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Re(7):RANDOM GAMES #37: Eternal Blasphemy
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Indeed, yes! Blasphemous! It is a good game. Gameplay-wise, it's surprisingly not as much of a Metroidvania as one would have expected. I obtained my first "traversal upgrade" about 2/3 through the game, and it was something fairly minor. I'm at 99.5%, and I haven't found any of the traditional Metroidvania upgrades such as a double jump. I think I have 5 traversal upgrades, and honestly I'm not sure any of those are necessary to complete the game? They're useful to get collectibles, and there are a great amount of those, but none seem to have been mandatory. There are many more upgrades (life, mana, power, some moves, and too many equipment slots to fill) though, so the game really seats in a middle of a triangle with "Metroidvania" on one tip, "Chi no Rondo" on another, and "Dark Souls" on the last one, without really fitting into any of the three archetypes. The first areas are almost classic-Castlevania affairs, then become more and more complex as the game progresses. However, a lot of the discoveries you'll do are ways to backtrack (such as a ladder kicked down to a previous save point, so next time you die you won't have to do the whole detour again). I suppose itís a way to replace the double jump/flying powers, by making levels easier to travel through once youíve gone through them once and return to hunt for collectibles. The main character behaves fairly heavily compared to the pixies that were Alucard or the MC in Hollow Knight. Not to the point of being a Belmont, but still much heavier than, say, Classic Rockman. He has a dash that can be upgraded into a Stinger, but for some inexplicable reason it's tied to an invisible timer (fortunately, an item allow you to lower that timer to almost nothing). His moveset, while fairly adequate, remains limited to a few sword slashes and a couple of spells; nothing comparable to Shanoa or Soma. Speaking of items, one of the annoying things of the game is the amount of slots you need to equip. You have the rosary beads (the rosary being itself upgradable), the enchantment for the sword, the spells, the relics, on top of which you can collect bones of saints and rescue trapped angels. It's all a bit overwhelming, really. All in all, it's a good game, without any egregious flaws if you don't expect a new Hollow Knight, and without a lot of elements that distinguish it from the many other 2D action games being released lately. Except, of course... the art direction. So, obviously, it's Gothic/Baroque horror, with very good pixel art and animation, and a huge amount of gore and religious imagery. Which, honestly, wouldn't be anything to write home about... if it wasn't culturally so informed. We know our Gothic horror in videogames. We've been playing excellent Castlevanias in the past, as well as the 5 Demon/Dark Souls/Borne more recently. They are all very good at the whole "decaying classical European architecture + grim setting + some horribly disfigured corpses" thing. Something that I had never really thought about until now, however, is that these games are... well... made by Japanese people. Extremely talented Japanese people who have done a tremendous amount of research to make their games appropriately elegant and horrifically refined. But they all focused on the visual aspect, the exterior elements of these religious items and architectures. Blasphemous, on the other hand, is incredibly Spanish and deeply ingrained in Catholic imagery. The graphical elements are not some mere tourist tour of Europe. Almost all enemies and backgrounds call back precise paintings or places, some more obvious than others. For example, these flying guys with spears are cardinals and remind of [URL=http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5116/5890409131_5390847111_z.jpg]some Velŗzquez paintings[/URL], this reanimated corpse held by a lady is a spoof on a [URL=https://proxy.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.italianrenaissance.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2FMichelangelo-pieta-index-new.png&f=1&nofb=1]Pieta[/URL], the shrines that upgrade your sword come from [URL=https://static.lexpress.fr/medias_11196/w_640,c_fill,g_north/la-porte-de-l-enfer-de-rodin_5732411.jpg]Rodin's atelier[/URL], the quest giver in the snow area is obviously a reference to [URL=http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rcDDlJBdw5I/Txkx4Jkiz7I/AAAAAAAAAFY/cvbzQCqJDZE/s1600/rubens-st-sebastian-c1614.jpg]St Sebastian[/URL], the lady that upgrades your health bar is any [URL=http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-UyuM-tno63Y/Td10qyTRmqI/AAAAAAAABiM/jTVjAW47WPM/s1600/P9090598-754626.JPG]Virgen Dolorosa[/URL]... etc. Goya is the main inspiration throughout the game, unsurprisingly (and rightfully). He's [URL=https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/71/Witches_Flight_Goya.jpg/1200px-Witches_Flight_Goya.jpg]everywhere[/URL], absolutely [URL=https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-aOyASPnGOGE/WgiIR5O39lI/AAAAAAAAGTU/KpOT-IP9s0w4wc67liR7RIq_nfzN3HEogCLcBGAs/s1600/goya75.jpg]everywhere[/URL], and [URL=https://s5.eestatic.com/2016/03/18/actualidad/Actualidad_110499714_2649325_1706x960.jpg]more[/URL], and [URL=https://proxy.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.repro-arte.