Coming to us from The Game Kitchen and published by Team 17, Blasphemous takes an age old formula and promises a new perspective for players by ramping up the difficulty whilst blending its adventure platforming with Dark Souls style bosses and punishing level design.
Blasphemous starts out as it means to go on, awakening on a pile of bodies. Those bodies seem uncomfortably familiar until you realise that they are the ones that came before you. Immediately thrown into your first boss battle you can see why, if you are not prepared, and if you aren’t familiar with these types of battles, you’ll be back on that pile in no time flat.
The Penitent One, as you are labeled by the first NPC you meet, is tasked with repenting and redeeming themselves of the sins of their past and assisting in cleansing Cvstodia, the country Blasphemous takes place within. Equipped with your sword, Mea Culpa and jump and dash abilities you are fairly under-powered for the main part. This doesn’t really change but you can start to even the odds as you progress.
The religious inspiration comes at you thick and fast and plenty of detail has gone into the imagery and animations of the enemies; from self flagellating Priests to Nuns with incense carriers filled with other smaller enemies. The lore surrounding each of the items you find serves to push along the story, explain many of the side quests you come across from the NPCs you meet as well as support the overall world design.
The game opts for a 16bit pixel art presentation rather than going with HD imagery. Even then the locales and vistas you experience are well realised, detail is fairly clear in most instances and the animations of the characters are quite complex.
As well as the standard health bar, the Penitent One has a Fervour bar (read: Magic) which can be used to deploy magics or skills gained. You also have access to a number of biliary vessels, these vials function like the Estus Flask from the Souls series. Whilst utilising these vials you are frozen to the spot and completely at the mercy of the enemies in the area so careful usage is advised, it gets worse in that if you get hit mid animation you will lose the vial, take damage and won’t get the health either.
Upgrades come in the form of a multitude of collectables. Your Rosary can be affixed with a selection of charms which you find as you progress offering damage buffs or cool down bonuses. These are limited by the number of rosary knots you have, although more can also be found as you delve deeper. Sword hearts are a means of upgrading your sword with a risk vs reward mechanic, most of these give you a buff in one area whilst debuffing you in another, until you are experienced in the subtlety of the controls its advised to stay away from these.
It’s not long before you gain your first Prayer, these magic spells can only be equipped one at a time and offer either an offensive or defensive effect. Powered by Fervour which you generate by attacking and defeating enemies, the first received offers a lightning based attack whilst one of the later acquired give you a limited time of invulnerability. Some are useful in certain circumstances or wholly brilliant in any area but much harder to acquire in the first place.
Health and Fervour upgrades are hidden within the complex level designs, some hidden behind the metroidvania staple of an ability gate, some not. Shrines offering increased damage levels of the Mea Culpa are also hidden in similar ways although most tend to be more accessible given you really do need that damage increase to progress at a regular pace. You can also buy items, charms and vials from certain vendors across the world with the tears you acquire.
Blasphemous is right in your face with the result of your actions, sword slashes spray blood into the air, finishing attacks remove limbs and most enemies perish in the most painful ways from self immolation to loss of internal organs. The attacks are weighty and feel visceral, added to that the additional effects of riposting the attacks of enemies and delivering a punishing counter blow never gets old.
Most people finding this review are probably asking one question: “How about the Bosses?” Brutal in a word, and mostly unforgiving to the point of being unfair in certain circumstances. Most boss attack patterns will take some time to learn and even then, one or two were quite random to the point of frustration. That said, more exploration and upgrades could have resolved that particular instance.
Each clash however is one of the main reasons to experience Blasphemous, a heart-pumping few minutes where you are always a few seconds from death. It would have been great to see a “Boss Rush” option opened up after completion for additional challenges.
Weirdly for a game relying on abilities unlocked to progress there are a selection of abilities not needed at all to finish the games main story. The relics in question, the reward for the more complex side quests, opened up other areas where additional relics, health/fervour upgrades and prayers could be found. These relics are also required for (and made much easier) the acquisition of the “Good” ending
An arduous journey into redemption, Blasphemous blends both Soulsborne difficulty and Metroidvania exploration with an excellent but somewhat gruesome delivery. Rarely unfair but always difficult, it’s a hard slog for those not used to this level of punishment but the exhilaration of triumph keeps you coming back for more.