Bloodborne CoverGame: Bloodborne

Genre: Action-RPG

Developer: From Software

Publisher: SCE Japan Studio

Platform: Playstation 4 (exclusive; for now)

Score: Nightmare Creatures 2015… and that’s a great thing.

 

 

There’s no denying the success of Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software’s Souls Series. They did what any good business does. Identify a hole in the market, garner a fan base, and exploit it over and over again for profit.  Two sequels and a handful of rereleases touting extra difficulty have made them more than enough money. This is usually the point in a franchise where it comfortably settles in and releases safe sequel after safe sequel every couple of years.

The real beauty here is that From Software released a new IP instead. It’s called Bloodborne and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s no gamble mind you – but it’s different enough to build its base without alienating existing fans. And I consider myself in the camp of “new fans.” I loved Bloodborne. Retroactively it has made me appreciate the existing series and has me looking forward to whatever awaits me on the gothic horror From Software horizon.

This is where I repeat that I played Demons Souls at launch. Back in the day, I was known to spend time on /v/ (I know, forgive me). The hype was insane for Demons Souls. I hadn’t reserved a copy so I missed the Gamestop midnight launch. I ended up at Walmart in the AM instead. It was dead in there and they had more than enough copies.

I got home. Played Demons Souls until dawn. And was underwhelmed by the entire experience.

I grew up in a time when games were difficult. The no continues, no save files abusive NES era. I am used to failure. Hell, games like Ninja Gaiden for Xbox were around and so difficulty never really went away. The pitch From Software, and more specifically /v/, threw out was “finally there’s a hard game.” No, finally a game for the Final Fantasy kids and Triple A crowd was difficult. It was a gimmick. I saw through it. And I never became an avid fan of the series.

Imagine my surprise when the trailer for Bloodborne was released and I got excited. The setting alone had me hooked. A modern Nightmare Creatures? I’m in.

Time for a PSA:

The “dark fantasy” thing is pretty much every fantasy game. It’s cliché. It’s boring. It’s everywhere. Those of you saying that Dark Souls and Demons Souls had a unique fantasy setting are full of shit – or you’re confusing setting with plot or narrative. Allow me to repeat that. Dark fantasy is not unique. High fantasy isn’t either. Quit using those as selling points. And quit buying things because they’re hyped as such.

But enough on that. Let’s talk about Bloodborne.

Every problem I had with the Souls games has been fixed starting with the gameplay. Don’t worry fans, Bloodborne didn’t replace your deliberate and planned combat control with Devil May Cry button-mashy ridiculousness. Bloodborne is still all about action economy, timing, and learning attack patterns. Once you start your combat wind up, you’re locked in to either succeed or be promptly punished. Better, the action-rpg formula has had a facelift. The controls just feel more responsive here than they ever have. Basically, Bloodborne strikes a great balance between the natural handicaps of its control style with twitch/response gameplay. I’ve been criticized for liking that a button does something when I press it. But fuck those people. You can have action economy and a good response time on your controls. Bloodborne proves it.

Attacks in the “action-rpg” formula are usually bland and lack variance. That’s not the case with Bloodborne. Combos are deceptively robust and every weapon has its share. There are fewer overall weapons than other Souls games but I wasn’t left wanting. Each weapon has two attack modes complete with their own style. And that’s the operative word here. Style. Bloodborne has miles of it.
I hated feeling forced to use a shield in previous Souls games. Bloodborne fixed this by adding a fucking gun for riposting. Stylish. And I’m sorry but a sword that uses a bigger sword (or a fucking maul) as its sheath? Awesome.

Let’s talk about setting. You have 5 seconds to name a mainstream Lovecraftian horror game released in the last 5 years. Time’s up. The Van Helsing fights Cthulhu setting of Bloodborne is fantastic. It was a “had me at hello” moment. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s executed well too. From the gimmick weapons and equipment to Yharnam itself, every layer is planned and incorporated into the next.

The Yharnam cityscape you’re placed in is downright Labyrinthian. Paths loop back in on themselves with ample shortcuts and secrets to be explored. To put it in Dark Souls 2 terms. The level design of Bloodborne is all Sanctum City all the time and more. In fact, the way you progress through the city actually tells its own story. Around the time I stumbled into to Old Yharnam and realized I could still be messing around in the Cathedral Ward I was starting to get it. You’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s remarkable.

And that is another aspect of Bloodborne that I love. It’s a great blend of setting, storytelling and gameplay. Each element of gameplay and exploration tells a story and the story is integrated into the gameplay. When those facets all mesh in a video game, I basically lose my shit. That’s what video games can bring to the table that other artistic mediums can’t. You pick up an item in Bloodborne and read its description. That description doesn’t just build the world (setting) it gives you clues to the overall plot (narrative). But more importantly the clues are written well. It’s one thing to recognize you need all the above stuff. It’s another to assemble it all into one cohesive experience.

The ultimate success of Bloodborne is that it does. It’s the culmination of many components from several past games combined with new pieces that were previously missing from the formula. Oh, and the story is actually good. It’s not heavy-handed. Subtlety and nuance are the bread and butter here. It doesn’t open with a cutscene of the world being blown up by half a dozen gods Dark Souls style. It layers the story and the result was a product I felt invested in.

Bloodborne encouraged me to playthrough the game multiple times. Not just to raise the difficulty level due to a Stockholm’s syndrome-esque gluttony for punishment. Not for the achievements of gimmicky different endings. But because playing the game again added new layers or helped discover old ones. Even the idea of multiple playthroughs worked within the story and not in a way that made me feel robbed of my time. No spoilers here. It’s just the sort of cerebral nightmare that you need to experience for yourself.

The story of Bloodborne really resonated with me far more than any of its predecessors had. I cared more about my own character and more about the NPCs. They weren’t disposable (ha, irony) archetypal cutouts or unlikable fuckwads. I really tried to save that fucking little girl over the course of three playthroughs.

The only problem I really have with Bloodborne is that it ends. So I guess I finally understand existing fans of the series eating up everything From Software releases. I can’t wait to play more. Unlike those indoctrinated into the Cult of Souls however, I welcome another new IP. Steam punk From Software game, anyone?