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Blasphemous II

Blasphemous II feels like a smoother, more focused metroidvania

I've played the first hour in Seville and changes in the sequel already overshadowed my experience with the original.

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I know I'm not alone in thinking that, even if its unique lore and art made the difference, the first steps into the original Blasphemous felt a bit rough, more so if you played on the Nintendo Switch at launch. Fast forward to an incredibly successful run with more than two million copies sold and Blasphemous II is now around the corner, ready to release in late Q3 2023. Gamereactor had the pleasure to attend the game's first ever hands-on event yesterday in Seville, at the conveniently-chosen Casa de Pilatos palace, with the whole dev team on hand, and I'm happy to report that gone is the stiffness that defined my early time with the first game.

Not only that, but it also feels like this will be a much smoother and varied metroidvania experience all in all, where more possibilities are offered to the player from the get-go, and where you traverse your typically labyrinthian 2D square-based map in a more natural manner, almost instinctively.

Blasphemous II
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The main change this time around is so important that it actually shapes a big part of the experience: right from the start, you get to select your weapon of choice for the first third of the game or so. Not only does this define your combat style; it also means you will or won't be able to explore different areas, as levers and switches come in and out of reach.

In my case I skipped the first couple of faster, more popular options, and went directly for the longer range, incredibly slow and powerful Veredicto mace. And the game forced me to put it to good use at the very next screen, where the first boss encounter made for a very clear declaration of intent: if you didn't remember, this is like the good 'ol Castlevanias or the Soulslike games, where you have to calculate every move, every dodge, to not die miserably come every mid-to-major encounter. This slightly bigger enemy was one out of three that killed me repeatedly during my session, but I have to say I got triggered in a good, "come at me again you sucker" way, instead of frustrated. In other words, it will be a challenging, but rewarding game.

The weapon I chose was very rudimentary, but damn did it feel good. I could stay further away from my enemies or hit them mid-jump, and it also allowed me to collect some of the secret "baby angels" hidden around the level. Besides, I was able to make my very own path, which was different to the ones I could sneak a peek at on the other journalists' screens.

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That path led me to the City of the Blessed Name, along with four other areas, which says a lot about the variety of scenarios given the limited time we had. The same can be said about all the systems that come into play very soon into your journey, including collectibles, new abilities, magic-charged attacks, executions (yes they're back and one was deliciously brutal), Bile Flasks, prayers, chants, Penitent upgrades, and more. It actually felt a bit overwhelming, but it didn't worry me much as the game itself kept a very engaging pace to it and it seemed to me like a matter of getting used to them the more I was in need.

One of the first abilities was used to climb specifically-marked walls (think Metroid Dread style), allowing me to backtrack part of the way to then reach new areas. And one of the passive skills was granted to me by a very interesting character, an sculptor honouring a local historical figure (Martínez Montañés, the Renaissance carver), in the shape of an altarpiece I'd carry with me on my back.

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In that sense, the sequel seems to again be making a fascinating use of religious references and myths combined with its own fictional writing and the more obvious "Semana Santa" inspiration. Along the way I of course met several amicable or just opportunist characters, and learnt a few bits about the game's lore which, again, seems as cryptic as it seems deep and dark. Some of the sequences, places, and enemies were very creepy or even outright disturbing, which added to the tension just like the first game.

And even though it is deliberately obscure with its writing (loved the nice touch of the verses by renowned poet Miguel Hernández welcoming you to the game, but I don't know what they actually mean as of yet, for instance), your mission as The Penitent One is pretty "clear": you have to stop the New Son from being born, and in order to do that, you'll have to deal with several Confraternity, reveal the regrets of the of the statues holding the city, and find the three guardians. A walk in the park.

So, now we're on topic, father, I have to confess my sins: I didn't fully complete the first Blasphemous as I ended up feeling clumsy and a little bit hopeless as much as I loved the presentation and the story. However, this time around I got hooked by the more agile gameplay first and foremost, and that makes me want to learn much more of the world, the lore, and the beautiful, twisted pixel art that await us in a couple of months together with some hair-raising music. This is how you introduce a sequel, and with Silksong MIA (but naturally unaware of how Blasphemous II will hold and unfold itself in the longer run) this just became my most anticipated metroidvania in 2023. Amen.

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REVIEW. Written by David Caballero

The Penitent One now has more weapons and abilities at hand to explore a harsh labyrinth full of monsters and darkness. Is it too much of a playable penitence?



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