Blasphemous Review – Bloody and Full of Lore

    Title: Blasphemous
    Developer: The Game Kitchen
    Release Date: September 10, 2019
    Reviewed On: Xbox One
    Publisher: Team17
    Genre: metroidvania

There is so much I can appreciate from games that have a unique look and lore that developers like The Game Kitchen have crafted — having both a recognizable yet fresh take on visuals and settings that allow their games to truly stand out among the crowd. However, I couldn’t help but feel that their newest game, Blasphemous, relied too much on storytelling which ended up hurting the gameplay. This turns the experience into one that doesn’t balance the two elements well. That being said, this doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty for the player to do in this dark and gritty adventure.

The opening of Blasphemous explains that a curse called “The Miracle” has stuck the land of Cvstodia, creating a horrid plight that has driven people to madness with endless guilt and anger. An unknown figure called the Penitent One is tasked with lifting the curse that has trapped the world in an endless cycle of death. This is done by taking hold of Mea Culpa, a sword forged in guilt, to defeat the various enemies and bosses that occupy dungeons, churches, and mountain tops in the game world.

Visually, The pixel art graphics have no trouble conveying such a brutal world. The cutscenes are something to look forward to as they reminded me of a fantasy movie that has gruesomely-detailed scenes. The same can be said in the game world as well. Environments, character models and illustrations all share the same highly detailed graphics that could only be hand-drawn instead of repeated assets, meaning every piece of Blasphemous‘ visuals is different, making it an impressive game to see. Matched with its haunting choir-like soundtrack, the game’s world sets the tone for a journey through hell on Earth.

From there, the story becomes much more nuanced. Every item that the player picks up and uses, as well as abilities and power-ups, has a piece of background and origin to its existence. These descriptions give the items a place in the world, and that lore is available to players who want it.

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This is all well and good for those types of players that feel attached to the world. Yet, I felt during my playthrough that the story was a bit too heavy-handed at times. Though I can see the need to have the writing be as outrageous as the visuals, especially when an unholy warrior collects blood in its helmet to then put it back on, having a phrase or name to every event, era, and figure doesn’t necessarily create world-building to me. To be a little more nitpicky, phrases like Mother of Mothers or Brotherhood of the Kissers of Wounds just comes off as cheesy.

Luckily, the gameplay in Blasphemous is a nice blend of what has been done in side-scrolling Metroidvania and souls games. For example, defeating enemies drop “Tears of Atonement” which is used to pay for items and upgrades for your sword. Also, Prie Dieu are alters found in the world that players can pray to replenish health and healing flasks. It is also where players will respawn upon their inevitable death. The map consists of an open world that has multiple linking paths which need to be revisited from time to time. Under the same designs as souls games, enemies are placed in the game world in such a way that creates situational challenges that players can learn from and conquer over time.

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Further, into the game, players begin finding Rosary Beads that increase stats like defense or quicker recovery for the Fervor meter to unleash special attacks more often. As well as praying to shrines unlocks more abilities for Mea Culpa and its wielder.

As mentioned before, the story in Blasphemous can be heavy-handed. While I am a big fan of lore, it feels as if it’s in the way. As subjective as that criticism is, I feel it’s valid when dark orbs that are found throughout the game world all look the same. These orbs can carry anything from quest items, collectibles, rosary beads or journals. So when entering beyond the 5-hour mark, players may start to feel as though you should start being rewarded. But, what you find are collectibles and quest items that don’t necessarily add to your abilities or experiences. Yes, the quest items do eventually lead to an area that opens up but the path is never clear unless you’re fully absorbed by the world the game desperately shoves in your face. This all makes the game feel as though you are walking in a big circle.

So in a video game genre that has adventure and platforming, I feel like it’s an oversight. A lot of adventure games love to reward the most curious and adventurous players. Nooks and corners tend to have rewards that maybe other kinds of players don’t get to have. But I never once had that feeling during my time with Blasphemous. It felt as if I was missing the point, and I was playing the game incorrectly, which is a feeling that can be a significant turnoff in adventure games.

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As for the action in Blasphemous, monsters pose a good challenge. Plenty of enemies are better disposed of when countering instead of regular attacks. Also, staggering enemies allows for a satisfying finishing move that has different animations for each enemy type. Jumping and slide dodging feels responsive once you know their limits. While few monsters require more effort to beat them, some creatures like ones that hold shields can only be defeated in one way when using basic attacks — leaving me with the only other options of either countering or using a special attack. And while that’s okay, I think it slows down the pacing when I have to wait to counter those types of enemies more than twice. Of course, in this genre, not all enemies to be defeated to advance. Plus, over time, strategies become more apparent. Just note that the opening hours have the possibility of feeling restricted from player choice.

Speaking on player choice, most of the ways players tackle enemies and environments tend to have this slight disconnect from what is possible in the game. For example, The Penitent One can strike a wall to cling on and continue to jump up. It is an action that is used many times in your adventure, yet I felt never follows its own rules. To stab the wall, the player has to get their character close against the wall before striking. This starts being an issue during wall jumping when players strike too early after a jump because they are not close enough to the wall, leaving the player to fall to their death if over a cliff.

Other instances had me miss my special attacks despite enemies visually being stuck by my sword but not being close enough to their hitbox, the game’s mechanic for enemies taking damage for player action. Plenty more examples like these are in Blasphemous that make the game feel a bit off. I once described it as playing a music rhythm game on an uncalibrated TV. You see the music notes and know when to press a button, but you miss half of them.

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Look, I like Blasphemous. It’s a game that’s unique in presentation, and despite the slight disconnect with the game mechanics, it’s a solid adventure game. Most of my criticisms stem from whether or not The Game Kitchen focused on so much heavy lore that it affected the game from feeling more tangible or exploring more innovative gameplay mechanics. But if everything I said is not an issue, then you will have fun with this title. A “fans of the genre” if you will. I’m just not a fan of having lore completely takeover a world I’d rather explore on my own.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Victor Aparicio

Senior Staff Writer - Has bought eight versions of Final Fantasy VII, chat with him on Twitter about how bad he is with money. Currently Playing: The Last of Us Part II, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and the original Final Fantasy VII.