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Bloodborne

Developer: FromSoftware Publisher: SCE
24 March 2015
Bloodborne - cover art
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2,453 Ratings / 9 Reviews
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Bloodborne takes place in Yharnam - an eerie, Gothic, and ruined city which is rumored to house a mysterious remedy that cures the various afflictions of the townsfolk and travelers who make their way there. You take control of one of these travelers who, upon arrival, discovers that the city has been plagued by a disease related to the so-called "miracle cure" which has turned a lot of its people into horrifying creatures simply known as "beasts." In exchange for a cure for your own disease, you agree to become a hunter of these beasts and subsequently become connected to the strange, nightmarish world. The only way out is to stop the beastly scourge. Are you prepared to hunt your nightmares?
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Bloodborne follows the player character, a Hunter who must halt the spreading scourge of beasts - former inhabitants of the decrepit, ruined city of Yharnam inflicted with a mysterious blood-borne disease. In his attempt to discover the source of the plague, the Hunter slowly unravels the truth about the city, its morbid history, as well as his own predicament.
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After playing the latest Souls game I thought I’d share some of my thoughts as a fan of the previous games experiencing the new one, and what I thought of Bloodborne generally as well as what it does differently. I don’t have much of a goal with this, I’m just getting my thoughts down.

The way the beginning of the game plays out is interesting. Most players, I assume, get killed by the wolf on their first playthrough, either because they’re not good or patient enough to kill it with their bare fists (and the tiny amount of damage they deal), or because they didn’t realise they could run past it. Dying here, however, sends the player to the hunter’s dream, a location that will become central in the player’s experience and in the world as it serves as the location the player will do many essential things, such as levelling up, configuring weapon upgrades, buying items with sou-excuse me, blood echoes, applying runes, etc. Now, the way the player is sent here is worth discussion: immediately, the hunter’s dream feels like a place of refuge: it provides the player with their first weapons and there’s no threats for the player, in stark contrast to the angry beastie which just tore you apart pretty effortlessly.

The player discovers that from here, they can warp back to the main world, creating a distinction between the safety of the hunter’s dream and the main world. It’s a nice way of getting the player to understand something without being too intrusive about it, but at the same time the encounter with the werewolf feels kinda cheap. Sure, it’s doable without weapons but it feels very much like it was a time that you ‘should’ve died’, which always breaks the experience. The player can bypass having to die by getting to the first lantern without weapons and warping there legitimately, but I doubt many players at all did this on their first run of the game. Still, it goes to making the whole scenario seem like a better choice. One last point is that this seems to attempt to teach the player or at least imply that, upon death, the player goes back to the Hunter’s Dream and can warp back to the main world to get their souls back, despite this not being the case. The player, after every other death in the game, respawn outside the last lantern they used or warped to.
In any case, with one of the three weapons acquired from the hunter’s dream, the player can return to the werewolf and ruin his day. The combat in bloodborne is faster, with most trick weapons having a ‘fast’ variant to their moveset, the player’s dodges and evasive manoeuvres always being speedy and using less stamina (which regenerates faster anyway) than previous souls games, with enemies being much easier to stagger and with the ‘rally’ mechanic.

The rally mechanic allows a portion of lost health to be regained during battle with every successful attack the player makes provided too long hasn’t passed since the player has taken damage. It incentivises the player to get stuck in and not to hold back if they’re taken damage, and provides an alternative to staying back and using your limited healing items. Make no mistake, however: the player must be as careful and attentive to attack patterns and must do their best not to get greedy or to overstretch as in previous games: the poise mechanic has been removed, as have shields (for the most part: a pretty useless one remains that can be found later in the game and the gameplay isn’t built around it). Instead of being able to hide behind some metal (or as with previous souls games a LOT of metal in many cases) the player’s left hand holds a firearm, which is one of the more interesting facets of bloodborne’s combat.

Firearms act somewhat counterintuitively in bloodborne; instead of being a way to do good damage at range like you’d expect, they do pitiful damage and are mainly used as a replacement for previous games’ parry system, interrupting many enemy attacks with good timing to stun them and allow for a high-damage riposte attack, called a ‘visceral’ this time around. It’s a system that certainly works; combat is tenser knowing that you can’t just hold L1 and be safe, but have the choice between making a relatively safe getaway with a dodge, getting you out of the action or can make a riskier but rewarding attempt at a parry, guaranteeing a ton of damage. Parries are consistent for the most part, although with a few bosses it’s a trial and error affair to find out which, if any, attacks can be parried.

My main gripe is that this just doesn’t really feel very intuitive and doesn’t really get taught to the player very well. It just doesn’t really make a lot of sense; Dark Souls’s parry, for instance, had an animation that was generally representative to what it did: I pressed the parry button the first time and instantly knew the general idea of what that function did. I doubt a new player in Bloodborne could understand just from the shooting animation what it did. I’m sure everyone who played previous games worked out that firearms were used for parries, but I’m not sure it was that simple for new players.

Additionally, now that one can parry from a distance thanks to a firearm’s range, the very short cooldown on firing a ranged weapon can be used to spam parries over and over, reducing an encounter to a trivial matter of backing away and repeatedly shooting until you score a parry due to luck rather than getting the timing down. This is a problem with the mechanics of firearms, and even with a limited ammo pool, the lack of a necessity to parry regular enemies and their low health pools and due to most damage being done through melee, the player will often only use their bullets on harder mobs and encounters and so they’ll almost always have plenty of bullets to use on an encounter they’ll be likely to cheese in this way. It feels dirty and WRONG so I personally don’t do it, but any encounter’s tenseness and atmosphere is always worsened by the thought that I could backhop a couple of paces and spam parries and trivialise the encounter. Doing this can be stupidly effective against a couple of bosses, too, which is the worst part. Granted, mindlessly spamming parries isn’t as efficient as properly parrying and won’t do as much damage to an enemy and the player will probably run out of bullets before the boss is dead, but it’s still a big problem. If there were some kind of reload timer I think guns would’ve been better. Perhaps the reload penalty could’ve been removed when a parry was successful to reward a player’s skill.

As for healing in combat, even alongside rallying back health from fighting the player can hold a slightly ridiculous twenty blood vials, each healing a bit less than half of the player’s maximum health, and each taking a very short amount of time to use. To balance this, I suppose, the ‘estus’ system of a limited number of healing items at a time that regenerate when you hit a checkpoint has been replaced with a strictly consumable system, in which blood vials don’t automatically regenerate and must be either bought with blood echoes or found in the environment, be it from enemies or in pre-set locations. This has to be one of my least favourite parts of bloodborne; if the player hits a bad spot and dies a lot, they’ll be forced to mindlessly kill basic enemies for either souls of blood vials directly to have another reasonable shot at the area they’re currently stuck on. This really sucks a player out of the experience, and I have no idea why an estus-esque system wasn’t implemented. I suppose there’s an element of tenseness and gravity knowing that you really ought to make it to the next checkpoint because you haven’t got enough healing items for another try would be a good thing, but it’s not worth what happens if a player then DOESN’T make it to the next checkpoint, which is a boring, frustrating grind. It doesn’t help that blood vials become pretty pricey, scaling in price with how much progress you’ve made. Personally I’ve only found myself in this situation once, but I can only imagine the response of someone who had more trouble with the game.

