Several years ago my friend and I were playing through Dark Souls, our wits tied to no end, when I turned to him and said something on the lines of: “You know what would be absolutely rad? A Dark Souls with muskets.” With little provocation, and a stellar idea, we spent that entire night coming up with ways this could work.
Needless to say, when From Software announced Bloodborne, I went catatonic, prepared to buy a PS4 exclusively for this release. I was anxiously awaiting the moment I could go out and get my copy after it released March 24th of this year, unable to reach a store until four days later.
The hype was real, the fans were happy, and a new wave of Souls-like masochists sprouted from the fertile ground of the current-gen consoles. As soon as my game case passed over the counter, I pried it open with the utmost care, taking a whiff of the new-game smell. If it was anything like I had hoped, I was in for another wild ride.
Bloodborne is a fantasy RPG developed by From Software and published by Bandai Namco. It follows the Souls’ style of gameplay with a few unique elements, but mostly focuses on difficulty and grinding to present a hardcore challenge to all gamers. The setting – where all previous games had been a medieval fantasy-extinction – is a dystopian city with Victorian architecture and heavy Lovecraftian influences, much of which will hopefully be covered in more detail in the following few months by my favourite lore speculators Vaati and DaveControl.
Blood, disease, and insanity are the chapters of my tale, an eldritch story for only the most daring of individuals.
Chapter 1 – Bless us With Blood
I stepped into Yharnam as an entrepreneur, ex-soldier to a distant land, and current stranger to a vertiginous city. The locals were unfettered by logic, judgement, and social standards, their make-shift weaponry clashed with my elite hunter attire to little avail.
With the depletion of my health I found I could steal the blood of others, and what a show that was. Blood rained down upon the ground, my cloak, and doused the enemies in sanguine ichor. Blood was everywhere to be had, worn like a cloak to a date with death.
Many different items were that of blood such as vials used to heal, petrified blood used to upgrade weaponry, and clumps of gelatinous blood used in fortifying my resolve or in various rituals. I was caught in a mire I didn’t fully understand.
Blood was so important that you collected it from fallen enemies and used it to level up, much like the souls in Dark Souls. This time, however, if you died carrying blood, an enemy would absorb it making them relatively more difficult as your only liquid currency was now on the line, waiting for you to either recover it from their slain corpse or die to them again and lose that blood forever.
My stubborness succeeded my patience when I lost it to more difficult bosses, dissuaded from using my healing items in the fight and wasting them upon death. It was a treacherous way to learn, but when I had used all my blood vials I was forced to go grind an inhabited sector of the city for my precious healing items.
Consider this a very big crutch under the arm of progress. I walked when I should have ran, but the only thing stopping me was the manufactured need for replenishable health, something I was not used to stocking up on (see Dark Souls). As it turns out, every boss in the game became 90% easier with twenty (max) blood vials, also something I was not used to.
Movements were fast, unnaturally so. This made for a good challenge when facing NPCs who dodged as much as I did, carried the weapons that I had, and had the audacity to wear my clothes. They showed a capacity I had not seen before, but also a capacity I recognized all too well.
Trick weapons were the main weapons of choice, right-handed sticks of steel that transformed from one weapon to another with the flick of a button or the seal of a sword in sheath. Weapons weren’t very rife, but amongst them several favourites could be found. Guns from blunderbusses to cannons could be found, chucking hot lead into the faces of enemies, parrying and riposting them in two simple moves.
The amount of weapons offered little variation with narrow skills as even the strong
movesets were faster than most enemies, one of which I lovingly dubbed “Mister Bricks”. There was Strength, Skill (dexterity), Bloodtinge (guns), and Arcane, all of which seemed interchangeable at a moments notice. There were benefits to be gained from skill-dumping levels into one path, and several playthroughs down the line would assure this.
Upon my path I found that I could use lanterns to return to a central hub known as “The Hunter’s Dream”. Every time you used a lantern you would be ported to the eponymous dream without being allowed to sit at the lantern, so let me take a moment to defend this purpose. First and foremost, for those who may not know, the dream is a place where one will be restored to full health, can level up, shop, upgrade, and hangout with relative peace and quiet from the terrifying world above.
