One of the most tragic things about being involved with the creation of a masterpiece is anything you may do in the future will always be compared to it, making it impossible to ever escape from the darkness of your own shadow. In 1997 a game was released for PlayStation called Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and it’s one of the best games to ever grace that console. Since then there have been other Castlevania titles, though not all of them were created equally. The home consoles experienced inconsistent quality with various attempts at taking Castlevania to the third dimension while the Symphony-style titles (colloquially referred to as Igavanias) were relegated to handheld consoles. Something that this writer wanted, and quite likely quite a few other people as well, was a proper follow up to Symphony of the Night that can’t be held in the palm of your hand. The box art might not have the words Konami or Castlevania anywhere on display, but Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night may be the closest we ever get to that wish being granted.
Bloodstained has the player take control of Miriam, an orphan who was taken in by an alchemist guild that conducted experiments on her that ended up filling her body with crystallized demonic energy and put her in a ten year coma. If that wasn’t enough to irritate her, she is awakened to find out that Johannes kind of needs her to thwart an invasion of demons into the world. One of their previous experimental subjects, Gebel, lost all traces of humanity and decided to summon a demon invasion because why not? Freshly awakened from her coma and filled with a refreshing demonic curse, Miriam is off to the Demon Castle to clean up the mess the alchemist guild created and hopefully not lose her humanity in the process.
With all due respect to Igarashi-san, the only thing separating Bloodstained from being a Castlevania title is the name. The graphics might be 2.5 but rest assured the gameplay exists in a strictly 2D plane. Gebel isn’t Dracula and demonic crystals take the place of Belmont blood in Miriam but this plays like Symphony of the Night or any of the subsequent GBA or DS Igavanias. The area minimap has save points marked with red room, and while the character and many enemy designs are unique enough to be separate from their Castlevania brethren they do share a stylistic similarity. The gothic tinged soundtrack and environment wouldn’t feel out of place in a Castlevania title either.
Getting into the game mechanics of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is as natural as getting back on the Symphony of Night bicycle after having it stored away in the garage for a few years. Miriam runs through the labyrinthine areas, platforming and fighting her way through countless monstrous creatures. Miriam is a skilled warrior, so there is quite the variety of weapons at her disposal. Each of them perform differently, such as a slow swinging greatsword or nimble rapier. Most of the demo playthrough was done with the trusty whip for obvious reasons (Editor’s note: because you insist of finding every possible reference to Castlevania, we get it, that dead horse has suffered enough). Before entering town there was a boss fight, one with an imposing foe who’s height surpassed even that of the screen. The battle was challenging, but winning it was simply a matter of learning the attack pattern and how to counter it. Once Miriam was in town there were a few different characters she could interact with, and while the short nature of a demo session makes it impossible to determine how much of an overall role this will play in the game there were some optional side quests being offered up.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has been a highly-anticipated title since its Kickstarter campaign launched about three years ago, and while a release date has not yet been finalized, 2018 is still not out of the question. Bloodstained is a spiritual successor to Castlevania with new characters, world and mythology, and should be treated as the new IP it is. With that being said, everything that made the Igavanias great appears to be making a return in Bloodstained, and since the last title we got was about a decade ago with Order of Ecclesia, this sounds like great news. The game itself is a fresh start as a new IP, but just about every Castlevania fan who experienced Symphony of the Night in the late ’90s or early aughts when it was relatively new wants to recreate that experience on a modern console, and Bloodstained may very well be that opportunity.