They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky… It’s another FangByte article! Welcome to our autumnal crop of Halloween themed Fanbyte fun (that we like to call FangByte). Each day on the week of Halloween, we’ll have more pieces dealing with creepy, crawly topics across games and other pop culture. Make sure to check back for more! For now, though, enjoy the following.
I’m chugging away at my backlog something fierce this week. It’s that most wonderful time of the year — the time where we play a bunch of stuff that seems interesting and decide what we like best. It’s Game of the Year season, baby! And I kicked mine off by finally finishing Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Except I think I made the wrong choice. In an age of loot shooters, MMO expansions, and a slew of mobile games, Bloodstained might still be the biggest grind I played all year.
Don’t get me wrong! I liked the game. Ritual of the Night is a hot, sticky mess from top to bottom. Let it never be said that I don’t like submerging myself in trash, holding my nose as I dive deep for the intact cheeseburger of charm at the bottom. I rank STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl and Dota 2 as some of my favorite games of all time. I can enjoy a mess, as long as it’s a mess with its heart in the right place.
Bloodstained mostly has its heart in the right place — right there on its sleeve, where it reads “We miss those portable Castlevania games, too.” Yes, there’s a fair bit of Symphony of the Night here as well. But this is much more a recreation of the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance games. You can tell by the way you steal monsters’ powers by dumb luck and constant, screen-to-screen grinding.
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But this isn’t a very good way to get into the spirit of the holidays (i.e. beating all the games I missed this year). I wanted a straightforward story that maybe tickled my nostalgia a bit. I wanted something to escape the weekly grind of Destiny, Monster Hunter, and Final Fantasy 14. I wanted to make true, definitive progress without much friction. Instead I wound up cooking fish fillets for an old lady for 10 hours.
You see, Bloodstained doesn’t give you much to work with at its outset. It doesn’t just “give” you much at all. You have regenerating mana, with which to cast an ungodly number of possible spells, but the bar crawls across the screen. You regain health at every save point, but the only other reliable way to heal is with costly items that require grinding money or ingredients from the world. Not to mention there is no auto-saving. If you do die, you go all the way back to the last of those aforementioned save points — all progress lost in between.
You know how to prevent that, though, gamers. It’s time to level up! In this game, though, that mostly means eating in-game food. And eating means crafting. And crafting means killing the same specific enemies, over and over again, to get rare ingredients. Ritual of the Night even tells you how rare by default. I spent 20 minutes walking in and out of a room, respawning and killing a single flying cow enemy, to get a magic steak with a one percent drop rate. I’m certain it was 20 minutes because there is also an in-game clock.
Beating Around the Blood
I’m also nearly certain this clock only exists to prove how “big” and “meaty” Bloodstained is for a game with its budget. It’s obvious — both from the marketing and the downright odyssey it has endured on Switch — that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night didn’t have a totally smooth development. It began on Kickstarter. It went through a total graphical overhaul. And now it has an in-game clock that doesn’t stop ticking, even when I’m playing hog farmer to a floating demon or when I pause the game. The number always goes up, proving Bloodstained really is a 25-ish-hour game.
It feels like the game lacks self-confidence. It’s like Ritual of the Night isn’t comfortable being a 12-15 hours long “one of those games.” Instead it has to pad that time out with grinding, repetitive side quests that have me deliver new foods to an old lady, and a punishing save system.
When it acts like anything but a repetitive stress injury in the making, though, Bloodstained has a lot to love. It has a sense of humor; David Hayter is here playing David Hayter; one enemy is just a giant, disembodied Yorkshire Terrier head. It’s ridiculous. I like that! I’m happy here, in my garbage soup, clinging to the 75 percent of a game that doesn’t seem desperate to meet some arbitrary metric of value.
I went into Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night looking for game of the year material. It’s not that (to me). But it is a fine example of the kind of game you might overlook while searching for the best of the best. It’s just good. It’s a hot mess with a nucleus of charm. And I’m glad I did get around to it… eventually.