Growing up in a Catholic nation, one of the first images one sees in your life is a man crucified, agonizing and slowly dying alone on a cross. Before one even has the chance to learn anything about Christ or perhaps even about death, the facts are already on the wall: His story is going to be 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 one is interested in Blasphemous, of having read at least one article with that mandatory Dark Souls comparison, so let’s clear the air right away. If one grew up playing DOS games, then it is easy to note how those early 90s games were way ruthless than the average FromSoftware rpg.
While if, like me, one was “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, dying is not a huge punishment since one goes back to the last checkpoint, no big deal. Naturally, losing souls (or xp) is also a natural occurrence when dying before going back and retrieving them, but that can hardly be considered a game breaker. Worst case scenario, enemies respawn thus it is possible to collect them all 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.
More Prince of Persia than Castlevania
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. Indeed, gameplay in Game Kitchen Studio’s title – previously behind the interesting The Last Door adventure series, seems heavily inspired by the original Prince of Persia series.
The game design is simple and pretty straightforward: it is possible to level up one’s attacks at fixed points in the map, while exploration is rewarded accordingly with health powerups and new powers, in typical “Metroidvania” style. 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, spending one’s childhood crying bitter tears with the rooftop sequence in Prince of Persia 2, probably entrails that finishing Blasphemous in 10 hours should be little more than “piece of cake”.
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit
Still, despite a solid gameplay inspired by the classic early 90s design, theart style might be my favourite thing about Blasphemous. 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 – again – very similiar to 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 that isn’t simply derivative, but tries something new. While it was easy to appreciate 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 going beyond that, choosing an art style that, while not “mainstream”, remains perfectly suited to the material.
Praise be to the miracle!
Perhaps, the main issue in the gameplay, is that there seems to be 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 of having a sword with multiple attacks, 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 it is safe to 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.