With further regards to combat, I ended up really enjoying trick weapons. On first glance they looked a bit gimmicky, and certain weapons suffer from having only one decent form. However, it’s nice to transition from moveset to moveset smoothly as and when the situation demands, and these transitions are well animated and don’t feel clunky. You can transform mid-combo, which is a nice touch and expands a weapon’s moveset, but can be a tad annoying. If you press the transform button after a dodge you’ll do an attack rather than transforming, which messes up your movement and can be the difference between life and death. It’s a small complaint and overall it’s a good system. I was slightly miffed that the button to transform wasn’t y, which, as a returning Souls games fan made me waste a healing item every now and then when I was trying to transform my weapon. I understand the thinking behind having a dedicated healing button separate to a regular item button, but it’s annoying nonetheless. They could’ve mapped it to l1! It’s a change that makes no difference to new players and only stands to irritate new players. A minor complaint, but who would I be if I didn’t make it? A fraud.

Upgrading weapons has become a generally much more simple experience, with the player not having to bother to locate certain blacksmiths, unique upgrade materials and find unique embers or anything to upgrade weapons. There’s only one main upgrade path, and all weapons use the same type of resource to upgrade, though as with previous games there are different tiers of this resource that must be used to reach different milestones. This has mixed effects: there’s less to do in the game world and you won’t be revisiting certain locations as much, which is a good and a bad thing. There was something nice about revisiting certain blacksmiths in dark souls 1, and the different things you’d have to do on a different kind of runthrough in dark souls helped make different characters feel different and unique. That said, it was a bit of a pain, too, and having it streamlined removes a grindy, repetitive element of dark souls 1 that arguably held back the game as much as it bolstered it. In Bloodborne, there’s a nice element of being able to find a weapon and knowing exactly how you can upgrade it; you know exactly how to upgrade a weapon if you find one that you like.

To further upgrade your weapon, though, the player can apply ‘blood gems’ to their weapons, which offer different bonuses depending on their nature. These gems can be found in the game world like any other item, and come in different shapes, which broadly classify what kinds of effects they have. Weapons are made more unique by the shape of their three slots; some may have room for more gems with arcane-based effects, whilst another may have more slots to hold gems with conventional damage boosting effects. Gems come in different tiers, too, with better effects coming from better gems. The best gems with the best bonuses come with downsides and are very rare; they are mostly found in chalice dungeons (more on these later) and require extensive farming to get, let alone with the least damaging downside. This isn’t a massive problem for the most part because the player can get by more than well enough with the basic blood gems he or she will find along the way, but it has implications for the PvP aspect of the game. It makes reaching the optimal level of play time consuming and unenjoyable, but I suppose the souls games have never been about ‘fairness’ when it comes to the online aspect, but the fact that invading another player’s world has become mechanically harder makes me wonder why this huge potential advantage in online play has been locked behind a grindwall.

The option to upgrade armour has been removed entirely, which is something that I feel less ambiguous about: upgrading each individual armour piece was a pain in the arse and didn’t seem to do much anyway in previous games. Now when you wear armour it’s as good as it’s ever going to be. The complaint is often raised that the permanent and costly nature of upgrading armour made you stick with it more often, giving your character a more distinct, focused appearance that stays similar over time in a given runthrough, whilst many of Bloodborne’s armours are similar enough that there’s no real downside to just wearing what you think looks the best. In fact, the lack of an upgrade system on apparel means that if you find some new cool armour that you like you can stick it on with no reservations. I think this is actually an improvement to identification with your character; looking how you want to rather than just having the highest numbers possible, at least for me, allowed me to invest more in the player character.

Whilst I’m talking about general changes from Dark Souls, I’ve got to say I’m not a fan of the new lantern system, laterns here being one of the few changes of Souls mechanics (bonfires) that don’t have the word ‘blood’ in them. I’m not that concerned about the hunter’s dream replacing most bonfire functions such as levelling up per se; it gives the section a safe feeling and makes the game world feel much more dangerous in comparison, and you can really feel this. Warping back ‘home’ after finding a new lantern feels rewarding and comfortable. The main problems come when you want to warp straight to another area of the game world rather than the hunter’s dream beforehand, which happens a fair bit. This coupled with pretty long loading times (and this is post-patch: I hear that Bloodborne had even LONGER loading screens beforehand) can really kill the game at times. Also, to replenish your healing items you have to warp to the hunter’s dream, which takes a while and was almost instant in Dark souls where you could just sit at a bonfire. The alternative in Bloodborne is to roll yourself off of the nearest cliff to the lantern you respawn at, regenerating your supply of blood vials (provided you have enough in storage) when you respawn. It’s sad that this is more efficient and quicker, and it’s irritating that this obvious problem wasn’t fixed.

Finally, it’s a nice feature that the player’s bloodstain, containing all the echoes they lose when they die, can be located on an enemy. Sometimes it’s not obvious when certain enemies absorb the bloodstain and sometimes enemies quite far from where you died will have absorbed your bloodstain will absorb it making it a pain to find, on the most part it works well and gives the act of retrieving your souls more weight. The enemy that absorbs the player’s echoes isn’t the one that kills them per se, it’s just a nearby enemy. Tough enemies normally leave the bloodstain alone, so that the whole procedure doesn’t make the game too hard and doesn’t discourage the player from facing harder mobs unnecessarily.

A questionable decision of the early game is locking away the ‘doll’ character and the ability to level up that she offers until the player gets one point of insight. There’s no way for the player to know that this is required to level up or that it will bring the doll back to life, and it feels a bit cheap, especially because it takes a good amount of trekking through the game world or facing off against a boss to find some insight in the first place, and in the latter example it’s questionable whether most players will notice they’ve picked up any insight as it’s a pretty subtle affair. The player then has to go back to the hunter’s dream to find that they doll’s alive now, which is a bit convoluted. Luckily insight isn’t lost like humanity was in Dark Souls so if the player dies a lot and loses their echoes before deciding to wander back into the hunter’s dream they won’t have missed the chance to level up. It’s a strange decision and I’m really not sure anything would’ve been lost if the doll was alive from the get-go other than potentially some insight (in the normal sense just to be confusing) into the nature of the doll and the nature of insight itself and how it changes the world.

Teaching the player that insight fundamentally changes the game world would’ve probably been an invaluable lesson if insight fundamentally changed the world, but it doesn’t. Bloodborne teases the player with the idea that slowly acquiring more eldritch knowledge will make them see more and more of Yharnam’s secrets and make the whole experience completely different, but this just doesn’t happen. I can’t shake the feeling that insight was intended to do much more in Bloodborne; as it is, insight feels like an alternative currency with a shallow gimmick rather than a core enhancement to the game world. Allow me to elaborate: insight’s primary use is to be spent on rarer consumables such as item upgrade materials and temporary weapon buffs.

It’s contrary to the nature of what insight is in the lore/universe: the unspeakable knowledge and understanding of the world’s eldritch truth, for its best application to be just spending it like it’s burning holes in the player’s cape-pockets. And it really is, at least in gameplay terms; several of the player’s parameters are negatively affected by possessing too much insight. This would’ve all been fair enough and an added level of dynamics and self-imposed challenge if there was a real payoff for having lots of insight rather than spending it; after all, it makes sense that having knowledge of the eldritch truth would be beneficial in some way. Instead, however, the player gets to hear a baby cry every now and then, gets to see some invisible amygdalae clinging to a wall (which become visible regardless of insight anyway later in the game and which serves very little practical use to the player), your ‘frenzy’ meter fills up faster (more on this later) and a couple of enemies have different attacks. That’s it. Insight and its implementation have to be my least favourite part of Bloodborne: it stinks of wasted potential. Despite its nature, there’s no permanent use for insight and as such it becomes a fleeting, cheap resource that a player can almost ignore and still fully enjoy the game.

