I’m not lying when I say that I’ve been waiting for Bloodstained since 2008.
In 2008, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia was released and that was more or less THE game that got me interested in video games that didn’t have the word “Pokemon” in the title. Within a short period of time I went and got my hands on Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, Symphony of the Night, and Castlevania III (on virtual console) and may or may not have also played Aria of Sorrow on emulator. And so, I waited for for the next Igavania game. They had three on GBA and three on DS. Surely they’ll release something for the 3DS too.
That was in middle school. I’m now working full time post-college. It’s been a very very long time since Order of Ecclesia.
Aria of Sorrow is my favorite GBA game, favorite Castlevania game, and was my favorite Metroidvania until Hollow Knight. If Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a ripoff Castlevania III but better, Ritual of the Night is a ripoff of Aria/Dawn of Sorrow but better. I never thought I’d ever say something like that in my life.
Ritual of the Night doesn’t even pretend to not be a blatant rip off. There’s so many things from Castlevania that are just relabeled. For example Medusa Heads are now Dullahan Heads. The central hub area, Arvantville, has more or less the exact same layout as the Lost Village in Dawn of Sorrow.
There’s also a ton of Castlevania fanservice in this game. From having a vampire librarian with a conspicuous hole underneath his seat, to some of the abilities like the Aegis Armor being akin to the Spike Breaker Armor. Personally, I love the idea of the invert ability. I was always disappointed by the inverted castle in Symphony of the Night. It felt a bit tacked on and lazily made, and at that point in the game there are very few abilities to retrieve so it loses a lot of that Metroidvania magic. The invert ability brought in the nostalgia and fanservice but made it interesting and fun to use without feeling out of place.
There’s also a ton of pot shots at Konami, the biggest of which involve avenging the deaths of Castlevania characters, but there’s a certain enemy that seems to allude to Konami’s new status as a pachinko/gambling company.
In terms of the shards, they play out like they do in Dawn of Sorrow. Each enemy drops a shard and the more of a shard you have, the stronger the ability. There’s also ways to upgrade the shards with materials and also ways to craft new powerful shards. To be completely honest though, I think I spent about 80% of the game just using a high level Welcome Company shard. So while I did appreciate the variety in abilities, I didn’t utilize it very well.
I think playing Curse of the Moon beforehand led me to enjoy the already pretty enjoyable boss fights even more. It was exciting entering a boss room and seeing a recognizable face (I completed CotM three times on three different modes, so I knew the bosses pretty well). But what’s interesting is that the fights felt very different than they were in CotM even though they were the same enemy. I think a really good example of this is Bloodless, who has a very clear aesthetic and concept but two very different fights.
The plot of Bloodstained is….quite frankly not that good. I have a really soft spot for the Castlevania plots, especially for anything regarding Alucard or Soma, but I also have to admit that those weren’t very good either. I don’t think it hindered my enjoyment of the game though. It just sort of strayed in the background and was easy to ignore. Also I played with Japanese voice acting and it was…passable.
There is some criticism floating around in some reviews about how it’s too similar to Castlevania and that it doesn’t do anything new. I can’t say I necessarily disagree with that sentiment. But when I play Bloodstained, it still feels like a new adventure. It feels like being a kid again and being thrown into this massive castle to explore, with new discoveries in every corner. It feels like the games I grew up on but thrown into a time machine. It feels like they took all the good parts of Castlevania and made it better and more fun with a fresh coat of paint.
Will I be incoherently gushing about Bloodstained for the rest of the year? Maybe.