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Read this before buying Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Kickstarter has become an integral part of many game developers' journeys. From RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Shadowrun Returns, to action games like Shenmue 3 and Mighty No. 9, the service tapped into the hearts of gamers all over the internet. One Kickstarter in particular played on the nostalgia of many Castlevania fans back in 2015, and that game is called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

After spending more than four years in development, developer ArtPlay and publisher 505 Games announced a release date for Bloodstained. It launches on June 18 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, while those waiting for a Nintendo Switch release need to hold on for another week.

If you look into ArtPlay's history, you'll find that Bloodstained will be their debut game. However, there's more than meets the eye here. Koji Igarashi, who previously worked at Konami, sits at the center of that development house. His work on past Castlevania games uniquely positions him to produce this spiritual successor.

If you're in the market for a new Metroidvania game, keep an eye on Bloodstained. Considering how much it looks and feels like a Castlevania, it might just be the next big game to scratch that itch for you.

IGA is back

Sure, Metroidvania games and their mechanics are everywhere in the indie market. Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, The Messenger, Guacamelee — the list goes on and on. So what makes Bloodstained worth looking at in this saturated market? Well, it all comes down to the name behind it.

Koji "IGA" Igarashi started working at Konami after he graduated from college, and one of the first games he worked on was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That game went on to be one of the best titles in the franchise, and it solidified Igarashi's place as series producer until 2010. In that time, he spearheaded some of the best Castlevania games to grace our consoles, such as Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow, and Portrait of Ruin. The man lived and breathed in the gothic horror universe he oversaw, often carrying a whip with him to conventions and Mega64 videos to mimic the Belmonts.

Some time after he and Konami parted ways, he started work on Bloodstained. He launched a Kickstarter in May, although he already had financial backing from an undisclosed source to work on this game. Nonetheless, that Kickstarter went on to be one of the most funded video game Kickstarters to date. While the lore, assets, and story are all brand new, Bloodstained still has the heart and soul of a Castlevania game.

Castlevania in all but name

The more you read about Bloodstained, the more you'll wonder if it's Igarashi's weird, misunderstood way to spell Castlevania. Everything from its animations to its controls evokes memories of Symphony of the Night. In many ways, it's a spiritual successor to a long line of Igarashi's Castlevania titles. The speed Miriam runs and the way she attacks look like she learned it from Alucard. Even the control scheme mimics the old PlayStation controls. She can even dash backward, just like Alucard.

But it goes even further than gameplay. The artistic style has gothic horror written all over. Aside from the 2.5D rendering and improved graphics, a lot of the backgrounds in the Bloodstained trailers look like they would be at home in a direct sequel to Symphony of the Night. The creatures Miriam has to slay, such as a the floating jellyfish-like monsters, perfectly complement the vibe of the environments. To really hammer home the point, composer Michiru Yamane is lending her skills to Bloodstained's music. Her work soundtracked more than a handful of Castlevania games, so it's only fitting that she would compose the score for this spiritual successor.

A huge makeover

Bloodstained has been baking in the oven for a long time now. The public has known about it for four years, and as you'd expect, a lot can change over that time. We've seen the gameplay back when it was still concept art, and you can still see what that looks like on the game's Kickstarter page. Since then, we've gotten a few trailers, like the E3 2017 one. During that time, media outlets even captured footage of gameplay so we could see it in action. Through all this, we got a good understanding of the artistic style the game was going for. Unfortunately, it didn't really please a lot of fans.

As the release date trailer shows, Igarashi and his team at ArtPlay took a lot of this criticism to heart. A month before the game's release, the developer revealed a brand new visual design for the whole game. The trailer cheekily pokes fun at the old art style, even going as far calling it "poop." The lighting radically changed, brightening up all the locales in the trailer. Some enemies have been redesigned, and all the ones showcased in the video take a turn for the creepier. Even little details, like pools of blood, look better after the redesign.

A tumultuous development cycle

Unfortunately, this promise to deliver a spiritual successor to Symphony comes with some road bumps and sacrifices. When the Kickstarter first launched, it aimed to deliver Bloodstained by March 2017. Needless to say, that month came and went without a release. The game was then delayed to 2018 because of two major reasons. For one, all the Kickstarter stretch goals crept up on the development team, adding an unexpected amount of work. Additionally, Igarashi set a high standard for himself and the game, and he felt that they needed more time to deliver a quality product.

His lofty expectations for Bloodstained was the driving force behind another delay, this time to 2019. All this extra time led to many original plans falling through. The PlayStation Vita release was canceled, and Mac and Linux users won't be able to play the game on their machines, despite being initially told they could. Perhaps the only good news to come out of all this was the abandonment of the Wii U version, which gave rise to a Nintendo Switch release. We now have a solid release date for Bloodstained on all platforms, but it was definitely an arduous, winding road.

