Bloodborne - Analysis

The PlayStation 4 is probably one of the most successful home consoles of the eighth generation. It beat the Xbox One by a long shot during the console wars, sold more than one hundred million units, and one of the main reasons it surpassed the Xbox One was because of its colorful selection of exclusives. Competition plays a big role in the video game market, and companies have to partner up with developers to come up with interesting selling points for their consoles. When a game is exclusive to your console then the buyers who are interested in that specific game will have to buy your console to play the game they want. This may sound bad especially for developers who published previous games on multiple platforms, but there sometimes just has to be a purpose as to why people should buy your product. Not only that, but the benefit of partnering up with a major company is that you get the funding for your game.

Between Microsoft and Sony, I have to say Sony actually cares about their exclusives and developers. They hired the right people, gave them the resources, funded them the right amount of money, and allowed them to take their time on making their games. They never spoiled them or forced them to make something they didn’t want to develop. They wanted them to put love into their games so both the developers and the players could be happy when the final product was released. Microsoft on the other hand doesn't really care about quality or developer desires. They took some of their greatest franchises and ran them into the ground. Made terrible business practices that only benefit themselves, their developers don’t know what they're target audience is, and the Xbox One is kind of just a bland console. Don’t get me wrong, before I owned a PlayStation 4 my main console was an Xbox One, but once I got a PlayStation 4 and started playing its major releases, I began to realize the faults of the Xbox One.

A majority of the exclusives on the PlayStation 4 are titles that I praise considerably not because of fanboyism, and while some of them have their faults they are well made games and define what should come from a Triple A studio. God of War is one the first exclusives I played. While it doesn't have the high-octane action the original games had, God of War (2018) is still a tremendous game that reimagines the formula so that old and new fans can enjoy. I love the amount of emotion that they put into the Kratos, the detailed environments, the satisfying combat, and how they transferred from Greek to Norse mythology while still making it feel like a traditional God of War experience. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a cinematic work of art. The gameplay is pretty good, but what stuck with me were the characters, stories, and where I wound up next during the journey. Horizon Zero Dawn addressed modern open world design tropes and added twists to make it for once fun. Then there’s Persona 5, one of the greatest JRPGs ever made. I love everything about Persona 5. The wide cast of characters, engaging story, believable world, stylishly animated combat, planning out each day and what to do, the presentation, and just about everything. Persona 5 is one of my favorite games on the PlayStation 4 and it just so happens to be one of my favorite games of all time. The best way to play it now is getting the Royal version which came out recently. I wrote a review on it, so check it out if you have time. Persona 5 is amazing, but there’s one game I love above all the rest. My defining game of the decade.

This is a game that I hold close to my heart and one that I believe every gamer should try out making the purchase of a PlayStation 4 worth it. I have played this game about four times already and not once has it gotten tiring. I’m talking about Bloodborne, the action RPG that came out in 2015 and is considered one of the greatest games ever made. I already did a basic review of the game, but it wasn’t enough to explain why I love it so much. There is nothing wrong I can find with this game and if so it's very minor complaints. It's the perfect example of how to make a video game, and I'll continue using it as an example in future reviews for what developers can learn from it. How to make a compelling combat loop, design a world, and tell an effective story. Today we’ll be talking about Bloodborne and why it’s not only just a masterpiece, but a title every developer should take note of. This essay will be spoiling huge key plot points in Bloodborne’s world and lore, so if you haven’t played the game yet I recommend doing so. Sit back, relax, and let’s hear about the gothic world brought to us by Miyazaki and FromSoftware.

Developing the Kingdom of Yharnam

The developers of Bloodborne are none other than From Software, creators of the famously acclaimed Dark Souls series. They also made King's Field, Demon’s Souls, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but among all their titles Bloodborne and Dark Souls are the most iconic. Before the creation of Demon’s Souls, which was their first ever souls game, From Software wasn’t a standout company in the gaming world. Half their games were exclusive to Japan, and the titles that were released in other countries weren’t a smash hit. It seemed like they were going nowhere, but it wasn’t until Demon’s Souls that they became renowned. Unlike other action games at the time, which were beginning to worry more about accessibility options and guiding the player rather than letting them figure stuff out on their own, Demon's Souls focused on challenging the player. If the player was struggling, they couldn’t do anything but learn by themselves. You think this would be a bad thing, especially since most games these days offer multiple difficulty settings to make games more accessible. However, it turned out to be a good thing for From Software. I personally believe challenge comes first in every game, because it’s when you overcome a challenge that a game feels rewarding and fun to play. It allows the player to think for themselves, forge their own path, and create their own journey over how they got over the several adversities.

Critics praised Demon’s Souls for its steep learning curve and deep world building. A king and his people, who risked it all to maintain their power in the world. While it wasn’t the best game of 2009 it was one of the few more important ones that year. Setting the foundation for what was to come. From Software went on to make the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls known as Dark Souls in 2011. Dark Souls was more open in world design, had more world building, and improved a majority of the problems Demon’s Souls had. Video games make you feel like a hero most of the time, but Dark Souls was a game that made the player realize that their actions can’t save everyone. The world was bleak but teeming with atmosphere, characters always had something sinister about them, and the lore can be sad at times. Dark Souls is a game about suffering and I’m not talking about the difficulty again. It was a game where struggling to find hope in a dying world was hard, but it was still possible. Critics praised Dark Souls for how different it was to other games, much like Demon's Souls, and it went on to become one of the best and highest acclaimed games ever made.