Long loading screens aside, The Hunter’s Dream changes with the story, often new dialogue or events escalating as the hunt progresses. By automatically redirecting you to this euphoric oasis, one has a moment to reassess the situation, restock supplies, and remember to do tasks otherwise forgotten. This becomes especially important in key parts of the story and is done in part to diminish confusion no matter how inconvenient.
Chapter 2 – The Eldritch Epidemic
Yharnam grew on me as soon as I stepped foot inside, but one thing is for certain: there was much less than I expected, and much more to be had. The complexity of the compact city reflected its inhabitants, helping me to actualize myself as a hunter, dodging crowds of sentient villagers, tearing apart hordes of virulent beasts, and dueling witches on the edges of cliffs.
The sheer beauty of it all was one to acknowledge, taking a moment to stand still and watch the lurid moon play tricks upon the exalted spires and monolithic towers. I felt like an ant under the lead boot of a feverish omnipotence, but I enjoyed every second of it.
The enemies were much more creative than they ever could be, sporting design and care for what they lacked in movesets, however, solace could be found in the throes of the Chalice dungeons. These randomized, seeded pits of despair were a curious respite from the main story, a contradictory haven where one felt like a true dungeon-crawler, wading through enemies in order to demolish the decrepit hosts.
Giant beast, denizens who played on my futility were not hard to get to in the Chalice dungeons, and within the world above it seemed the more difficult it was to go from lantern to boss correlated negatively to how difficult the boss itself was.
Several times I met enemies who endowed me with a status effect known as “Frenzy”, a superlative effect that ravaged one’s health until blood shot out every orifice. Spikes in challenge, like the Frenzy enemies, were discordant in some respects, eschewing meticulous design for operative convenience, but the curve was met with enthusiasm and dread, all the same.
The world was constructed in a way not dissimilar to Dark Souls in a vehemently labyrinthian way. In some cases I could feel my stomach churning as I slipped past enemies undetected with new stealth options, only to run into a fight I could have never planned for. Trying and trying again was the only solution, finding new ways to circumvent tougher enemies, dispose of the annoying ones, and ultimately tread the paths least traveled, for down these paths a darkness coiled in listless slumber.
Chapter 3 – Fear
You can consume skulls found around the world known as “Madman’s Knowledge”. Without saying too much, it allows you to gain insight into the world around you, opening figurative locks within your perception, often evoking both subtle and conspicuous changes in the world around you. Even looking upon certain beasts and bosses, areas and events, all can give you insight into the cruelties of your host city, Yharnam.
I said earlier that Bloodborne descends from Lovecraftian roots, and it is this descent that is the most incredible Lovecraftian experience I’ve had outside reading his work directly. Abominations surround you, voices beckon you or shriek in terror when you consume more Madman’s Knowledge, and the enemies you fight become more ferocious, products of your mind dissolving.
There were several moments within Yharnam where I felt like a paranormal investigator working for the university in one of Lovecraft’s books. I was finding ancient runes, creatures of incomprehension, and watching lost souls creep into the clutches of madness.
Bram Stoker’s influence made an appearance as well, briefly shadowing a Dracula (minus the vampires) sub-plot over my head as well as several occurrences of unnatural behavior in the city’s surrounding areas. Hamlets shrouded in woods filled to the brim with witch-like folk and cobbling feral lunacy, demonic creatures in the woods preying on the lost adventurer I felt I had become, and Damocles reminding me that my next step of avarice could mean my death and several levels of experience lost.
At least two times I can recall I had felt true and absolute terror preluding abject afterthoughts. Many times I had to go and meditate in The Hunter’s Dream for several minutes, adrenaline tearing laps through my veins, remembering the sanctity of my Hunter’s head space.
At least one of those intense moments was caused by a stray NPC.
It was this thrilling and trying journey, a resolution compounded by complete disregard for my comprehension of the story, and a sinister undertone echoing in my head many hours after the PS4 had been turned off, all combined into a journey that may never end.
I wanted to go back, seeking the ins and outs of a world that lifted not a single finger to captivate me. So, with a fashionable walking stick, a gun in my hand, and a lantern at my side, I started anew.
Yharnam could never be so blessed.