This brings me on to my next point about Bloodborne and it’s that the contrast between the eldritch insight and the beastly blood that the narrative attempts to push just isn’t reflected in the gameplay; the only time the player feels this is when their maximum ‘beast’ gauge, a gauge reflecting how high their level of beasthood can go when they use a relatively obscure item that basically boosts your damage based on the speed you’re inflicting it, the blood beast pellet. It’s one of what you’d expect to be many touches designed to reflect the idea of beast versus kin, but that’s it. The player can swim in blood and insight all they want and there’s no problem, rubbing madman’s knowleges and blood vials all over their bodies like so much Sainsbury’s own brand baby oil.

Reading back a bit I’ve been pretty harsh about the game, so I should probably mention that there’s times where the level designs are top notch. The early game for example has some fantastic level design, and the interconnected areas all link up nicely and reward exploration. The player will also quickly encounter roaming enemies which are a great addition; enemies just kinda standing there always looked a bit silly, but now they patrol around almost looking for the player. It makes the world feel hostile, dangerous and scary and dynamic. I’d like to see even more of this, to be honest, as in later areas this kind of stuff didn’t happen so much. It keeps the player on their toes and the experience alive. On average I think Bloodborne had even better level design than Dark Souls, in which the verticality of the level design dropped off wheras in Bloodborne it remains consistent even if the interconnectedness of the various areas as a whole fades as the game progresses. I must say that I was surprised that this aspect was so tight; when I saw that warping from lantern to lantern was available from the beginning of the game I thought the game’s interconnected nature would suffer, but it’s one of the things it does best. There’s a great moment when a midgame area links back to the starting lantern and it blows your mind.

Bloodborne relies on lots of shortcuts being opened in the game world to effectively act as checkpoints rather than additional lanterns, keeping up the significance of lanterns and making levels loop around themselves interestingly, facilitating exploration and making the experience feel nice and cohesive. How these shortcuts are unlocked are generally through gates and lifts (elevators, yanks) which feel in-place in Yharnam’s almost steampunky, steel environment. I can’t think of any shortcuts whose form felt forced just so that there could be a shortcut, and this logical world design keeps you rooted in the experience and facilitates the environmental storytelling Bloodborne does well. The exception that proves the rule is probably the magical lift in the nightmare realm which feels a bit forced.

Cathedral Ward, the second main area of the game and where the game branches out a bit, has a couple of issues I want to talk about. For one, it eventually plays hosts to one of the things Bloodborne does that it doesn’t take far enough and would’ve really helped develop and make more dynamic the game world which is so important to Bloodborne. After killing the Blood Starved Beast boss, the enemy layout changes to include new, tougher enemies wielding comfortable hammocks. This plays on your expectations and makes seeing the first bag guy a scary, memorable experience and makes the horror of these guys coming to find you and scouring the game world stand out that bit more, especially considering the unchanging nature of enemy placements in previous games. It also makes the game world feels less static and more like enemies are constantly on the move and awakening as the night goes on. It was a great inclusion for me, and it’s a shame this doesn’t happen more. The bag guys also eventually disappear and in certain areas can be found dead, making the world feel even more alive and continuously evolving around its pre-existing conflicts rather than revolving simply around the player and it helps the immersion significantly.

There’s a single door in Bloodborne whose opening is probably the worst example of world design in Bloodborne, and I hate it. It’s the door to the right of the cathedral ward bonfire which is inexplicably closed until you beat BSB, when it just opens. No information is ever presented to the player that suggests the door’s opening is even linked to killing the beast before or after killing it or even after going through the bloody door. It opens just because it opens, and that’s rare in a Souls game and all the more experience-shattering. The player doesn’t know to go to that door after BSB is defeated, and when/if they do eventually go through it they do find out why it is the game world reacted like it did. They’re left to assume the truth: that it just happened because it’s a video game. It’s against what the level and world design in Bloodborne and Souls games are all about, and SOME PEOPLE have suggested that such abysmal design is representative of or commonplace in Souls games. If that were the case I certainly wouldn't call myself a Souls fan, and I don’t see who would if they truly believed that. It’s made a tad better knowing that the area of the game it leads to is, strictly speaking optional, but still. (Don’t report me Kenway :3)

I’d like to take a moment just to talk about the decidedly more horror based direction of Bloodborne when compared to other Souls games. Bloodborne is one of the few games where I’ve felt the most distressed and horrified during the core gameplay and during fights rather than from jumpscares and the atmosphere leading up to confrontations. I think the massive penalty for death, risky but speedy combat, lack of blocking and fantastic enemy design are probably to thank for this. Bloodborne’s Lovecraftian inspirations (in a touch of genius hidden under a traditional Victorian werewolf horror façade) may not mesh as well with the core gameplay as Dark Souls’ temporally-challenged cyclical mythology, but it fits well regardless. Watching traditional beasties slowly turn into tentacle-riddled monsters really feels like uncovering a mystery, especially combined with how little story the player is handed. It feels like a cult the player is uncovering through themselves through the game’s strong indirect storytelling. It might’ve been even better if insight wasn’t a complete failure. That said, I think Bloodborne sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard to push the blood theme. Adding ‘blood’ as a prefix to nearly everything seems silly and a tad juvenile, especially when items like ‘blood rocks’ are thinly veiled video gamey upgrade items where other consumables really seem like an essential part of the game world from their good design and descriptions. Actually, even the ‘blood echoes’ seem forced, and don’t seem as essential a part of the game world as Souls were in the Souls franchise. The player character getting covered in an obscene amount of blood from extended combat, especially during combat, somehow manages to work, though. It’s a cool moment when you realise after a particularly tough or lengthy confrontation that you’ve been painted crimson.

I should probably talk about chalice dungeons, then. Chalice dungeons are randomly generated optional areas that can be ‘created’ with various items found in-game and with blood echoes. They’re not connected to the main game world, and feature the same general design, each consisting of several ‘segments’. Each segment contains of a lantern at the beginning, randomly connected rooms filled to the brim with different enemies, many exclusive to these chalice dungeons. In one of these rooms is a lever which opens a gate leading to a bossfight, which in turn leads to the next segment. This goes on until the final boss fight of a dungeon, which drops the item needed to create the next chalice dungeon, or, if it’s the last boss in a series of dungeons, a semi-rare item.
Chalice dungeons are bad. Sure, they offer a lot of content; a stupidly high number of combinations of enemies offer very little replayability in comparison to genuinely well-crafted areas with unique direction. Every chalice dungeon looks very similar, with vague motifs in the form of glorified image filters placed over the same, repetitive rooms serving to differentiate the different flavours of chalice dungeons. Once you’ve seen one or two dungeons and experienced every type of ‘room’, you’ve pretty much seen them all. To increase the challenge in some dungeons, the player’s maximum health is halved, which I don’t actually mind per se. Enemies for the most part in these dungeons aren’t as challenging as they could be, keeping the situation tense whilst not being unfair. The ball is dropped when it comes to certain boss battles with this modifier applied, though, which becomes battles of attrition which often cross the line into frustrating territory.
It’s bad, then, that lore-important unique, often fun bosses, enemies and items are trapped in these inherently half-assed procedurally generated dungeons. I won’t go into details on which ones in particular, but I can only imagine how the game would’ve been if these overly long, quickly bland grind dungeons were replaced with a shorter but well-made area on par with the rest of the game containing these unique enemies. Alas.
That’s pretty much all I have to say. It’s a game I really enjoyed, but I can’t help feeling it could’ve been much, much better and even surpassed Dag Sol Uno.
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Diiny 2016-04-02T20:47:58Z
2016-04-02T20:47:58Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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Dracula: What is a man?
Hidetaka Miyazaki: Man is a rope stretched between beasthood and cosmos.
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around 2017-12-20T18:58:01Z
2017-12-20T18:58:01Z
10 /10
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Prime Rib
This game really tickles the ribs. Then yanks them out and beats you to death with them. It's a great experience; highly recommended.

