Over the summer, the developers behind the (tragically overlooked!) Dark Souls/Castlevania mashup Blasphemous announced the details of their upcoming downloadable content. It hit all the usual bullet points for an add-on like this: new areas to explore, more bosses to fight, yada yada. But by far, the biggest and loudest response from players came from the introduction of a dog you could pet and the addition of a Spanish voice over for the game.
"We put a lot of work into the DLC," said Blasphemous game designer Maikel Ortega. "There's a lot of stuff there. We made a lot of stuff. We created different bosses, enemies, areas. They didn't care. They care about the dog and the voice over. [laughs]"
Blasphemous, a challenging action game about a world devastated by an act called The Miracle, was developed by a small team called The Game Kitchen in Seville, Spain. It's a game that proudly wears its local culture as an influence. You fight on bridges plucked from Spanish architecture, and you encounter religious iconography drawn from Spanish history.
It is a profoundly Spanish game, through and through. And yet, when Blasphemous was released in 2019, all the characters spoke English. It's a game that only looked Spanish.
"When we were in the final months of delivering the vanilla version of Blasphemous, we got out of money," said Blasphemous producer and The Game Kitchen CEO Mauricio García. "It's just plain and simple. The game grew much bigger than we were ready to handle."
The Game Kitchen's previous release, The Last Door, was an episodic horror adventure. It was also excellent and overlooked, but crucially, a much more manageable game to build.
As García was trying to get Blasphemous out the door without bankrupting the studio, it became clear one of the things they wanted to—release the game in both English and Spanish—was just not going to happen. At the very least, they wouldn't be able to do it well.
"The English version was the right commercial choice to make back then," said García.
Blasphemous went on to become a quiet hit, but the lack of Spanish voices did not go unnoticed by its hardcore fans, especially those who recognized the game's influences.
"Some players understood [why]," said García, "but some older Spanish players, they…I don't want to say that they got angry, but…"
"They were really mad!" interjected Ortega. "They wanted to kill us. [laughs]"
The idea of "representation" comes in many forms, and for some Spanish fans, Blasphemous was a source of pride. They finally saw their world in video game form. The Game Kitchen understood this dynamic because Blasphemous wouldn't be "Blasphemous" without it. Early in development, The Game Kitchen knew it wanted to make an action platformer. Adding Metroid flavoring came quickly, but the game looked inescapably generic.
The a-ha moment came when an artist combined the silhouette of a warrior with the silhouette of a traditional Spanish religious tunic. The mashup sparked their imaginations and created what became the main character in Blasphemous, known as The Penitent One.
"We noticed that there was something there," said García, "that no one has really exploited our cultural background to create dark fantasy."
This began a large research project for the whole company. You might know history is all around you, but if asked, how much could you really say about that church down the street? They started organizing toursting expeditions as a group—often at night, in order to create a sense of heightened anxiety, because they were making a game of monsters and demons.
"Growing up here," said Ortega, "we just don't realize how rich our own culture is because we don't usually see it represented in media. When you see a medieval game or Japanese samurai game or things like that, you're used to seeing that. But once you start thinking, 'OK, what could our version be? What can we mix with this?' Things just started to come from it."
Once Spanish fans realized The Game Kitchen had been pulling from the world around them, their social media accounts started getting spammed with people pitching their local bridges, statues, and even folklore to be the basis for the game's future bosses and areas.
"There was a float somewhere," said Ortega, "and there was a religious icon just going through the street with the water, and they were just tweeting us, 'hey, your new boss, the new boss for Blasphemous! Use this!' They're getting interested in that kind of culture now because of the game, which is really good."
Blasphemous ended up striking a cord and was successful enough that The Game Kitchen started thinking about what they would add as downloadable content. At the top of the list was a Spanish voice over, a chance to bring the game full circle. It was not a sound business decision, necessarily; the Spanish audience was and is comparably tiny. But it felt right.
"It wasn't something we could leave undone," said Ortega.
The reason I stumbled upon this story was because of someone pointing me towards a reddit post where a Spanish Blasphemous fan explained why the voice over was noteworthy.
"Im [sic] a fellow spaniard Disciple and I wanted to write this in order for you, non-spanish Disciples," said reddit user Efore, "to understand how good is the new spanish voiceover, and why is such an [sic] big step for Spain, culturally speaking."
The game's Spanish voice over was overseen by Blasphemous designer Enrique Colinet, who's a voice actor in their spare time. This means Colinet also knows a lot of voice actors.
A huge part of why Blasphemous sounds so good in Spanish is because it features top-of-the-line voice actors from the region. We're not just talking about the actors normally called upon for big budget video games, but the Spanish voice of Tom Holland in Marvel's Spider-Man films, the voice of Anna in Frozen, and the voice of Russell Crowe in Gladiator.
It wasn't just the talent, though. Colinet was in the room to give the actors direction on how to read and interpret their lines, which is rare for non-English voice tracks. Both Ortega and García pointed to the way the video game industry has , in the past, treated the Spanish language as one it could ignore, either by allowing poor voice tracks to be attached to their games that detracted from the experience, or more commonly, ignoring Spanish completely.
"Here in Spain, games in the PlayStation era, some of the games, it came with a voiceover, but just a small set of them," said Ortega. "And they were really successful here. It was really important—Metal Gear Solid is one of the most famous here in Spain because of that."
The voice of Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid is, not coincidentally, a voice in Blasphemous.
While recording, Colinet would send clips to the team. Ortega kept forwarding them to his parents, because it was surreal to hear Spanish Russell Crowe in the game he worked on.
The process was also an opportunity for The Game Kitchen to make Blasphemous more accurate to its original creative vision. The game's script was originally written in Spanish, translated into English, and then voiced in English. Nuance can get lost along the way.
"The [original] writing is not actually old Spanish, but it has that oldest flavor to it," said Ortega. "And old Spanish has nothing to do with old English. It's way different, right? Older Spanish is more blunt and simple, even. It was the language from the villages and stuff. It doesn't translate well to English."
These differences in language construction made for stark creative decisions at times.
"We had this boss giving a speech before the fight, and her speech in English is way longer than in Spanish because it wasn't actually translated," said Ortega. "It was rewritten as a Shakespearian kind of speech. The mood is not the same, but in English, there was no way to actually translate that correctly, so we took a different decision."
The result is a Blasphemous more true to itself in 2020 than when it was released in 2019.
The Game Kitchen hopes its future games all ship with Spanish voice overs on day one, but as with Blasphemous, that'll depend on something pretty important: money. But the studio has learned a lot from making Blasphemous, and maybe that'll result in a smoother process.
"I think it was the right thing to do," said Ortega. "In the future for sure, we'll think about that. We don't know which kind of project it will be, it depends. Maybe people don't talk? But if they do, it will probably be in a Spanish accent."