August of this year saw the return of a series I deeply admire in the form of The Game Kitchen’s Blasphemous 2. The original, released back in 2018, truly blew me away. The developers showed a depth of understanding in game design that is not often seen. Unique in its art style, with a luscious soundtrack to match, there was little room for improvement, such are the heights that Blasphemous soared to. It goes without saying that I couldn’t wait to return to Cvstodia, if only to play more of the same. What I felt by the end of Blasphemous 2 was disappointment. Not because the sequel lacked but because as the credits rolled, I realized I could never relive that first, blind playthrough…
The Miracle Reborn
Blasphemous 2 takes place around a millennium after the events of the first game. What happened 1,000 years ago? Well, Blasphemous has such abstruse lore it’s always been difficult for me to say. However, Cvstodia is a land where the pain and suffering experienced by its inhabitants drives them to pray for the intervention of something higher. This suffering and the force of people’s wish to escape from said turmoil results in the genesis of The Miracle. This is something akin to a deity, and it seems a benevolent being initially. However, it soon becomes apparent that The Miracle bends and contorts people’s wishes, granting them but in a way that is a distortion of their original intent. Thus, the people of Cvstodia pray to a being which actively intensifies and perpetuates their suffering.
At the end of Blasphemous, The Penitent One (the game’s protagonist) brings an end to the dominion of The Miracle. Centuries pass and Cvstodia becomes a land without gods. It’s the nature of being that suffering continues though, and so people begin to pray and worship once more. This leads to The Miracle being reborn, a beating heart raised high above the land, counting the time until The Miracle’s return. Simultaneously, this resurrects The Penitent one, who is tasked with defeating the members of the Archonfraternity and its leader, Eviterno — the first of the Penitents.
Owing to the fact that the story of Blasphemous is so cloaked in mystery and obscurity, it isn’t necessary to have played the first game to enjoy the second. You may miss the odd reference here and there, and the return to one of the first games most iconic zones may not have the same grin-invoking impact as it did for me, but you won’t be any less baffled by the story even if you did play the first game.
Arsenal Of Penitence
In keeping with The Game Kitchen’s original vision, Blasphemous 2 is loyal to the classic Metroidvania formula. This means a sprawling yet intertwined map, backtracking, and demanding platforming. With the first game, you only had access to one weapon, the thorned sword Mea Culpa. However, in Blasphemous 2, you pick one of three weapons to begin the journey with. You will eventually find the other two and taken together they form your Arsenal of Penitence.
Veredicto is a heavy flail which can be ignited to inflict further fire damage. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in raw hit power. There is the rapier and dagger combo Sarmiento and Centella. These are extremely quick weapons with a very tight window for parrying. Landing enough attacks allows the blades to deal lightning damage for a brief period. Then there’s the balanced, serrated sword Ruego al Alba. This is perhaps most similar to Mea Culpa from the first game as it plays essentially the same. Ruego al Alba lets you unleash a mode called Blood Pact, dealing additional mystical damage.
The Rosary makes a return which can be embellished with up to five rosary beads. In Blasphemous 2, the rosary is essentially there to bolster your defense or grant passive effects, such as increasing Tears of Atonement (the in game currency) earned by slaying enemies. The real meat of the combat mechanics in Blasphemous 2 comes in the form of the Altarpiece. This is a series of slots on the back of the Penitent One’s armor. You can place wooden figures into different slots which grant additional bonuses. But that’s not all! Pairing different figures next to one another can trigger favors, which will boost a certain weapon. On top of this, certain combinations will create resonances. These are powerful, passive boosts which can sometimes unlock new abilities. For example, Alchemical Time stops time for a few seconds after using a healing item, which gives you vital time to attack or regain distance — completely turning the tide of battle in your favor.
Prayers are again present here, though they are split into two types. Chants are big spells, costing a lot of fervor (MP) to cast but dealing good damage or creating powerful effects. Quick Verses are, as the name implies, cheap casts but are largely small projectiles. These can often provide a good ranged option or finishing hits.
Whilst all of the things that made Blasphemous so fantastic are here in abundance, Blasphemous 2 perfects the formula, and the new features bring much needed variety to any playthrough. The ability to play around with different combinations of altarpieces and weapons will allow players to engage in combat in a multitude of ways. Enemy, boss and level design are still absolutely stellar, with Cvstodia genuinely feeling like a land of torment for both its denizens and the player.
