Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night - Beta Backer Demo Impressions

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the upcoming game by former Castlevania series producer, Koji Igarashi, and his new studio, ArtPlay. It’s a Metroidvania in the same style as Castlevania games like Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow. Bloodstained RotN was successfully KickStarted back in 2015, and backers who pledged $60 or more were recently given access to a 2nd early demo of the game. The demo has 3 areas, 2 bosses, a handful of quests, and a little bit of crafting available. I’ve played through the whole thing, and I’ve done pretty much everything I could find to do in it, and I’m glad to say it's looking promising.

ArtPlay has obviously paid close attention to how the Igavanias played, because they’ve pretty much nailed the controls. RotN has all the familiar floaty jumps, gliding stride, back dash, slide, and long windup attacks. It definitely controls like a Castlevania. I spent some time comparing running and jumping speeds between RotN and the DS games, and they're very similar. Miriam's running speed in Bloodstained feels a little bit faster than in any of the DS games. I didn’t break out the stopwatch, but the time it takes Miriam to run across a save room is pretty close to how long it takes Soma in Dawn of Sorrow, even though her room is in 16:9. Her airtime while jumping is about the same as in Portrait of Ruin and Symphony of the Night, but a little longer than in Dawn of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia. Miriam’s slide and back dash also feel very similar to those moves in the DS Castlevanias, but they both have slightly shorter recovery times than in the DS games. Miriam’s slide in particular feels very spammable in comparison. You can also use the back dash to cancel out of a slide, which you could never do in the DS games.

There’s a couple of items that let you play around with the running speed and back dash distance, leading me to believe that they might still be tweaking them. The Speed Belt will slightly increase your running speed and the Moon Belt will increase your back dash distance. The Speed Belt reduces the time it takes Miriam to walk across the save room by about a second (from about 3 and a half to 2 and a half seconds) and the Moon Belt allows Miriam to dash across the save room in 4 back dashes instead of 5. I’d be OK with the normal running speed being the final speed, but I’d really like the Moon Belt back dash distance to be the default one. It just makes back dashing out of danger much easier.

There seem to be some problems with using back dash to cancel out of attacks. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I think it depends on what part of the attack animation you’re in. Sometimes you’ll hit back dash and instead of canceling out of the attack, you’ll queue up a back dash, and do it after the attack animation is over. Hopefully that’s smoothed out in the final game, because back dashing is a great tool to have in a lot of combat situations.

There’s a bunch of familiar weapons to play with in this demo. There’s knives, 3 types of one-handed swords, big two-handed swords and axes, guns, maces, spears, kung-fu shoes, and whips. The knives have a very short range, but their attack if pretty fast and they have downwards diagonal attacks. I don't like the short range of the knives, so I didn't use them very much.

The normal one-handed swords have quick attack animations with small oval shaped attack arcs, and let you attack diagonally downwards while jumping and crouching. They’re very similar to Castlevania swords, like the Alucard Sword. Maces are basically the same as these swords, but with a different model.

The katanas have a 90° frontal attack arc, which is about twice as large the regular swords’. These katanas don't have diagonal attacks, but they’re fast, and you can perform special combos with them by stringing together Street Fighter style quarter circle forward motions, like Fei Long’s Rekka Ken.

The third type of one-handed sword in the demo is the rapier. These swords have a quick stabbing animation and can attack diagonally, but don’t have special combos.

The two-handed swords and axes are huge, slow, and have a big 135° attack arc. They feel very similar to big swords in the Castlevania games, but have a shorter recovery time, allowing you to attack more often. These swords are slow and require a little more planning, but they have the highest attack power and cover the biggest area around you with their slash, so they were my go to weapon in the demo.

Guns let you attack from a distance, but don’t do a lot of damage with the default infinite ammo. You can; however, equip a variety of limited ammo, which do a lot more damage and add different effects to your attacks. You can get ammo with ice, fire, or thunder magic effects, for example.

Spears have a long reach, but are slow and don’t have a lot of options for attacks. You can’t attack in any other direction besides directly forwards and they don’t have any special combos. They’re nowhere near as cool here as they were when Eric Lecarde used them in Castlevania Bloodlines.

Kung-Fu shoes let you use your feet as weapons. They’re quick, do good damage, have downward diagonal attacks, and have a special combo, like the katanas. The kung-fu shoes’ combo is a series of flaming spin kicks. These are the flashiest and coolest looking weapons in the demo, even though they're just your feet.

Whips have a long reach, but attack in a downward diagonal arc, unlike whips in Castlevania. The whip’s attacks let you hit small enemies without crouching, but make it very hard to hit anything above you, and sometimes enemies in front of you, too. I don’t like this whip at all. It feels like they’re going out of their way to make this one thing not like Castlevania. It seems forced when they’re trying so hard to make the rest of the game like Castlevania. I don’t mind if they want to have a weapon that behaves like this, but why does it have to be the whip? Why does it have to be the most iconic Castlevania weapon, which Miriam already used like in Castlevania in Curse of the Moon?

There’s also a good amount of shards available to play with in the demo. Shards are a lot like souls in Aria of Sorrow. You get shards from killing enemies, and can collect multiples of the same shard and use them to upgrade the shard in the shop. All enemies in the demo have a chance to drop a shard, except for Zangetsu, since he’s the last boss you fight. Normal enemies drop weaker shards, but the boss from the ship drops a shard that summons huge tentacles and does a ton of damage. There are 5 shard slots in the menu screen, but only 3 kinds of shards in the demo, 2 sub weapon or magic spell shards and 1 enchant shard. The 1 enchant shard I found was for Sword Mastery. It increases your damage with one-handed swords and maces. The Trigger shards are for spells, like summon bat, boomerang axes, and the ship bosses’ summon tentacle spell. Directional shards are spells you can aim with the right analog stick and include a bone throw, arrow shot, toad summon, and a fire cannon, which can be used to light the wicks on cannons on the ship. The 2 shard slots unavailable in the demo are Effective, which I don’t know what it’s for, and Familiar, which I know is for combat pets, like in Symphony of the Night.

The graphics in this demo look very inconsistent and unfinished. It looks like all the textures from the first demo are gone and they have all been redone. The lighting and shaders are a huge improvement over what was in the first demo, but the color maps look like they've lost a lot of detail in the process. A lot of objects look like they have a normal map, adding bumps and cracks, but the textures barely have any color variation. Some of the wood on the ship looks like it was freshly painted with brown paint, for example. I doubt that's the look they're going for. A lot of surfaces also look glossy or shiny when they really shouldn't, like the stone walls in the village, and there's generally a lack of dirt and soot, which you would expect to see in old or ruined places like these. Some places, like the save room, look so much better than other areas that they stand out in a weird way, so I guess the game looks how it does because it's still being worked on. Hopefully the whole game looks as good as that save room when it comes out.

I think this game is shaping up pretty nicely. There are some rough spots, but I think the controls are pretty much spot on, the music sounds great, and it looks like there's going to be a ton of stuff to do in the game. I don't know how much further along past the demo progress on the actual game is, and they have not announced a date, but I get the feeling that this game still needs a lot of work before release. Hopefully we don't have to wait too long for it, because I'm really looking forward to this game.