Monster of the Week: Exposito, Scion of Abjuration (Blasphemous)

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Origin: Blasphemous

Appearance: At first glimpse, he could even look like a normal child, a sort of oversized baby Jesus or a giant cherub. Then, his nightmarish profile will become very clear in all the sick details. The giant baby is blindfolded, and looks like that he is constantly crying tears of blood, flowing down under the bandage in red rivers. Exposito wears on his head a big wicked crown, a very clear symbol of Catholicism, and a close recall to the figure of baby Jesus. The baby is held by a wicker woman, a colossal figure missing detailed traits, holding the baby like a maternal shadow. During the battle in the game and also in the last released concept art, a  snake-like creature extended itself from the main body of the wicker woman, like a sort of appendage. While the wicker woman simply moves around, and the baby only tries to catch and dismember whoever can perceive, the snake creature is attacking and protecting the baby with a multitude of skills. It is interesting to notice that, especially in the concept art, the face of the snake is like the one of a sad woman, probably representing the deceased mother of Exposito, which still tries to protect him.

Background: Exposito is really the embodiment of whatever could be interpreted as creepy or scary inside catholic art. The holiness fades because of the disturbing details of this figure, which clearly express the contrast between holy and profane. The complex creature is also a sort of unholy trinity, composed by 3 wicked creatures: the mother (instead of the father), the son is clearly there, and let’s suppose that the snake is a sort of holy spirit. However, the story of Exposito is provided directly by the game itself, and it is really a sad one. Just as introduction, the name Exposito is used  in Spain for orphan children with unknown parents. Exposito was a child, when the Inquisition burned his mother for heresy. The child was blindfolded to avoid to see the horrible scene but, even blindfolded, the poor kid was continuously crying. The last wish of the mother, while burning on the pyre, was that the people build a wicker figure in her image, to hold and to comfort her baby for when she will be dead. The Miracle, an energy mutating and twisting religious events in the land of Custodia, saw this scene and granted the wish, creating Exposito. The giant baby and the wicker woman are the perfect representation of the dualism between mother and son, even if in this case it is twisted with sadness and horror.

Regarding the fight itself and the attacks, the snake-like creature will do most of the job. The monster can attack with its own body, or can spit  poison or fire bullets. The creature will move following complex patterns, making really difficult to fight while avoiding its body. The giant baby will instead target specific regions of the arena. If the main character will be unlucky enough to finish in one of those areas, the giant baby will instantly kill him, brutally dismembering his body.

The gray machinery of the Inquisition behind the cute facade of Minoria [Review and Analysis]

When you check images of the new game from the creators of Momodora, Minoria, you see an interesting aesthetic full of cute characters, like a modern fairytale. But behind this delicate facade, Minoria touches really dark and delicate topics, from religion, to dogmas, the oppression of the weak ones and the violence against nature. The colorful aesthetic is hiding the gray moral patterns of Minoria’s plot and setting.

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From the gameplay point of view, Minoria is a classic Metroidvania with a good RPG component. There are secrets to discover, different equipment and magics (called incenses), and also a bonus boss fight. The game is short for the genre (around 5 hours), but with 2 endings and also secret equipment unlocked when defeating a boss without getting damaged.

But the plot, the lore and the hidden layers built of small details are the most interesting side of Minoria. In the world of Minoria, an unforgiving Catholic Church is using the Inquisition to hunt for witches, powerful beings in contact with nature. If this is not dark enough, behind the fairytale facade of the art-style, the dark core of Minoria will slowly and subtly appear. First, it will be the dead bodies lying in the background, then it is the turn of lore books with really disturbing details.

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It will soon be clear through notes and books that the silent protagonist was brainwashed to become an inquisitor. A weapon without a morality ready to kill whoever is judged by the Church. The Church is also a rotten and corrupted organization. For example, the Saints in this world are members of the clergy who now live isolated from the world, surrounded by extreme wealth and pleasures. If games like Blasphemous use the horror of religions and Inquisition in a very direct way, in Minoria everything is more subtle, the grayness is hidden in few lines of dialogue, or in the backgrounds. But the player will feel this sense of uneasiness. The lack of free will, and the absence of morality, are also translated into the gameplay. Somehow, the linearity of the game is the main responsible of creating those chains. While killing witches, you will soon realize that they are not that evil, but, anyway, you cannot do nothing other than killing them.

