2008.
Igarashi’s more recent work, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, released in 2018, contains many characters and narrative themes present in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and is neither a prequel nor sequel but rather a retro style supplement to the game, developed and released ultimately due to crowdfunding goals that were eventually met in the 2015 Kickstarter campaign.
The narrative surrounding Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, involves a young woman named Miriam. Her journey begins when, as an orphan, she’s taken in by the Alchemists’ Guild and subjected to mysterious “experiments” with demonically powered crystals known as “Shards.” These experiments were ultimately a double edged sword, granting her incredible power as a “Shardbinder,” but also causing her body to crystalize over time until it is completely consumed.
Much has been suggested regarding the game and numerous comparisons to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, even referring to it as a “spiritual successor” to Symphony. To be fair, even if the game didn’t feature a number of similarities to Symphony, it would undoubtedly draw such comparisons, as Symphony is perhaps regarded by many to be the gold standard of Metroidvanias and a game by which many others are measured.
The gameplay itself is perhaps the first thing one notices about Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night in that it is strikingly similar to Symphony for better or for worse. You’ll explore a massive castle in all its 2.5D glory and uncover a veritable cornucopia of rooms, enemies, items, puzzles, on your journey to save the world. There are a number of locations in the game that feel ripped directly from Symphony as well as several easter eggs that will be instantly familiar to those that have spent any time with Symphony. There’s even an inverted castle power that will allow you to invert the castle and solve puzzles and explore the environment in that context.
Graphically, the art style is an interesting mix of anime inspired character models featured in the in game cutscenes with some very nice effects that can be seen as you’re exploring the castle. The graphical overhaul that the game went through earlier seems to have polished the rough surface to a near mirror like sheen. Shadows lurk on marble tiled ceilings behind flickering torches. Moonlight pierces stained glass windows. Rain gathers on wooden floors and streams down surfaces. Crimson light peers in ominously through windows. One of the nicer perpetual effects is the scarf you have equipped, which will fluidly move and flap along behind Miriam as she jumps and runs and makes her way through the maze of rooms that make up the entirety of the castle grounds.
The gothic thematic elements that Igarashi seems right at home with serve him well here, with set pieces featuring the usual demons and gargoyles and all manner of nightmare infused creatures, brought to life in stunning detail and spectacular fashion.
Michiru Yamane, who composed much of the game’s soundtrack, manages to weave a haunting, unsettling, and enchanting spell as you move through the many rooms of the castle’s interior, courtyard and underground areas. Each area of the sprawling fortress is thematically different, orchestrally as well as graphically. From the “holier than thou” themes that seem to echo throughout the cathedral, to the more academic tones that populate the library, to the more subtle notes that populate the underground cavern.
From its moonlight tinged stairways to its torch lined courtyards, to its underground caverns teeming with precious gems and watery depths, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Nightis a worthwhile journey, every bit as atmospheric and thematic as a certain symphony, hauntingly sung just 22 years ago.