by Joel France
previewed on PC
Blasphemous is a game that wears its influences proudly. Fans of Castlevania & the Souls series will sense a deep familiarity within the design, from the mechanics of a nonlinear world with limited checkpoints (known here as shrines), to the painstakingly hand-crafted pixel art for which developers The Game Kitchen have accepted no shortcuts. What sets this game apart from its inspirations, however, is the thematic and visual design - the religious iconography, in many parts, prompted from classic Spanish folklore. The developers point to Seville as a key focus for the locations, traditions and culture that have inspired the world of Blasphemous.
Mechanics and Motifs
During my time with the game, I was shown the impact these themes have had on the mechanics. You play as the Penitent One, a sole survivor of the Silent Sorrow congregation, resigned to wander the world, tackle the curse known as The Miracle that has befallen the land. Where many action protagonists are fuelled by revenge or righteous duty, the Penitent One is fuelled by Guilt - quite literally, since this is the source of your powers and spells. Even your sword goes by the name Mea Culpa, a Latin admission of remorse with strong ties to Catholic rituals. Character buffs and new abilities come in the form of rosary beads and relics, which your character can carry with them to improve their chances of success from none to slim. Interestingly, there is a focus on these buffs being alterations of the world around you, rather than a straight-up upgrade - to traverse, say, an area mired in poisonous gas you must equip a relic that, whilst not granting poison resistance directly, causes poison clouds to dissipate around you, through the strength of your faith. Whilst this may accomplish the same result, it’s an effective world-building decision that helps to solidify the themes of the overarching narrative.
Style & Grace
The feeling of traversing the world is an important consideration in a game of this style, where the implications of open ended level design necessitates a fair amount of back-tracking. So it’s refreshing to see the care taken to make movement satisfying, with a wall-climbing mechanic that provides options for verticality and platforming challenges, along with a sliding dodge that allows for invulnerability during combat as well as momentum and access to small spaces during traversal. Guiding the Penitent One around the environment feels responsive and graceful, as you transition from platforming to combat in a fluid and rewarding way.
Seek and You Will Find
Whilst the nonlinear structure gives choice in terms of how to progress the main narrative, there are also a wealth of optional quests to be performed at the behest of NPCs dotted around the world, many of which will provide upgrades and other advantages to assist you in your exploration. The opportunity for scope within the story seems tantalising, and with fully voice-acted and animated cutscenes - again, all hand-drawn frame by frame - it will be interesting to see where the narrative ends up. The emphasis and commitment to a theme that has not often been explored in the context of gaming gives hope that Blasphemous has a lot to provide for the genre, and I’m excited to get my hands on the finished build when it launches next month.