Tough Love is the Best Kind.
As E3 2018 left us, we were left with many promising demos and even more promising trailers of games yet to come. One of those titles that peaked my interest was Miyazaki and From Software’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. As a fan of narrative-driven experiences, I’ve never been too keen on anything out of the Souls lineup, as I’ve always heard that the story is very convoluted and difficult to follow. The games don’t do much to guide you through with standard storytelling, relying heavily on their thrilling and difficult gameplay to coax you into fighting the next soul-shattering boss until you’ve finished the game- often with more questions than answers. That being said, my interest in From Software’s newest title led me back to one of its more popular titles: Bloodborne. I had no idea that all it would take was a little gothic horror and a heap of Lovecraftian lore to make me fall in love with Miyazaki’s work, digging furiously for all of the secrets hidden under the blood-soaked surface of this crushingly difficult game.
When Bloodborne released back in 2015, I picked it up right away- only to play it for a couple of hours and toss it aside, which was a bad habit of mine. I was probably sinking time into something else at that moment- probably a Destiny expansion, honestly. Bloodborne was doomed to waste away in one of my drawers somewhere before it even had a chance. However, after playing a demo of Code Vein at E3 2018, a game with a very similar play style, and after seeing the gameplay trailer of Shadows Die Twice, my curiosity was piqued. I redownloaded Bloodborne, not really knowing what to expect. Within a couple of hours, and after brutally learning the game’s mechanics, I was hooked. The combat system is unforgiving, and as most “Soulsborne” fans know, trudging through an hour of enemies and dying to a common beast to lose all of your progress and souls (blood echoes in this case) is disheartening at times. In the past, this caused me to give up and play something else- but I kept my head up and continued on. Persistence and patience are key in Bloodborne, and once I got the formula down, I was addicted. One boss down. The second one wasn’t far behind. Before I knew it, I was four bosses deep and I was beginning to wonder what most players probably were at that point: what the hell was going on? Why was I plowing through these hulking beast in a seemingly endless pilgrimage to an unknown finish?
Unfortunately, these things aren’t blatantly stated in the game as you’re playing, but they are heavily imbued in the games hidden side quests and in the descriptions of items and weapons- waiting for players to uncover and explore. These kinds of things are strewn about everywhere in Bloodborne’s world- such as the passing dialogue of common NPCs that one would normally pass by without a second thought. Running by a specific window in the first area of the game will trigger dialogue with a little girl looking for her parents. She gives the player a music box and asks for help finding them. If you agree to look, you come to find that her father has gone insane and transformed into a hulking beast. In his fragile state of mind, he killed his wife, whose body you find lying in the boss area. The music box given to the player belonged to her and can be used to stun the beast, making the fight much easier. Details like these really make Bloodborne shine. This is common practice in Miyazaki’s games, and I had only ever heard about it from the stories of others who have played them. Experiencing it firsthand was one of the most refreshing gaming journeys I have ever had.
Bloodborne’s lore, as I’d come to find out, is heavily influenced by many Lovecraftian novels and stories. The story is very subtle and hinted at the whole way through, and exploration is key when seeking many of the game’s bigger ideas and smaller details alike. Bungie’s Destiny has a similar approach to its lore, but it isn’t nearly as well executed as From Software’s gothic title. In Destiny, discovering the smaller secrets that tied into the larger picture left me highly unsatisfied most of the time, but such was not the case with Bloodborne. Every discovery that I made led me deeper down the rabbit hole and before I knew it, I was even looking at online forums and videos to see what others had found and pieced together- even forming my own take on the story as I went. Discovering for myself that Gehrman, the very first character you interact with after starting the game, is the very first hunter and (depending on the ending) the final boss was a fresh surprise. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the DLC brings the knowledge that the doll the player uses to level up is just a creepy recreation of another huntress that Gehrman was too awkward and scared to share his feelings with. So, after being trapped inside a nightmare by one of the game’s many gods called Great One’s (based heavily on many of the Lovecraftian gods such as Cthulhu), he settled for creating an emotionless doll in her image to keep him company. That’s the beauty of Bloodborne- it has a general overarching story that can be found by playing and taking all of its smaller components hidden under the surface and creating the complete picture, but many of its ideas are very open-ended. This creates a hotbed for critical thought and imagination and encourages you to draw your own conclusions with there being no real wrong answer. This is where Bloodborne really drew me in- almost forcing me to get the creative juices flowing and dig for the bigger picture myself instead of spoon-feeding the narrative to me as too many games do now.
My Bloodborne journey has taken me through almost 40 hours of grueling bosses and dark, uncomfortable stories, bringing me to ask many questions and contemplate perplexing, hard-to-swallow ideas in the best way possible. I learned of fallen gods trapped beneath cathedrals and creepy doll-human intimacy due to social awkwardness. I’ve seen religious zealots that transcended their reality and gained godlike enlightenment (and killed them). I’ve died dozens of times to bosses that I could have sworn had no health but somehow had just a sliver left, and I’ve felt the triumph of fighting the same boss what felt like a hundred times to finally come out on top. Even with just shy of two days playtime under my belt, I feel I’ve only scratched the surface fo Bloodborne’s tangled and terrifying world. It’s also convinced me to go back and play From Software’s other titles to sate my thirst while I wait with bated breath for their newest title to be released in 2019- and I’ll definitely be prepared to die again and again.