By Ian Boone. This is Load File, where we play and review video games. This week, Ian gets into the visceral, stuttering havoc that is Bloodborne, developed by From Software and JAPAN Studio exclusively for Playstation 4.
There is a sick madness going around, and From Software is propagating it. Dripping with viscera and mystery, their newest treat (re: punishment) for the sado-masochistic gaming populace is Bloodborne.
From Software is known for their difficult action-roleplaying Dark Souls games, and Bloodborne is built beautifully in this tradition. Never content to call a formula perfect (or allow veterans to get comfortable, ever), Hidetaka Miyazaki and his co-fiends have cooked up new combat mechanics, a new setting, and new multiplayer for everyone’s favorite trip down the Styx. Death is ever-constant, and new characters are more likely to lose a hand than to have it held.
But in spite of all this ceaseless, punishing death, Bloodborne is far more inviting than its ancestors. But make no mistake, it’ll invite you in with a barbed claw shoved between your third and fourth ribs, but that pull… You will not resist it.
Yharnam is an ancient and sprawling city in an East-European Gothic fashion. It’s a place most outsiders would do well to avoid, mostly due to local curses and the odd terrifying beast. But it is also home to the Church and its “blood healing,” which is what draws your character into this creepshow. But to obtain the cure for your illness, you must butcher the monsters that infest Yharnam as a Hunter.
That’s really all the setup this game’s premise is given. Or needed. Bloodborne feeds its story with arcane but succulent crumbs: The seeming majority of Yharnam’s population is out to kill you, but occasional conversations at a window or a knock on a door might yield clues or shed light on what’s happening. Every item has some description to it with a peck of lore to digest.
In a rare instance a fellow Hunter can be encountered; and even more rarely that Hunter will not try to kill you. (I’m still grasping the finer points of inter-Hunter politics.)
Yharnam is a gnarled and twisted hive of a city, and scouring it corner to corner can yield goodies besides information. Loot in the form of consumables, crafting material, and equipment can be discovered. Most importantly, there are valuable shortcuts that can offer detours around hazards and encourage backtracking.
With Bloodborne and the Souls games, what probably breaks most first-timers is the high cost of advancement coupled with the harsh penalty of death. As enemies are slain in Bloodborne, Blood Echoes are collected. This represents the near-universal currency in Yharnam, and you can use it to pay for goods as well as leveling-up character stats.
Player death will cause all currently held Blood Echoes to be dropped on the ground or given over to an enemy… either way, you’ll want to try to recover them whenever possible. Multiple deaths will result in all that blood disappearing, so caution is needed when one retrieves Echoes.
Those multiple deaths can happen in multiple ways, opening up a veritable universe of reasons to scream at the unfairness of everything. There’s just so much enemy diversity; a veritable painbow of foes. And each one deserves caution and one-to-one odds when they can be afforded. Statistically, you’re more likely to die from a simple farmer’s pitchfork when getting mobbed than getting flattened by a boss enemy. Traps, ambushes, and a never-truly paused game means there are very few truly safe times in Bloodborne.
A haven can be found in the Hunter’s Dream, an otherworld accessible by using special lampposts found in each area. Set on a gravestone-dotted hill and inhabited by a crippled Huntsmaster (and a doll with some disturbing implications), the Hunter’s Dream will serve as a base from which you may strike at the night. Only here can Blood Echoes be spent to buy new levels, but higher levels require increasingly more blood and longer sortees.
Weapons can be repaired after use and upgraded here too, which is optional but still advisable as durability and effectiveness deteriorate.
If you happen to be caught off guard, many fights can be very short-lived. Padding yourself with heavy armor or hiding behind shields won’t be an option if you’re looking to reducing damage. And every attack animation, both Hunter and monster alike, has timing to get used to. With good timing, some enemy attacks can be rebutted via a gun-inflicted wound to the face, setting up a powerful execution move with the shape-shifting trick weapon in your right hand. Trick weapons sport two modes that vary by piece, allowing a shift in attack types as called for. (My personal favorite thus far is still the Kirkhammer, a one-handed sword that can convert to a two-handed warhammer.)
When dealt a blow, doling out damage quickly enough can regain lost health, so often the best way to stay alive (and ahead) is to attack. This can lead to overextending one’s capabilities easily though, as attacks take stamina to execute. Fights will always be a delicate matter of trying to pick off the right amount to chew, and chewing until your enemy is dead and not trying to chew you.
Bloodborne’s multiplayer does not stray far from its roots, but it does come with improvements as far as functionality and hidden danger are concerned. A Hunter exploring an area where they have not yet killed the local boss can ring a bell to summon another player for help. Once summoned, the other player can fight and die alongside the host until something sends them back, such as defeating the boss. It’s merely an alliance of violence, as no trade can take place between Hunters, but helping players will score Blood Echoes and other loot as compensation for their time.
Sometimes when this summon process is attempted, an undesired outcome occurs. A bell-ringing maiden will appear in your area and will start to bring hostile players into the game with murder on their minds. Killing the maiden stops the summons for a while, but it makes the mere act of getting another player’s help a risky proposition.
Bloodborne has beauty, cruelty, mystery, and responsiveness, all fit makings for the perfect mistress. It is a game that can crush your spirit with sudden tragedy as easily as it can make you feel like Baddy Baddassum the next. Delight in its horror and cringe as it bats away your free time and goes straight for your soul. After all, the moon is high, and it is the Night of the Hunt.