How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Blasphemous doesn’t require any ability gating. You need abilities in order to see everything, but the normal gameplay loop of powering up to progress is not present here. The abilities that do exist actually cause the environment to react to you, rather than affect your ability to play. Overall it can give a ''Metroidvania-like'' feeling, especially thanks to clever level design meant to be explored, but it’s definitely not a high or perfect fit.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat, Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~12 hours
Review Info: Blasphemous was played on Windows PC using the Steam version.
Buy Blasphemous if you like…
- Meticulous and Weighty Combat
- Woven Level Design
- Gothic Moody Atmosphere
- Psuedo-Religious Iconography
- Grotesque Horrors
▼ Review continues below ▼
This is an update/edit to our original review posted in October 2019 to respond to some changes made to the game. We actually did a full playthrough of the core game and much of the extra DLC content on live stream, which you can view via the playlist above.
An ancient force of nature, a God, or some demon from another plane, whatever it is “The Miracle” affects all of the denizens in the world of Blasphemous. It fills them with guilt and provides them with seemingly everlasting life to suffer for their sins. You play as “The Penitent One”, a survivor of a massacre, who must slay all of the icons of penitence and possibly discover the truth. It’s a premise that makes for a good video game based around the usual violence of slaying bosses and powering up, but thanks it being caked in some obvious real world religious imagery; it has the potential of providing some symbolic meaning to its players. I am personally a student of many religions, but even with that background this game made me me realize I’m wildly deficient in Catholicism. It wasn’t until I played the game a second time after the game had received some serious patching that I started seeing some patterns that made sense to me. Putting the narrative aside though, Blasphemous includes some fun exploration – now with some much needed fast traveling – as well as some well-designed bosses to take down, even if they’re not all winners. With the latest updates added by The Game Kitchen I think I can safely say that this is a great game, even though it still has a few aspects I found a bit disappointing.
Before getting into the meat of this review, I think it’s very important to align your expectations. In the initial hype surrounding Blasphemous, many game media outlets were placing it into both the “souls-like” and “metroidvania” genres, but I personally feel it doesn’t really fit into either perfectly. Being more than a year after the game’s release, this has been a subject debated ad nauseam on any forum that allows discussion about this game, so it’s not too hard to find a lot of opinions on the matter now. Addressing the Metroidvania part first, you don’t find ability upgrades to progress, and the abilities that you do find to assist in the unlocking the game’s true ending don’t actually upgrade your character. Instead the environment reacts to you as a result of equipping these relics. If your favorite part of Metroidvania Games is exploring and finding collectables – whether they’re meaningful or not – then I think you’ll find a fulfilling experience here; but it’s not an exact match to what many think of as “Metroidvania.”
I personally feel that Blasphemous gives some good “metroidvania” vibes, but I much less inclined to say it fits into the souls-like genre. I think there are some things that are reminiscent of that Hidetaka Miyazaki design, but the comparisons are almost superficial. There is no stamina bar – you can spam attacks as much as you please. There is no leveling up, no customization, and there are no builds or avenues of player expression. Instead your money is spent on purchasing a select few upgrades for your sword, and you’ll likely be able to afford all of them by the end – assuming you don’t donate all your money to the local church but I’ll get to that. Since money isn’t as important, it’s not money that you lose on death – but there is a death penalty. When you die, you leave behind “guilt” which reduces your maximum magic meter. Magic is something – even after all of the changes made to this game – that I use very little, so the penalty was pretty minor to me. Dying twice also does not cause any permanent loss – you just create more guilt clouds. Even then, the hassle of picking your guilt back up can be subverted by cleansing yourself at one of the many shrines in the game. If you go into Blasphemous wanting a souls-like, I think you’ll find these changes completely alter the feelings of tension and release, as well as player choice, that the genre is associated with. The result isn’t something that is necessarily bad, just something that is different, and maybe not what you want.
The combat is quite fun, although it is much slower than other action game counterparts. Your cone-headed knight is heavy, so much so that falling from even a short distance can stun you momentarily. You can swing your sword quickly and thanks to a slide button you can close distance easily, but overall the control is weighty – impactful but maybe a bit sluggish at times. You have a parry button which you’ll necessarily need for many situations, especially some foes that you pretty much can’t deal with unless you riposte their attacks. Thanks to the lack of a 3D space and the ease of a lot of enemy telegraphs though, a lot of encounters end up just being speed bumps on your route to your next destination. Between the sluggishness of your knight and the slowness of dealing with some enemies, backtracking through areas you’ve already been can a bit of a slog.