Divine Game Design
Blasphemous 2’s aesthetic is in keeping with the first game’s. A world where the layfolk have been betrayed by their own faith and their civilization is in a state of decay. From the backgrounds to the enemies, Blasphemous 2 proudly wears its inspirations on its sleeve — and why wouldn’t it? The Spanish Masters such as Goya and Velasquez were incredible artists and their motifs are right at home here in Cvstodia. The soundtrack is once again beautiful and complex, the perfect audio to accompany a journey through a twisted version of Enlightenment Spain. Somehow ethereal and corporeal in the same stroke, the visuals and musical scoring on show here are honestly sublime.
One thing to note is the return of more than a handful of enemies from the first game. It would be all too easy to dismiss this as reuse of assets. However, the enemies feel as appropriate and at home here as they did in the original Blasphemous. Boss battles are still grandiose affairs which test the player in different ways and yet still manage to be thoroughly enjoyable.
What’s a good game though without a high degree of quality in the actual gameplay? Well, Blasphemous 2 ticks that box also. I had my gripes with the first game in terms of the difficulty of some of the platforming and how excessively tough some of the bosses were. In the sequel, everything is so much more refined. The challenge is still there, both in terms of platforming and combat. What makes Blasphemous 2 more enjoyable is the different weapons and corresponding playstyles, not to mention the stripped back simplicity of the platforming. The environments present more of a need to think than a need to execute your presses with an obsessive degree of accuracy. Also, side quests are not nearly as obscure, making a 100% run not only achievable, but actually fun!
The game feels undeniably tighter and more focused than its predecessor which shows that criticisms of the first game have not fallen on deaf ears, and instead The Game Kitchen have used fans’ complaints to simply make a superior game.
Things To Atone For
Despite, in my opinion, Blasphemous 2 being an outright improvement, there are things worth mentioning that hold the game back a little. I loved my playthrough so much that not having a NG+ available at the moment is a pinch saddening. I realize that this is a feature The Game Kitchen will likely introduce in subsequent updates, but it doesn’t negate the positive impact this would have had on my experience if there was an NG+ from launch. The end game is great, though it does begin to overindulge in locking you in a room with ever more annoying and numerous enemies in order to progress.
I ran into two very annoying bugs. The first was an incident where all but the D-pad inputs were not being read by the game. The second was a complete half of the screen turning white. Neither of these issues fixed themselves and required a restart. Sometimes, I felt myself getting extremely irritated by the fact that interacting with Prie Dieu’s (save points) is the up button. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. What is frustrating is that the up direction on the joystick triggers the interaction also, meaning that when you first rise from the Prie Dieu to resume playing, you can, and often do, accidentally end up resting at the shrine again. This isn’t an issue for players who would use the D-pad, but the accuracy demanded by the combat and platforming makes it unlikely anyone would not want to use the left stick for movement.
Whilst the weapon variety is decent, there are only a handful of prayers, and of these only two or three are even remotely useful. It’s obvious efforts have been made to give players more options in terms of playstyle, though in some areas it doesn’t quite go far enough. What I will say (and this is more of a hope) is that as with The Game Kitchen’s approach to additional content with Blasphemous, I expect something similar with Blasphemous 2. Further down the line, future updates will hopefully address some of the things I found jarring about the game as a whole. However, when a game is so great that it could only continue to deliver going forward, I think it’s clear what an achievement Blasphemous 2 really is.
Blasphemous II would have always had big shoes to fill. It would always have to have been ambitious. When I think back to the 20+ hours I’ve already spent in this game, I can wholeheartedly say the successor to Blasphemous is bigger than the boots it needed to fill. The ambition, rather than stifling the developers, has led them to produce a game of such exquisite quality that it is easily one of the best games of 2023.
BLASPHEMOUS 2 IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Thanks to Damien’s Wallet for providing a Playstation 5 review copy of Blasphemous 2.
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Damien (dkpriory) has grown up gaming, from the humble days of the Atari all the way through to modern PC gaming. Unafraid to let a game steal his life for a few months, he is passionate about playing something immersive but also yearns for something to take him back to his childhood. Sadly no longer a member of the NookGaming team or creating content, but check out his archives on Youtube here.