Title: Blasphemous II
Developer: The Game Kitchen
Release Date: Aug 24, 2023
Reviewed On: PS4
The realm of wonder has no limits, even with a dark and foreboding fate remaining everpresent. The Penitent One seeks to dispel more evil, and it is through his journey that the player finds a rewarding struggle with a resounding triumph. Blasphemous started out as a Kickstarter game campaign and, over time, became a massive success in the indie gaming sphere.
It was to such a degree that the game had three DLCs and is now ready for its sequel. Blasphemous 2 continues the story of the Penitent One in unfamiliar territory as they traverse the unforgiving terrain in search of answers. The first game captured the eyes of many with its superbly detailed pixel art, the beautifully grotesque yet gothic aesthetic, and the challenging but engaging gameplay. This sequel builds on that and presents something truly astounding.
To start your journey off, you get to choose from three different weapons to tailor the type of fighting style you’d prefer to utilize. While testing each of the weapons, you can feel how smooth the controls are, an aspect the team from The Game Kitchen emphasized as to how much they wanted to improve from the original. I was thoroughly impressed with the intensity and fluidity of the gameplay. It was clear just how impactful each of my hits was on the enemy. With each of these weapons, they all develop in their own manner through a specific skill tree, with each presenting its own benefits and disadvantages.
To help you break into the feel of the game, you face a mini-boss as soon as you head out of the weapon select screen. While this may seem overwhelming to some at first, the boss has a patterned attack you can easily figure out over a short course of time. The intensity and pacing of this fight are smart, as it tells players the level of focus one must need to succeed. It sets the bar for the type of fights and situations you would get into as you progress throughout the adventure.
As you venture through the world, you’ll encounter a wide variety of enemies, each with its own patterns and gimmicks. This diversity helps keep you focused, as you’re always wondering what could potentially lie ahead. In addition, the environments are vastly different, giving you yet another reason to be entranced with the experience. As Metroidvania titles are, you will encounter some repetitiveness as you go through the same areas numerous times.
Despite this, you find new weapons and abilities to help you explore sections of areas you may not have had access to before. For example, your dagger-like weapon can be used to burn through thick vines that may block your path. In addition, there is a travel system to help you get around to certain teleport locations scattered throughout the map. When comparing Blasphemous II to the first game, it’s easy to tell just how much went into making this play like a complete metroidvania.
The exploration and platforming are agile and satisfying. I had the opportunity to speak with the Art Director, Enrique Cabeza, and the Producer, David Erosa. When asking them about their biggest learned lesson from the first Blasphemous and community feedback, they heavily emphasized to me just how much importance was put into the feel of the controls. They understood there was some rigidity and clunkiness in the first title, and they wanted to make sure that this got addressed from the ground up with Blasphemous II.
And let me tell you. It worked beautifully. Whichever weapon you utilize, the right amount of power and precision is applied. When jumping over obstacles or enemies, I had a good grip on the control, even while in midair. In addition, dodging and parrying attacks felt natural and satisfying. Once you learn the proper timing, your brain gets immensely stimulated trying to execute whichever combat technique you want to apply.
If I had any gripe with the controls, my only quibble would be that the range to climb up a ledge is sensitive. Meaning that if you want to head down a platform, you’ll have to prepare those movements carefully, as you can be in the range to automatically climb back up the platform from the edge. It’s a very minor concern altogether.
Where it all coalesces is within the boss fights you’ll eventually encounter. To strategically combat these bosses, your ideal tactics would be to understand the workings of each of your weapons and items and know when to utilize each of them. Yes, you can just brute force it with one weapon like I tried so hard to do, but you’ll be pleased to employ your various attacks should you have more in your arsenal.
While the gameplay and controls achieved great enhancements, the main attraction of the show is the game’s world and aesthetics. The pixel art maintains such intricate detail it’s hard not to just sit there and stare at many of the different rooms. I wanted to explore the intricacy, too, as I was eager to find any hidden secrets.
You’d be surprised just how often this game rewards you for paying attention. To continue from the previous game, the architecture, statues, and imagery derive from religious influences, without any particular focus on one religion. There’s a clear distortion to these visuals, allowing the world to feel more ominous and gruesome. Not only are there religious influences, but there is a definite inspiration from much of Spanish culture and heritage.
In fact, storytelling and worldbuilding is a great feat of immersion. Each character that you encounter all have a distinct look and aura to them, elevated by the dialogue and the skillful voice acting behind them. Every item you come upon, whether it is a relic or artifact, each has its individual lore for you to read about. Through these tidbits and excerpts, you get a peek into the lens of this magnificent world. Though I wish I could have learned more about certain characters, the level of detail isn’t overwhelming and has enough subtlety to keep your mind satiated.
In addition, the sound design and music elevate the experience even further. The visuals alone demonstrate the unique identity within each area, but the music and ambiance within each individual environment provide a great soundscape to complement what you see.
Whether you’re in a dark and withered forest or a high and mighty castle, the soundtrack packs a punch to lock you in. In addition, the sound design of the protagonist and the enemies is brilliant. That gratifying cling that comes with each successful parry or the menacing caw of an evil bird monster is an important element within this magnificent structure.
Blasphemous II took so much of what made the first Blasphemous notable and heightened it from a pure-combat specialist to a memorable metroidvania. Not only are there improvements to combat and movement to feel both fluid and fruitful, but the experience is captivating and enthralling from all standpoints. Looking through every nook and cranny is enjoyable enough, but you’ll stay completely mesmerized by the gorgeous artwork and atmosphere. The Penitent One’s journey is arduous and demanding, but it is a hell of a time.
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