Not officially, because of course Konami holds that license and they aren’t letting it go to anyone, even the guy who did the most to build on it in the past 20 years. But the shadow of that game is inescapable in B:RotN, so it might as well be acknowledged up front, for good and bad.
But, because here at Hinge Problems we (with some trepidation) love videogames, there’s a lot of good. Also, I will return to this constantly because when I get to the ill, a lot of people might take that as me not liking the game, which is not the case. I like this game. I like Symphony of the Night a lot, so of course I like Bloodstained.
There is a lot to enjoy there. Lots of silly items with funny effects that you will at least equip once just to see what happens. Way too many weapons to ever bother using all of once you get comfortable with a few. An overly detailed crafting/cooking system that reminds you that yeah, cooking was half-assed in Breath of the Wild. The only notable addition to the SotN formula is basically the souls system from Aria/Dawn of Sorrow (thankfully minus DoS’s drawing gimmick) and that mostly feeds into the layers of extra fun stuff to play with and craft.
Much like SotN, movement/combat starts off feeling slightly slow and plodding, but opens up a lot as you gain new abilities and get used to how the game wants you to move through it. This progression still feels good, and Igarashi (and his team) are great at making it feel good. This might have always been the secret of Igavania – making the progression of movement options feel enjoyable and well paced. These games are good at it in a way that a lot of other Search Action games are not. Something in the way these games are paced doesn’t make me quite as mad when I get the inevitable double jump ability. There are just enough unreachable platforms that I have seen at that point to make me excited to re-explore areas, but not so many that I am annoyed at how I don’t have the double jump already. This is a delicate balance, and a lot of the post-SotN Search Action games (a genre swelling the ranks of indie games) often mess it up; if I am reminded of the artificial barrier too much, I am too annoyed to be happy about getting the key.
So if it feels so good, why does it leave me with some lingering doubts any time I play it? I don’t think it is entirely fair to the game to point the finger at it, as much as the experience around playing it. When something feels so close to a direct sequel, part of me seems to want it to replicate the experience of playing the original, and nothing can do that. It’s been 20 years since I beat Symphony of the Night the first time, and it was amazing in that moment. I had minimal Metroid experience then (I think I rented the NES original once?), and so this was all something new to high school me, sitting in a friend’s basement with three other boring nerd dudes, two TVs hooked up to separate copies of the game, all of us rotating in and out to beat the game, sharing secrets and ideas and actively convincing each other not to look anything up on GameFAQs. SotN was a peak experience of pre-internet gaming (if only because it was self-enforced), my last encounter with the beloved playground rumor experience, something that now is confined largely to wikis and message boards. In a fantasy world, this would be the way I get to experience more games, but the combination of my adult social life not very often revolving around videogames and my ever-approaching death mean that it’s not likely any more. So Bloodstained is played in solitary spurts, with the occasional internet glance if I need guidance, and that’s just how it is. Not something to hold against the game as much as something to hold against the changing of my life and the world over time.
On top of this, I know my own internal hope are projected against the game as it exists. From day one, Igarashi et. al. have been pretty blunt about basically just wanting to make SotN again, and this powered their Kickstarter well past its initial goal. But as a person who played and enjoyed Igavanias after SotN, there is a part of me that was hoping for a bit more experimentation. Each of the GBA/DS Castlevanias tried to do something different with the abilities of its characters from the previous ones (with the noted exception of DoS really, which was mostly just a retread of AoS) and so there was a part of me that hoped with all the crystal stuff, we might get something similar, but really, it’s just SotN again and that is OK. My disappointment there is not something I can hold against the game, but it’s still there.
There are a few weird minor problems with the game from a technical side. “Why Japanese-indie-devs-who-used-to-work-at-big-publishers insist on using Unreal for 2d games” is a question we will never know the answer to, except that the answer is probably just “it makes porting easier”. But Unreal brings with it some weird issues that seem never to get totally ironed out. Luckily, it is nowhere near Might No. 9 levels here, with the most notable issue in the PS4 version being a weird hiccup for the first new enemy you kill in an area and a weird seemingly unintentional pause when you get a shard for the first time. It’s not horrible, but it is noticeable. There’s the occasional Unreal texture pop-in, which feels weird for a two-dimensional game, but 2019 is a time when this happens.
In the end, what this all leaves me with is a game I enjoyed immensely, but one that my brain can’t stop comparing to a different game that was probably a better experience for me. It complicates the idea of writing about it because I can’t write about the game separate from my experience of it (the idea of “objective reviews” is pure folly) so that leads to this mixed mess.
So, should you play Bloodstained? Sure, if you want to. Play whatever game you want to.