The bosses can be a mixed bag, although it’s now mostly positive, with some bosses being as excellent and memorable as the graphical style makes you want them to be. Others might be flying creatures with bullet-hell style patterns, however, which do not really mesh well with how the Penitent One is designed to fight. Many of your sword upgrades are useless in these boss fights, which takes away from any feeling of growth they could have provided. Often your only safe option is to use normal swipes at the enemy’s face during the brief windows that they’re vulnerable. Of the upgrades available, the sliding attack is almost overpowered, but charging up your sword was something I only tried for the novelty, and the plunge attack is nigh useless for how slow the startup is. You also get a lot of spells to work with, but even though your mana bar can be replenished by attacking, it was never a reliable enough of a source for me to make spells a normal part of my strategy. At their best, spells work like replenish-able consumables – they can be helpful but unless you’re playing on a specific penitence mode they’re not strong enough to become a core build focus. You do get noticeably more powerful as the game progresses, but your best upgrades simply improve the damage you deal and reduce the damage you take. With no metroidvania style movement upgrades and dubious other options, Blasphemous‘ combat has to stand almost completely on the basic swordplay that you start with, and thanks to updates to the game there I can safely say that more than half deliver well enough.
One issue that Blasphemous faces is that thanks to the open world design, you may run into some inconsistent difficulty. The first boss you face will likely be a challenge, but on my first playthrough, by the time I faced the second and third I barely felt like I was trying. Then, I was suddenly thrust into a very hard boss fight in the only pathway forward – no other choices were available to me – which took me ten or so tries to finally defeat. I personally really enjoyed this fight, but it’s an example of the kind of sudden difficulty curve that will have some players rage quitting. After that point however the remaining bosses were back to the standard difficulty that I faced in the beginning. After playing the game a second time – which was after some very important patching – my feelings on this matter are basically the same. In fact I embarrassingly spent 40 minutes on the first boss only to breeze through the rest. Some of the bosses that I mentioned first review as being broken though have been fixed, which ups the number of good bosses significantly. One thing to note about my second playthrough is that I still managed to go most of the game without getting good at parrying attacks, which bit me pretty hard on a late game boss that is almost impossible to beat by dodging alone. You could take that as a sign that Blasphemous doesn’t prepare its players very well for its challenges, which is definitely something that might be off-putting for many players.
One of my favorite features of Blasphemous is the level design. Shortcuts are clever and are very fulfilling to find. That feeling of gradually conquering your environment that makes so many Metroidvania games memorable is very strong, especially with the way the relics make the world seemingly bow to your feet. Unlocking these relics can be a bit obtuse though – you have to carefully solve the game’s various quests to do so and sometimes it has you backtracking in a boring way if you don’t know about the game’s newest tricks. If you’re the type of person who dislikes consulting guides, you may find yourself wandering meaninglessly for a while if you end up dissatisfied with the game’s basic ending.
One of the things added with the DLC is now you can dump your money at the local church for some incredibly nice rewards. One of the rewards included is the ability to teleport between any savepoint, which does wonders for the tedium that used to be part of moving around Cvstodia. The downside to this method of unlocking this ability is that the game doesn’t tell you that it exists, and, it costs a fairly large sum of money to get – making each new playthrough all about getting as much money as possible to open up the ability again. This is relevant because another feature included in the game’s updates is New Game+, and teleportation isn’t one of the things carried into a new game. Thankfully the first part of the game is one of the best in terms of inter connectivity.
Besides patching up some broken bosses and adding fast travel, New Game+ is maybe the biggest draw of the changes The Game Kitchen brought to the table. Enemies are slightly stronger in this mode – like in many games that have New Game+ – and you get to keep all of your prayer beads, relics, sword upgrades, spells, and invocations. What you don’t keep are your health and fervor upgrades, your number of bile flasks, church donation upgrades, or any of the keys that allow you access to some areas. Since you keep your relics though you can shortcut your way through some areas in a manner that you couldn’t before.
Most importantly though there are five new bosses for you to challenge that are exclusive to the New Game+ mode, and they’re maybe the most fun bosses in the game. If you weren’t good at parrying attacks before, they’ll make sure you have the skill mastered before you can defeat them all. I even found myself using more spells with these guys, but the aforementioned lack of spell power still made it a minor part of my strategy. Ultimately these bosses don’t unlock a new ending or anything, which was pretty disappointing to me, but the fun fights can be a reward unto themselves.
