Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Isn’t That Bloody But It’s Beautiful – Hands-on Preview

The Castlevania successor we deserve.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the very first Kickstarter campaign I have backed for video games, and to be clear, what prompted me to fork over the money was not gaming icon Koji Igarashi’s being tacked on to the project. Yes, I know he was the assistant director of the most beloved Castlevania game, Symphony of the Night, which pretty much guarantees a stellar game here. But it was the composer’s name, Michiru Yamane, the original composer for the Castlevania series, that made me yell, “Shut up and take my money!”

That information is important, because I donated to the level where I would receive the official soundtrack and art book as well as the game when it completes. As such, I received a copy of the demo the developers showed at E3 2016, one that they demonstrated and did not let anyone play. If I didn’t pay as much as I did, I would throw in a “Neener neener neener!”, although hearing the developer commentary while they played might have been nice as well.

I probably took ten times as long to get through the demo for Bloodstained because I had no idea what I was doing, what was going on, or even what I should be doing. I never did learn what was going on, but for a demo this short, I really didn’t care too much because it was too much fun beheading demons and exploring what appeared to be a ship at sea—a ship infested with ghosts and demons that needs some serious repairs when it hits the shores.

Within ten seconds of starting the demo, I was instantly transported back to the days of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night—very simple controls, side-scrolling presentation, and platforming exploration. As Miriam, the protagonist, explores her environment and unlocks new abilities, she’s able to access different areas and more easily defeat enemies, which is exactly what you would expect from a Castlevania-like game. It also has some RPG elements, where Miriam gains experience and levels up, can equip new armor and weapons, and equip new shards that grant her special abilities. It’s a bit of the best of both worlds, and from the little I was able to sample, it works quite well.

This demo only allowed for basic combat, exploration, and learning a little bit about Miriam’s shard ability and how this can aid in exploration. Thanks to Miriam’s alchemist curse, she can take on demons’ abilities or powers after absorbing them as crystal shards. For example, defeating one demon gives her the power to shoot fireballs. The fireballs are useful for burning demons to a crisp as well as lighting cannons to blow open sealed walls.

The combat is enjoyable, especially after finding that first chest with the katana blade and unlocking a couple of Miriam’s powers. Even the platforming is simple and solid, and it didn’t frustrate me as a gamer who generally stays away from platformers. Time will tell if the platforming becomes more egregious later on, but the game appears to be as complex as the platforming found in other Castlevania games. In other words, it’s about the exploration and defeating bosses, not the player’s mad jumping skills.

My only complaint about this brief demo was how Miriam appears in the game. Even though the environments themselves are rather simple, they’re presented with great detail and are rather gorgeous, even for a dilapidated wooden ship. Miriam, though, looks like she was a sprite Photoshopped into the game. Her outlines are scratchy, and her colors aren’t half as vibrant as the world around her. The demons don’t have this faded appearance, so I’m not sure why she looks so strange, especially her hair. Her hair doesn’t have to be flowing behind her, but it shouldn’t look like a plastic helmet, either. I thought she was wearing a helmet until I went into the equipment menu and saw she was wearing no headgear at all.

This is only a demo and the game’s earliest estimated release date is March 2017, so I hope the developers can give her a facelift before launch. It would be a shame for everything else to look so beautiful and have the main character appear tacked on.

Kickstarter backers should be receiving access to the official game beta before too long, and I’m hoping it presents a bit more of the story as well as game mechanics. So far, it’s looking like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is worth my backer money. I suppose I should note that the music is also amazing, since that’s the reason why I went all in.