This is really evident while fighting a couple of specific bosses. When they will be at low health, they will stop fighting, dragging around the arena while cursing you. They are already defeated and deadly wounded, but you have no alternative than keep on fighting. There is no way to have pity for the boss. The main character cannot fight the orders of the Church, as well as the player cannot break the linearity of the game. But you would like to do that, to find a way to avoid these murders. The linearity of the game is making you question your morality. Why cannot stop? Why cannot avoid to kill this character? But you character is only a brainwashed gear of a bloodthirsty machinery, so you just keep on fighting. Only at the very end of the game, the player will have a real decision to do. But, even in this case, the choice is reverted, and a promised happy ending will bring to even more death; and also to a final boss fight against a hopeless and powerless character.

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Under the main cathedral of the Order, a dark dungeon will reveal all the hidden torments caused by the Church. While fighting your way through the dungeon, you will meet skinny and traumatized prisoners who will only ask to kill them, such big is their pain. There is no reward for sparing or killing them, so also in this case the weight of your choices is meaningless, like if for the main character the life or death of another human being is totally irrelevant. This will cause a huge sense of uneasiness for the player, in a gorgeous and colorful world with fairytale-like characters, death will powerfully emerge from the background.

Also the concept of fighting against the nature will make you question your action. Some of the boss Battles are against primordial forces of nature, called Witch Deities, but is it truly necessary to destroy something so ancient? Also the main purpose of the game is to burn down a magic forest, which of course can open so many parallelism with the problems of our real world. But this is another story.

Behind all the colorful and the beauty of Minoria, a dark truth lies, a gray story where the linearity of the game will make you feel a brainwashed and blood-thirsty machine, without second thoughts for questions or pity. A deep story where nature and free will collide against dogmas and impositions.

Demoniaca Everlasting Night Review: a dark and mature beat ’em up metroidvania

Castlevania Symphony of the Night (SOTN) is probably the best Castlevania ever created, so no wondering that future metroidvania often used it as main inspiration. Sadly, right now the series is practically dead, and between the many indie metroidvania, very few of them have a comparable dark and gothic atmosphere. Demoniaca is the project of an Italian team, inspired by SOTN but bringing its own identity into a really dark and grim world, with a small amount of violence and nudity. Other than a mature and violent world, Demoniaca is also offering a deep and innovative combat system for the genre, and a beautiful pixel art. But I will talk about that shortly.

Demoniaca tells the tale of a girl abandoned half dead by a group of demons in a mass grave. Her blood got mixed with the one of demons, and she is able to heal and reborn as half’demon. She will follow her own revenge path while trying to stop a catastrophic ritual in a huge tower full of demons. Along her path she will face terrible monsters, huge bosses, and will also meet weird characters. The pixel art of the game is very gorgeous and complex, especially for characters, enemies and bosses. There are a lot of effects on the screen, sparkles, lightnings and also characters appearing during specific summons or attacks. Also in some cutscenes or after loading a new area, a zoom function will better highlight the characters, providing lot more details. The music is fitting with the general atmosphere, with rock tracks based on a strong guitar, which will accompany the player while exploring the dark depths of the tower.

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The combat style of the game is very peculiar for the genre, and it is also very deep. Basically it is based on fighting games such as King of Fighters or Street Fighter, with the four basic buttons connected to different kind of kicks and punches. While progressing through the game, the main character will unlock new moves, to be executed as combination of buttons. Some new attacks are also able to open hidden areas or to progress in the game. There is also a parry function, which allow to reduce or to completely waive the damage received by the enemies. The combat system is deep and appealing, but quite difficult to master and to practically apply, often reducing to spamming the most effective  single attack against a specific enemy.

The RPG side of Demoniaca is well developed and integrated. The main character is able to level up with experience, to collect souls as money to buy new items, and can equip several accessories. There is a huge quantity of items to collect, from rings or necklaces to boost the statistics, to more peculiar items which will expand for example the information on the mini-map, showing also the movement of the enemies. The items can be collected from hidden chests, but also the enemies will sometime drop special necklaces or rings. The emphasis is however not on obtaining new weapons, but on discovering new combos and attacks to practice and to perform them.

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Demoniaca is a really challenging and punishing game, with a huge step in the difficulty after the first boss. The enemies punch hard, with strong and fast attacks, usually lot faster than the main character. Also flying enemies are particularly nasty and difficult to fight or to simply avoid, since often they are almost immortal and with very narrow space between them. Demoniaca also feature an old-school save system, based on finding save points. So forget about autosaves or checkpoints and go to save often, because if you die then you will lost lot of progresses. Of course these are not negative side, but it worth to mention that people looking for an easy metroidvania will find in Demoniaca a real challenge. Instead, old-school players will probably love it.

