After the success of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, the gaming world was rife with imitators. Many of them fell far short of the quality of those games, lacking the polish that made them so good in the first place. In the 2D space, indie developers began mixing the play cycle of those games with the kind of psychedelic nightmares that only pixel art can bring.
Of all of these games, it was The Game Kitchen’s Blasphemous that managed to come out on top, both for successfully mixing the Souls-like formula with a Metroidvania approach, and for it’s art direction heavily based on real-world religious imagery.
Now, four years after that game released, we have its sequel which not only improves upon the first game’s design, but also ups the difficulty. The result is an incredibly satisfying (and disturbing) experience.
What Is It?
Blasphemous 2 is the sequel to The Game Kitchen’s award-winning souls-like of 2019, noted for its visceral gameplay and morbid imagery inspired by the more nightmarish aspects of Roman Catholic (especially Spanish Catholic) tradition. Taking inspiration from Renaissance and Counter-Reformation artwork of angels, devils, and martyrs combined with the brutality of the Spanish Inquisition and the Reconquista, as well as the costumes and rituals of Holy Week: the player character wears a tall, pointed helmet reminiscent of the capirote worn by penitents (hence his name being The Penitent One).
The game, much like the first, takes place in the realm of Cvstodia, a country ravaged by a phenomenon called the Grievous Miracle. This entity took host in a nation that was ruled by a brutal theocracy, where mortification, martyrdom and guilt were so strong that the Miracle began to modify and deform the land and people within it to a design that none could interpret. The nation’s theocracy began to form around a religion based on the Miracle, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of worship and penance that would ravage the realm for centuries… at least, until the Penitent One showed up.
(Spoilers for Blasphemous 1 ahead)
At the true ending of the first game (found in the Wounds of Eventide DLC), the Penitent One confronted the apparent source (or, at least, the controller) of the Grievous Miracle: a three-faced godlike being called the High Wills, whom he then promptly killed and apparently ended the Miracle’s reign over Cvstodia. Some time afterward, an enormous beating heart-like womb fell from the heavens, containing what appeared to be a gigantic humanoid within it.
It’s now centuries later, and the Penitent One has become a messianic figure who was entombed in a cave. For reasons not yet clear, the Grievous Miracle has returned and is once again wrecking havoc on the people of Cvstodia. Awaking from his death, it’s now up to the Penitent One to discover the cause of Its return, and once again seal away its power before the cycle begins anew.
Why Should I Care?
Much like with the previous game, the first thing that will hit the player is the art direction. Just like in the first one, the game’s world is rife with dark and gothic imagery inspired by Roman Catholic tradition. Beneath that, however, is a solid 2D souls-like filled with action and discovery as well as solid combat. Just like in the first, you will be scaling and trekking through a world filled with secrets and enemies, all with their own perils and attacks that should never be taken lightly. If you are killed, you will lose a piece of your magic meter (called Fervor) until you recover it by locating and taking the shadow (called a Guilt Fragment) where you died (and if you die again before doing that, you will lose that piece until you regain it through the Confessor, but more on that later). Enemies, when defeated, will supply you with ‘Tears of Atonement’ points that can then be used for purchasing items and upgrades. You will also be awarded with Martyrdom Points, which can be used for leveling up your weapons (and other things). All of this is serviced by incredibly visceral and satisfying combat.
That combat, however, comes with a slight difference from the first game. Instead of being limited to one single weapon, this time the Penitent One gains three weapons of varying strength and speed: a long sword, a rapier/stiletto combo, and a battle censer that works as a chain mace. Each of these weapons also come with their own abilities: the first based around blood, the second based around lightning, and the third based around fire respectively. These weapons also come with an additional aspect: they are required for opening up or scaling previously unreachable parts of the game world. For example, the battle censer is used to ring large bells whose tone creates platforms and opens doors within its vicinity.
Aiding you in your pilgrimage are various storefronts and NPCs who will provide you with items and services that will both heal and strengthen you. Many (thought not all) are located in the game’s hub area, the City of the Blessed Name. Here you will find a sculptor (who will modify the alterpiece on The Penitent One’s back and make alter figures to fill it with several stat upgrades), a Confessor (who will clear out the Guilt Fragments in your Fervor for a nominal fee), two different merchants, and a giant woman who will increase your health meter and health vials (and said health vials’ strength).
Of course, there are other areas in the game where you can find additional stores and sidequests, but that’s up to you to find.
And of course, we can’t not talk about the bosses. Just like in the first game, you’ll come across some very difficult boss fights loaded with fast attacks and tons of lasers and enemy fire filling the screen. Sure, they will telegraph a lot of them, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
I won’t sugarcoat this here: this game is hard as balls. Enjoyable? Yes. Fair? Yes. But hard? Oh sweet merciful Jesus it ever. The first game was hard enough, but this one ups the ante with a larger, much less linear world to explore and even harder enemies. The number of times I died to the dwarves alone is enough to drive me to self-flagellation.
There are, however, some minor issues. Much like with the first game, they repeat enemy designs more frequently than necessary, only differentiated by their strength and elemental attacks. Also, the boss fights this time around are not as visually spectacular as they were the first time around; They’re still fun and enjoyable, mind you, but the huge screen-filling bosses are largely non-existent.
That said, I still enjoyed my time with the game, and I’m happy that this franchise has managed to flourish. This game took a few years to make, and the effort shows. Let’s hope that the next game in the series brings even more challenge.