Blasphemous

Seems like many a Metroidvania copies the whole Dark Souls formula. It’s become something of a popular thing to mix the two together, with this idea that the whole hardcore, try and die until you get it right thing seems to work for the subgenre. It probably doesn’t hurt that a great majority of Metroidvanias seem to think they need to take place in a destroyed or desolated land, often a fantastical one (seriously, Symphony of the Night, the original Castlevania to inspire the genre was just gothic fantasy, why all the apocalyptic scenarios?). Of all of those Dark Souls wannabe Soulslikes, Blasphemous is far and away the most Dark Souls of them all.

Meaning your success will be built on the bodies of the dead.

This does mean that anyone who has played one of the Soulslike Metroidvanias (Hollow Knight, Ender Lilies, etc.) will know how this handles. One button jumps, another unleashes attack animations, and you can dodge roll with a shoulder button. Healing is done through a limited resource, tied to another button. Blasphemous goes that extra mile to actually adding a block button, and blocking works fairly well, even against some bosses, opening up counter attacks and fending off some or nearly all the damage.

You’re expected to guide your character (he’s the one with the cool hat in the image above… the live one) through a desolated land. You jump platforms with far too many deadly spike pits or outright insta-kill drops, fight enemies using various attacks, and are generally working your way to explore a map. The same Metroidvania formula applies: explore to the extent of your current abilities in order to find something that will allow you to explore just a bit further.

Blasphemous is a bit unique on that front. Many of the extra explorative abilities are practically optional (less so if you want one of the newer, better endings). Plus they’ve substituted some of the standards: there’s no double-jump, but instead the ability to create new platforms at specific areas. There’s no specific wall climb, because you all but start with it, but there is an artifact that will cause various walls to appear in certain areas.

Where the game really shines is in its combat. There’s a slight combo system to your attacks, patterns to learn in enemy attacks, and just about everything can kill you. This go through on my Switch was actually my second time through the game, and I’ve now played quite a few of these (even the console games from the original Souls creators: Dark Souls 2 and Sekiro, the latter of which I’ve played to near completion in the past few months). That means that I was able to handle myself in combat pretty well this time around, and rarely died, but neophyte players are unlikely to have the same experience.

Though ironically this first boss here was the one that probably killed me the most

The bosses are all kinds of fun. They’re often screen filling enemies with their own unique little trick. Part of defeating them is learning their patterns, and knowing when you can up and unleash your combos to completion. Blasphemous has thrown in a fun little thing for a few bosses too: an NPC who will make the boss fight a little easier for you. She can only be used a few times during the game (I believe three), and even on my first playthrough I only used her a few times.

Just your normal DLC boss, to contrast the one above

The combat always feels tight, and it pretty much never feels unfair. If I died to an enemy, it was usually due to my own incompetence… or going after an enemy before I’d really grown strong enough to face them (I fought a giant snake boss way before I was supposed to and realized that waiting was probably the smart path). Blasphemous is hard, sure, but it’s hard in that fair way that’s really hard to nail, which pretty much every game I’ve mentioned thus far has managed.

Now, the astute reader will have noticed the various images I’ve put up, and how they have this very dark, gothic feel. There’s a lot of skulls and blood and other fun imagery around. Blasphemous actually borrows strongly from Catholic iconography, which makes it even more unique among various dark fantasy worlds. It also makes it all kinds of creepy.

You know, like floating skulls that speak to you casually while melted gold shows on their face.

See, the idea of the game is that there are these… events/people/things in the world called Miracles. These are fantastical transformations that result in rather twisted things in the world. Sometimes these are perceived as good, like the lady who gets to be ethereal and has to be held suspended in a cage lest she float from this world, othertimes they’re perceived as punishments.

The idea is that they all stem from the First Miracle. This came from a young man who sat on a log, praying that he would feel the pain and punishment to truly atone for his sins. He prayed and wept and prayed and wept and the log below him slowly grew up around him. It became him and the sap pulsed through his blood, and he apparently ascended through the agony inflicted upon him. Naturally everyone saw that and went “yep, that’s a Miracle” and started praying, so more and more… afflictions started appearing.

These get so gnarly that I’m actually worried about putting some of the pictures up, since this content is supposed to be for a more general audience. Like, I’m pretty sure the screencap of the naked three headed woman that came from a lady who had killed her evil husband and therefore hid away in an egg made out of her own hair would be bad to show. Also not sure about the monk who has an elderly face growing in his chest, which gradually grows a life more and more of its own until it can claw free. Or perhaps the blinded, also naked, woman with six swords stabbed into her abdomen, which she removes to grant you more health.

Yeah, it gets like that. And there’s a separate NPC for almost everything. The game does not let anyone pull double-duty here, and some of them are only there to take one or two collectibles from you. it’s a bit of a minor nuisance.

But enough about game mechanics! What of the rest of the story? Blasphemous follows the journey of the Penitent One, the Silent One, ye man of the cool hat. He is the last survivor of his order, who perished in flames, and he seeks absolution for sins. His journey takes him across the land, seeking the Wounds of the Miracle that he may be presented before the current high pontiff and be fully absolved.

This is told via pretty well voice acted scenes from time to time. The world is incredibly deep on top of that. Every item you find has its own bit of lore attacked, some kind of nearly purple bit of prose to provide backstory.

I honestly just picked one at random, and you can see how gnarly that is

The game has some great depth to it, particularly if you want to dig into it. My main issue is that the game also takes itself almost laboriously seriously. This is probably due to the whole Catholic roots. Everything feels so weighty it becomes ponderous at times. The great, long speeches and the way everything is delivered with Pomp and Circumstance gets a little heavy from time to time. Usually games like this try to input a little levity into the world; Hollow Knight in particular excels at this. Some sort of comedy was sorely needed here.

The closest we get is a guy who is forced to bend over perpendicular, as his order believes in watching only their feet and where their path may tread. He shows up from time to time, usually bemoaning that he cannot journey further due to lack of ability to jump or whatever. Basically he cues the player in to where shortcuts are, and you can unlock one of those kinda optional movement abilities by helping him out.

Blasphemous is still a highly enjoyable game. It rewards exploration with all kinds of collectibles, often smoothly tying lore in to the various powerups you get throughout the game. The combat is sleek and engaging, with bosses that push the player to the limits without overwhelming them. Likely if you’re already a fan of Metroidvanias, you’ve played this one. I’d highly recommend it to fans of Soulslike games as well. In fact, it’s probably a good starter game for that genre of playing, if it sounds of interest to you. That is, if you can deal with a good deal of freaky religious themed iconography and some truly ponderous, weighty dialogue.

8 a great game, sure, but I also didn’t mention how there just really isn’t enough to do with the “money/experience” you get, to the point where I had literally maxed out how much I could hold at one point, and the whole ponderous thing literally weighing it down for me (it may objectively be more of a 9, or arguably higher).

Figured dying figures made of ash among a statue that seems to speak would be safe… probably

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