After the massive success of Dark Souls, From Software went on to make a sequel. Dark Souls 2 released three years later, and it was... somewhat of a mix bag to fans. It screwed up some of the lore the original had, and the new mechanics and adjustments introduced made it harder than the first. Not as in harder but more rewarding, but harder just for the sake to be hard. Dark Souls 2 wasn't directed by Hidetaki Miyazaki who made Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, but rather swapped between two directors. That's why the pacing, consistency, and quality of Dark Souls 2 went all over the place. The first half about screwing up the lore is true, but the second half about the new mechanics I think is false. The mechanics introduced in Dark Souls 2 became staples to the series and some of the design choices From Software made were pretty wise. They just needed to execute them better which they did with Dark Souls 3. I’m not saying Dark Souls 2 is the best in the Souls series, much like everyone else it’s my least favorite, but it’s not a bad game. It’s pretty good at times and out of the many Triple A releases of 2014 it aged the best. Still having the mystical feel Dark Souls is known for.

After Dark Souls 2, From Software actually began development on two games. One of them was the final chapter in the Souls series, and the other was a partnership with Sony. Sony came out with the PlayStation 4 at the time and wanted to work alongside From Software to help make an exclusive to market the PlayStation 4. They gave them the fundings and stated they could make anything they wanted. From Software then began developing a new property similar to Dark Souls. Gothic fantasy world, hardcore gameplay, and a world mind bogging to explore. This time however they wanted to change a few aspects. They grew tired of the medieval fantasy setting which I can understand. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, but there is only so much you can do with it. Rather than fantasy, From Software decided to base the atmosphere of their new game on the works of H.P Lovecraft. Lovecraft was a writer best known for novels which blended both elements of mystery and horror. Such popular novels would include The Shadow Out of Time, The Music of Erich Zann, and mainly Cult of Cthulhu. Not only that, but From Software wanted to evolve the gameplay of Dark Souls. Faster combat and mechanics that drove the player to fight more aggressively. Eventually they came with Bloodborne, the lovecraftian inspired action role playing game. Truly a game worth their time and effort. Most video games take place in basic locations like cities or battlefields, but Bloodborne had an atmosphere unlike any other game. It became their most well acclaimed game and their fastest selling up until that point.

Presentation and Depth

Yharnam is a kingdom of both wonder and terror. You never know what’s going to pop around each corner, and what’s going to kill you next. That’s why the game is so memorable for me. Rather than tell the player what is going to happen and where they are supposed to go, they let the player figure that on their own. Explore the world at their own pace, absorb their surroundings, take time to practice and learn from their mistakes, and progress forward. Borderlands, Far Cry, these games are decent but one thing Bloodborne has that they don’t is well thought out world building and structure.

Most Souls fans claim that the original Dark Souls is open and Dark Souls 2 is more linear. It’s true that Dark Souls 2 is more linear than the original, but I would have to disagree that the original feels completely open. The original often restricts where the player can go, and if they happen to wander into an area they are not supposed to go, the game will quickly halt them. It’s like hBomberguy said during his controversial defense of Dark Souls 2, “This isn’t nonlinear, this is a choice of which linear path you take first”. The last portion of Dark Souls is especially poorly thought out and it was for specific reasons. Miyazaki states they had to rush the last areas of the game to meet the release date, and areas such Lost Izalith was a mistake on their part. To be honest, having an interconnected world is great but I'd rather take linear well designed levels rather than interconnected levels of varying quality.

Bloodborne is an even mix between openness and linearity. The main story can be followed in a linear path, but oftentimes the player can end up wandering down the wrong path. The game even makes it easy to wind up in optional areas and tricks the player to explore them! Exploring these optional areas may give them the gear and materials they need to grow stronger, or more insight into the world and history. Areas loop back to each other in weird ways, and overtime you get this mental imprint of how to navigate the world. Thanks to the consistent linear yet open level design.

The lore of Bloodborne is what helps it stand out most like an ordinary Souls game, but it has a better start out of all the games. Each Souls game usually starts off with an intro explaining the world and crucial characters, but Bloodborne places you immediately in which adds to that sense of mystery. You start off by waking up in Yosefka’s Clinic with no idea where you are. You walk out into the streets of Yarhnam and you can already tell what type of place you're in. It’s a kingdom abandoned by those who inhabited it and anyone who is left has been infected and transformed into ferocious beasts that roam the blood tainted streets. Knowing the player and how they wake up unarmed and unprepared for combat, they will die within the first few seconds by a beast, and this is when they are transported to the Hunter’s Dream.

