Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an odd, odd game for me – Ever since it’s initial Kickstarter pitch I’ve been avidly following this game’s development throughout the years, amidst controversies in the Kickstarter scene such as Mighty No. 9 and Yooka-Laylee which has made this journey all the more uneasy…
…So when Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night finally released, it felt like an odd fever dream – I’ve been following this game before I even began here at Respawning, before I even had my first job for God’s sake… So the bar was already high.
So when it was announced that backers that selected the Switch edition of the game would have their version pushed back a week, and everyone else could play the game fine on the expected release date, you bet I got a little salty…
…But was this additional invested time worth it? Is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Now to be shortened to Bloodstained: ROTN) worth a purchase on the Nintendo Switch, heralding in a new age for the spiritual successor of Castlevania? Or is it a messy, broken mess of a game?
Well… A bit of both, honestly.
Allow me to preface this segment by saying I’m currently writing about the v1.1 patched version of the game, and 505 Games have announced that they are hard at work at a Switch-specific patch to help improve performance.
That out of the way, I feel it’s important to talk about what holds this title back before I move on to gushing about every little detail and nugget of information; Bloodstained: ROTN was targeted to run at the following framerates and resolutions:
- Undocked: 720p (fixed) / 30 fps
- Docked: 720p (dynamic) / 30 fps with additional effects / visuals, etc.
The final game however on both fronts looks sub-720p, however, being in a similar state to the now-infamous Undocked version of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Textures are muddy, character faces can hardly be seen, and – most shockingly – the game looks worse than the PC version’s lowest 720p, 30fps locked settings. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the following video:
It’s not just bad, Switch players get an inherently inferior version.
Now, that’s without slating the numerous framerate issues either – Some enemies, bosses and locales will tank the framerate for hardly any discernable reason, frequently dipping the game down to sub-20 fps regularly; that, combined with the game’s egregious load times of up to 25 seconds between rooms (Note, not areas – Rooms) leads to a frustrating experience.
…That is, until you dive into the gameplay of ROTN; Bloodstained: ROTN is – in every sense of the term – effectively an alternate universe’s Castlevania: SOTN. Weapon special moves tied to fighting game-styled button inputs return, the castle is far larger than any singular castle in Castlevania history (I don’t quite think it’s as large as all the areas in Portrait of Ruin or Order of Ecclessia put together, however), there are literally hundreds of weapons, consumables, materials and Shards (This game’s equivelant of the Soul system in the Castlevania ‘Sorrow’ games) for you to collect, fuse, craft, consume and sell – Drawing inspiration from a range of Castlevania titles, such as the aforementioned SOTN button inputs, to AOS / DOS’es Soul system, to POR’s subweapon system condensed into ‘techniques’, to many of Shanoa’s Glyphs from OOE being translated into Shards, to even having the simple ability to slide out of the gate from COTM, Bloodstained is a brewing melting pot of creativity borne from many, many years – and many, many entries – from the Castlevania franchise built into a singular, ‘ultimate’ experience.
In this endavour, however, Bloodstained tends to fly just a bit too close to the sun to make this soaring impact – Many weapons are simply outclassed, many Shards are simple bonuses or buffs, or standard projectile attacks, and all the quests in the game are ‘give me this or go kill that’ – A carbon copy of how OOE handled it’s quests, but I would have liked to have seen some actual plot threads emerge due to this – We get close to this with one villager you rescue, Benjamin, however it’s solely about running around the castle whilst he teleports himself unwillingly to silly locations.
Despite being the living incarnation of Icarus, however, Bloodstained: ROTN’s gameplay – much like the Castlevania titles that preceded it – remains fun, deep, engaging and, most importantly, fresh. There is tons to do for 100% completionists, and with 4 difficulty modes and 2 additional characters coming soon, there’s soon to be even more.
Speaking of which, this game’s DLC plans are somewhat small, but are ambitious nonetheless, and introduce a lot of firsts for the genre – Local and online co-op, and a rougelike castle mode are just some of the updates to come in the next few months or years – Combine this with the 3 characters we’ll have by then, and you can see why – despite it’s current flaws – I’m still loving the heck out of Bloodstained: ROTN, and am still excited for this game – and franchise’s – future.
Music-wise, Bloodstained: ROTN is a mixed bag for me – It certainly is high-quality with it’s fully orchestrated tracks, however it tends to lack those real sticky tracks that just jam themselves in your mind for years to come – You know the kind: Beginning? Vampire Killer? Clockwork? Aquarius? Slash? Bloody Tears? This game lacks a track like these – Again, it comes close with tracks like Cursed Orphan and Luxurious Overture, but it’s just a bit shy of that same mark.
Finally the characters – Miriam as a protagonist is enjoyable and emotional, which is a definite upgrade from ‘Stone-Cold’ Shanoa of OOE fame (Although undeniably Shanoa’s character conclusion is far better). Johnathan, our partner on this journey and resident Alchemist is surprisingly deep and caring; Dominique is – quite frankly – boring, even with some of the later story points in consideration – Zangetsu is weeaboo-incarnate, but is enjoyable as heck, and David Hayter does a good job playing his role – Albert also fits in this ballpark, as does Orlock Dracule, however where this cast really fails is with Gebel, our main antagonist – Gebel is set up from the start of the game to be this world’s equivelant of Dracula, with Gremory, his allied demon, acting in place of Death supposedly; what follows, however, is a disappointing and abrubpt arc for Gebel that hinders him far more than helps; this is also harmed by his embarrasingly poor boss fight. Outside of a few instances as well, this game lacks a proper Dracula-esque boss fight, instead opting for more ‘conceptual creatures of personified darkness’ as seen in the Sorrow games’ final chapters.
Overall, Bloodstained: ROTN is a good start for this franchise – It is, as the name implies, definitely stained with Castlevania all over it, but also a hint of mediocrity with so many performance issues and odd design choices… But it’s clear to see that 505 Games is hard at work to scrub this hint straight off of Bloodstained: ROTN’s Switch port, and to finally bring fans the Castlevania-like title they deserve.
Right now, I’d give Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night a 8.0 / 10, however after performance patches, I’d expect that score to shoot up to maybe an 8.5 or even a 9 after the incoming content patches have landed.