Ever since it released, Dark Souls' DNA has seeped so deeply into the gaming consciousness that it's gone from a franchise to essentially its own genre. It's not hard to find games that now feature a grim dark setting, extreme difficulty, and extensive yet vague lore on everything from an ancient amulet to a hunk of cheese.
Blasphemous ticks all the boxes for your standard Souls-like game, but also wraps it in a tortilla of Metroidvania goodness with a side of soul-crushing platforming for good measure.
What The Hell Is Going On?
So in typical Souls-like fashion, the plot of Blasphemous is ambiguous, hazy, and ripe for internet speculation. You play as The Penitent One (or "Penny" as I like to call them), who's wracked with guilt over something that's not quite fully explained. You wake up on a hill of dead bodies, put on an extremely pointy hat, and go off to murder anything that looks weird - which is nearly everything. Also, Penny at one point pours a boss' blood into the hat before putting it back on. I'm not sure why he does that.
The story is kind of just a lot of religious mumbo jumbo about a Miracle, and the Age Of Corruption, and being absolved of your guilt, and so on and so forth. However, even though it's about as over the top dark as possible, it is very entertaining to see what new, crazy horrors that The Game Kitchen will cook up next. The amount of lore shoved into this game is astounding, and the various little tidbits of story gained from each item picked up are very well crafted.
The world itself is the real star of the game. Every setting you come across is usually some kind of unholy cathedral, or some wasteland filled with the corpses of lesser people. The people you run into who are still alive - and not horrible monsters - are equally as messed up as you are, and they'll have side quests that are as bizarre as they are intriguing. It's worth completing all these side missions just to see the results of each terrible request.
Lacerating For The Lord
Now a lot of people are comparing this to Dark Souls (including me at the start of this review), but in reality this game feels more like an extremely horrific take on Castlevania. The combat feels like it could be coming from a Belmont, the map resembles the one from Symphony Of The Night, and there's even little flying Medusa heads that pop up here and there. There's definitely more 'Vania than Metroid in Blasphemous.
The Penitent One's main form of attack is his sword, which holds some kind of religious importance and is also good for stabbing things. You go around hacking and slashing enemies and the swordplay feels pretty great. The swings are fast and fluid and the hits are meaty and bloody. You gain more moves and methods of murder as the game progresses, but your sword is pretty much it in terms of weapons. I also liked that you had a pretty efficient upward swing, and you could really cheese your way through certain parts by just attacking foes from below. That's always delightful.
Even though I do feel more of a Castlevania vibe, the Souls influences are pretty blatant. You have your refillable healing flasks that you just kind of smash into your face, you can parry and counterattack, you get Souls (or Tears Of Atonement if you will) from killing enemies that can be used for upgrades, you have a bonfire (or Prie Dieu, whatever that is) to rest at, etc. However, despite these obvious Souls hallmarks, Blasphemous does do things a little differently in some areas.
For example, when you die, you don't lose your souls. Instead, you drop a Guilt Fragment, which reduces your health, as well as the amount of health you can recover, and magic that you can build up. You also have spells (which are obviously called Prayers) that you can find and equip. Although I didn't find these that useful since they take a second to charge up, so they're actually way less effective than just swinging your holy sword.
In terms of things you can find, there's actually a metric ton of little items for you to gather. There's various collectibles that give you some extra souls and a ton of lore: relics which give you different bonuses, rosary beads that boost your stats, sword hearts that offer different effects for your sword, shrines that increase your health, little cherubs in cages that you have to rescue, and on and on. If you like collecting stuff, Blasphemous has all kinds of creepy knick-knacks for you to hoard.
Leap Of Faith (Onto Spikes)
In addition to combat, this game also has a lot of platforming. And that's where the rage comes in.
You see, the jumping is fine in this game, but unfortunately the people at The Game Kitchen seem to have an affinity for spike pits, moving platforms, and constant obstacles. If you happen to fall upon one of the several spike pits in the game, you die. No damage taken, no second chances, just death. This is very frustrating, because when you die, you go back to the last Prie Dieu you rested at, which in many cases is pretty far away. You can eventually unlock shortcuts which will allow you to get to these areas faster, but getting to a spot filled with spikes faster isn't necessarily an improvement. Now I could just be trash at platforming, but having instant deaths in a game like this just doesn't seem like a good time.
There's also the problem of the moving platforms and obstacles. One thing I don't really care for in platforming games is when I'm required to wait for something. If I miss a moving platform, that means I need to wait for it to come back, which leads to The Penitent One just standing around and twiddling their thumbs. Same with the obstacles, where if a giant pot of lava is pouring in front of me, I essentially need to wait in order to not be scalded. It'd be fine if the wait wasn't so long, but some of these platforms take forever to return, and it just kind of slows everything down.
I Think I'd Rather Deal With Dracula
Thankfully, if you do have to do some waiting, the scenery is nice to take in. This game is beautiful, in a messed up, disgusting, gore-filled kind of way. Every level is on some level of disturbing, and the enemy deaths are incredibly violent, especially if you perform an execution. The enemy designs are also pretty amazing, with a lot of bloody tears, open sores, and just generally terribly painful looking afflictions. There's also occasionally a cut scene, and while they don't offer much in terms of plot, the animation is usually pretty impressive.
The bosses are truly spectacular. If you need to see some nightmare inducing boss designs, Blasphemous should be your go to game. Anything from Our Lady Of The Charred Visage, to Exposito, Scion Of Abjuration are frightening feasts for the eyes. These fights were my favorite parts of the game. While they were extremely difficult, they offered up the right amount of challenge and never felt too cheap. Well, I mean, they were a little cheap at times, but a surmountable amount of cheapness is fine.
Say Three Hail Marys And Go Stab A Giant Demon Baby
I can't say I know what the hell is actually happening in Blasphemous, but I had a good time with it regardless. The world that this game takes place in is an ungodly fever dream, which is kind of ironic considering how this is all being done in the name of religion. The combat feels great, but the platforming made me want to commit as many sins as possible. I really wish the developers weren't so fond of insta-deaths, as it just didn't feel challenging and difficult in a good way.
Otherwise, the game is pretty fun, and the boss battles are tremendously entertaining while also providing some Dark Souls level, hair-pulling challenge. Combined with its blood-soaked, evil little world, Blasphemous is something to play if you're feeling in the mood for a little self-flagellation.
3.5 out of 5 Stars
A copy of Blasphemous was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Blasphemous is now available on PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch.