The Game Kitchen, developers of Blasphemous, have done something very different here — especially in comparison to their previous title, The Last Door (itself a low-fi Lovecraftian adventure game featuring a wonderful story). After a mega-successful Kickstarter, the team have dived straight into the deep end with Blasphemous, a new action-platformer which demonstrates a highly impressive first attempt at “Souls-like” design from the studio.
The story takes place in a world that has been struck by a strange phenomenon dubbed “the miracle”. Everyone in the world has been reduced to a mere symbol of either their “holiness” or their “sinfulness” — to put it another way, things have gone to hell, quite literally. You play as the mysterious Penitent One, who is on a quest through the world to find the source of said miracle.
On the surface, Blasphemous draws parallels with other Souls-styled 2D games like Death’s Gambit and Salt and Sanctuary. Thankfully — and much to its benefit — Blasphemous attempts its own spin on the Souls-like concept.
The world itself is somewhat nonlinear; the back half of the game is actually locked behind a requirement to complete three quests in the first half. There are plenty of secret rooms, hidden areas, and loads of shortcuts to discover. Combat is relatively basic: you have access to an attack, riposte, dodge, and a selectable spell. The environments you’ll explore are beautiful in a kind of hopeless, apocalyptic sense; Blasphemous features some of the most impressive 2D pixel assets and enemy designs I’ve ever seen. I also greatly appreciated the intricate enemy animations.
When it comes to combat, there’s one very important component that 2D Souls-likes need to nail: clearly telegraphing enemy attacks. In this context, the animation fidelity is vital — if there aren’t enough frames of animation, or the timing is off, it can be difficult to read an enemy’s attack. But here, the level of detail is so rich, that attentive players can easily keep track of what’s going on. Blasphemous also wisely avoids animation tracking as a technique — that is to say, enemies obey a ruleset similar to the player; they aren’t able to, for example, suddenly turn 180 degrees to instantly attack (and hit) a dodging player.
As with the legendary Dark Souls series, Blasphemous is filled to the brim with fascinating lore. Some of this lore exists outside the game world itself — there’s a prequel comic, for example. Within the game itself, every item you can pick up has a lore entry associated with it.
Although Blasphemous lacks weapon builds (something that is a staple of Souls-likes), the development team have done an admirable job of supplying gameplay variety without making the experience too punishing.
You won’t unlock new weapon upgrades beyond the Mea Culpa sword, but there’s plenty of room for experimentation. At any time, you can utilize one prayer/spell that uses “fervor” as a resource. Your rosary chain (which itself can be upgraded) is able to hold a variety of beads that each provide unique bonuses (for example, increased damage, resistance to certain attack types, and so on). You can also equip up to three relics, which influence events in the outside world.
Importantly, there are plenty of other secrets and side quests to find in the game, with the payout ultimately being that you’re granted even more items to experiment with.
As you might expect from a Souls-like, death is a regular occurrence. But Blasphemous is definitely on the more forgiving side. Every time you shuffle off this mortal coil, Death leaves a guilt token at your place of death and blocks out a segment of your max fervor until you can recover it.
It’s possible to have more than one guilt token at play, and it’s also possible to replenish your fervor at special statues in exchange for resources.
Although there’s a ton of lore in the world — and a great deal of visual detail — the core gameplay in Blasphemous is very streamlined. This is a game with a clear design direction and a full commitment to that direction. With that said, however, I do want to cover a few quibbles.
For a game based on the brutal side of religion, the combat itself never really became terribly interesting outside of boss fights. Enemies themselves only have one or two different attacks — and for the most part, encounters are more about enemies standing in your way or blocking a platforming section than it is about satisfying fisticuffs. The major exceptions are the boss fights; each baddie you encounter in this context is entirely unique in both their attack patterns and overall design.
The real risk to life and limb doesn’t come from enemies; rather, platforming is the biggest danger. Blasphemous features many ultra-precise jumps over terrifying death pits. It’s not quite kaizo territory, but you’d better believe there’s almost zero margin for error here — the platforming is pretty unforgiving. When — not if — you die during a platforming challenge, you’ll need to do a lot of backtracking. There are only five fast-travel points in the entire game, and there’s a massive amount of real estate to cover. Blasphemous does indeed contain unlockable shortcuts, as mentioned earlier, but that doesn’t negate the substantial on-foot travel you’ll be doing after many deaths.
As mentioned earlier too, there isn’t much in the way of build variety here. The same can be said in terms of tactical variation; Blasphemous wasn’t designed around that. Spells and secondary attacks are extremely powerful, but they consume fervor, which isn’t easy to recover. Ultimately, I’d say Blasphemous’ combat fundamentally revolves around close-range fighting and the ability to riposte.
Blasphemous is an ambitious game for The Game Kitchen. While playing it, their attention-to-detail is evident — these developers clearly wanted to make sure every element was just right. And for the most part, they succeeded.
Not quite a Souls-like in the strictest sense, and not quite a traditional action-adventure game, Blasphemous marches to the beat of its own drum.
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