Blasphemous is a 2D Metroidvania game that also takes heavy inspiration from the Dark Souls series. Created by The Game Kitchen, the game is far from flawless gameplay-wise, but this review will show Blasphemous more than makes up for it with its incredibly strong aesthetic.
Story and Writing
This section of the review will look at how Blasphemous fairs with its storytelling. To do this we will look at the plot, writing, and characters.
Blasphemous tells its story in a very similar way to the Dark Souls series. This means a lot of item descriptions and wandering through a setting right after some calamity.
In this case, the story takes place in Cvstodia, a city that was dominated by the definitely-not-Catholic church prior to the events of the game. A force called “The Miracle” has turned a significant portion of its population into horrid creatures, with the game starting after the chaos has died down.
The player takes the reigns of the Penitent One, a member of the Silent Brotherhood. You wake up in a pile of corpses.
There are a lot of interesting things about the story of the game, with the brief snippets of knowledge we get about the history of Cvstodia making for a nice read. That being said, there was one issue I noticed.
Unfortunately, doing this review for Blasphemous revealed that the actual goal of the game isn’t particularly clear. You know the Miracle is a problem, but you don’t know what you are supposed to do about it, or if you are even trying to do anything about it.
The actual writing for the game is generally really solid, but relies a bit too much on purple prose, making it a bit hard to follow at times. Item descriptions will tell you something cool about the city or the particular area, though there were a couple of problems I noticed.
While the game does a decent job of building the overall setting, how individual areas relate to each other isn’t particularly clear. Those areas will have their own tidbits of lore scattered throughout, but they all feel isolated from one another.
The world outside of Cvstodia is also nonexistent. At most you get a quick thing talking about trade routes drying up, but otherwise, the story is isolated to one area. This isn’t a terrible thing, but it would have been nice to see how the rest of the world interacted with the church dominated Cvstodia.
Working on the review for Blasphemous, it became apparent characters were sparse. For the most part, they exist to give exposition. The only one who really shows up more than once is a character named Deogracias.
Dialogue is strong, fitting with the Gothic style the art goes for. The only thing that kind of bothered me about it was the tendency to name drop extravagant things every conversation, making it feel a bit “fantasy babble”-ish.
The one big thing I noticed in regards to the characters was the voice acting for them. It was, to be generous, inconsistent. Some voices, like Deogracias, are great and fits the setting perfectly, while others are just jarringly out of place. In particular, there is a character you meet at the end who, while not doing a bad delivery, sounds so out of place in the setting it really takes you out.
While the writing takes heavily from Dark Souls, the actual gameplay takes its style more from various Metroidvania games. For this part of the review, we will look at how well these are elements are done.
Blasphemous takes you through several areas around the city, and you’ll often find yourself going back and forth between different zones. There will also be more than a few areas where the solution is to come back later with new abilities.
The level design is solid and is pretty good with its checkpoint placement, in the form of shrines. Levels will also have shortcuts you can unlock to get back to these, being really useful.
But with Blasphemous, the majority of the Metroidvania style backtracking you do is optional. Collecting all the cherubs, finding the health upgrades, etc, will require you to circle the map time and time again. There is a lot of this, and it feels great to do.
Meanwhile, the intended path doesn’t involve much backtracking. Most areas will just loop you back to Albero, the hub area of the game. Otherwise, there isn’t a lot for people who just want to get to the end.
The only real problem I had with this element was the teleporting gates scattered throughout the game. There are only a few, and the way they are placed isn’t particularly convenient, as many of the paths branching off from them are more difficult than just taking a long way around.
The game’s combat is of the hack and slash variety, with the player chopping their way through with their sword.
You start with a basic 3-hit combo, a slide-dash, and a parry. These will become your best friends during the game, and the combat mechanics you’ll be using the most.
It feels good to hit and parry enemies, especially when the latter of these results in an execution. These instakill moves can be accessed when counter-attacking at just the right time, and are really satisfying.
As you go on you’ll collect special attacks called “prayers”. While they aren’t horrible, their practicality is limited. Having to stop and wind it up often leads to you getting hit and failing to use it.
This is also the case with the new sword attacks you acquire throughout the game. While some, like the ranged attack, have good utility, the combo enders have a similar problem to the special prayers, taking too long to wind up.
The boss fights in the game are also a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part, they are solidly designed, but there are a few who feel a bit shakier in terms of design. They aren’t necessarily bad, but the way the fight works makes them a bit more tedious than it should be.
The only really bad thing about these fights is there are some who have attacks that force you to get hit. This is rare, but it makes it so getting hit once means death, which is incredibly frustrating.
Of the various elements covered in the review, Blasphemous’s platforming is the weakest aspect of it. While far from being unmanageable, the controls in regards to the platforming of the game are a bit sketchy.
For the most part, it consists of you jumping onto platforms, grabbing ledges, and hanging on walls. On paper, this should work fine, but in practice, things don’t really go well.
The way the wall hang works is for you to jump up to it and hit the attack button. It’s simple enough, but because it hooks you to the wall from a significant range, you often wind up hanging when you meant to attack.
This normally isn’t too much of an issue at first, but when flying enemies are introduced that changes. They quickly become the most frustrating part of the game.
The ledge grabbing is also a bit off. For the most part, it works, but every now and then you’ll slam into the platform and still not grab on. This will often lead to death by spikes or bottomless pits.
Instead of using a leveling system, Blasphemous gives the player upgrades through finding items and special locations. This includes upgrades to health, attack, fervor, and new abilities. The way this is done isn’t bad, but it has some issues.
As mentioned before, the combat abilities you unlock are a mixed bag. Prayers are very situational, and new attacks are about 50/50 on their usefulness. It also feels like the attack boost you get from Mea Culpa shrines aren’t really significant until you’ve found about 3 of them.
This also brings up an issue with the flask system. As you get more health you’ll realize just how little of your health these actually replenish. By the time you’ve gotten half of the boosts, you’ll unload all your flasks just to get to full.
The currency of the game, tears of guilt, are also limited in actual use. Early on, they come in handy. But when you’ve gotten all of them or reach the current upgrade cap, they just sit there.
You could use them to relieve guilt, a stat that lowers your base fervor, but the player can pick it up for free. Even without this, the fervor isn’t used enough to really matter.
Graphics and Sound
This part of the review will be looking at the sound and visuals of Blasphemous. In addition to this, we will also take a look at the performance of the game on a technical level.
For the most part, the game runs well. The player will occasionally clip into a wall when they slide into it on elevated platforms, but that’s the about it. The game crashed twice while playing. Otherwise, it runs perfectly well, never having frame drops or slowdown.
The overall sound design for Blasphemous is rock solid. Attacks have a nice meaty slashing sound, and the constant moan of various monsters lends itself to the creepy atmosphere. Everything has proper mixing and fits with what it’s attached to.
The game’s soundtrack is great and does a wonderful job of adding to the general atmosphere. Primarily using piano and acoustic guitar, the music adjusts to fit the most appropriate tone.
Overall it goes for a very melancholy tone and matches the miserable world of Cvstodia. It breaks this with faster tracks for the boss fights, helping you get more into the zone.
The biggest draw of the game is its art style, taking heavy inspiration from the Spanish Gothic style. The pixel style manages to be beautiful, yet grungy, making it visually unique. While playing Blasphemous for review, the art always amazed.
There are various enemy designs, having detailed attack, death, and execution animations. The player character’s movement is also well done, with a lot of detail.