At its core, Bloodstained is a game built around freedom. It takes players across a labyrinthine castle of dark magics, demons, and danger, forcing them to think outside the box to solve areas. And in true Metroidvania fashion, you're always finding roadblocks and having to retrace your steps after unlocking new abilities like double jumps or zapping teleports.
The real freedom aspect comes in how you assemble your character and tackle the hordes of demon spawn and hulking bosses in your wake. Bloodstained is an RPG at every turn, offering lots of different weapons, armor, and accessories all with their own unique stats, effects, and proficiencies. You level up, boost your MP and HP, and genuinely get stronger the more you play. There's a very tangible sense of progress that you can directly gauge at any time that adds depth and meaning to everything--even monotonous material grinding.
The weapons themselves have been carefully tuned and balanced to dramatically change how you play; hulking 2-handers do more damage but are slow as Moses, but the quick battle shoes (yes, you can equip shoes to mercilessly kick enemies!) dish out rapid-fire Bruce Lee sidekicks.
Things get really interesting when you pair your loadouts with the new shard powers.
Miriam, the protagonist Shardbinder, has a nifty ability to absorb enemy abilities. Kill a demon, and there's a chance you steal its soul to gain a new power, but some shards are harder to get than others. It's always randomized so players will have to sometimes grind to grab them. This new system opens the game up in a myriad of new ways simply because of the sheer variety of shard powers.
There's five different types of shard abilities, all with their own functions. Some help with clearing obstacles in your path, but most of them aid you in battle. Miriam can Conjure a boss ability (killing bosses often unlocks their special attacks), zap enemies with a Directional attack, get a nice boost with a Passive shard, and summon a helpful ally as a Familiar.
The real explosive fun happens when you find the right combination of shards and weapons.
For example, pair up Sword Expertise to boost your mace and 1H sword speed with the Welcome Company ability (basically like the holy book from Symphony of the Night) for fast attacks and a whirling protective barrier, and top it off with the Silver Knight familiar to dish out extra damage. This setup carried me through the entire game and really never let me down.
Fun fact: familiars level up the more you use them, so be sure to swap them out from time to time.
This kind of freedom to mix-and-match abilities, weapons, combos, and even accessories on-the-fly makes for an engaging and constantly-shifting experience. How you play is entirely up to you, and there's a very distinct level of strategy, and the game constantly encourages experimentation. Every enemy has their own strengths, weaknesses, and affinities like a true RPG, making this kind of instant adaptation a necessity on harder levels.
Another facet of freedom is how much time you choose to invest.
You can beat the game without dabbling too much in the crafting or upgrade systems, but 100% completing the game opens up lots of replayability. Bloodstained is set up so that die-hard completionists will get their money's worth; you can level up your shards, collect materials for item crafting and upgrading, and even cook food for passive bonuses. There's even quests from NPCs peppered throughout the castle that give you special items.
Combat is fluid, challenging, and rewarding. There's just the right amount of leeway to try new things, but the game will punish you for mistakes--not ruthlessly, just small smacks here and there to remind you that you're indeed playing a Metroidvania.
The boss fights are epic affairs that are punctuated with exciting unlockables. Every big battle is engaging and tests your mettle, forcing you to react and use environments to evade attacks, learn the rhythm, and strike when you can. The battles always seem to give you something new, something useful to use in your quest to rid the strange medieval world of darkness.
Exploration is likewise rewarding.
Bloodstained has a series of beautiful, sprawling environments with some surprising plane shifts here and there. Most of the game you're playing a typical side-scroller with multiple levels, double-jumping to higher ledges and uncovering the map in a roundabout way.
Other times the game pulls a complete 180, and suddenly you're running across a 3D corkscrew path up an old demon-infested clock tower (which has some maddening jumps, mind you). There are lots of little nods thrown in that keep things fresh.
Like any Metroidvania, Bloodstained has oodles of secret doors, breakable walls, hidden boosts, and there's even bookshelves that sometimes unlock weapon combos. The world can be frustrating and confusing at times--you're not always sure where to go, or what you need to do to get to that far ledge, or how to traverse watery depths--but it still has that old-school charm that promises goodies around every turn.
All of these elements combine to create a robust, competent, and player-driven experience that blends skill, freedom, and sheer enjoyment together in one neat package.