In this game, you are a person who has been injected with strange blood for an unknown reason and is now trapped in a place called the Hunter's Dream, forced to fight beasts and find answers. Bloodborne is the latest Souls game, and like the previous non-DS2 games, I loved it. It has awesome enemy designs, really cool weapons, exciting combat, and the sense of risk and reward that drives the series. The game also has tightly designed maps that work well with its fantastic artistic direction and create a compelling world. The only major issues I have with the game (farming supplies takes way too long and build options are more limited than in previous entries) feel minor considering how much I have loved playing Bloodborne this year. The DLC, The Old Hunters, adds some worthy new content as well. All that said, I feel like the Souls series is running its course and it's a good thing Miyazaki plans to end things after the next one. Too much of a good thing can be a negative if the quality doesn't stay up. I find myself with little else to say--I just don't have much to harp on with this one. I was sure it was going to be my game of the year 2015 back when I first played it, and in the end I only enjoyed Undertale more.
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jsh357 2016-04-02T20:47:17Z
2016-04-02T20:47:17Z
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Adapting and interpreting the works of H.P. Lovecraft is very hard to do. The subgenre of cosmic horror has been present in art and entertainment for well over a century now, but it doesn’t seem like too many people have a grasp on what it is. Cosmic horror is commonly defined as the “fear of the unknown”, incomprehensible terrors coming to light for mere, mortal beings like us humans. The form of horror comes in framing man’s pitiful, insignificant existence by juxtaposing it with the grand scope of the horrific cosmic forces. It’s more in-depth than just presenting monsters as obstacles for the human protagonists to tackle. Perhaps adapting cosmic horror into other mediums is difficult because it’s difficult to convey in more visual mediums. The existential dread highlighted in the passages of Lovecraft forces the reader to visualize the horror for themselves, causing the reader to experience the feelings of insignificance by proxy. In a visual medium, the terrors are just presented as scary, alien monsters with no context of what they actually are supposed to represent. Lovecraftian horror is more about presentation and direction rather than visuals. There have to be layers of substantial inquietude underneath the eldritch beasts on the surface. The medium of film has always had trouble conveying this because films are shorter than novels and have to present themselves in a more concise manner. They can’t take the same time to develop the grand scale that Lovecraftian horror has. Video games on the other hand are a more visual medium that doesn’t have the same problem. Video games can take the time to establish the Lovecraftian tone and offer a richer experience that more thoroughly reflects the themes in Lovecraft’s works. Lovecraftian horror also tends to be more esoteric and ambiguous by nature, so what better developer to adapt a Lovecraftian video game than FromSoft, the creators of the esoteric and challenging Souls series?

Bloodborne is the fourth game developed by FromSoft since they started branding their own style of action-RPGs starting with Demon’s Souls in 2009. Though it is not part of the Souls series, Bloodborne is so heavily intertwined with the Souls games that the franchise is now referred to as “Soulsborne” to include Bloodborne in the canon of Souls games. That, and Bloodborne is essentially Dark Souls in a different setting with slightly different gameplay mechanics. There is something about Bloodborne that elevates its status from the other FromSoft games besides its aesthetic and technical differences. Bloodborne holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers, myself included. It’s a grand achievement in many aspects. It is arguably the best Souls game there is, it magnificently captures the essence of a Lovecraftian work in a visual medium, and it was the game that restored my hope for the video game industry.

I’ll start the last point with a little bit of context: for a hefty chunk of my life, I was a tad averse to modern triple-A titles. The new industry trends during the seventh generation of gaming like the casual gamer market, the centralized focus of a multiplayer, online experience, and microtransactions left me disenfranchised with modern gaming. When the eighth-generation consoles came out, I was a bit apathetic. I was only interested in games from my childhood, experiencing older games that I missed out on, and modern indie games that either emulated elements from older titles or offered a less streamlined experience. I only bought a Wii U out of the obligation to get the newest Super Smash Bros. In 2016, I got a PS4 for cheap and layed in my room as a dormant paper-weight for about a year and a half. In 2017, I started attending a university and got my own apartment with a roommate who also had a PS4 with about a dozen games. I brought mine up there to sample the titles he had, and one of them was Bloodborne. I knew the Souls games by their reputation and was eager to try one out. My roommate warned me about Bloodborne and its infamously high level of difficulty in a condescending fashion as if all I had played up to that point was Nintendogs or some shit. I confidently ignored his fair warning and ran head-first into my first Souls experience.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly made me fall in love with Bloodborne to the point of renewing my faith in gaming. I remember my first experience with the game involved a fair bit of struggling, but not to the extent of what my roommate thought I was going to experience. The combat wasn’t the initial point of strain as I quickly became comfortable with my weapon and plowed through the corrupted denizens of Yharnam. The control in Bloodborne felt so organic that I acclimated to it very quickly, making it easy to kill the mobs of enemies. I never felt like the combat was extremely inaccessible to the player nor did I get the impression that this game had a steep learning curve. Saying that the combat in this game was “tough, but fair” is a cliche at this point, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it. The combat demands a fair amount of skill and acuity from the player, but not to the point of using difficulty as an unfair novelty to see what the player will endure. Whether the Yharnamites were meeting their end with my blade or tearing me to pieces, I never felt like the game relished in sadistically brutalizing the player. On the other end of the spectrum, Bloodborne never held my hand across Yharnam like a fretting parent. It felt refreshing to experience a modern game with so much organic control that didn’t condescend towards the player’s innate abilities.

It wasn’t until I came across a bridge with two lycanthropes that the difficulty in combat started to affect me. These two beasts were too menacing to deal with in that close of proximity, and I died numerous times attempting to get past them with a fight. It didn’t help that I expected to see another lantern in this level after a long trek through Central Yharnam because I didn’t understand how the layout of a Souls game worked yet. I kept enduring the lengthy path to get here just to die at the monstrous claws of the lycanthropes again and again. After being frustrated with the game, I decided that there must be another way around this obstacle. In doing this, I discovered many brilliant things about Bloodborne’s level design. I found another passageway at the other end of the bridge that was obscured by breakable backdrop objects like coffins and wooden barrels. This took me to a whole other area of Central Yharnam seemingly removed from the path I was taking that led me to the bridge. It wasn’t a dead-end, but a totally different route that took me to the first main boss of the game. I also managed to find an elevator around the bend that took me back to the first lantern at the beginning of the level, a heavy relief after attempting to trek all the way through the level without any respite. In discovering this, I was in awe of the layered design of Central Yharnam. It encourages players to meticulously explore the world and find solutions in places that don’t seem as obvious as the beaten path. The long, arduous expedition of Central Yharnam was rewarded by giving me a shortcut to the spawn point, feeling as if I unraveled the level. It felt much more satisfying than bolting through the level like a race to the finish. The game also presents the player with more than one route when an obstacle becomes too daunting to tackle. All of this is very reminiscent of a Metroidvania-like design philosophy which is one of my favorite methods of game design. It was nice to see that the developers took more from Castlevania than just an aesthetic influence. I was also incredibly impressed that they could execute this concisely in a 3D space, something seldom seen in gaming.

The enemies and bosses in Bloodborne were the icings on a cake that solidified my adoration for this game. In most of the modern triple-A games, I was familiar with at the time, the enemies were carbon copies of one another and bosses were either entirely absent or glaringly obvious to defeat. Nothing in Bloodborne is obvious, including the enemies and the bosses, another aspect that made the game so invigorating. While the game has some standard enemies like the gangly, pitchfork, and machete wielding villagers, each area introduces new ones to keep the players on their toes. These enemies can range in size, power, numbers, etc., and in Dark Souls fashion, the unassuming foes can be as dangerous as the gigantic ones. The bosses in this game are a real treat. The inspiration of HP Lovecraft naturally gives the developers leeway to design some pretty intimidating, eldritch beasts. Some of these bosses proved to be quite a challenge for me, but dying to them did not vex me because each of them was magnificent. I’d sometimes speed through a level just to get at the chance to conquer the next boss.

