Come to Yharnam for a visit, see the sights and meet the people. Visit the church, have some ministrations…but beware, you might catch the beastly scourge, the local Bloodborne disease!
Genre(s): Action RPG Horror
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: March 2015
Played: Full story
Purchase At: PS Store
Bloodborne doesn’t give you much in the way of explanations at the start—or at all but we’ll get to that. You come to the city of Yharnam, home to the Healing Church and their miracle blood transfusions. After taking one of them, you fall asleep and have a nightmare of a beast emerging from a pool of blood and jumping you. You wake up alone in the middle of the hunt, the streets packed with blood-drunk hunters and all manners of beasts. On the way you find a lantern—or get killed, it is a Souls game after all—and use it to reach the Hunter’s Dream, a workshop lost in the dream world. The caretaker, Gherman, welcomes you and urges you to return to Yharnam and begin the hunt.
And that’s as far as you know what the plot is about. This is a From Software game, so you know that you won’t get much of the plot unless you neurotically check item descriptions, read notes and piece together scraps of information from others, which I don’t mind at this point. While it does have stronger characterisation than other games released by the developer, with NPCs with defined personalities and their own tales to tell, Bloodborne still has the same issue as its predecessors, and that is flimsy motivations for your main character. You join the hunt…because and you go to Yharnam to find something that never receives an explanation. And once you’re a hunter, there’s very little choice but to move on and keep going to survive. Bloodborne doesn’t focus on you, but on the world and the strange occurrences. You’re just a new pawn trapped on the board, but if you struggle hard enough you might just discover which game everyone’s playing. I would’ve liked some mention of why you should start hunting.
While you don’t have much of a character history, the world is full of it and it’s the Eldritch Cosmic Horror kind that H.P. Lovecraft fans—me—will dig very much. There are ancient beings manipulating mortals, using them as surrogates for their young, there are cults and schools of thought dedicated to elevating humanity to the level of these gods, but the only thing they create are abominations and some even end up locked in nightmarish dimensions where they’re silvery slug people in their original clothes. The more you read, the more you find about this world, about the mysteries of Yharnam, of the people that once lived where the city now stands and the plots that keep things turning. The DLC, The Old Hunters even builds on the past, speaking of the transgressions committed that have an effect on the present world.
What I found fantastic was how it works with the mechanics. There is a value called Insight, which represents how much of the true world you perceive. The more you face bosses and visit strange locations, this value increases and then you’ll see the true horrors in Yharnam. But much like in Lovecraftian Mythos, seeing too much can be dangerous, so Insight also makes the game harder by giving enemies new moves and even making a particular debuff, Frenzy (Insanity in the Japanese version), stronger.
In fact, one of Bloodborne’s greatest strengths is its marriage of lore and game. As everything revolves around blood in Yharnam, so too everything is blood-themed in the game, such as Blood Echoes for what would be Souls in other games and blood gems and stones for reinforcing weaponry. Your character uses blood vials to recover health and the bullets you use are a special mix of your blood and quicksilver. But the most visible representation of this blood theme in the game is how much of it enemies spray when you hurt them. It’s not unusual for you to be drenched head to toe in blood.
Quicksilver bullets and the Blood vials are also the source of my greatest annoyance with the game: grinding. Unlike the other From Software games, your healing items don’t regenerate on checkpoints, but instead you find them on enemies. So when you run out after spending them all on the latest boss, you’ll have to grind them by killing random mooks, something that gets progressively more dangerous. There is a storage box that automatically stores excess units, and refills you as appropriate, but it’s not unusual to spend a lot of time replenishing your stock.
My second frustration came with the shops. As you progress through Bloodborne, the shops start asking for more blood echoes for items, so while the Blood vials and bullets have a negligible cost at the start, by the end they’ve almost tripled in price.
But if you’re skilled enough—I’m not—then you won’t ever need to grind. Combat is fast-paced, focused on dodging and weaving through your enemies’ moves until you find and exploit an opening. Bloodborne is a game where you go on the offensive most of the time. If you take damage, there’s a time window to attack enemies and recover health with ever hit, and if you can nail the timing, you can stop an enemy’s attack with your gun, staggering them to move in for a highly damaging—and hilarious looking when used on the giant pigs—visceral attack.
The combat takes some time to get used to, particularly for Dark Souls players, since we’re used to shields and carefully finding that opening. Bloodborne demands faster thinking and better reflexes and with the gun riposte, it’s a completely different beast, pun intended. But once you get used to how it all flows and how to use the forms of your transformable trick weapons, you’ll start dealing with packs of enemies and giant bosses pretty nicely.
Boss fights, as with every other From Software game are the highlights and Bloodborne has a nice mix of humanoid, beastly and completely messed up creatures in it. My favourite though are the Hunter fights. You’ll often find other hunters like you, just hostile. These battles feel closer to PVP as they use your same moves. It’s no wonder that Father Gascoigne and Maria are my two favourite bosses. Both are hunters and push your hunting skills to the limit.
Bloodborne also has Chalice Dungeons, randomised dungeons filled with monsters, loot and bosses. The concept is cool and the dungeons complement the story, as it is referenced a few times as the source of the sacred blood the healing used, but the layout is repetitive and so is the content. As you progress through the different levels of the dungeons, you’ll start seeing story bosses pop up in there as recyclable assets. It lacks the impact, atmosphere and fun.
Sound design is always a strong point in From Software games, with its minimalist approach. You barely hear any music for most of your game, the sound effects, voices from enemies and the clash of weapons working with the visual design to create an amazingly chilly atmosphere. Yharnam is more threatening than any other From Software game location and just the sounds will make you want to leave the city. That’s why when the music does kick in, on important occasions and boss fights, the tension and atmosphere grip you and don’t let go.
Visually it’s stunning. Yharnam is a nightmarish Victorian London if designed by M.C. Escher. The streets and alleyways twist on each other, and there are dozens of shortcuts to find and enemies to kill in small quarters. Caslte Cainhurst is beautiful yet desolate, only ghosts and servants remaining, but its beautiful ballrooms reminded me of a mix between Castlevania and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There are strong themes going in each location, and they help tell a story as much as the item descriptions do. The DLC’s Nighmare landscapes are particularly strong at this, especially the asylum-like building where the Living Failures and Maria reside.
Bloodborne is an amazing game, very fun and fast and enough mysteries to keep you digging. As always, your character lacks any real motivation to participate in the plot, he’s just there. But it’s good that he is, because otherwise you wouldn’t experience a mythos that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud.
4.5/5 – Amazing!