Also included with New Game+ mode is the “penitence” system, which is essentially three new optional hard modes. I thought at first that they were just a way to customize the game, but no, they’re all there to make the game more challenging – but in unique ways. One mode turns your health bar into single HP orbs, making it so you don’t take variable amounts of damage anymore. Instead you lose one orb per hit you take, and you only start with three of them, which makes the game much harder in the beginning, and likely harder even after you find all the health upgrades again. Another penitence makes it so you regenerate magic automatically, but you deal half damage with the sword. To me this is the most interesting option since it would completely change the way you play the game. Even on the game’s first and easiest boss, I found myself kiting the giant while waiting for my spells to recharge rather than my usual aggressive exploitation of its simple pattern. The last penitence mode makes death much more punishing, so for those looking for a more souls-like experience, this is the best way to get it. The reward for completing the game on each of these modes is just new skins for your knight, but like the DLC bosses, the challenge is a reward unto itself.
The most disappointing aspect of Blasphemous is that it doesn’t know how to make any of its content end in a satisfying way. To unlock the game’s true ending, you have to slog through boring gauntlets of enemies, and there isn’t even an upgraded final boss to show for it. The fifth of the DLC bosses is supposed to be a penultimate challenge, but I ended up beating it on the first try after struggling with the other two just before it. With one of the penitences turned on I think that both of these complaints could at least be mitigated if a challenge is what you want, but Blasphemous still has a lot of build-up with little actual payoff. You really have to have faith in the journey with this game, because at least for me the endings left me slightly empty.
It’s worth noting that since my first review the descriptor “deep and evocative narrative core” has been removed from the game’s steam page – which is good because if you’re disappointed with any aspect of this game I doubt the story is going to save it. True to the souls-like comparisons, the story presentation is fluid and obtuse – leaving most of it up to player interpretation. When I start a game that involves anything resembling the Catholic church, I usually expect some “twist” down the line that reveals the church as Evil. Blasphemous subverts that expectation by not saying anything at all, instead just presenting things as they are in the game world. “Deep and evocative narrative core” could have been a main draw for Blasphemous, but while I definitely got more out of it playing it a second time, it was more fun to joke about it than it was to take it seriously.
I still think there’s a bit of ludo-narrative dissonance with the game’s themes in general. If I’m supposed to be the good guy, how come my character seems to delight so much in violence – other than some meta-attempt to appeal to that juvenile lust for blood that video game players apparently have? The main character’s motives can very well be tied to what the player decides, but I never got a sense of what the key NPC’s motives were either. Two in particular seemed bent on stopping you from doing whatever you’re doing, but without a clear idea of what it was that I’m even trying to do I found it hard to relate to, or even understand their zealousness. With that said, there is some symbolism that I did find relatable upon my second viewing, and maybe to the right player the lore itself could be a intrinsic part of what makes Blasphemous great.
There are a lot of memorable moments in Blasphemous; some of them are just because of the grotesque and disturbing imagery, but there are some unique and challenging encounters to be found as well – especially with the game’s new DLC. My favorite thing about the game was exploring around and discovering secrets, and from that perspective I feel like it succeeds fairly well as a metroidvania-like game, and it’s made even better now that you can fast travel more easily. Blasphemous is a great value now if you end up enjoying it – the penitences are well-designed to keep you busy for at least four playthroughs. Just make sure you align your expectations before diving into this game. It’s not a true metroidvania and in my opinion it’s even less of a souls-like. What it does have is some fun bosses with a ton of options new and old and some great level design, and for that reason I think it it’s worthy of recommending as a great game.
Combat is generally tight and satisfying although the difficulty can be somewhat imbalanced with many of the options available being dubious compared to your normal sword attacks.
Instant death mechanics might be grating for some players, but there are a few great platforming challenges to be had
The castle level design is excellent, with some great rewards tucked into its corners. The new fast travel mechanic helps with the game's previous sluggishness
There are one or two good picture based puzzles for the completionist to find, but you won't find much on the critical path as a focus
Some of the game's symbolism might be meaningful to the right person, but generally it seems to be more about supporting the game's visual style than anything else
The pixel animations are absolutely gorgeous - but you already knew that
The Spanish guitar music is great especially with the new DLC boss' tracks. Other places can be somewhat generic, but the standout music tracks are memorable.
The open world design already gives a lot of freedom, but now with the game's penitence options you could get a lot of mileage out of at least four playthroughs of the game.
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