As a franchise, Dark Souls had a huge impact on the gaming industry, to the point that “souls-like” is now regarded as its own genre. As often happens in situations like these, many following games tried to replicate its formula and many others are accused of doing so if there are even the faintest similarities. Blasphemous falls in the second category. Since its original trailer, it was regarded as a “Metroidvania Dark Souls”. Now that the game is out, I can say that this action-packed Metroidvania is its own beast and the similarities with the Souls saga are only at surface level, to the point that comparing the two directly would mean doing a disservice to either.
Blasphemous | A World Equal Parts Brutal and Fascinating
The first thing that strikes about Blasphemous is the setting. The game is set in a world facing a catastrophe called “The Grievous Miracle.” It caused human guilt to take physical form, often turning the creatures that inhabit the world in grotesque caricatures of what they once were. The world is deep in catholic symbolism and gothic backgrounds are the main sights that accompany the entirety of the players’ journey.
Gore and violence is another recurring theme. The world of Blasphemous is a ravenous one, with enemies ranging from self-flagellating cultists to hulking monstrosities wielding dead deer carcasses as weapons. In this context, it’s not surprising that blood and gore are a central theme of the gameplay, with our hero healing dousing himself with jars of bile and performing extremely brutal executions on the enemies he faces.
Our silent main character, just known as the Penitent One, is the last survivor of the Brothership of Sorrows. Wielding the Mea Culpa, a legendary sword which is suggested in the lore to be guilt taking physical manifestation, he will travel the savage world twisted by The Grievous Miracle in order to find and destroy the source of the supernatural event.
The gameplay is what you would expect from an old school Metroidvania. The map is made of many interconnected areas that the player can explore in order to find the key items needed to unlock more zones and open shortcuts to old places in the meanwhile. While there are zones that are hard-locked and you will need certain key items to access them, the world of Blasphemous feels quite freely explorable and well put together from a level design standpoint.
Even when the discovered map becomes quite big, it still feels easy to navigate and understand where to go, especially considering you’re constantly opening passageways, elevators, and ladders that will help get back to older zones quickly. There are some teleportation portals but just a handful so unlocking and making use of shortcuts becomes critical.
Moving around is quite easy in Blasphemous, but you’ll still have to deal with the platforming. The Penitent One will have to jump around quite a bit as crumbling bridges and unsteady platforms are the norm. Our hero will also be able to stick his sword into certain walls to climb them or performing wall jumps. All in all, the platforming doesn’t feel too bad but it’s far from perfect. While it’s possible to cling to edges when a jump falls just a bit short, it’s not always clear what platform allows for this kind of leniency and which jumps need to be perfect instead. In a world where instant death spike pits are extremely common and often just a bit out of sight, misjudging a jump is often costly and frustrating.
Blasphemous | How to Kill the Gargantuan Children of The Miracle
In a game like this, of course, the main focus is combat. The primary death instrument of the Penitent One is his sword, the “Mea Culpa” which initially only provides him a three-hit combo and a parry/riposte system not dissimilar of shields in Dark Souls. By finding Mea Culpa shrines around the world, the sword can be upgraded to have different combos, provide a ranged attack and have a couple of combo finishers. In all fairness, being the main damage source and the only weapon that the hero uses during the course of the entire game, the upgrade options for the Mea Culpa feel a bit lackluster.
One of the upgrades provides a charged attack that takes quite a bit to fully charge up and leaves you vulnerable to attacks. I found very few reasons to use it instead of a couple hits combo that, in any case, will allow me to parry or dodge a strike if needed. Other upgrades also feel like they do not add that much to the flow of the combat. Don’t get me wrong, the combat system itself is not bad at all. The hits have a nice impact and dodging around, hitting and parrying enemies with the occasional finisher thrown in feels great. The only issue is that it might get a little repetitive once you get in the later stages of the game considering the game never offers alternative attack options.
