Back in 1997, Koji Igarashi made gaming history with the extremely successful Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The reason that Castlevania shares half of the name with "Metroidvania", Symphony of the Night was lauded for its fantastic art direction and intricately designed castle. Later on, the formula established by this game was iterated upon and refined by two trilogies - one on GBA and one on DS - that largely carried the spirit of this game. And now, we're getting the unofficial seventh game.
What's immediately apparent about Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is how instantly familiar it is to its predecessors. Miriam, the protagonist, controls and behaves almost exactly like a member of the Belmont clan and the stage design very closely resembles that of the Gothic halls that we all know and love. That all being said, this is a game that is setting out to craft its own identity, and it adds some subtle changes to the style of the gameplay and visuals in order to set itself apart.
In our demo we got to play through an opening scene of the game, wherein Miriam explores the Galleon Minerva as it's on route to the castle where the meat of the game will be taking place. The visuals are quite interesting, opting for a WayForward-esque look of what appear to be hand drawn characters moving on a 2D plane through a 3D world. Enemies can pop up on you from the foreground or background, so this extra space certainly isn't wasted. The environments are suitably moody and there's a nice level of attention to detail in the background; one portion of the demo saw us travelling across the deck of the ship, as a storm rages overhead and rain pours down from all directions. If there's one reservation to be had, it's that animations still seem to be a little stiff, but this will no doubt be ironed out before the end of development.
From a gameplay perspective it's a lot like previous Castlevania games. Timing is key with everything due to how there's a slight wind-up animation every time you attack, but this makes combat feel rather satisfying. Health and magic is largely handled the same way, too, though the difference here is that you collect shards to fuel special attacks rather than hearts. You can regularly swap out equipment and weapons for ones with better stats or a different playstyle, and you'll often be finding new stuff by felling enemies and looting treasure chests that you find around the world.
It seems that the Souls System from Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow will be making a return, as well. Defeating enemies will occasionally cause Miriam to be impaled by shards which grant her new abilities, such as the power to shoot fire from her hands. If it's anything like the Souls System, this will definitely help to mix up the combat and keep things interesting.
At the end of the demo we got to experience a boss battle that gives us hope for what's in store for the rest of the game. On the deck of the ship we waged war against a gigantic, tentacled, Kraken-woman, which suitably matched the freakish nature of many of the enemies of previous Castlevania games. It was a joy learning the boss's patterns and figuring out when it was best to strike, so we greatly look forward to what will no doubt be some very memorable boss fights later on in the campaign.
All told, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is shaping up to be a worthy successor to the Castlevania games of yore. Tight gameplay, creepy environments and exploration are all present and accounted for in this early build, and it very much seems like this is the game that Koji Igarashi has been waiting to make for a long time. We're eagerly awaiting Bloodstained's March 2017 release; if the demo was any indication, this will certainly be one to remember.