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Bloodborne Retrospective

Bloodborne Retrospective

Hidetaka Miyazaki has reached Hideo Kojima levels of a cult following. The games he directs have managed to receive overwhelming praise from both the nameless masses and critics alike. And unlike Hideo Kojima, he has managed to maintain this balance throughout his career. With Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice being the game that finally cemented Hidetaka Mizaki as a favourite for both the casual liker of videogames and the die-hard freak. Elden Ring’s gameplay trailer has reignited the passionate discourse of talking about how good FromSoftware’s videogames are. Some claim that the studio's most recent entries (Dark Souls III and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice) are the best of the best with the games stunning graphics and fairly smooth 60 FPS. However, the best game FromSoftware has ever published is one that is hard locked at 30 FPS and graphically can be best described as wet. Bloodborne is still the best game Hidetaka Miyazaki has ever directed and the best game FromSoftware has ever published.

Bloodborne is a modern classic, an eighth-generation masterstroke. Talking about the game often boils down to grinding teeth and egotistical self-congratulation. It’s a game that is forever a part of the cyclical and unchanging “should games be hard?” argument. Which truly does the game a massive disservice. The game is hard but that’s not what makes it good. Critiques of it feel floaty and ambiguous because the game is dense. A gut-punch of game design evolution that happened in only two years. FromSoftware managed to radically and rapidly change everything about the “Souls formula” while still keeping it a “Souls game”. The game is a proof of concept for the soul of the “Souls'' genre. That at the densest point of overlapping systems, tones, themes, and mechanics; we have a game that makes people feel things. A game with little direct narration still manages to create reflection out of even the most emotionally repressed videogame player. A game that manages to speak with gameplay, art design, and ambiguous NPC word vomit. Bloodborne at six years old manages to be the best videogame Hidetaka Miyazaki has ever directed, and one of the best of Sony’s first-party titles.

bloodborne velvet veil leakBloodborne’s setting is a fiction reader’s sweat covered fever dream. “Lovecraft Souls” is a term often thrown around when attempting to distil the game to its most potent essence, but that misses the mark. It is cosmic horror with a Victorian-era pacemaker, the trauma of England’s industrialization through the lens of an acid-induced panic attack. Graphically the game is still incredibly impressive, every surface and dank corner gleams with some unknown slickness. The game is existential dread so fully realized and constructed, that it haunts every corner of every space in the game. And like Lovecraft’s most intelligent and least problematic stories it only gets more overwhelming. With the games final level being a descent into sheer mental agony. This is the perfect setting for a “Souls game”. So perfect in fact that there will never be anything else ever like it. The enemy designs are the perfect merging of the game's art direction and practical application of videogame systems. Every enemy feels ever-so-slightly human in the most horrifying of ways. No enemy seems cool or calculating, instead they are enraged, panicked, or completely mad. This creates a setting that brings forth so many of the game’s most powerful themes and feelings.

Combat is the key system for Bloodborne and it is the most drastic change from Dark Souls. The biggest error Dark Souls made was giving players the ability to not engage with its world, to cower behind a shield and let the game play itself. Combat is frenetically fast-paced with its focus on getting hit and then hitting back. The health recovery window is quite possibly one of the most intelligent game design decisions ever made. It takes the incredibly basic yet fundamental game design concept of risk and reward and flips it on its head. The risk is now the reward, fatal mistakes in other games are instead twisted into fuel for more gameplay. Players are forced to engage with the game's enemy and level design in order to succeed: you must be an active participant in Bloodborne’s world. And this is how the game conveys its story and causes the most reactions from players.

Combat and death are the main ways in which the player is pulled through the world. Player action is the main thing that changes the game state in Bloodborne. Because of this, the actual moment-to-moment gameplay carries the most emotional weight for the player. Manifesting itself in highly Twitch clippable emotions of despair, rage, and defeat. But, also positive feelings of overcoming, accomplishment, and pride. It is through combat which the game manages to convey most of its story and feelings to the player. The actual moments of narrative progress that occur outside of the player’s control are still caused by the player’s interaction with the world. Paired with the setting and enemy design, each combat encounter becomes a direct engagement with existential dread. Each boss fight is a triumph over midnight anxiety sweats and self-doubt, as the player pushes themself forward despite the fear of what’s next. The actual narrative bits only contribute to this as the game actively tells you to stop trying. Hopelessness has consumed seemingly everything and everyone, yet we push on. The game makes clear that the rules of this world make our attempts meaningless but we try anyway.

Fire Bloodborne
Bloodborne is not about staring existential dread in the face, but rather punching it. It is a game concerned with life’s limits and rules. Hiditeka Miazakia shouts at the player “Rules are stupid. School’s out forever. Punch the dean in the face.” The gigantic and incomprehensible becomes killable. Unplaceable feelings of anxiety, despair, hopelessness, self-deprecation, and alienation crystallize into pixels on a screen. The game doesn't ask you to get up once you've been knocked down, it forces you to. The best part of any FromSoftware game is “getting good” not because it is a symbol that you're better than randoms on Twitter, but because it means you killed the unkillable and beat the unbeatable. It means you got mad and said I can beat that and then you did. The game is still the best game Hidetaka Miyazaki ever directed because more so than any of his other games, the game's systems tell a story. The emotional reflexive kick comes not from how bleak the world of Bloodborne is, but that the player beats the game despite how bleak everything is. The hero's journey is no longer about how great we are for saving the day, instead, it’s about how great we are for even trying in the first place.

Bloodborne manages to execute FromSoftware’s best thematic and world-building ideas with highly engaging and unique combat. It is a game that clearly learns from its predecessor and makes meaningful and large changes to game mechanics for the better. Creating a game that manages to effectively and engagingly deliver the “souls'' experience in a much better way than Dark Souls ever did. Bloodborne is still the best game FromSoftware has ever published and I anxiously await Elden Ring’s attempt to take that title from it.

Will Hance

Will Hance

Staff Writer

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