Content of the article: "Blasphemous is mostly merely fine, but I have kind of a soft spot for it anyway."
Blasphemous is roughly the 400th Souls-roidvania to emerge in the wake of Soulsborne's success, from The Game Kitchen, the developer of The Last Door. The hook, besides the striking and graphic pixel art, is a world *heavily*-inspired by (and loads of dour commentary on) Catholicism and the principles thereof. In more than one sense, this world is all about the three P's: Pain, Punishment, and Penance. Cvstodia is not a happy place, and in a twisted sense, much of the population likes it that way. Cue somber Spanish guitar and tons of Latin names!
I'll leave lore/plot details out, as it's largely the same kind of experience you've come to expect from this Franken-genre: Nameless figure sets out to kill many a monstrosity, read many an evocative item description so as to interpret the sometimes-inscrutable lore, and take part in a handful of long-term NPC quests (there's even a Siegmeyer analog here). But here are some of the major mechanical differences from what you're probably used to (or at least, from what I'm personally used to):
A) Character customization is pretty narrow. There's one weapon, your entire skill tree revolves around using it, there are so few nodes that you'll probably get all of them by the end of the game, and they're gated behind base strength levels that are increased only by finding certain monuments around the world, so even the order you unlock them in can't be played around with that much. There are about 10 different spells, only one of which can be equipped at a time, and for the most part they serve as different forms of AoE damage. Most of what will make your Penitent One different from another player's Penitent One are the one-at-a-time "sword hearts" which give a slight augmentation of your sword's behavior of some kind, as well as the beads you choose to put in your rosary, most of which offer some kind of damage mitigation or basic offense/defense trade-off. This stuff isn't near as tangible in play as the badges of Hollow Knight, but it's meaningful enough that you'll spend a little bit of time in the menu considering what beads and which heart you want now and again.
B) You don't have to retrieve your money/XP at the place of death upon dying. You do leave a bloodstain-equivalent called a Guilt Fragment, however, which holds a portion of your mana gauge. These Fragments accumulate; you could have a number of them sprinkled around the world if you aren't diligent about collecting them. Picking one up also heals you on the spot, giving it some tactical value during a bossfight. There are spots around the world to pay a fee to effectively pick up all Fragments and get your full bar back.
C) You can place several different vague icons on any point on the map as bookmarks. Rest- and warp-points and a few other recurring special room types are notated for you, but this feature is handy for marking items you can't get to yet, or perhaps an NPC you want to check back with later.
I got a random hankering to replay this, having nearly completed it shortly after its release. To my surprise, it was rife with nice little updates: manifold enemy rebalances, some more detailed art here and there, a Spanish dub (as in actually from Spain), new NPCs, a better warping mechanic (donate enough to a certain church and you can warp between the rest-points, which are much more numerous than the built-in warp-points), and a New-Game-Plus mode which is pretty different from any NG+ I've seen before.
In this mode (called True Torment), you keep your spells, beads, and sword hearts, and enemies will be generally harder to compensate. However, you can also choose one of three paths of Penitence to personalize your experience.
For a bit more of a magic build, there's Penitence of the Unwavering Faith, which makes your mana slowly restore itself constantly (as opposed to when you hit an enemy), but you lose a bit when you get hit, and your sword is now half as strong.
Penitence of the Bleeding Heart changes your health gauge into health orbs. Get hit, lose an orb. Healing will slowly restore multiple orbs, but will cease their effect if you get hit again. Oh, and enemies respawn every time you re-enter a room.
Finally, Penitence of the True Guilt attaches all your money/XP to your Guilt Fragments, a la Dark Souls, *and* removes your mana gauge, which your heals now restore in place of health.
So far, I've only put time into Unwavering Faith, but it has been a nice way to play the game with more magic usage than I ever did in the first go-round. I'm looking forward to checking out the other two and seeing what new life they can breathe into this game. There is a decent amount of new story content and bosses in NG+ as well.
I have some nitpicks that keep this game out of my favorites. For one, the character advancement and customization is just too shallow, which robs the game of a lot of player expression and replayability in my opinion.
Second, the acquired items that open up traversal are only able to be equipped three at a time despite there being more than twice as many, at worst causing you to hurt or kill yourself thinking you had a doodad equipped that you didn't, and at best causing you to double-check just to avoid that worst case – this causes needless tedium and frustration.
Third, for a game involving a lot of backtracking, the warp-points are far too few and far between, but thankfully the added ability to spend some XP to turn the rest-points into more warp-points almost completely removes this complaint for me.
Fourth, though the most minor for me, is that your sword starts out a little too weak, causing too many basic enemies to require one (or even two) too many parries and full combos to take out. It sounds like a nice challenge, but the combat here is rudimentary enough (and just not the star of this show to be honest) that it's more tedium than anything else. This is mitigated by your first strength upgrade and practically eliminated after your second, but it can make the game harder to enjoy out of the gate.
Despite all this, I find myself somewhat admiring Blasphemous for two very basic reasons. The first point is that it's positively dripping mood and flavor, from its music to its text to its art (and the added Spanish dub fills this mood out very nicely). The second is that although I would call it punishing on the whole, none of the bosses or encounters in the game were truly hateful or unreasonable, and there was never a point where exploring and a bit of resultant upgrades didn't make the difference between frustration and victory, especially with that process being made a lot friendlier by the warping update.
If you enjoy this genre and haven't dipped into Blasphemous, consider taking the gamble on it if your values are similar to mine. I can see the game being middling or forgettable for some, but you just might find yourself ultimately defending it if the things it does well carry enough weight for you.
- Ideas for a quickly thrown together adventure/campaign
- Blasphemous is a great 2d souslike/metroidvania.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ open world is still fantastic even after 16 years.
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