The enemies are interesting in both design and attacks, with a lot of variety in each new area. The bosses are huge and challenging, usually providing long and strategic battles. Even regular enemies are quite hard to defeat, and it is very important to discover their weak points, even if sometimes this is not too obvious. For example, a huge robot fighting with a telekinetic knife will make the main character into pieces, especially because its attacks are unblockable, till the player will discover that the telekinetic knife can be punched-back to avoid any damage, if executed at the correct moment. Each enemy is really a unique surprise. A small and apparently useless enemy can inflict the status “Retro”, reverting the graphical style of Demoniaca into a retro gameboy-like aesthetic.

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The characters show also a peculiar design, going from aggressive demon-like human, to mysterious being such as the Boxman. I am particular fan of this character, a weird and mysterious being wearing a cardboard box over his head, teaching techniques and appearing in the most unexpected situations. For some reason he really hates crows, but this is another story.

The game is full of small secrets, and has a lot of back-tracking, in the good metroidvania formula. For example, some secret areas or events can be accessed only later by using a specific ability. There are also super strong unique mini-bosses, marked on the map with a star, which are usually too strong to fight when met for the first time, and they need to be revisited again later in the story. The game is full of references, especially of course to Castlevania, but also to King of Fighters, for example in the main character sprites. I was also surprised to see some enemies very inspired by Doom, especially by the Pain Elementals and the Cacodemons.

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Sadly there are some negative sides in Demoniaca’s experience. The background is a bit static and repetitive, compared to the level of details of characters and monsters. The game is also really challenging, but with the correct items and with practice, every challenge can be overcome. The controls sometimes are not so responsive, especially during the platform session, which can be a little clumsy. However the game was released only few days ago and the developers look really responsive, so the majority of these issues could be solved in future patches.

Demoniaca is an interesting dark metroidvania, with nice characters and enemies, together with a deep combat system inspired by fighting games. If you can overcome the challenge, Demoniaca can be a really rewarding experience.

The review was based on a free STEAM key provided by the developers.

Interview with ” The Game Kitchen”, the Spanish team behind the dark metroidvania Blasphemous

 

Blasphemous was one of the most successful Kickstarter’s campaigns, and one of the most awaited indie game of 2019. The gorgeous and detailed pixel-art caught almost instantaneously the attention of the press and the players, but there is a lot more in Blasphemous‘s world other than the graphic. The game is a really dark and gruesome RPG metroid-vania, with a strong horror background, especially for the grotesque enemy design. The world of Cvstodia, land where Blasphemous is set, is directly influenced by Catholic religion, creating a unique, twisted and disturbing atmosphere, where religion meets horror.

The Game Kitchen is the brilliant Spanish studio behind Blasphemous, previous authors of the horror point and click saga of The Last Door. Using as inspiration traditions and celebrations from Spain, this independent studio was able to create a really unique and dark world, and one of the most mature and original metroid-vania ever created.

I had the possibility to ask some questions abut Blasphemous to the Game Kitchen. In the following interview, you will find details on how the world of Blasphemous and its creatures were created, the traditional influences of the team, and what are the future plans for the game. If you want to know more about Blasphemous, I hope you will enjoy the following interview.

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Q1: Thank you for your time and for the opportunity. Blasphemous looks a really promising game, with an interesting and unique setting. As an action-platform, Blasphemous is very different from your previous titles, the horror point and click adventure saga of The Last Door. How the idea behind Blasphemous was born?

A1: (Enrique Cabeza) Sorry for my English in advance. After The Last Door we needed to lay the foundations for a new project and after a lot of testing we felt that the next game should be different and could attract a wider range of players but, more importantly, that the game would be very attractive to ourselves as developers. At that time the team was extremely small and the project was going to have a minimal budget, but after the Kickstarter campaign, everything changed and we were able to increase the size of the team and the budget considerably. In addition, the success of the Kickstarter campaign indicated that the game was attractive enough and that we were heading in the right direction.

Q2; Which are the biggest influences for the design, the lore and the gameplay of Blasphemous?

A2: Well, gameplay influences come from games like Castlevania, Strider, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Metroid, Dark Souls or Devil May Cry. We wanted to mix Hack&Slash combat styles and progression and exploration of the metroid-vania genre. In terms of lore we have followed the heritage of the Souls saga format that we love so much, but really the stories are inspired by legends of our city Seville of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and mystical religious writers such as Santa Teresa, Gonzalo de Berceo or San Juan de la Cruz. 