They learn they are a Hunter, a being who is bound to a paranormal plain known as the Dream and must figure out what caused the bloodborne plague to spread throughout Yharnam. What plague? What is the cause? Well, the player learns shortly after from a few NPCs and the first major boss of how the plague is important to the story. What it has done to the populace. Not even one hour into the game and Bloodborne communicates to the player they must get used to the world they are in and how dangerous it is, or they will constantly be cut down and killed. This is genius! Rather than go through thirty minutes of mindless exposition or an introduction sequence, Bloodborne gets straight to the point and lets the player work off from there! You may be wondering what the story of Bloodborne? Well, that's complicated.

The Secrets of Yharnam

Dark Souls heavily revolved more around the player and how their actions affect the world, but Bloodborne doesn't do any of that. It focuses more on the world, the secrets the player discovers, and what they piece together over time. Once everything cooks together into a delicious pot pie, the world of Bloodborne appears to have more depth than you think. Before the coming of man there were beings known as the Great Ones. They had tremendous power, magical abilities, and genetic traits that weren’t carried over to later generations or species. Once they started to die out, they were buried deep underground and their tombs were then guarded by a new species known as the Pthumerians who were able to understand their magical powers. The Pthumerians died out as well and the tombs were later discovered by man centuries later. Mankind dug up the bodies of the Great Ones and they found that what was leftover was blood.

They discovered that the Great One’s blood had healing properties, capable of curing practically everything. Diseases, broken bones, and possibly prevent death. A group known as the Healing Church was formed and through clinics and research, they began administering blood and blood infused drugs to the people. Gaining the people's trust and making them believe the cosmic gods they worship. The beings who gave them the sacred blood. They tried to play God, an act that usually leads to corruption. In real life people will do anything to gain what they want, whether it’s for themselves or to help others. Find the cure to cancer, become the richest man in the world, those goals sound great but are they worth achieving? Maintaining status has been a recurring theme in the Souls series as once faithful heroes are driven mad with power.

Things go downhill when it turns out that the Old One’s blood started turning the inhabitants of Yharnam into beasts. They scour the streets and attack anyone on sight. To counter these beats groups of specialized Hunters were formed, which led to the formation of the Hunter’s Dream. The Hunters have eternal devotion to the Dream and they can't die as long as they are connected to it. This doesn't mean the Hunters are perfect beings. Some hunters realize the beasts of Yharnam were once civilians and quit hunting them like Djura. Encountering him will plead to the player. Telling them they too will face the hunt if they continue mindlessly killing with pleasure. it's a moment that works extremely well, because it makes us consider if what we are doing is right. We're hired to kill monsters, but trapped within them are tortured human souls. Constantly in pain and only fighting you because they want to defend themselves. Who is the prey in this scenario? Bloodborne may not have any moral choice or questioning, but it effectively gets the player to rethink how they approach killing in video games without falling victim to ludo-narrative dissonance and hurting the overall plot.

Other hunters are driven mad by the blood driven hunt and begin to lose themselves. Father Gascoigne, the first major boss, being the best example. He's an old man who wanted to protect his family so he took some of the Old Blood, but slowly realizes he will one day lose all of them. Transforming into a mindless beast hunter who hacks away at dead beast. Even the oldest and wisest hunters fear their past and remain trapped in a personal hell, an eternal nightmare. The Hunter's Nightmare which is home of the warriors of the past. Then there are hunters who have problems outside the hunt. One hunter in particular is Eileen the Hunter of Hunters, because she realizes that hunters can use their powers to actually harm others, so she goes out of her way to track them down. Soon the player learns that the reason why the Healing Church didn’t stop administering blood was because of their pursuit of knowledge. To push what they discover even if there are risky factors. Knowledge is a powerful gift, but it can have terrible effects if we mess with information beyond our comprehension. Insight on the world can lead to discovery of things horrifying to casual eyes. People will try to expose it, and others will find ways to manipulate it even more. Power and balance will topple over. Freedom and discovery can knock over the peace we try to maintain.

Aggression Over Defense

Now that we’re done talking about the world of Bloodborne, let’s dive into what makes the gameplay so compelling. The Souls games look simple on the surface but are more complex than they appear. Their action games with RPG elements, but what makes them so difficult are their design choices. In typical action third person games like Devil May Cry 5 you can cancel out of a current attack animation by quickly pressing another button. Meaning if you're rapidly pressing the attack button and the enemy is about to hit you then you can quickly press the dodge button even during an attack animation, and the game will clean up your mistakes for you. It's fine, but it means the player is never punished for not putting thought into their actions.

In the Souls games when you press a button to attack or dodge you can’t cancel out. You have to wait for your character to finish the action they are performing before you can do something else. Not only that, but unlike most games where you can wail on the enemy without any punishment the Souls game have a stamina meter. Every time you attack, dodge, run, or block an attack you use up some of your stamina. You never want this bar to run low, because if an enemy is about to hit you and you can’t dodge in time you're screwed. It’s less of the game's fault and more on the player for not being careful. It's like a resource you have to keep in mind. These mechanics sound limiting, but it helps the combat of Souls game be more methodical than a majority of action games. Finding a way to think quickly and decide during a stressful encounter.