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2017%2F01%2Fpenitentesenlabasilicainferiordeasis-800x525.jpg&f=1&nofb=1]more[/URL]. The game is extremely Andalusian, with a lot of architecture inspired by Sevilla or Cordoba, and of course all the insane festivities of the semana santa and the hordes of penitents. And that's what makes the game so fascinating: it's not just a giant reference of famous art pieces made "spooky". Every element makes the game richer by evocation, filling a player familiar with the original elements with a web of meanings the more they decipher them, and create a dizzying carnival of symbols that feeds into the main themes of the game. While Blasphemous doesn't refer to any known religion, the stand-in is transparent. But instead of creating a simple bizarro-catholicism, with God, Jesus, Mary and the saints being replaced by other characters with different visuals and names but similar functions, the religion of Blasphemous uses the actual message and practice of the most pious, orthodox, and fascinatingly morbid Catholicism, with surprisingly little window-dressing. The entire game resolves about guilt. Normally, Catholicism rejects the idea of the innate depravity of man that Protestants and Lutherans profess (to make it really quick, Protestants generally think that you can't be saved without the grace of God). Catholicism canon teaches that not only the sacraments (Baptism first and foremost) are a remission of the original sin, but also that, since man has been made to God's image, it has free will and is not condemned to commit sin. Of course, not being condemned to sin doesnít mean itís easy or even possible to never sin. And since, contrary to Protestants, you [i]had the possibility[/i] to not sin, and did it anyway, it makes the link with personal guilt and responsibility very intimate. Punishment and pardon are two fundamental facets of the everyday faith, along with its companion, blind obedience. Nowadays, punishment is moral, philosophical or ritual; however, the closer you go to the glorious centuries of Spain, the more the public mortifications reached [i]Folsom Fair[/i] amount of insanity (and still do in some areas). Guilt, in Blasphemous, exists outside of time and narration. The main character, the Penitent One, is on a journey to atone for his sins, whose nature is never touched upon and whose existence would be dubious if it were any important. The actual reason for penance is not an meaningful topic; the focus is on suffering and atonement. Forgiveness is not automatic, regardless how much you punish your flesh. Thus, instead of penance being a voyage from sin to forgiveness, it remains, stilted, as its own end, devoid of origin, past, or hope. There is no conflict in the game, since every enemy or ally is just here for their own mortification as an end to itself, and purification is not assured even after total destruction of the flesh. What makes the game so desperate is that "hope" doesn't have much meaning; what makes the player push forward is the necessity for the penance to continue. The fetishisation of pain and wilful self-torture is more than just goal and end: it's a complete circular system. I'm sure we all have played countless RPGs with made-up religions, where midway through the game you discover that main religion in which your character had been raised were actually the bad guys all along, and they were actually trying to resurrect the Antichrist, or maybe they were just very very corrupt. It's a very useful trope, but it's also generally a very poor device that more often than not amounts to "fake religions are bad". It's honestly not really convincing, and lack any sense of correlation with the real world. Where Blasphemous's depiction of religion works in unique and powerful ways is that it follows actual Catholic practice extremely closely, and makes the entire made-up religion of the game a much more terrifying system by removing any threat at the scenario level. No one is an antagonist in the game. Everyone welcomes pain and suffering not only as something necessary, but also something beautiful and deserved. There is no scooby-doo moment where the religion or pope are revealed being something sinister: everything you know from the beginning is all there is to know. No character can even imagine to question the main dogma of penance or look outside of it, since the destruction of their own flesh via self-torture is its own gratification. Paradoxically, there is no salvation, there is no hope in Blasphemous, because everything is already decided. By distillating Catholicism into its more extreme, and grotesque, practices, the game ultimately illustrates one of the main debates that have animated the church for two millennia: how can you have free will if God is omnipotent, how can he know everything if I have free will, how can free will exist in a universe overseen by an infinitely perfect being. This is why using all that impressive amount of classical art into the game wasnít mere savvy quotations for hipsters: the game uses art in the same way Catholicism used art and beauty after the Renaissance and beyond, as a mean to meditate over its most sacred mysteries. This is what separates Blasphemous from Castlevania and Dark Souls's pretty, but hollow, visuals. It only becomes more interesting the more knowledge one has about some general Catholic discussions, from Augustine to the twilight of the XIXth century, towards the end of religionís reign over the masses, before political ideas and utopias replaced it across Europe with different flavours of horror. My own knowledge is quite basic, so Iím sure Iíve missed a ton of references and keys, but it's enough to make the whole object feel very unique.
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