Q3: What was the most challenging part of the developing?

A3: From my point of view, the most challenging thing has been to unite the artistic part of the game with the combat design with the giant bosses. That’s probably what caused us the most nightmares. We’ve learned a lot about how not to do some things.

Q4: Spanish traditions, folklore and culture seems to have an interesting influence in the world of Blasphemous. How much Spanish traditions influenced the world of Blasphemous? Could you make some examples?

A4: We realized that our own city, Seville, was full of interesting and unique elements that could serve to create our own dark fantasy. The cultural richness of the city is enormous from the artistic, architectural and historical point of view, so we felt that we were doing an honest job and our own. 

For example, one of the Spanish painters whose works have influenced us the most is Francisco de Goya because he has a series of dark and macabre paintings whose atmosphere fell in love with us and that fit perfectly into the tone of the game we wanted to create. Seville is full of religious art with hundreds of years of antiquity. One of its most important traditions is Holy Week which is truly spectacular. Really, all these works and traditions are not lived here as something merely religious, but it is something cultural and traditional, and a part of our DNA.

Q5: From the title to the world itself, Blasphemous clearly integrates religious figures and symbolism, for example Michelangelo’s Pietà for one of the first bosses [Figure 1]. How did you integrate religious topics in a horror environment?

A5: Much of the religious art, especially that of Andalusia, in southern Spain, is very dark and gloomy. Seville is full of religious iconography that represents suffering and tragedy in a unique way. I think it was a good decision to inspire the art of the game in all this art and heritage of southern Spain.

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Figure 1: Boss inspired by “La Pietà” of Michelangelo

Q6: I am a personal fan of the creature design of Blasphemous, especially one of the bosses: a gigantic blindfolded child lifted by a humanoid dark creature [Figure 2]. The design is really terrifying and unique, is this boss still part of the game? Could you provide some details maybe about the background or the battle against this creepy foe?

A6: We don’t want to give many clues about it because inside the game the players will be able to find a lot of information about all the characters and the world of Cvstodia. We think it’s better for players to find and discuss the whole lore of the game. We have published a two hundred page art book explaining the artistic influences and creative processes that have given rise to all the creatures and characters in the game. I hope you find it interesting!

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Figure 2: One of the most creepy and disturbing bosses of Blasphemous

Q7: Let’s continue to talk about the unique creature design of Blasphemous. Which is your favourite monster or boss so far? Why?

A7: I think Crisanta is one of my favourite bosses, the design of her armour is very iconic, also the girl climbed to the giant is one of my favourite enemies and has turned out to be one of the most shocking for players, is inspired by one of the most important Spanish paintings in history and the universal painting ‘Las Meninas’ [Figure 3]. One of my favourite characters is Desamparados, the woman in the painting that appears in the Blasphemous comic “El Arrodillamiento”, which is published in Steam, I think is one of the characters I enjoyed most designing and writing.

Q8: How are you balancing the difficulty of Blasphemous? Will it be more difficulty levels or maybe a New Game+, in the way of Souls game for example?

A8: Yeah, there’s a New Game+ on the way. The balancing in the games is something very difficult to achieve and I think the gameplay designers of Blasphemous have done a tremendous job. Hopefully we can even improve this aspect in future updates with the help of the community.

Q9:  The world of Blasphemous looks a really interesting place to explore. How much focus will be on the exploration and on the search for secrets? Just to have an averaged idea, how big will be the map in terms of hours to be fully explored?

A9: It’s complicated to say. I think we’ve introduced a lot of rooms to explore and secrets to discover with the budget we had. There are players who complete the game after thirty hours and others much earlier.  However, we have plans to add more and more content to the game which we hope players find very satisfying.

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Figure 3: Artwork of the creature inspire by “Las Meninas”

Q10: My obvious last question will be about the future of the game. Are you planning to support the game after lunch, with DLCs for example?

A10: Yes!! We are already working on new game content as well as correcting and improving existing aspects of the game. Blasphemous has just started!

Final Remarks:

I would like to thank the Game Kitchen, especially Mauricio Garcia Serrano and Enrique Cabeza, for the great opportunity and for their interesting answers. As probably many other fans, I am also curious to discover what monstrosities will be lurking in the future DLCs. I want just to remember that Blasphemous is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and also STEAM.