Finding as much fun as possible in a grim world
The search for meaning is never-ending and takes more than one form. In Blasphemous 2, from developer The Game Kitchen, people are still trying to cope with reality through the lens of the divine, using penitences and blessings as the language to interpret their world. Blasphemous 2 effectively conveys this world by melding exploration with storytelling. But its boss fights — the star attraction for anyone who has played the first game — are more uneven.
Blasphemous 2 is a 2D platformer/adventure game akin to Dead Cells and Hollow Knight. By deploying religious imagery throughout, The Game Kitchen has created a potent world where an omnipotent divine will, the Miracle, has power over everyone’s lives. You control the Penitent One, the returning protagonist from the first game, who fought the Miracle once before and has now been resurrected to face the almighty being again. A Soulslike difficulty pervades Blasphemous 2 as well: You face not only a good variety of challenging enemies, but a few bosses that require a considerable number of tries to beat up.
These similarities to household genres belie a unique sense of place, though — a mix of the foreboding and the bizarre. As the Penitent One, you’re less the focus of the story than a vessel through which to explore this singular world — one in which the inhabitants turn to faith, over and over again, despite all evidence pointing to this practice being the origin of the terrible state their world has been in since the first game.
Image: The Game Kitchen/Team17
Blasphemous 2 does a decent job of matching its overt storytelling themes with strong mechanics and systems. A floating hand, for instance, increases your max fervour (the resource used to cast magical spells) in exchange for kisses of adoration; in other words, the Penitent One’s spiritual development depends on adoring a new deity. Then we have Montañés, a sculptor who believes he was granted a mission by the Miracle, and so carves handheld statues for the Penitent One. These figurines grant different beneficial effects, allowing you to create varying builds throughout your playthrough; one reduces the fervour cost of abilities, while another one increases the duration of a weapon’s special ability. With characters such as these two, Blasphemous 2 weaves its themes of faith and divine purpose into its systemic loop.
Blasphemous 2 glues everything together with a vast explorable world. Crucially, while there are some dangerous foes — and annoying birds — waiting for you in many rooms, the exploration process never becomes frustrating. The game deploys a helpful teleport system that lets you warp back and forth across specific rooms on a whim, turning the inevitable backtracking sessions into less troublesome affairs.
What’s more, each region of the 2D world is rife with its own character and aesthetics. Sacred Entombments is an arid region where giant buried statues fill the background, and many dangers are hidden in large swaths of desert. In contrast, you also visit the Palace of the Embroideries, where rooms with forgotten furniture and ghoulish monsters accompany old spirits. Each of these areas features its own environmental dangers: waves of sand or falling chandeliers, to name a couple.
Image: The Game Kitchen/Team17
By scattering three unique weapons throughout the world (an increase over the first game’s single Mea Culpa blade), The Game Kitchen soft-gates your exploratory progress. These weapons — a rapier, a curved sword, and a flail — also play an important part in the narrative. Each of these instruments is connected to three of the main antagonists that the Penitent One must face, telling bits of their stories while also giving hints about the best approach to defeat said wielders. With Blasphemous 2, The Game Kitchen has woven narrative and combat into one rewarding experience.
For all of its strengths, though, Blasphemous 2 falls flat when it comes to contextualizing these major enemies. The Archconfraternity is a group of five penitents sent by the Miracle to stop you. Individually, some of these characters have good backstories that match the grim tone of the wider game, such as the monk incapable of empathizing with the people whose confessions he has heard for all of eternity. However, the concept of grouping villains as a “task force of evil” ultimately comes off as silly, and clashes tonally with the wider script. In addition, the boss fights themselves are uninspired — one of them is a simple matter of wall-jumping to avoid the enemy’s attacks. The gravitas lent to some of these beings, however silly and anathema to the overall story, feels hollow as a result.
In the end, Blasphemous 2 is a strong union of narrative and function. Its gloomy world is full of nooks and crannies to explore, and its inhabitants have compelling stories to tell. Its boss fights — arguably the biggest piece of twine — may be frayed, but the slick mechanics and biting themes more than make up for any weakness in the braid.
Blasphemous 2 will be released on Aug. 24 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Team17. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.