The first time you see Blasphemous it makes a big impression; it’s violent, dark, gothic, and filled with twisted religious imagery. Its main character is certainly unique looking – clad in armor with a fierce looking cone helmet and wielding a jagged iron sword. Enemies are grotesque and the world is haunted. But I am here to tell you that there is more to this than flashy looks; Blasphemous backs up its dark world with rewarding and brutal combat, excellent exploration, and challenging platforming. There are some flaws but this is still easily one of the best metroidvanias that you can play this year.
Blasphemous’ gameplay structure is very typical for the genre. You go through zones, exploring different sections of it. Slowly you start filling out the map, and many zones have places you cannot reach without the right ability or item, so backtracking is required. To get these items or abilities usually you have to fight a boss. It’s typical to what you’ve probably seen before, but it’s in the execution of these tried and true mechanics that the game shines.
The world is probably what stands out the most at the beginning; entirely unique and unlike many other settings I’ve seen. It has been deeply inspired by Judeo-Christian mythologies and architecture. Pilgrims in garbs pray for salvation, there are statues of weeping women and infant children, your sword is made of thorns that cut you with every swing, and you kill to relieve your guilt and cleanse your sins. Most of the characters speak in verse and talk of ancient lore. While a greater picture does slowly emerge, much of the details are left vague, purposefully so, as it’s as if you are experiencing a tale from a long-lost religious document. Almost all of the world building is wonderful and immersive. If only it could have been backed up by better voice acting, which is borderline awful most of the time. While some choice characters don’t sound bad, almost everyone else ruins the ambience with their vocal performances.
However, it has to be made clear just how gorgeous the world of Blasphemous is. Each of the many areas that you see throughout the experience are all unique and completely beautiful. You traverse poisonous cisterns with pools of bile, libraries filled with ghosts, and prisons with moaning convicts. No matter where you go, everything is rendered in a masterfully detailed pixelated art style. The enemies are just as appealing with countless grotesque and imaginative creatures that are visually shocking.
Killing those creatures is an absolute joy as well, thanks to crunchy and deliberate combat. The character you play, The Penitent One, does not have access to much but everything in his arsenal feels great. Your main attack consists of slashing with your sword and the main defense is your dodge which phases through most attacks, plus a parry which can lead to devastating counterattack. These three moves work so well and feel so satisfying to execute that I have never tired of them.
Adding on to this, there is the chance to equip various items to modify your playstyle. Rosary beads and relics add passive effects while mea culpa hearts change effects to your blade. Not all of these feel like they make an impact however, especially many of the rosary beads which felt like they could have been more creative or useful. Finally there are spells that you can collect and use with a built up fervour meter that grows as you kill. If you die you lose all your fervour and the max meter goes down until you pick it back up where you fell. This is actually not such a bad thing though because most of the spells feel completely useless and much too slow to work well. Luckily as you progress you begin to access areas that allow you to unlock new moves for your sword, which are powerful and become invaluable later on. Each one of these is just as fulfilling to use as the basic attacks.
The enemies that you face are wide ranging and are all creatively implemented into the flow of combat. It is unbelievably impressive that even nearing the end, I was being introduced to truly different and new kinds of adversaries. It’s not surprising then that the bosses are just as interesting and engaging. In fact they are probably the best aspect of the entire game; thrilling, challenging, and so inventive. While none are too incredibly punishing, I left almost every one of them buzzing with excitement and adrenaline. Thankfully though, all of them feel fair and make sense. To explain any of them in detail would ruin the surprises that await you but they excellently represent both visually and interactively, the twisted and distorted world that you explore.
In fact the world itself might be the hardest hurdle Blasphemous on Xbox One has to offer. Platforming in this game can often be hard as nails, and near the end, one slip up can mean instant death. More than anything else I died facing a bottomless pit or group of spikes, yet it has never felt like the game’s fault. In fact, every time I have perished, it was clear to me that the fault was all mine.
Blasphemous is a superb example of a metroidvania. Incredibly captivating and lengthy, it’s a deep, dark, scary hole to jump into that won’t let you out until you reach the end. And once you get out, you’ll want to jump straight back in. It has taken me the best part of 20 hours to reach this conclusion, and I am already planning to go back for more.