Since being impressed and enthralled by my initial Bloodborne experience, I have played through every other Soulsborne game (except for Demon’s Souls for a lack of a PS3) and now have the insight to compare Bloodborne to the other FromSoft games. Even though the first Dark Souls is my favorite due to its world design and game progression, Bloodborne is still a very close second favorite for me. I’d still argue that Bloodborne is objectively the best Soulsborne game due to its superior mechanics. It took the principles of Dark Souls and sanded out the rough edges without compromising on the substantial qualities of the series. Bloodborne is in essence a translation of the Souls series. It has the exact same properties as Dark Souls, but all of these have been shifted to fit the gothic foreground of Bloodborne. The change in setting is an obvious shift from the middle-ages inspired Dark Souls, but plenty of other aspects have been shifted to make Bloodborne discernible from Dark Souls. Many of these aspects are what elevates Bloodborne from the rest of the FromSoft games.

Bloodborne is a much more visceral experience than Dark Souls. No longer are we hacking up languished hollows and dragons. The ravenous villagers and arcane beings in Bloodborne are much more aggressive. You have to match their aggression in order to survive the onslaught of eldritch terrors. Your character can’t just wait to strike and block attacks with a shield. The game even gives you a wooden shield that shatters after using it once to lull you into a false sense of Dark Souls familiarity. It reminds veteran Souls players that this isn’t Dark Souls and Bloodborne has something new to offer that will take some time to get accustomed to. Your character in Bloodborne is much more agile, opting for a dash move instead of a roll to fit the swift combat. A new feature allows the player to restore lost health by striking enemies which gives the player incentive to be more aggressive. The backstab move involves using a charged strike to put the enemy in a vulnerable kneeled position which is then followed up by what is referred to as a “visceral attack”. Your character plunges their hand into the enemy and then blows them back upon exiting, resulting in a pulpy, coagulated mess of blood. Another way to initiate this visceral attack is reposting, Bloodborne's version of parrying. Using a shield is out of the question, so Bloodborne proposes that the player blowback the scourges of Yharnam with a gun. From a distance, you can use the gun in your left hand to time a shot when an enemy is about to attack, rendering him vulnerable in the familiar kneeled stance. Reposting is by far the superior method of blocking the enemy’s attacks. It’s much easier to do than parrying with a shield, but it still requires the same amount of precision. I avoid parrying in Dark Souls-like the plague, but reposting is second nature to me. Reposting also compliments the faster-paced gameplay Bloodborne offers.

If the enemies in Bloodborne don’t force you to be aggressive, the bosses certainly will. Dark Souls bosses will make you consider the best tactics in order to defeat them, but the bosses in Bloodborne will mop the floor with you if you don’t act quickly. I can’t imagine bosses like the frantic Darkbeast Paarl or the feral Blood-Starved Beast in a slower-paced game like Dark Souls. Their movement is so erratic that there wouldn’t even be a window to block their attacks with a shield. Bloodborne bosses also have second waves that occur after downing a certain amount of their health. These are meant to throw you for a loop even after you pin down their unpredictable windows of opportunity. Every boss fight is a chaotic, heart-thumping duel that will have you exhausted by the end of it. While these bosses require more vigor to overcome than the calculated methods of victory in Dark Souls, Bloodborne offers the most consistent array of foes out of every FromSoft game. Each boss is totally unique and they come in a variety of sizes and forms. These bosses were more varied than the tired, sword-wielding bosses in Dark Souls and definitely better considered than the reskinned bosses littered in the Souls games.

I’d have a difficult time trying to determine which magnificent, eldritch beast I enjoyed vanquishing the most. Rom’s fight takes place entirely while walking on the water of a remote, gorgeous lake illuminated by the moon. The One Reborn is a grotesque pile of corpses that is quite literally shat out by the moon. Amygdala and Ebrietas’s designs are more reminiscent of the arcane monsters from the Lovecraft lore. My favorite fight however is the Shadows of Yharnam, a gank boss between three ringwraiths at the end of the Forbidden Woods. This fight is as well-balanced as Ornstein and Smough from Dark Souls 1 with each ringwraith having different moves that complement one another. Their foggy entrance in the arena is also effectively ominous. The main criticism I have with the bosses of Bloodborne is that the difficulty curve of these fights is the most inconsistent out of every FromSoft game. Father Gascoigne is the first main boss of this game and his hectic swipes with an axe and relentless second form make him one of the hardest fights in the game. On the other hand, Mergo’s Wet Nurse can potentially be the last boss in the game, but she’s slow and predictable. The range of difficulty is dispersed so unevenly.

Bloodborne’s inspiration doesn’t stop at the Lovecraftian themes. The kingdom of Yharnam takes inspiration from a bevy of gothic influences. The architecture of the city is towering and brooding with stained glass windows, pointed arches, and ornate decorations. The moon has a heavy presence at every point of the game and the color of it even signifies the worsening condition of Yharnam. Cemeteries, cathedrals, and dark forests are common areas. The game is so gothic that the statues along the architecture are weeping which I think is a little much. The game also retains a very Anglo influence like Dark Souls, but if the influence stemmed from Mary Shelley and John Keats rather than Chaucer and Beowulf. Bloodborne isn’t directly set during Victorian England, but the gothic nature matched with the clothes and technology sort of leads people to assume that it is. The urban environments of Yharnam look like the foggy streets of London that Jack the Ripper used to prowl. Yharnam is utterly sublime and always has a foreboding, bewitching atmosphere. Yharnam may not have the same seamless world that won me over in Dark Souls 1, but there are still plenty of consistent paths that cross over each other. I was pretty impressed that a hidden route in the Forbidden Woods took me all the way back to Iosefka’s clinic. The strength of Bloodborne’s world is in the quality of each individual level. They are all intricate in their design and are discernable from one another. None of the levels suffer from seeming unfinished, nor do they piss me off like some individual levels in Dark Souls 1. The closest exception is the Upper Cathedral Ward, a calamitously dim area with incredibly narrow hallways littered with some of the worst enemies in the game. Invest in a torch. The stand-out level for me is Cainhurst, the be-all, end-all of gothic castles. The level is so grandiose that you need an invitation to go there like attending a gallant ball in a Jane Austen novel.

Many of the names of familiar properties from Dark Souls have been shifted to fit the “blood” moniker of Bloodborne. Souls are now referred to as “blood echoes”, titanite shards are “bloodstones”, estus flasks are “blood vials” etc. Homogenizing these properties with a singular word is probably used to distance the Dark Souls roots from Bloodborne, but it could also be an indication of simplifying some convoluted aspects of Dark Souls. The many builds and play styles one can use in Dark Souls are sort of streamlined in Bloodborne as a singular hunter class, but this doesn’t mean the combat is limited. There are a large variety of weapons including swords, axes, greatswords, and even whips (calling back a possible Castlevania influence). Instead of finding a smattering of different materials for these weapons, they all level up with bloodstones, increasing in size as the weapon gets stronger. The Victorian garb still has protective attributes, but I wouldn’t consider any of these clothing items to be like the armor in Dark Souls. You can’t upgrade the clothing and none of it will weigh you down. All of the rare weapons can also be bought at the vendor in Hunter’s Dream instead of having to scrounge around for them. Some might argue that this more streamlined approach to character and weapon building is for cheap accessibility, but I choose to think of it more optimistically. Bloodborne translated these build aspects and filtered out the convoluted tedium.

