Kickstarter has delivered us some legendary games over the years: Pillars of Eternity, Shovel Knight, the Banner Saga and now Blasphemous, a metroidvania action-adventure game developed by The Game Kitchen, can be added to the portfolio.
Needless to say, Blasphemous isn’t the first successful metroidvania title Kickstarter has produced – Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night raised over $5.5 million from backers and moved a million units after the first year of it’s release. At the time, I thought that Bloodstained was the “true spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” but after experiencing Blasphemous, now… let’s just say that it puts things in perspective.
What drew me to Blasphemous originally was the metal-as-hell cover art, but my expectations weren’t exactly high given that The Game Kitchen is about as indie as an indie company could possibly be – it’s only about 15 young up-and-comers based out of Seville, Spain.
I usually don’t take a punt on games that I don’t know much about from developers I’ve never heard of, but taking a punt on Blasphemous turned out to be the most unexpectedly awesome decision I could have made.
Welcome to Cvstodia, Cradle of the Grevious Miracle
Blasphemous lets you explore the desolate, dangerous wastelands of Cvstodia, a land blighted by an enigmatic supernatural force known as “the Grievous Miracle” that curses Cvstodia’s inhabitants as penance for their sins. Every character and enemy you meet will have been “touched by the Miracle” – including your protagonist “the Penitent One” – turning them into ungodly abominations that are out to put a permanent end to your pilgrimage. It’s a bleak, godless place, where the stench of death and the mewling cries of the damned hang heavy in the air – it’s also one of my favourite videogame locations of all time!
Blasphemous’ aesthetic is as captivating as it is unique – a blend of twisted religious iconography, horror and gore that represent the suffering and desperation of Cvstodia’s people under the influence of the Miracle. This sinister, gothic style will make fans of the Soulsborne series feel right at home.
Everything about Cvstodia’s design, from the character models to the environments to the bosses themselves are heavily influenced by Spanish culture and folklore, particularly from the Andalusian region and from around the time of the Spanish Inquisition. For example, the Penitent One’s iconic helmet is inspired by a capriote which was original worn by flagellants as they flogged themselves to do penance; the red cincture around his waist is known to represent blood and martydom in Catholicism. Head over the the Blasphemous wiki if you’re interested in the real-world inspirations for the game’s bosses and NPCs.
The care and attention to detail The Game Kitchen put into constructing the world of Cvstodia has totally paid off in it’s polish, complexity and originality.
And let us not forget the game’s soundtrack – haunting and tragically beautiful- that is truly the heart and soul of Blasphemous’ unique signature. It’s absolutely stunning and one of the few soundtracks I have purchased on Bandcamp just so I can support the composer, Carlos Viola, and his amazing work.
It’s intriguing to explore a world which manages to be both pious and hellish in equal measure. The juxtaposition between the what the characters worship as “holy” and “divine” versus the perverse, unsettling imagery that we see as players is quite jarring, but also thought-provoking; it certainly got me thinking about humanity’s intimate relationship between fear and faith, between ignorance of something and reverence for it, in a way I had never done so before.
It absolutely nails it’s addictive Metriodvania gameplay
Blasphemous’ intoxicating lore combined with it’s classic Metroidvania gameplay made for a game I simply could not tear myself away for love nor money – and even when I did take a break I had my eye on my Switch the whole time, thinking about all the areas I was going to explore and the secrets I was going to unlock next session.
Blasphemous does an excellent job at knowing when to let players off the leash, and when to reign them in. Like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, whilst a lot of Cvstodia is immediately accessible to you, there are lots of areas locked behind abilities and relics you’ll need to obtain before you can move forward.
Blasphemous is also (for the most part) non-linear, in that many of the bosses can be approached in whichever order you wish.
Superb Souls-like combat (featuring gory executions)
Blasphemous’ combat starts off simple and becomes a bit more varied as you unlock more skills and abilities – it also heavily resembles a Souls-like combat system transplanted into 2D, with a strong emphasis on properly timed attacks, blocks and dodges.
The savage execution-style finishers you can perform on enemies are also a wonderful touch. It’s all part of your penance, after all, and I’m sure all that impaling, beheading, quartering, disembowelling and curb-stomping will make your most holy pilgrimage that much more #blessed.
The game isn’t easy, but it’s also never unfair
Blasphemous is described as a “punishing action-platformer” in its marketing, but in my experience that is a misrepresentation of how Blasphemous feels to play – I never once felt “punished” or “cheated” by any of my deaths.
In fact, in some areas I found the game was actually very generous in how it penalizes you – for example, you get to keep all your items when you die, and although your maximum “fervour” (mana, needed for using abilities) is capped each time you die, all you need to do is activate the Statue of Confessors at the site of your death to uncap your maximum fervour again (much like retrieving your souls in Dark Souls). Each boss always has a save spot right outside its chamber so you can try again immediately after you die. This hardly constitutes “punishing.”
Like a true Soulsborne, Blasphemous’ difficulty comes not only from the bosses but also from the regular enemies. Whilst enemies do hit like a truck, this is mitigated by their predictable attack patterns and specific weaknesses that, in my experience, make the Penitent One a fair and equal match for the challenges ahead of him.
The story-telling is sporadic and cryptic
Blasphemous’ NPCs speak in a very distinctive ye Olde style, and whilst the dialogue is very beautiful and poetic and fits brilliantly with the game’s aesthetic, I found it made Blasphemous’ story-telling rather hard to follow. Most NPCs seem to be speaking in riddles and bible verses rather than actual sentences that covey meaningful information.
A lot of Blasphemous’ lore is hidden in item descriptions; item descriptions usually aren’t that important to a game’s story so it’s very easy to miss if you don’t know to look out for it.
The brief and infrequent flourishes of cryptic narration throughout the story simply isn’t enough to fully communicate all the fascinating lore and describe all the important events that have gone on in Cvstodia’s dark past – I had to keep glancing at the wiki so I could work out who was who and what was what, which is never a great sign.
The true ending is difficult to access
This somewhat follows on from my previous point, but let me say – when a player (me) has to look up how to get the “true” ending on a wiki because it’s never explained in-game, that’s a sign that a game might have benefitted from a little bit more explicit direction, in my humble opinion.
Blasphemous, like most metroidvania games, doesn’t have a quest log so you’re relying on the game A) telling you explicitly what to do, which you are expected to remember or B) dropping hints and pointers to help the players figure it out themselves. I didn’t find that Blasphemous did either of those things when it comes to accessing it’s true ending, and when I looked it up on the wiki, it had me scratching my head wondering “How the hell was I supposed to know to do that?”
It’s normal in games with multiple endings to steer players towards a “bad ending” as a default and expect them to consciously manifest the “good ending,” but it would have been nice to at least have some clues as to how to make that happen. Especially when the “bad ending” is sad and unfulfilling. Oh well, at least it’s not the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s bad ending. *shudder*
Videogames Make Me Happy concludes… that THIS is the true spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night
To say that Blasphemous goes above and beyond in it’s originality, creativity and brutality is an understatement. Never before have I been so engrossed in a game world I spent only 20 hours in. It gripped my attention and never let up for my entire playthrough which was a scary, thrilling, depressing and thought-provoking experience all in equal measures. I haven’t enjoyed playing a metrovania so much since I played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Blasphemous a shining example of what all metroidvania’s should aspire to be: it takes the bewitching gothic aesthetic of the Soulsborne franchise, and the addictive metriodvania gameplay of Castlevania and fuses them together to create something far greater than the sum of it’s parts.
Congratulations, the Game Kitchen. Or should I say Felicidades?