I always find it interesting how religion is often left untapped by video games. We have an endless stream of games that delve into post-apocalyptic worlds, fantasy settings, the endless chasm of space yet very few have ever drawn explicit inspiration from the world’s religions. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why: Games receive enough backlash from the media as it is without inciting The Crusade 2: Holy Boogaloo, but on a creative level, religious texts offer such a fresh space to explore.
Outside of that strange Dante’s Inferno game a few years back and the equally bizarre El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, Blasphemous kind of stands out from the crowd with its very purposeful use of Christian and specifically Catholic imagery, simultaneously creating a world that’s equal parts horrifying yet consistently interesting. Despite how visceral Blasphemous, it’s engaging in a way that many games wish there, drawing me in for plenty hours of punishing combat, discovery and just a little too much backtracking.
Blasphemous is a Metroidvania, taking a great many of its gameplay inspirations from the likes of Hollow Knight and Dark Souls. The usual suspects are here, resting at shrines that act as checkpoints to an area, a limited amount of healing charges you refill and slower, methodical pacing to the combat. It doesn’t necessarily offer up anything entirely or original or new, and while many may groan at the thought of another Metroidvania game dropping onto the marketplace, Blasphemous is a game far more intent on progression being determined by your skill rather than discoverable upgrades.
Those enhancements are there, don’t get me wrong, but they never felt like they were the core gameplay loop. What was more important was testing the waters, taking a leap of faith into an area you aren’t yet familiar with, learning enemies telegraphs. It’s equal parts about understanding the way the game works rather than brute-forcing your way through enemies and platforming segments because Blasphemous wants to see you dead above anything else.
Many of the criticisms I’ve seen on this game is that after a while it comes too easy for players as they become more accustomed to the fighting style of the enemies are the movement and abilities of The Penitent One, the playable character. Yet, I think that’s kind of the point. As with any game designed to both test and punish the player, the longer you play the easier it becomes. It’s why I think the game places such an emphasis on having combat that while incredibly simple, is still so satisfying to use. Yes, it might become super easy to traverse the earlier sections of the game, but doesn’t that instil some element of confidence in the player?
Every combat scenario, even if it’s not the most challenging, is viscerally satisfying with fantastic animations to really enhance much of the violence on screen. The level of animation and detail in Blasphemous is truly incredible, often making me think that the developers didn’t need to go to such extremes to pull off such a beautiful game; they just wanted to show off what they could do. The environments, while all expectedly drab, never look plain as they’re littered with symbolism to make your hairs stand on edge. There are some genuinely uncomfortable visuals in Blasphemous, it’s not a game for the light-hearted as it presents a twisted, depraved view on religious mythology.
And what better genre to present the themes of death, rebirth, and punishment through a game drawing so many inspirations from Dark Souls. The severe difficulty of Blasphemous never feels out of place within the game world, and while there is the occasional cheap death resulting from blind leaps of faith (emphasis on the “faith”) I couldn’t begrudge the game for sticking so close to its oppressive themes. As much as I wish I could explain the narrative of Blasphemous, it’s a story wrapped up in so many obscure eccentricities and esoteric questions that a large chunk of it won’t make sense on the first playthrough.
It’s a religious metaphor, making the dark elements of sin, guilt and redemption almost tangible in their mechanical design. Guilt stems from death as death results in failure. The whole game is a representation of the religious doubt and prosecution placed upon so many generations of people and while it’s certainly a game that’s not shy about where itss themes come from, there’s a layer of depth that could be trawled through for ages to discover what everything really means.
Last Updated: September 19, 2019