The Penitent One also has prayers he can use to make life easier for himself. These are spells with various effects going from leaving poisonous clouds to hurt enemies to summoning two spiraling energy blades. Spells are found around the world and only one at a time can be equipped and used. All in all, they are a nice addition to the arsenal but are not extremely useful and often you are better off just hacking and slashing through enemies.
Both sword and prayers can be improved using rosary beads, hearts of the Mea Culpa and Relics. These are items that, in some capacity or another, provide passive bonuses to the Penitent One. Aside from a couple of specific ones, none of these will revolutionize the way the game is played but they can add a bit more flavor to the gameplay. There is a relic, for example, that allows the player to read the last thoughts of some corpses you find around in the world, which helps understand the contrived lore, and another one plays a bell sound when nearby secret areas. There are two hard to find rosary beads that will make new platforms and climbable surface appear but, besides those two, the other ones mostly provide passive benefits.
Killing enemies and bosses awards our main character with Tears of Atonement, the main currency in Blasphemous. Tears can be used to purchase stuff at the shops and improve the Mea Culpa at the shrines among other things. Differently than other similar games, the hero does not lose the acquired tears of atonement on death. When the Penitent One dies (and it happens a lot), he will leave behind a fragment of guilt. Multiple fragments of guilt can be present in the world at any given time due to the player’s demise.
For each fragment present, the max fervor (the resource used to cast prayers) the Penitent One has available diminishes and it will acquire tears of atonement at a slower rate. The player can either manually retrieve each guilt fragment left behind at the places he died or pay a fee to any of the confessor statues in key points of the map in order to cancel these effects. This variation of the “travel to the place of your death and retrieve what you lost” gameplay loop feels way less punishing than losing all your currency on death with the risk of losing it forever on a second demise. The player might also feel less forced to travel to the place of the death each time they respawn and visit other areas instead, knowing that the guilt piece will still be there later.
Blasphemous | Strong Bosses and Stronger Aesthetics
Of course, it would not be a Metroidvania without giant bosses to fight and I have to say, Blasphemous really shines in that department. I will not easily forget the fight against Our Lady of the Charred Visage or Exposito, Scion of Abjuration. Bosses in Blasphemous are huge, powerful, challenging to fight and interesting to look at. They’re the epitome of the great character design of the game and the apex of the amazing pixel art of the title. Most of the bosses (especially the two human-size ones) will take multiple attempts to take down while the player learns their patterns and develops a strategy around them. None of the deaths ever feel cheap though and after every attempt, you return to the chamber with renewed knowledge and resolve to bring down the foe.
Blasphemous Review | Final Thoughts
The most striking aspects of Blasphemous is definitely its presentation. The pixel art is masterfully executed, which complements the interesting and creepy character design and world-building. While the world of Blasphemous is gloomy in spirit, it’s still rich in color and contrasts that manage to further develop the feeling of uneasiness that takes hold of the player during the exploration.
This feeling of impending doom is exacerbated by the awesome sound design and soundtrack. Gothic themes are the most common occurrence while visiting the world but they never get old and there’s quite a few of them. Sound effects are pretty good at adding weight to the hits of both the Mea Culpa and the enemies weapons while all the foes that the Penitent One faces have their own creepy growls, moans and the like that contribute in making them even more menacing (sometimes even more than they really are).
Blasphemous is a beautifully haunting game. The mechanics are solid but they bring very little new to the table. At the same time, the world is interesting and the theme is pretty intriguing. If you’re into Metroidvania and the prospect of exploring a world of profanity, blasphemy, and violence fascinates you, Blasphemous will be up your alley.
TechRaptor reviewed Blasphemous on PC via GOG with a code provided by the storefront. It is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
- Intriguing Theme
- Striking Art and Sound Design
- Solid Combat System
- Interesting and Original Lore
- Amazing Boss Fights
- Frustrating Platforming Moments
- Uninteresting Passive Items
- Progress Doesn't Open New Gameplay Options