Not all of these translations are exceptional. While Bloodborne excels in delivering a finer-tuned Souls experience, it also adds plenty of tedium as well that wasn’t present in Dark Souls. In Bloodborne, the bonfires have been shifted into eerily lit lanterns. The issue is that these lanterns do not function the same way the bonfires do. Interacting with these lanterns will automatically take you to an area called The Hunter’s Dream, an isolated realm covered with white lilies and crocuses with gravestones erected symmetrically along a paved path with a quaint, Victorian manor on the top of a hill. The Hunter’s Dream is similar to the Firelink Shrine from the Souls games in that it acts as a sort of comfortable refuge from the unrelenting world around you. Due to sublime design and ethereal atmosphere, I’d say the Hunter’s Dream is the best respite area across all of the FromSoft games next to the Firelink Shrine from Dark Souls 1. I would be confident with this claim if I wasn’t forced to visit The Hunter’s Dream so often during the game. The ability to travel between the lanterns is available right at the start, accessed through the gravestones on the right of the path that goes up to the manor. The problem is that The Hunter’s Dream acts as the sole passage between each lantern. You can’t rest at a lantern, only teleport between them through the gravestones in The Hunter’s Dream. I’d be more critical of this method of traveling if The Hunter’s Dream wasn’t the hub for everything in this game, giving the place a great deal of utility. Similar to Dark Souls II, a cloaked female character upgrades your stats after speaking with her. In Bloodborne, this figure is a pale doll that sits on a stoop at the bottom of the manor. The manor also has a workbench to repair one’s equipment and upgrade weapons. It fills its role as a hub splendidly, but I much prefer being able to teleport between checkpoints without going to a hub. It doesn’t help that the loading screens in Bloodborne are abysmally long, so traveling between the hub and another lantern can sometimes be grueling.

The health system has been changed to healing items called blood vials. These will restore about 40% of your maximum health and you can hold up to 20 of them at a time. Unlike the estus system in Dark Souls, blood vials are treated as items the player has to accumulate by either pillaging them from enemies or buying them in the Hunter’s Dream. If you die or reawaken in another place, the number of blood vials will go back up to the maximum amount. This is only if you have a number over the limit as insurance. Blood vials are not a rare item as enemies like the giant executioners, villagers, and giant pigs will drop a number of them. Exhausting your blood vial count happens often, and rebuilding your blood vial inventory requires either killing multiple enemies that drop them or farming for blood echoes. Either tactic requires a hefty amount of grinding which I’m not particularly a fan of. One would think the blood vials wouldn’t be an item like the antidotes or pebbles because they are relegated to their own button, but they are just as finite. The healing power of the blood vials can’t be upgraded like the estus flasks, so you end up using quite a few of them at a time. This usually results in having you grind every so often to restock on blood vials which is something I never enjoyed doing.

In The Hunter’s Dream, there are another array of gravestones located on the opposite side of the teleporting ones. These gravestones will transport you to the chalice dungeons, the most grind-intensive aspect of Bloodborne. In the chalice dungeons, Bloodborne adopts a dungeon-crawler approach as you’ll navigate a series of maze-like, gossamer-filled hallways with a boss at the end. Some of these bosses are completely new and some of them are harder versions of bosses from the base game. I’m told that these new bosses are some of the hardest in the game, but I can’t share their frustration because I decided to tackle the chalice dungeons on NG+2 and the difficulty of NG+ doesn’t stack in the chalice dungeons. I strongly recommend doing these on a NG+ run by the way. Even in doing this, the chalice dungeons are a long slog. The sublime, sprawling landscapes of Yharnam are reduced to claustrophobic mazes which are tedious on the senses. What is even more tedious are the rituals needed to conduct the means to enter these dungeons. The specific materials needed come with a long checklist. Some of these items are common, but the scarce ones will have you flipping over every nook and cranny in Yharnam like a madman. The relieving thing about these chalice dungeons is that they are completely optional. At the end of the last one, the Pthumerian Queen, who you might recognize from the base game, is a secret boss, and defeating her wins you a gold PSN trophy. Unless you are a completionist, don’t bother with the chalice dungeons.

The chalice dungeons are however a great source of the game’s lore, but you wouldn’t know that just by playing through them. Bloodborne adopts the same subtle, esoteric method of telling its narrative just like Dark Souls. In fact, the narrative in Bloodborne is presented in an even more oblique manner than in Dark Souls. Bloodborne is not a melancholy journey marked by despair, but a living nightmare marked by madness. The thin veil between dream and reality is never clear and becomes even more distorted as you progress through it. This veil is illustrated in the first cutscene as the player is greeted by a man in a top hat to sign a contract and begin a “transfusion” in a hazy stupor. This cutscene turns into a sleep paralysis terror as you are approached by a bloody lycanthrope and a group of small, boney creatures with shark teeth. Once you get to the Hunter’s Dream for the first time, the man from the first cutscene sits in the manor on the hill in a wheelchair. This is Gehrman, the creator of the Hunter’s Dream. He explains that you have been assigned to the duty of a hunter, a person responsible for ridding Yharnam of the scourge that plagues it like he once was long ago. You fulfill your duties on the streets of Central Yharnam slicing up the corrupted villagers.

After venturing through the Forbidden Woods, you come across a remote college set along a tranquil lake. This is Byrgenwerth, a prestigious place of learning and the establishment where the madness started. Master Willem, the founder of Byrgenwerth, discovered traces of blood from god-like beings known as the “great ones” in the Pthumerian caverns below. He founded Byrgernwerth to further the research on the findings and gain insight into them. Another scholar named Laurence has different plans for the great one's blood. He felt that Willem was underutilizing the blood and that it could be used to not only cure diseases but transcend one’s being into a potential god. Laurence founded the College of Mensis to combat Willem’s ideals and founded the Healing Church to test his hypothesis about blood. Thousands of people came to seek the blood for ailment and while it cured their diseases, it turned them into horrifying abominations. Once this got out of hand, hunters started gathering to purge Yharnam of the mistakes that Laurence made. You encounter Willem at the edge of Byrgenwerth who is now a decrepit old man who doesn’t even have the strength to lift his scepter or utter a single word. His state of elderly decay makes an interesting point for transcending the human form. At least the beasts are mobile.

After defeating Rom under the lake in Byrgenwerth, the moon changes into an ominous, splotchy orange color to signify that the nightmare is only furthering. Once you arrive in Yhar’ghul, you get a taste of it. Beasts that look like Chtutulu are scaling the gothic walls and the villagers are even less tied to their humanity than before. This is the true extent of the madness uncovered by defeating Rom. You then come across the School of Mensis, the rivaling college established by members of the Healing Church. This place grants access to two different places, the Nightmare Frontier and the Nightmare of Mensis. Both of these places are even further removed from the world of Yharnam and signify a further descent into the nightmare. The Nightmare Frontier is a poison lake on a cliff where you fight Amygdala, one of the aptly named creatures that appear after the moon becomes blood-red, signifying the more substantial fear with furthering the nightmare. The Nightmare of Mensis is the most harrowing place in Bloodborne. It’s a gothic castle along a cliffside that looks more sinister than the blood-red moon and it’s filled to the brim with Winter Lanterns, enemies that strike terror in the hearts of every Bloodborne player. In this gothic loft lies Micolash, a follower of Laurence and the host of the nightmare, allegedly. His unconventional boss fight is supposed to signify his state of madness from tampering with the great one’s blood, but it turns out to be the most aggravating fight in the game.

