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This Throwback Metroidvania From a Legendary Designer Is a Must-Play on Xbox Game Pass

What a horrible night to have a curse.

Originally Published: 
key art from Bloodstained Ritual of the Night

Following up on one of the most beloved games ever, one that essentially launched an entire genre on its own, is an undertaking so bold I’m stressed just thinking about it. But two decades after Castlevania: Symphony of the Night introduced the world to the Metroidvania, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night showed that one of the fathers of the genre still had plenty of ideas worth exploring. And as of February 14, this Metroidvania masterclass is available with Xbox Game Pass.

Ritual of the Night is a spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night, not a sequel, but given how much they have in common, that feels like a technicality. Ritual of the Night director Koji Igarashi left developer Konami in 2014, founding ArtPlay the same year. While Igarashi didn’t bring the Castlevania name with him, it’s clear that he brought a lot of ideas from serving as assistant director on Symphony of the Night to his role as producer on Ritual of the Night.

Just a glance at Ritual of the Night makes its lineage obvious. The 2019 Metroidvania is a 2D side scrolling hack and slash packed about slaying all manner of horrifying monsters inside an impossibly huge castle. As you make your way through its trap-filled halls, you’ll gain new abilities that help you gradually unlock previously inaccessible parts of the castle and more spectacular ways to dispatch your foes. Even beyond that, some locations and characters, along with the game’s Gothic tone, scream Castlevania. That might sound like Ritual of the Night is just copying Symphony of the Night’s homework, and Koji Igarashi is peeking at his old Konami notes, but it’s still got enough originality to make its Castlevania inspirations feel like a loving homage rather than a ripoff.

Compared to Castlevania’s quest to take down Dracula, protagonist Miriam is on a much bleaker journey. The game’s heroine is a Shardbearer, a person infused with demonic power by a cult of alchemists as part of a ritual to sacrifice her and prove that their powers are greater than the mundane technology sweeping across the world. She’s out to stop fellow Shardbearer Gebel who raised the castle the game is set in after his own botched execution. Ritual of the Night is by no means a narrative-focused game, but the tragic similarity between its protagonist and antagonist does lend some weight to all the monster slaying.

Ritual of the Night feels like a sequel to Symphony of the Night in all but name.


Being the survivor of a horrific demonic ritual does have some advantages, though. Miriam is able to absorb Shards from monsters she fights, granting her powers along the way to stop Gebel. There’s tons of variety to Shards, which can give Miriam passive bonuses or offer entirely new abilities like summoning monsters, turning enemies to stone, or teleporting. The abilities they grant are nothing groundbreaking, but if you like the old-school style of Metroidvanias from the Symphony of the Night era, there’s a lot to be satisfied with.

Your more typical weapons are also extremely varied. Throughout the game, you can collect Castlevania mainstays like swords and whips, along with firearms. Each weapon handles differently, so knowing when to choose a massive axe over a quick dagger or stick back and deal ranged damage adds a fun layer of strategy that goes beyond just button mashing until all your enemies are defeated.

Ritual of the Night’s combat is retro-inspired hack-and-slash fun with tons of variety in weapons and abilities.


If you played Ritual of the Night around its 2019 release, you might remember it having some significant technical hurdles. I sure did, and I bounced off the game fairly quickly as a result. But ArtPlay has spent the past few years releasing a steady stream of free updates. The post-launch patches go far beyond fixing its frame rate issues, too. Since its release, Ritual of the Night has gotten new game modes that offer new ways to play, like Classic Mode, which reimagines the game as a short challenge run with only a sword and whip to get you through. It’s also gotten multiple somewhat perplexing crossovers with games like Kingdom: Two Crowns and Child of Light, which add new characters, costumes, and levels.

In every way but its name, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night feels like a true sequel to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Devoted Symphony of the Night fans will find a worthy successor to that all-time classic, while those who’ve never played it can get a lot of the same thrill from Ritual of the Night in a modern package. Ritual of the Night isn’t out to reinvent the Metroidvania, but if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s a must-play retro throwback to its roots.

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