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Review: Blasphemous

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Adults - 18+
Genre: Action Platformer
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2019
Reviewed Version: 2.0.27
Review Published On: February 17th, 2021
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Gamer's Gate, Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

You have three save slots to choose between, however there is no autosave feature. Instead, you must find a Prie Dieu (looks like a roadside shrine) and interact with it to save your game. This also has the benefit of completely healing you and filling your bile containers, but comes at the cost of respawning all non-boss enemies you've killed.

There are multiple ways to pause the game; bringing up the map or inventory will do it, as will interacting with some in-game objects and talking with people.

Summary of
Major Issues:

This game is not for the faint of heart, as it depicts gruesome violence, disturbingly detailed gore, twisted deformations of the human body, and a very distorted adaptation of Catholicism in which there is no real Salvation.

Screenshots

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Another day, another ruin

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Down in the dark sewers

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The bosses tend to be rather grotesque in this game



Game Overview

As you can guess from the title, Blasphemous is rife with references to religion, specifically Catholicism. It fact, the game's entire aesthetic is a mixture of Catholicism, Dante's Inferno, and a sprinkling of what's popularly known as "Catholic Guilt" for extra flavor. Put simply, this game will offend a lot of people. Even if you're not bothered by the many references to real world religious practices, the astounding amount of gore packed into this adventure probably should bother you to some extent.

Nearly all of the events in this game revolve around what is known as The Miracle. This is the name given to whatever power or entity is behind a large number of supernatural things, including the origin of the player character. Judging from the way everything has been distorted or corrupted, The Miracle seems to be a form of hideous divine wrath, and humanity has suffered greatly since The Miracle's influence was first felt. Somewhat bizarrely, people treat The Miracle with reverence, assuming that whatever horrors it performs were manifestations of divine will.

The player character, a being known as the Penitent One, is yet another example of the sort of things the Miracle does. After the Brotherhood of Silent Sorrow was massacred by a monster, the Miracle resurrected one of their number and saw to it that he was armed with the Mea Culpa, a barbed sword made from the essence of guilt itself. The Miracle will not allow the Penitent One to remain dead, so every time you're defeated, you're brought back to life at the last Prie Dieu you visited.

Gameplay wise, things generally revolve around a pause/parry/attack combat system. You can't just run around swinging your sword like a loon; you need to wait for the right moment, parry the enemy's attack, and then strike while they're stunned. The trick to this is that every enemy type in the game has their own unique pattern, and the only way to progress is to learn how to respond to the enemies that live in the new area. The downside to this is that you'll find yourself dying a lot every time you meet a new enemy. It only gets worse when you face a group of enemies, as you need to respond to everybody's patterns correctly or get juggled to death.

The other major problem players encounter when playing this game is that a lot of things, such as how to use various items, are left for the player to figure out on their own. This was fairly common back in the day, but now that games can contain pages of lore in their item descriptions, players expect at least a hint that an item needs to be taken somewhere, shown to someone, or activated in some way in order for it to be useful. As it is, if you haven't visited the right places or met the right NPCs, you'll end up carrying around stuff that seems important but can't be used for anything. Worse, some items even have more than one possible use, so if you've discovered only one possibility and use them up, you can be left without something you needed later on.

Most of the time, this lack of information is just annoying, as you should eventually find everything if you explore enough, but there's a particularly grating example with one of the items required to unlock the best ending. First you'll find an item with no obvious use, and then follow a series of steps in order to transform it into another item. This second item is the one you needed all along, however, there aren't any in-game clues about this process. You're left to either discover it by accident or learn about it via a walkthrough or something.

Frustrating points aside, this is a fairly well made game. It's not for the causal gamer, and it's clearly not for people with a weak stomach, but there's a niche audience for this sort of grotesque fantasy game out there.

Points of Interest

Freedom to explore
At the beginning of the game, there is only one locked door to get in your way. You still have quite a large portion of the world available to explore before you can open it, and once you do, the entire game is your oyster. The only limiting factor in your explorations is your own skill with the combat system.
Two endings
After defeating the final boss, the game's story can end in one of two ways. Unfortunately, I have doubts about your average player being able to figure out how to access the good ending on their own, let alone earn it on the first try. Thus, for many of us, the bad ending is the best we'll get.
Robust combat system
Although the majority of the combat in Blasphemous will follow the standard parry/counterattack pattern, there are several more abilities you can use to defeat your enemies. These include a dashing dodge ability, the ability to throw handfuls of your own blood at enemies, prayers that give you increased strength or smite your foes, and other new tactics. Figuring out which attack works best on a given type of enemy is a key part of progressing through the world.

On rare occasions, your counterattack may leave an enemy open to a special attack known as an "execution". The exact nature of an execution varies by enemy type, but you'll gain extra fervor (this game's equivalent of mana) by performing them.
Loads of collectibles
Players love to collect things, and Blasphemous certainly delivers on that front. In an interesting turn of events, all collectible items are shown as a smoldering gray/green orb when they're in the game world. This means that, short of a walkthrough or a glance at the wiki, there's no way for you to know sort of item you've discovered until you actually pick it up.

The majority of the items you can collect are a type of relic; ie, fragments of bone that were once part of a holy person. These don't actually do anything, but you'll unlock a new color palette for the Penitent One and earn an achievement if you find them all and deliver them to the Ossuary.