Once Micolash is slain, you must make it to the peak of the loft to fight Mergo’s Wet Nurse. Mergos is allegedly the child of the Pthumerian Queen and one of the great ones, making him a vessel between god and man. The nightmare has been slain and you are transported back to The Hunter’s Dream. There are three different endings that can occur here. The first and easiest one is for Gherman to kill you, ending the nightmare for yourself. If you refuse his offer to kill you, Gherman is the final boss (and a much better one than Mergo’s Wet Nurse). After you defeat him, the Moon Presence descends upon you and gives you Gherman’s role as the Old Hunter, a cyclical ending that mirrors rekindling the flame in Dark Souls. The third, true ending is the more complicated one. After defeating Rom, the blood-moon impregnates Iosefka and Arianna, a prostitute taking refuge in the Cathedral Ward. These immaculate conceptions are apparently surrogacies for the great ones. You have to kill Iosefka, kill Arianna’s Eraserhead baby, and kill Mergo’s Wet Nurse to receive three umbilical cords, remnants from the unborn children of the great ones. To get the true ending, you have to consume all three of these before fighting Gherman, something I did not know in my first playthrough. Doing this will trigger a fight between you and the Moon Presence. After defeating him, you turn into what is allegedly a great one, a cosmic reward for defeating what was likely the paleblood alluded to in the beginning. It looks like a fucking squid.

The story of Bloodborne is essentially madness. It’s much more convoluted and has way more branches than the story in Dark Souls. There are so many ties to the lore, and discussing all of them in great detail would become a word-vomit, clusterfuck. The lore of this game is so rich and so multifaceted that FromSoft should issue something like the Silmarillion to make sense of every facet of the game. The base of the lore that explains the blood-fueled plague is a cautionary tale about playing with forces beyond our comprehension. Laurence played god and everyone suffered because of it. It probably also alludes to a class division in Yharnam with the educated, aristocratic types in Byrgenwerth callously experimenting on the lower class. The pandemonium catching up with them is like karmic retribution, telling how catastrophic the plague has become.

Bloodborne is not an adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story nor is it a Lovecraft pastiche. There are plenty of references to Lovecraft’s stories such as the surrogacies from The Dunwich Horror, but none of these are directly tied back to the mythos of Lovecraft. The paper-thin narrative present in Bloodborne aids the subtle nature of a Lovecraftian tale, but I think there is something else even more subtle present in Bloodborne that gives it more clemency as a Lovecraftian horror work. There is a minor mechanic in Bloodborne called insight. In the game, it functions similarly to humanity from Dark Souls in that you can use it to summon partners to aid you with boss fights and it can be used as currency. Insight can be gained through a consumable item called a madman’s knowledge and by progressing through the game. As you gain more insight, you can find more esoteric items and the madness of Yharnam becomes clearer. Once you defeat Rom and the blood-moon is revealed, your insight rockets to at least 40 more than what you previously had. In Yarghul, there are tons of Cthulu-Esque monsters all over the place. If you lose the insight gained for whatever reason, many of these monsters are gone, alluding to the fact that they can no longer be perceived by you. Once you defeat Mergo’s Wet Nurse, you gain a colossal amount of insight and find the manor in the Hunter’s Dream is in a perpetual state of immolation. Once you maximize your insight, the madness encompassing Yharnam is readily transparent. It’s the fear of the unknown that Lovecraft tells of coming to life for the player in the most subtle and personal way possible. It effectively illustrates that the forces at work are all-encompassing and impossible to overcome which is a horrifying realization once we become privy to them.

Bloodborne achieves so much with its presentation, lore, and gameplay that I’d be hard-pressed to call it a masterpiece. It took the foundations of Dark Souls-like its gameplay and subtle narrative and made something not only with its own concrete identity but something that arguably surpassed the already magnificent Dark Souls in many ways. The more aggressive gameplay was more invigorating, the more organized method of character and weapon building was less of a hassle, and its story managed to be even more complex and esoteric. It even accomplished presenting something in the vein of Lovecraftian horror in a visual medium, something that had rarely been executed properly. The upstanding quality of this game also rejuvenated my interest in the modern video game industry. It showed me that video games were now being treated more like art instead of as a means for commerce. Bloodborne is also arguably the most influential FromSoft game. After the success of Bloodborne, many imitators attempted at translating aspects of Dark Souls into different settings like science-fiction (The Surge), feudal Japan (Nioh), and even in the universe of Star Wars (Jedi Fallen Order). The lot of these games borrowing elements from Dark Souls gives credence to the “souls-like” genre it spawned due to its popularity. In terms of providing a quality translation of the Souls series, none of these games match up to when FromSoft managed to outdo themselves with Bloodborne.
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Erockthestrange 2017-12-19T07:25:42Z
2017-12-19T07:25:42Z
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A perfect nightmare
Instead of gushing non-stop for a while, I'll cut right to the chase: Bloodborne is perhaps FromSoftware's magnum opus, and, dare I say it, one of the greatest games ever made.

From the very beginning, I was drawn in by the dreary horror aesthetic, demented sound design, and drop-dead gorgeous graphics, and then the game managed to build on that with some of the finest level design I've ever seen and a twist on the tried and true Dark Souls formula: the game strips away the shield and instead replaces it with a fast and furious form of fighting that has you zipping left and right to dodge enemy attacks while frenziedly struggling to land a blow in edgewise. The game cajoles the player into becoming something monstrous---one must change their play style and transform themselves into an aggressive beast if they have any hope of surviving the harsh night.

In this way, it challenges the player to submerge themselves into a demonic world that wants nothing but to rip them to shreds, and as they go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, they encounter some of the most incredible lore I've ever seen in a game, rich with cosmic horror and mystery. I've always been a big fan of how FromSoft tells their stories, oft' leaving much to the player's imagination and allowing the player to come to their own conclusions. In that way, it is something out of the Michael Haneke school of storytelling, and that is everything that I am about.

Early on in the game, you find a shield that is practically worthless. The item description mocks the player, taunting with the phrase "shields engender passivity". Honestly, I think that about sums the design ethos of this game in comparison to the Souls series that FromSoft was known for at the time. They had stumbled upon something special, and they took that something special, something that was already receiving near-universal acclaim, and tirelessly refined it into the shining crown jewel of the [Platform83]. Bloodborne is an instant classic, and I don't know anyone who has made it through it that seems to disagree. I would argue that it is one of the most essential titles made in the 2010s, and history will look back kindly upon it. It is challenging, but for those willing to face this challenge head on, it could possibly be the most rewarding experience in gaming history. This one will leave you feeling exhilarated upon tackling the most difficult foes and unlocking all the many secrets it has to offer.
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It's strange, Bloodborne emphasises vertical exploration in level design and alien cosmology in vision but it also makes sure we're always confined to the matter of the violent instant. We have the ability to rotate the camera in a direction other to the one the player character faces — the player character moves, and the camera moves elsewhere — but the dislocation of camera from body rejects a sense of player-mastery over space (seeing more than the player character can see) and avatar-mastery (seeing all that the player character detects from their embodied position) alike. There is no negative space the player character can traverse. Instead Bloodborne's environment is a horrible amalgam of viscera, place, and action, that pulsate from the same sticky flesh. Everything in it glistens with the stickiness of connection. Pitch darkness draws things closer instead of pushing them away; the glow of lamps reveals the thickness of the atmosphere already present; the night sky reminds us that the earth is in the orbit of something else.

This claustrophobic, sticky presence is achieved through the synthesis of a heavy engine with agitated, jerky movement, and a design of disgusting tactility. There's an exhaustive precision to the hitboxes not found in a newer title like Elden Ring and this sets the player character as its own fragile body within the space, emphasising the dignity of the ongoing collision between equal adversaries. But then instead of slow and measured, Bloodborne encourages the balancing act of graceful movement and calculated barbarism. The roll mechanic is switched out for the dash, and so we sweep left and then and right, connect, and sweep again. It's both slippery and grounded, and success is entirely contingent on commitment to the flow of this weird ice dancing. To approach an enemy wanting to just inflict blunt violence is to fail, and so too is standing back to consider future action. If it's not felt, it won't work. The absence of shields for guns in parry is interesting, because there's no in-game penalty for getting the timing wrong, but the way it breaks the flow of combat spoils the feeling of its violent harmony. Backstabs too are arduous because they require multiple steps, the first charged. It's a quick victory but nothing next to the fluid carnage of the duel the game insists on and feels so good to perform.

