Blasphemous (2019) Review

When I saw the trailer for Blasphemous the first time, I was immediately ecstatic. The kickstarter game offers an outstanding atmosphere, steeped in religious iconography and an eerie dread, all taking place in a world known as Cvstodia. You play as a knight(templar?) known as The Penitent One, who is set on a quest to achieve this thing called the Cradle of Affliction. I’m not really sure what the story is, most of the narrative is established by long, dense exposition. What I’m here to review is the game-play and environment.

The very beginning of the game throws you into a boss fight with a gentleman known as the “Warden of Silent Sorrow”, who is reminiscent (in combat) of the first boss in FromSoftware’s Bloodborne. From the trailer alone, it was easy to recognize this as a game with heavy “Soulsborne” inspiration. The game draws heavily from the mechanics established by games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, as well as the legendary 2D game Hollowknight, but mostly the old-school Castlevania games. While this sounds like it would be perfect for any fan of the macabre and horrific, the game falls a little flat in the realm of mechanics. The skill tree, used in leveling up in areas much like a bonfire, offers variation in combat, but not enough to fill out the experience. The Penitent One starts with a three hit combo and a magic attack, for a long time this limits the combat and makes it pretty stagnant. Even as you level up and add variations, the move set seems choppy and at times too self-sacrificing. Enemies are either far too easy (particularly so when they can be cheesed) or tremendously difficult, especially with how the game tends to have mobs for the player.

Much like other “Metroidvania” styled games it focuses heavily on platforms and platforming mechanics when it comes to moving through the map. Luckily, this is executed extremely well and the dodge-slide mechanic makes it a little more spicy. It offers difficult terrain like sludge to wade through and environmental adversities like wind preventing you from moving forward.

The leveling up tree is interesting but what is far more curious is the rosary you are able to endow with different beads and trinkets. These offer effect that are either latent or active. Healing is primarily done by Bile Vessels, refilled at altars known as Mea Culpa. These Estus Flask-esque vessels are tremendously hard to fill and at first don’t offer much in healing. Finally the magic system is a lot of fun for me. You unlock more spells as you go and the meter is filled via successful hits, similar to Hollowknight. When you die in this game, you don’t lose the currency, known as “Tears of Atonement”, however you accrue Guilt. Guilt cuts off how much magic you have access to (as seen below) and it can only be recovered by visiting your place of death or a special priest. These few mechanics save the game for me. When it comes to this area of the game, the mechanics give it a 6.5/10.

Blasphemous truly excels when it comes to setting the scene. The game is hauntingly beautiful, from dark dungeons to frozen tundras, each stage or section is visually appealing. I was always excited to discover a new area to experience new enemies, views and enrapturing backdrops. The game creates interesting ways to return to previous areas you have long forgotten, allowing for ease of access to special altars and characters that are imperative to progressing in the story. The 2D art doesn’t take away from the game but offers it a unique opportunity to focus on a detailed foreground and beautiful backdrop that a 3D game wouldn’t have access to. For this reason it also worked well on the Switch, which I have had issues with in terms of graphics and rendering.

The final aspect of this game that is so appealing is the blend of cosmic horror and Gothic style. It’s not unique in any way but it’s done in it’s own way. The game is more similar to a fever dream than a horror game. Everything is out of proportion and absurd in the way it’s portrayed. There is quite a bit of nudity but in a way that is far more Renaissance than sexual in nature. This entrenches the game as gritty, it’s a fleshy, bloody hack n’ slash. `The aesthetic of the game make the purchase worth it and I would give it a 9/10.

I’m not entirely sure Blasphemous is worth full price. It’s fun but frustrating and tedious at times. Just averaging out the two scores, I’m gonna give it a 7.75 out of 10. Keep in mind that this score does not include the storyline of the game because if I’m honest, I was either not paying attention or confused about it for my entire time playing this title.

Blasphemous was developed by The Game Kitchen, published by Team17 Digital Limited and composed by Carlos Viola. It is available of Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Macintosh and Windows operating systems. The game was released Septemnber 10, 2019 and has an ESRB rating of M for Mature for violence, nudity, and blood and gore.

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