A couple of years ago, I reviewed Blasphemous. I felt like I owed it a review considering that I backed it on Kickstarter and then gave the code to a friend after having little desire to actually play it. I find it hard to work up any kind of enthusiasm for most Metroidvanias since they usually require a lot of time investment as you need to have everything fresh in your head at all times. However, when I did play the original I realised my mistake: it was a masterpiece of gaming. As such, I wasn’t going to make the same error with the sequel.
Many thanks to Team17 for the review code.
I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES
Following on from the original game’s free expansion Wounds of Eventide, our spiky hatted Penitent One returns to take on The Miracle after The Heart in the sky foretold the birth of a new child. However, to do so, he must take on the archconfraternity – a group of Penitents with the task of stopping you.
Those unfamiliar with the depressing land of Cvstodia may feel a little lost with all of these obtuse names thrown around, but in reality the crux of the plot is far simpler than it appears – it’s just buried within a mountain of lore and worldbuilding that works to make the land seems more grandiose and unknowable. It’s an approach that will no doubt put many off, but the added scale added is more than worth the potential confusion. That being said, the extent of all the lore means that this game really is for those who have played the original title even if isn’t strictly compulsory.
What really helps make this world so alive is the spectacular aesthetic that The Game Kitchen have so lovingly crafted, blending gorgeous spritework with Andalusian Catholicism to create something divinely grotesque; a blasphemy worthy of the game’s title that fuses religious iconography with the monstrous. The titular blasphemy will no doubt be divisive amongst more devout gamers, but it can’t be denied that this style also provides the game with its own unique identity too.
The land of Cvstodia is just as expansive as ever before as you soon find your way to The City of the Blessed Name and venture towards one of the three initial baddies that you need to take down. As the hub world of the game, this city will provide your primary base of operations where you can fast travel to and save if you find yourself in a pinch. You’ll also find a host of strange NPCs who serve to assist you in various ways, from the priest in the confessional that can carry the burden of your guilt (for a price) to the giant hand stemming from a marketplace that can provide you with new sculptures and rosary beads for some added buffs.
There’s quite a few different collectibles to acquire on your journey that you use to get stronger, and it can be quite overwhelming. There are Fervent Kisses that can be acquired to exchange for a larger magic bar; statuettes and rosary beads that can provides certain buffs, but only a few can be equipped at once; Prayers and Verses, which are magic attacks that can be equipped to the A button; and so much more. It’s a bit of a mess considering that a lot of them do similar things, but at least they’re not that difficult to get to grips with.
The one addition that is well implemented, however, are the trio of weapons that you acquire over the course of the game. Starting out, you’ll be sad to see that your Mea Culpa is no longer with you; however, you’ll be given a choice between three weapons to take its place. There’s a hefty mace that’s too big and slow to parry with, but the raw power alone more than makes up for its failings; a pair of short swords are fast but slightly weaker; or a serrated blade that’s acts as a middle ground and feels slightly more akin to your original sword. Each one has their own advantages and disadvantages, as well as an ability that can help traverse around the environment – but considering you will eventually get a hold of all three weapons, there’s little reason to stress over your choice too much.
As well as having their own attack style and special abilities, each weapon can also be upgraded further using upgrade points that grant you further attacks or added perks. One such ability may restore HP while dealing damage during its special attack mode, or perhaps you prefer to add lightning damage upon dealing a flurry of strikes. There’s so much here that it really helps elevate the combat of the original game massively – a level of depth that was unfortunately a little lacking before.
The other reason that the combat is so enjoyable is due to the fantastic enemies that you encounter, that are just as much of a delight as before. You’ll see some old creatures make a return, such as the big bell dudes, but there are just as many new ones too that put your skills to the test. Killing foes can grant you currency and upgrade points, but as each one can end the life of a careless Penitent, none are to be taken lightly.
Thankfully the game is reasonably fair when it comes to difficulty. It’s relatively easy to learn how to deal with most enemies so that you can avoid taking damage, and the inclusion of multiple health vials to keep you going and somewhat generous checkpoints ensures that you’ll rarely get to a section that you can’t get past. Should you lose a life, the Penitent One leaves behind a fraction of their guilt in the world which they need to claim in order to be able to use their full magic meter again. It’s the Dark Souls approach, albeit with far less punishment and the added advantage of restoring a small amount of health upon collection too – thus allowing you to help get further than you could before. Whilst the second half of the game does have a significant jump in difficulty, it still rarely gets to the point of frustrating – even with the challenging boss fights.
As in the previous game, bosses are a highlight and offer some memorable encounters to test your skills to the limit. They’re a bit underwhelming when compared to the prior game due to their smaller scale (an unfortunate side effect of most of your opponents being fellow Penitents), but they’re still quite enjoyable even if they do represent a step back from the previous entry.
Blasphemous 2 refines a lot of the gameplay of the original, adding in much needed combat depth and some great new enemies. Some elements don’t quite work, and the bosses aren’t quite as spectacular as the ones in the original title, but this is still a great game that fans of the first are sure to enjoy.