Other stuff you can find include special rosary beads, prayers, ingredients, and additional bile jars. When added to the Penitent One's personal rosary, these special beads give you different buffs or abilities. Ingredients are either used by an NPC to give you something useful (more space on your rosary, improved healing from bile jars, etc), or they are simply donated to specific NPCs in return for Tears of Atonement, the game's currency.
Unlockable skins
Certain accomplishments reward you with the ability to have the Penitent One wear a different color palette. These alternate designs can be unlocked in all sorts of ways, including finding items, donating Tears of Atonement to charities, and by completing the game. Personally, I prefer the original armor color, but to each his own.
New Game Plus Feature
Once you complete the game, you can "ascend" your playthrough, starting the game over with some major tweaks. For starters, you'll begin the new game with every prayer, relic, rosary bead, Mea Culpa hearts, and special abilities you discovered already unlocked. Finding them again will award you with 500 Tears of Atonement instead of the item. On the flip side, the enemies will do much more damage to the Penitent One, so just in case this game wasn't already hard enough for you, that's a thing. Lastly, a new questline becomes available via the use of a new item obtained when you begin again.
Steam community features
There are some 45 achievements to earn while you deal with the problems facing Cvstodia. Many of these are based around exploring the world and gathering items while you do so, but about half are story related. Each boss, ending, and every secondary objective has an achievement tied to it. On top of this, there are a few challenges for you to overcome, such as defeating a boss without using healing items.
Some parts are extremely difficult
The biggest downside of the elaborate combat mechanics is that exploring new areas is often going to be a lot harder than expected. This is especially true for bosses, as they typically change their behavior once you've done enough damage. At worst, the Penitent One will be tossed from enemy to enemy until they die, and the player can only watch as their character gets beaten to death.

Concerns and Issues

Incredibly graphic for a sprite based game
Most of the enemies you'll encounter in this game are made from human beings. Some are wrapped around each other and melted into a single body, but many are burnt, torn open, or otherwise disfigured before you've even fought them. Some of them resemble the tortured souls seen in Dante's Inferno, such as the schismatic who was "alive" despite being cut in half from head to groin.

Quite a few of the monsters resemble zombies and decaying corpses, such as the lepers in the sewers or the acolytes in the ruined church. A special nod goes out to the nuns from the Convent of Our Lady of the Charred Visage; the flesh has been seared off of their faces, giving you a good view of the muscle and bone. Actual undead do appear from time to time, though they tend to be less gruesome than the living.

In case things aren't already graphic enough, the player's execution ability often takes things much further. The Penitent One may slowly decapitate a struggling victim, crush them under their own shields, or impale the victim with the Mea Culpa.
Blood is everywhere
The above paragraphs probably already make it abundantly clear that blood is going to be seen all over this game, but there are a few more cases to mention. The Penitent One carries several "bile jars" or biliaries. Despite the name, these contain blood. You have a couple of them at the start of the game, and you can find empty biliaries as you explore. These new bile jars can't be used until they've been filled by special "sanguine fountains", which are fountains flowing with blood instead of water. When you use these jars, the Penitent One smashes them against their face, and draws a quick symbol in the blood (the action resembles a person making the Sign of the Cross). This will heal the Penitent One, similar to how "healing potions" work in other games.

The other point I'd like to especially point out happens after the first boss battle. In a detailed cutscene, the Penitent One makes a deep cut in the side of the monster's corpse, fills their hat with the blood that pours out, and then puts the hat back on, blood and all. It's more than a bit gross.
Gross nudity
Several characters and enemies are clearly nude, though if I'm being frank, none of it is titillating or flattering. Many of the people you'll encounter in their birthday suits are covered in cuts and bleeding, and the rest usually feature some sort of grotesque deformity. If this stuff awakens something in you, please seek therapy.
Tons of references to Christianity
The developers of this game have explained that many of the concepts found in Blasphemous where inspired by Franciso de Goya's painting, A Procession of Flagellants. This explains a lot about the way the game treats religion and suffering, as well as its overall aesthetic design.

You have rosaries being treated like magical charm bracelets, prayers that work like magic spells, more gothic architecture than Gotham City, and some of the common enemies are designed after various types of angels. Key locations in the game also include the tombs of important fictional Saints, cloisters, and churches.

There is also a Virgin Mary knockoff, the Lady of the Six Sorrows. In real life, Our Lady of Sorrows is a title held by the Virgin Mary. When this is referenced in artwork, the Seven Sorrows of Mary are usually depicted as seven swords piercing Mary's heart. In Blasphemous, the Lady of the Six Sorrows is clearly based on this artwork, as she has six swords piercing her heart and a seventh piercing her right hand.

However, while there are Saints, monks, clergy, a Mary, and even a Pope in Blasphemous' universe, there does not appear to be a Jesus. The Twisted One comes close, but falls short in that while Jesus was a guiltless man who paid for others, the Twisted One was full of guilt and begged for his due punishment. This lack of a Jesus analogue is also reflected in the way the game depicts a Christianity without forgiveness or hope.
You end up killing the Pope
The culmination of the game's events lies with a boss fight with His Holiness Escribar, who is essentially Cvstodia's current reigning Pope. The Miracle has cursed and transformed him into a freakish creature, and he's expecting the person who wields the Mea Culpa to put an end to his miserable life.

What happens after his death depends on whether or not you were able to complete the steps required to unlock the good ending. If so, then you can climb to the Cradle of Affliction, take your rightful seat, and die to become yet another relic of the Miracle. Otherwise, you'll just sink into the ashes surrounding the Cradle, leaving only your helmet behind as evidence of your attempt.

Either way, the world is still ruined and the people's misery will continue on.