Blasphemous hit Kickstarter release last year swinging with big selling points of meticulous pixel art, brutal combat, non-linear progression and an evocative religious mood, all of which was judged to clock in at an admirable $333,246.
After being successfully funded, Blasphemous has been steadily moving forward, featuring a series of demos and hands on developer interactions. The newest of these releases has been the narrative prototype, the most complete to date and the first one I played through to completion. If you’d allow me, I would like to hit some of the big takeaways from this most recent excursion into the world of Blasphemous.
The first and most recognizable feature of the game is its unmistakable look. Blasphemous is unarguably beautiful, showcasing its pixel art chops from start to finish, with shocking religious imagery brightening every corner of the game. Every background paints a picture of a decrepit, continually aging land of old world mysticism inhabited only by what followers and monsters still happen to remain.
This pious backdrop is further enhanced by the monster design. Acolytes carrying massive candelabras, gnarled hooded creatures flagellating themselves, robed figures strapped to constantly ringing church bells, there’s a really unnerving feeling to the weight of the monsters in Blasphemous. This degree of personality was a high point of the demo because it’s something I never get quite used to. Seeing these vaguely humanoid beasts lugging around these massive idols as they lumber towards the player character, looking to bash your head in was always an unnerving and welcome feeling.
Speaking of the player character, you control The Pentinent One, a capirote (cone hat) wearing knight who’s the last member of a long dead congregation. The look of The Pentinent One is instantly recognizable, and this is also coupled with wonderful animations. Blasphemous really pushes just how much we can still do with pixel pushing; I found myself repeating actions just to get a really personal look at each of the animations you can cycle through with The Pentinent One. The level of detail is, at times, unmatched.
Early Grind Signs
With all this being said, the gameplay is actually where Blasphemous loses the plot a bit. It’s a non-linear action game, with a focus on exploration and collecting new equipment to progress, so if you’ve touched anything from Blaster Master to Hollow Knight you’ll feel right at home. This is just fine and suits the game’s mystique, giving you a wasteland that leads to a buried church to find your way through. The area is full of things to discover, with a king’s ransom of upgrades for The Pentinent One, rosary beads that can add additional effects in battle, collectibles that provide additional in-game lore and spells that can further provide you a combative edge. I had found only around 50% of the full list of collectibles in the game before completion, and that was with spending time hunting things down. Blasphemous certainly doesn’t leave the game feeling empty.
That being said, this exploration does become tedious without the inclusion of a map and with the sheer size of the areas. While not an enormous problem due to the short length of the demo, I could see how going through this entire game without any sort of navigation would start to grate on me. Shortcuts can be unlocked to double back and cover old ground quicker, but there were definitely points where this constant exploration of the same area became a little monotonous.
Additionally, the combat became trying towards the end of the demo. I want to make clear that this is not a comment on the game’s overall difficulty, which I found to be incredibly well paced, with Blasphemous starting easy and building towards a respectable difficulty with a quality boss fight to cap things off at the end. This is without mentioning the few instances of platforming, where a fall on the spikes means certain death. All that being said, the actual combat loop in the game itself is always relatively simple.
The Pentinent One’s sword is equipped with a three slash combo, a charge attack and a counter. I solved every combat instance in the game by isolating an enemy and mashing out my combo or landing the parry which had an extremely generous window. There is an execution system where if an enemy is flashing The Pentinent One can perform an ultra violent kill on your dazed foe, but these came few and far between throughout my playthrough. A small health pool did keep me on my toes, but I wanted the combat to match the brutal look and tone of the world. I was ultimately left wanting.
With all of this in mind, however, Blasphemous still left me on good terms. Despite a little bit of a monochromatic feeling due in part to the size of the world and serviceable but ultimately disappointing combat, you simply can’t put a price on style and Blasphemous has that in spades. Between the creepy old world religious imagery, superb monster design, mysterious Souls style lore and an excellent world to explore, Blasphemous hits more than it misses. Promise is shown in this game’s future, and if things stay on schedule I would expect to see it for release before the year is up.