Fire. Blood. Danger. There’s nothing quite like opening the doors to Yharnham for the first time. This moment is one of many reasons why From Software’s 2015 PlayStation 4 classic Bloodborne lives on in the gaming zeitgeist. Even as the game’s fifth anniversary is today, the occult/cosmic horror adventure game lives on as one of the best arguments for why hardware exclusives still matter in an age when those lines feel more and more blurred. Formerly known as “Project Beast,” its a wholly PlayStation experience and one not replicated to this day—even by its own developer.
After all, ask any of the scores of people—myself included—begging for a PC port of Bloodborne, their wails and moans ignored like so many beasts gnashing their teeth in the distance. And so, Bloodborne stands as one of the most important games in the PS4 library. Representing a paradigm shift from what the developer’s past efforts offered, Bloodborne is a different animal altogether.
Perhaps that is one of many things that led to the almost universal popularity of Bloodborne, seeing positive review scores across the board. Coming off a successful—if not divisive—release in Dark Souls 2, Bloodborne saw a complete change in gameplay design philosophy, style, and storytelling from a developer in From Soft, known for hanging its hat on the same hook for three straight games. Many wondered if From only had one trick in its playbook.
How very wrong they were.
Bloodborne is a game of terse aggression and measured anarchy. Whereas the previous Souls game rewarded players for defensive measures and timed strikes Bloodborne wanted players to lose themselves in the heat of battle. The most effective method for healing a received wound is to give a wound right back, healing damage through consecutive attacks. Gone are the shields and armor of high fantasy, with Bloodborne going as far as to mock players looking to hide behind the comfort of a bulwark. The flavor text on the only shield in the game states “Shields are nice, but not if they engender passivity.”
Passivity, indeed. The easiest way to die in Bloodborne is to think and not act. Areas such as Old Yharnham where a corrupted hunter with a machine gun test the player’s early game aggression. Moving methodically is a choice, but one that leads the player down a road of ruin littered with enemies and open sightlines to be mowed down. The best solution is to run the gauntlet, climb the gunner’s tower, and rip and tear until it is done.
This isn’t the last time that Bloodborne faces players with a scenario in which past games would allow for a slow and steady type of pace. My first playthrough of Bloodborne was wrought with indecision and deaths due to lollygagging. It wasn’t until I shut my brain off and focused on pressing forward—sometime around my fifth death due to giant snake in the Forbidden Woods—that I understood in what ways my strategies needed to change.
And if you are well-versed in The Old Blood you know what point in the game I refer to. A moonlit lake. A secret manor. Cosmic mysteries of the stars revealed. The secret of Moonside Lake at Byrgenwerth College signals the game’s midway twist and one of the best moments of the PS4 generation. The downing of a Great One signals a complete change in tone, scenery, and story for Bloodborne.
For those that thought they were playing a game of Victorian horror were wrong. Instead, it’s a cosmic, Lovecraftian nightmare.
For The Love Of C’thulu
Bloodborne wears the inspirations of director and creator Hidetaka Miyazaki on its sleeves. From the mythologization of Christian theology akin to Neon Genesis Evangelion and manga influences such as Berzerk and the influences of the western masters of fictional horror, Miyazaki tells a story in Bloodborne that ties together fiction and philosophy from all cultures and people. I sat mouth agape upon beating the Vacuous Spider, Rom and seeing the change that Yharnham and its people undertook.
In a time where the real world also feels like it is on fire and falling apart, Bloodborne‘s world is literally on fire and falling apart at the seams. Old women wail into the darkness. The worst tendencies of humanity come to the forefront. A desire for cosmic influence by any means meant as a way to give our existence meaning. Oddly enough, the lessons and stories of Bloodborne feel all too prescient in a time when our own world feels closed off, distant, and cold.
And still Bloodborne remains relevant in the year 2020, both as a testament to single-player storytelling and as a mechanical challenge. Some of my favorite videos are speedrun attempts of Bloodborne, with FromSoftware master Distortion2 recently completing an Any% run of the game in just over 24 minutes thanks to a recently discovered glitch. The world continues to look Bloodborne in the eyes, staring into a void which reflects the soul. As From Soft’s next game approaches—a collaboration with renowned writer George R. R. Martin—I can’t help but look at Bloodborne as anything but a true achievement and milestone by which From’s future work is measured.
So on this, the fifth anniversary of Bloodborne, remember to smile on the past and to always, always fear the Old Blood.