Without bloodshed, there shall be no forgiveness
Ever since the announcement of Blasphemous 2, we here at Retrolike.net, have been keeping a close eye on what the Spanish developer Game Kitchen was cooking. Within the ranks of Retrolike, Rob and I were the most interested in the game, both having played its prequel and being intrigued by it in our own ways. We are both Metroidvania enthusiasts, but we have had wildly different experiences with the first game.
While I truly enjoyed the overall production of Blasphemous, the punishing Soulslike block and counter gameplay didn’t quite resonate with me. Therefore, I approached the task of reviewing the second installment with a hint of reluctance. I’m simply not cut out for Soulslike experiences. However, I’m also eager to immerse myself in the richly dense and atmospheric world that Game Kitchen has unveiled over the last couple of months. The visuals are right up my alley, and I’ve made a personal commitment to “get gud” and go for it.
And, oh my dear lord, the world Game Kitchen expanded upon, has become even more creepy, depressing, hopeless, and above all, gruesomely hard. All, again in beautiful atmospheric glorious pixels. But let’s start at the beginning.
You, the Penitent One, are once again woken from your post mortem slumber to find out you have been sent to a land, unbeknownst to you until now. However, we won’t delve further into the details here, as a strict story embargo prevents us from doing so, and this restriction had to be observed in order for the review to be published on its intended date.
Weapons of Choice
Combat revolves around a limited selection of weapons, one of which you can choose at the beginning of the game. Additional weapons will become available as you advance through the game. Each weapon strikes a balance between attack speed and damage output, resulting in roughly equivalent performance in practical gameplay. These individual weapons can be enhanced with special attacks. For instance, the Censer of Flame is a sizable censer that inflicts significant damage and can also activate mystical bells to open doors. The Praying Blade, on the other hand, offers a well-rounded approach with decent damage output while maintaining the Penitent One’s agility and flexibility.
The third option available are the dual-wielded daggers, which strongly resemble the Mea Culpa from the first game—swift and focused on stabbing attacks. Each weapon can be further upgraded with more potent attacks that draw from either your health or SP bar. These upgrades play a crucial role in your ability to defeat bosses and swiftly clear rooms of menacing ghouls that might overwhelm you if you don’t address the situation promptly.
Timing is everything
When you are unleashed into the world you immediately get a sense of the resistance you will be facing for the coming 25-30 hours. And let me tell you, it is fierce. Even the most common enemies are capable of ending you if you are not paying attention. You can get caught in a blender of multiple enemies going for your head and projectiles flying around. If your time is off can result in you being open for a string of hits that could easily suck your life bar dry.
Like its prequel Blasphemous 2 is a metroidvania that, in it’s combat leans heavy to soulslike block and counter mechanics. A slide can also be used to avoid incoming attacks, but does not allow you to counter with a devastating blow. Learning the time to execute an attack is of the essence to get anywhere in this game, as rushing into enemies with big attacks will leave you vulnerable for counter attacks.
Apart from its ghouly inhabitants, the world you need to traverse is filled with traps, elevators, climbable walls and other metroidvania tropes. Also in true Metroidvania fashion newly unlocked abilities will enable you to go to places that were previously out of reach or where locked behind not-yet-breakable barriers. There are NPCs hidden throughout the map that send you on side quests, too. These quest usually result in receiving objects that can be used to buff your character.
Prepare for the reckoning
All these are vital for preparing yourself for the biggest challenges in the game, the boss fights. These are something else. I’ve played my fair share of bosses in my gaming life, but never have I been driven to despair and mental collapse like the ones Blasphemous 2 serves up. And here is where I have to make a confession… After 12 hours of playtime, I just beat the second boss. It took me somewhere around fifty tries, on that particular boss alone.
The way I play these kind of games does not work well with the way this game operates, especially in these boss battles. Response and reaction is part of my gaming persona, making me a fine shmup and platform-player. But this game rewards patience and timing way more than my fairly quick response. Blasphemous demands of me to rewire my gaming-brain, and, for now, it’s not working out well. I feel that it takes me way too much effort to tackle specific bits in the game. As a result I was stuck at the point that I explored 35% of the map for hours. I’m having a hard time blaming the game for it, though.
Eh, thanks Rob, for this kick in the butt, I guess. Now, I was just on the verge of making the argument that the game’s difficulty isn’t an issue. As you aptly pointed out, its difficulty stands as one of its defining features. It caters to an audience that isn’t typically addressed as directly as both Blasphemous games manage to do. Those you refer to as “The true Masters of the Genre.” I do have a problem with the game’s obsession to make changing loadouts and builds so incredibly cumbersome.
City Connections (or the lack thereof)
The city, where you can change your loadout and build, is just hard to reach. Portals are scarcely available and are located in the most illogical locations possible. This means you either have to make your way back to a portal, or the city itself by working your way back through all these menacing enemies again. The game opens up quite a bit later on, as you eventually are allowed to travel between checkpoints, for instance. But like a beefy bouncer at a pretentious bar, the game denies these features in the beginning of the game. “First defeat three bosses, then we talk.” I don’t see any reason why this is necessary. It’s just cumbersome and artificially added busywork.
Penalize the powerless
The same goes for the “Guilt” penalties, when you are defeated. This means that a part of your SP bar gets blocked from use when you die. You can undo this, by confessing with the city’s priest, which again is highly inconvenient. It is a testament that the game is and wants to be a d…. a jerk, from time to time.
The vistas that the game spontaneously presents, offering glimpses of the scenic backdrop, are utterly breathtaking. Every single character within the game, each gorey demise of an enemy, every pillar, and even every speck of moss on a piece of pavement, all appear to have been meticulously fashioned with an exceptional degree of artistry, care, and dedication.
In comparison to the first game, the cutscenes have undergone a mayor transformation. It went from pixel art to an anime style that seem to harmonize exceptionally well with the narrative. This shift significantly enhances the production value, in my opinion.
The music has evolved as well. It has the same mix of modern and classic musical groundwork. It Also hints of Spanish and gothic musical influences as the first, but just more refined. This better be on Spotify soon, Game Kitchen!
All in all, Blasphemous 2 is one of this year’s highlights in regards to production values, style and core gameplay. It’s willing to cater to the challenge-hungry hardcore audience and to alienate large chunk of potential audience. It is daring to be stubborn and not serve the masses but stick to your guns. The frustration Blasphemous 2 elicit comes from a couple of obvious ball dropping bits, which it could have handled better and if so could have resulted in a near perfect game.
Blasphemous 2 is tantalizingly close to achieving the status of a nearly flawless metroidvania experience that expertly challenges you while upholding a sense of fairness. All of this is presented in a captivating package of exquisitely crafted pixel art and music. Nevertheless, Game Kitchen falters when attempting to enhance the metroidvania aspect by introducing artificial barriers and obstacles that merely extend travel time within the game world, without offering any truly rewarding elements.