Extending a weapon to its long-form is hardly ever practical, but emphasises the weird junk-mechanical nature of the instruments available. Assessing which weapons are required for which enemies is never a matter of looking at in-game spreadsheets but instead thinking about what the weapon's texture looks and feels like, and the quality of the enemies' flesh. We know when the jagged machinery of the saw will work, and when a clean cut would be better. In a world of crackpot physicians we're the worst, because instead of experimenting with different tools to deliver different ends, our vast and heavily modified toolset is entirely given to the act of bloodletting. There's a perverse intimacy to it that only grows more perverse and more intimate through the repetition of bloody violence. Every FromSoftware game is about a certain type of madness, but instead of the other games' desire to usurp one's tormentor (not as revenge, but to confirm the pain suffered was real and not a dream), Bloodborne unambiguously dramatises the madness of catharsis and will to eruption. The fight with Gehrman is most plain about this. We rush through white lilies, swaying at our feet, romantic music accompanying the game's climactic pas de deux.

Bloodborne lovingly invokes the vampire in order to place the brokenness of modernity alongside the endurance of the flesh. At a distance the romanticism of bodily fluids ("Will you drink my blood?") is contrasted with a Lovecraftian view on the insignificance of human life in the face of the cosmic, but for Miyazaki the vampire and the alien are consistent in the way they relate to the human body. Stacey Abbott points out that Méliès' film Le manoir du diable appeared before Bram Stoker's masterpiece, and that it conflates the vampire with the scientist, transfiguring human and nonhuman forms, conjuring visions, and deforming temporal order. The emphasis in that period was the more we understood about reality through novel scientific methods and instruments, the less 'real' and hospitable the world around us came to seem. Bloodborne follows in this tradition, using blood as the living string between cosmic, body horrific, and epistemological distortion, nodding to the dual concerns of horror fiction and scientific discovery. Its science-fiction is first and foremost of the body: what's seen in the cosmos implicates itself in the flesh.

Bram Stoker's vampire actually appears in the margins of records encountered within the volume, giving him the kind of formless-yet-omnipresent quality we might now associate with Miyazaki's reading of Lovecraft. The forces that most concern us are the ones only glimpsed in objects, conflicting manuscripts, and strange patterns of animal behaviour, and otherwise evade our comprehension. Alison Sperling has criticised Lovecraft scholars for placing too much of an emphasis on the limits of human knowledge — what Thacker characterises as "life according to the logic of an inaccessible real" leads to a lot of thinking about thinking, and that's all. A better picture of this horror, Sperling argues, is life completely saturated in the real. Miyazaki takes this reading too: the point is never the presence of an ancient or extraterrestrial force in itself, but the way awareness of these forces disturbs embodied reality. The revelation of the God that structures reality is that we are its dolls; the revelation of the alien that birthed us is that we are some mutant synthesis of the human and nonhuman, which is to say the human as we know it never was.

And so what's so good here is that it's all so addicting. Miyazaki does not expect us to recoil from the alien flesh but to embrace it, to want to see ourselves turned inside out along with the rest of the world. Everything in Bloodborne is calibrated to draw us into its ultraviolent dance, so we can feel it in our nervous system. Then, coated in blood, and guts spilled across the room, we're not supposed to be able to tell whose is whose. There's a tragedy to this vulnerable body that seems to exist just to erupt, but in that is ecstasy.
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nostalghia 2018-05-28T23:57:45Z
2018-05-28T23:57:45Z
4.5
1
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Catalog

WHATISLOSTINTHEMINES Bloodborne 2022-05-23T15:28:02Z
2022-05-23T15:28:02Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
UtopiaM Bloodborne 2022-05-23T08:31:51Z
2022-05-23T08:31:51Z
5.0
2
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
dannymason_1 Bloodborne 2022-05-23T01:55:06Z
2022-05-23T01:55:06Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Proftheworm Bloodborne 2022-05-22T22:15:08Z
2022-05-22T22:15:08Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Lornz Bloodborne 2022-05-22T11:39:34Z
2022-05-22T11:39:34Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
sluggo_tunez Bloodborne 2022-05-22T11:08:26Z
2022-05-22T11:08:26Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Meilis Bloodborne 2022-05-22T09:04:22Z
2022-05-22T09:04:22Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
pensiero97 Bloodborne 2022-05-21T15:35:29Z
PS4
2022-05-21T15:35:29Z
3
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Calasmere Bloodborne 2022-05-21T09:14:38Z
2022-05-21T09:14:38Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Smoogerz Bloodborne 2022-05-20T21:21:53Z
2022-05-20T21:21:53Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Nekh Bloodborne 2022-05-20T18:59:22Z
2022-05-20T18:59:22Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
908HOY Bloodborne 2022-05-20T11:08:53Z
2022-05-20T11:08:53Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Content rating
ESRB: M
Player modes
1-5 players
Media
1x Blu-ray
Multiplayer options
Online

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  • Previous comments (259) Loading...
  • ThrashingFairy 2022-04-15 12:16:14.524663+00
    I wish I could upvote reviews on Glitchwave. Erockthestrange is probably the best reviewer on this whole site.
    reply
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  • WhyHenloSir 2022-04-16 05:02:39.843085+00
    i cant believe this is only 1 year younger than dark souls 2
    reply
    • Benci 2022-04-20 17:31:18.775384+00
      this comment made me trip out so much for a second
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  • ALongDriveInsideACar 2022-04-28 05:13:54.539259+00
    Fans seem to be much less critical of the latter half of Bloodborne than that of Dark Souls. To my eyes, areas such as Byrgenwerth and Mensis are also underdeveloped, and I don’t hear much praise for bosses like Rom, The One Reborn, or Mergo’s Wet Nurse. Not trying to say which one had it worse than the other, but these comparisons should be more fair
    reply
    • jake7 2022-04-29 07:16:28.365627+00
      Nightmare of Mensis is far better than any area in the second half of dark souls though (and I actually like the second half of ds1). Byrgenwerth feels to me like the only glaring flaw and only because it was underwhelming not outright bad (I also like Rom).
    • jaspie999 2022-04-29 20:06:54.000227+00
      my issue with the second half of dark souls is the enemy placement rather than the areas themselves. Feels kind of random and I never finished it, maybe it gets better at some point.
    • ThrashingFairy 2022-04-30 13:57:28.155989+00
      Not wrong, but Idk if I agree with your examples though. The Nightmare Frontier was the plainest, artistically bereft area that I can remember from Bloodborne, literally DS2-tier levels of bad.
      At least Mensis and Byrgenwerth had some sense of uniqueness and atmosphere to them.
    • jake7 2022-04-30 18:11:53.73645+00
      Yeah, Nightmare Frontier has to be the weakest area in the game. A couple redeeming qualities and I like that it's a day time area, but there is so much annoying shit, it's ugly, and the level design is mediocre. Thank god it's optional.
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  • ThePsuedo 2022-05-05 21:10:28.23223+00
    ^Nightmare Frontier is great! It's the only swamp in the entire series that they put effort into designing. It feels like an actual souls level instead of a sewage pool you have to wade through

    The problem is that the continuous poisoning doesn't work well with Bloodborne's awful healing system. so it makes the area tedious to go through because you know you're depleting resources you may have to grind for
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