Growing up in a Catholic nation, one of the first images you see in your life is a man crucified, agonizing and slowly dying alone on a cross. Before you even have the chance to learn anything about Christ, you already know it’s gonna be a story about blood, torture and suffering.
The same thing can be said about Blasphemous.
Mom, can I have Dark Souls? We have Dark souls at home.
Chances are if you’ve read one article about Blasphemous then you haven’t failed to notice the mandatory Dark Souls comparison, so let’s clear the air right away.
If you grew up playing in DOS then you already know that those early 90s games were way ruthless than the average FromSoftware rpg.
While if you, like me, were “lucky” enough to grow up with C64 or NES games, then the original Castlevania is probably a more apt comparison. In the RPG by FromSoftware if you die, you go back to where you were, no big deal. You lose souls (or xp) if you don’t retrieve them, sure, but that’s not really a game breaker. Worst case scenario, enemies respawn thus you can get them back again.
Still, it’s become a habit for the gaming press: if there’s an action game with a sword equipped protagonist that looks dark and difficult… it’s a Dark Souls clone. A no brainer.
That comparison even plagues 2D titles and to be fair, it suited a game like Salt & Sanctuary, .
It does not suit Blasphemous, luckily.
You say Castlevania, I say Prince of Persia
The gameplay in the Game Kitchen studio, developer of the rather interesting Last Door adventure series, seems heavily inspired by the first Prince of Persia titles.
Successfully kickstarted in 2018, it sports robust 2D action sword fighting along with minimal RPG elements (you only level up abilities) and an abundance of tricks and traps. It’s a metroidvania light on exploration and on backtracking that is expertly paced, with no boring moments and no huge difficulty spikes.
The game design is simple and pretty straightforward: you level up your attacks at fixed points in the map and exploration is rewarded accordingly with health powerups and new powers.
While “punishing” seems to be the keyword for most descriptions I’ve seen, frankly Blasphemous is not a hard game by any means. It will challenge your reflexes and a dextereous player will surely have an easier time.
Still, if you spent your childhood crying bitter tears with the rooftop sequence in Prince of Persia 2, I’m pretty sure finishing Blasphemous in 10 hours should be little more than “piece of cake”.
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit
The art style might be my favourite thing about Blasphemous though.
Growing up in a catholic environment, I can fully appreciate the depth of the research carried out by the team. The game never goes for cheap shots but instead uses medieval crude catholic imagery to estabilish a macabre and suffocating atmosphere.
Whoever grew up being told gruesome stories of crucifixion and martyrdom, will surely be impressed by the lore and will also have an easier time understanding the story and why you’re supposed to be collecting relics.
Still, the best thing about the artstyle is how it’s drawn and animated like an early 90s Dos game. It reminded me of the cutscenes in titles like Flashback or Prince of Persia 2, a breath of fresh air. After that endless profusion of 8bit artstyles in 2010, then 16bit, finally something new! Already I appreciated the Last Door for that 1-bit style that perfectly fit the horror aestethic and, once again, the Game Kitchen made the right decision in choosing an art style that, while not “mainstream”, remains perfectly suited to the material.
Praise be to the miracle
Maybe there are too many different “special attacks” in the player’s arsenal, sometimes they felt a bit too much and I barely remembered to use them. Keeping things as simple as possible, again referring to the Prince of Persia style, would have been best. Still, nothing is ever too complicated in the world of Blasphemous, there are no huge obstacles to the player’s enjoyment. There’s plenty of subquests to be carried out too, if one wants to prolong the experience, along with the “true ending” which it’s a modern concept I never could get behind, but fair enough.
The soundtrack is also sparse but never too minimalistic, perfectly accompanying the action and the dreary atmosphere.
Blasphemous is one of the best 2D action heavy/lite rpg of the last few years, I had my doubts when I saw the trailer but I can safely say that the Game Kitchen proved themselves to be more than up to the task. While it doesn’t break the mold nor it tries anything new, it is expertly crafted, perfectly paced and every moment drips with a thick suffocating atmosphere.