Koji Igarashi gets it. The man who is known simply as “Iga” knows why people are still in love with “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” more than 20 years after its release.
The first PlayStation title in the 33-year-old franchise redefined the series, shifting away from linear side-scrolling and adopting the gated exploration mechanics of Nintendo’s “Metroid” games. “Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night” is directly inspired by Alucard’s adventure through Dracula’s castle, with gameplay so similar that fans will immediately draw lines back to Iga’s past work.
“Bloodstained” was funded in 2015 on Kickstarter for more than $5.5 million, making it the seventh most funded project in the platform’s gaming category, which includes tabletop and video games. It’s the third most funded video game project.
The nods in “Bloodstained” aren’t subtle, even if the enemies look nothing like their “Castlevania” counterparts. Possessed portraits (complete with the visages of Kickstarter backers who chipped in $1,500 or more) shake off the walls a fly at the player. Bobbing Medusa heads, bone-throwing skeletons, and fire-spitting bone pillars are all present, wearing new, demonic skin. If not for Iga’s stylistic influence, these carbon copies would feel cheap and hollow.
Instead, the similarities are comforting and endearing. At PAX East, publisher 505 Games brought a new “Bloodstained” demo that continues on from the two previous previews. First, players took protagonist Miriam across a sinking ship. Then, at E3, she explored a devastated village and the opening area of a large sprawling castle not so dissimilar from Dracula’s abode.
This isn’t “Castlevania,” though. That means Iga had to leave Dracula and the Belmont clan behind. In an E3 interview with IGN, he set the stage for “Bloodstained’s” story. The game is set during an industrial revolution, which has alchemists in fear for their way of life. To prove their value, they summon demons to terrorize the populace and commit ritual sacrifices. Miriam was one of the victims but has awakened to new powers that allow her to use the demons’ power to fight back.
In the PAX East demo, Miriam has reached an area filled with large gears and enemies called Dullahammer that bob and weave like “Castlevania’s” Medusa Heads. “Bloodstained” features loot drops, including crafting materials, equipment, and shards that confer passive and active abilities. After fighting a few Dullahammer, a large glowing shard filled a quarter of the screen and swooped in to stab Miriam.
The colorful display granted a familiar, one of five different types of shards. The Dullahammer familiar spawns a friendly floating head that zips at nearby enemies doing damage on contact.
The shard system creates a great deal of “Bloodstained’s” gameplay customization. There are two active shard types. Trigger shards simply launch from Miriam in the direction she’s facing. These include a shield of possessed paintings, summoned bats, a wind blast that zips across the ground, and ice blasts that shoot out horizontally in both directions.
Directional shards can be aimed, Shooting arrows at hard to reach lanterns or candles is an effective trick. But being able to use the Petra Ray to turn enemies to stone or the Heretical Grinder to summon a chainsaw sword from a portal truly deliver Iga’s vision for “Bloodstained’s” aesthetic.
There are also enchant shards that buff stats. A fifth type, effective shards, was present in the menu but did not seem active in the demo.
The new demo also finally adds the long-awaited orchestral score. Composed by “Symphony of the Night’s” Michiru Yamane, the soundtrack completes the package and gives “Bloodstained” an almost eerily-familiar feeling that feels like a homecoming for Iga’s devout fans.
Despite the blood and twisted creatures, “Bloodstained” is a bright, colorful game that evokes the look of stained glass without the hard edges. The creatures are still brutal, though… especially the bosses.
The demo concludes with a protracted fight against two large, dog-like demons that surround Miriam and chase her around a spiral tower. Their varied attacks are hard to predict, with a repertoire that includes individual and coordinated lunges, flame breath, and tongue lashes.
“Bloodstained” is shaping up to the game that “Symphony of the Night” and “Castlevania” GameBoy Advance and DS games have been waiting for. And with a summer 2019 release announced, that wait is almost over.