A different kind of crystal chronicle

The premise of Bloodstained is fairly straightforward. In classic Castlevania fashion, an evil castle has suddenly appeared, and along with it came an army of demons and hellspawn. Ten years later, our orphaned protagonist, Miriam, awakened, and she set out toward the castle. She suffers from an alchemist curse that turns her skin into crystal, but that doesn't stop her from trying to figure out what's happening in the world. Things get spicy when she meets a character named Gebel, who is also afflicted with the same curse. In his case, though, his skin became more crystal than flesh.

Meanwhile, back when the demons first showed up, a warrior from the east named Zangetsu arrived. Over the course of the next decade, he would lose many friends and suffer grave wounds. His experience cultivated a seething hatred for demons and the alchemists that brought them into the world. While his role in Miriam's story isn't quite clear yet, we do see him show up as a boss in a backer-exclusive demo (voiced by Solid Snake, no less).

It's worth noting that the 8-bit title, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, features Miriam, Gebel, and Zangetsu as playable characters. The game was originally planned to be a prequel to Ritual of the Night, but during development, that idea was scrapped. Instead, it's now classified as a spinoff. What that means for Ritual's main story is anyone's guess.

The hype is real … mostly

At PAX East 2019, 505 Games and ArtPlay brought Bloodstained to the show floor, letting convention goers play a build of the game. Various outlets published hands-on impressions of their time with the game, and most were pretty favorable.

Logan Moore of DualShockers praised the game's movement and combat. In his eyes, those two aspects cemented the game's place among other old-school Castlevania titles, despite the jump to 2.5D graphics. Furthermore, he applauded the music in Bloodstained, favorably comparing it to Symphony's. "Koji Igarashi and company seem to be giving fans precisely what they've wanted from this latest Metroidvania title," Moore said. "At this point, I'm just looking forward to getting my hands on the finished game."

Additionally, Steve Watts from GameSpot echoes the sentiment, writing that Bloodstained fulfills its retro revival goals. Furthermore, the level design impressed him, and he found that it showcased the tight platforming and difficult combat well.

Contrarily, Ethan Gach from Kotaku was at odds with the game. He found the visual style disjointed, as if the characters didn't belong in their environments. The combat didn't appeal as much to him either, as he described fights as "clumsy brawls where you just exchange health with opponents until one of you dies."

Unfortunately, the Switch version at PAX East suffered from performance issues, which 505 blamed on overheating consoles. While they ensured that the public release won't have those same framerate problems, it doesn't exactly instill us with confidence.

A $60 demo

If you're keen to play Bloodstained before release, you might be out of luck. The backer demo went out to people who pledged $60 or more to its Kickstarter, and it was released on June 28, 2018. As of this writing, that demo is the only one out there for Ritual of the Night. If you didn't back it then, you likely won't be able to get it now. Fortunately, there's another option for you that might at least satisfy the itch.

ArtPlay's partner studio, Inti Creates, developed the previously mentioned Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. The game hit digital storefronts on May 24, 2018, and it tells an alternate story in the universe. Inti Creates president Takuya Aizu said the game could be considered a spinoff of Ritual of the Night, but he refused to expand on it in case of spoilers. It's worth noting that Curse of the Moon doesn't necessarily reflect the upcoming release much in terms of gameplay. Instead, the 8-bit era homage is reminiscent of Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse. Nevertheless, it'll give you a taste of what to expect in June.

And if that still doesn't scratch your itch, nothing is stopping you from playing Symphony of the Night or the many other Igarashi-led Castlevania games ahead of Ritual's release.

Crazy backer bonuses

At the time of this writing, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night exists only as a standard version. There are no deluxe or gold editions, and preordering the game doesn't net you any extra bonuses. You can purchase it for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC for roughly $40 at major retailers and digital storefronts. Just remember that Switch owners have to wait another week to play the game because it won't come out until June 25. The rest of the consoles get to sink their teeth into Igarashi's newest title on June 18.

However, if you backed Bloodstained on Kickstarter back in the day, you'll get some extra bonuses. At the $28 tier, you'll get a digital copy of the game. The $60 tier nets you a physical edition with an exclusive slipcase, along with some extra content. For those who prefer digital goodies, you can get that same tier digitally, along with the soundtrack and a strategy booklet in PDF form.

If you dropped $100, you'll get the physical edition along with a soundtrack CD, keychain, lapel pin, strategy booklet, and a mention in the credits of the game. The tiers go further than that, throwing in more paraphernalia, like posters, art books, and a silver ring hand-crafted by Igarashi himself. Needless to say, if any of that interests you now, it's probably too late to buy any of it.