Written by G.Russell
We may be only 4 months into the year but I can say with some degree of certainty that Bloodborne will be my favourite game of 2015. Which you might think is a little ridiculous, because you never know what’s around the corner, but I’ll be very surprised if another game comes along this year and affects me the way that Bloodborne has. It has dominated my life since the second I brought it home. I’ve poured 70 hours in over two weeks. When I’m not playing it, I’m thinking about it. I’m talking about it. I’m writing about it. I’m dreaming about it.
I never knew that my life was missing a videogame that takes elements from H.P Lovecraft’s brand of cosmic horror and weaves an unsettling tale about metamorphosis, transcendence and humanity’s lust for contact with the impossibly powerful beings that straddle dimensions. But that is exactly what Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software have delivered. Drape those themes over a framework of trademark Miyazaki difficulty, ambiguity, exploration and pitch-perfect combat and you’ve got, at least in my opinion, one of the finest videogames ever made. I can’t imagine anything topping it. Certainly not this year. Not many moments pass by in the game when I’m not in awe of what I’m experiencing so, in an attempt to try to clear some space in my head, here’s a few of my personal highlights from all over the game.
Warning : spoliers will follow.
I’ve completed Bloodborne twice now and uncovered all areas and optional bosses so this post will discuss everything in detail. Also, for the sake of brevity, I’ll discuss elements of the lore without divulging all of the associated back story. I assume that if you’re reading this you’ll know the difference between the Healing Church and the scholars at Byrgenwerth but, if not, Rich Stanton does a great job of laying all the lore out in great detail here. Anyway, here are Bloodborne’s best bits according to me.
The mother of all Miyazaki shortcuts
Everyone who has played Dark Souls will remember the feeling of creating that shortcut in Undead Burg. That moment where, after (potentially) hours of terrifying exploration and snail-paced progress, you kick down a ladder and descend it to find that, despite travelling for what feels like miles in multiple directions, you’re actually standing directly above the last checkpoint you’ve been starting from. By kicking down that ladder the new section of the level which you’ve worked so hard to get to is now accessible from your starting point, letting you avoid a lot of the punishment it takes to get there. Bloodborne’s exploration relies even more heavily on these shortcuts, eschewing Dark Souls 2‘s abundance of bonfires and instead relying on multiple paths that, via locked doors and gates, all lead back to the 1 or 2 lanterns throughout the vast areas. But this particular shortcut I want to mention doesn’t exist to aid progression, it exists to deservedly show off just how incredibly interconnected From Software’s game world is. After fighting your way through the grim, maze-like Forbidden Woods and following its paths that seem to be leading ever-downwards you can find a cave hidden at the end of a narrow forest trail. Navigate its rocky surfaces, again leading you further and further down, and you will emerge into a large opening; the floor covered in diseased, poisonous waters. At the back of this cave there is an impossibly tall series of ladders which, if you ascend it, leads you up and out through a grave, back onto the surface. The area in which you emerge looks oddly familiar but it’s only when you unlock the graveyard’s gate that you realise you are standing back in the courtyard of the blood treatment clinic where you stood at the very start of the game. Not only impressive from a technical standpoint (by this point you couldn’t feel further away from the streets of that starting city) but it also sends the story in intriguing directions. Why has the clinic got direct, secret access to a forbidden part of the city? What’s the deal with the piles of twisted, mangled and deformed bodies that lie at the foot of this ladder? Why has Iosefka, the clinic’s nurse, been demanding that you send any stranded citizens directly to her? Perhaps you should use that broken window you can see to get back in to this clinic and start getting some answers. I’d have your weapon ready, though.
FINDING THE abandoned old workshop
This is arguably the exact point at which Bloodborne’s story starts to reach far beyond your initial understanding of it, (and you thought it was just about werewolves!) as you discover that the Hunter’s Dream hub area that you visit, which seems to exists on a separate plane of consciousness and is surrounded by dense fog, is mimicking an actual real world place, sealed off and hidden below the Healing Church Workshop tower. It’s a secret and totally optional location but there is some massively significant items and tasty morsels of lore here that help you begin to comprehend what you’re really dealing with. It’s a jaw dropping discovery at a point in the game where, so far, all you’ve been concerned with are the feral beasts that stalk the streets. With its replica of the doll who talks to you in Hunter’s Dream sitting lifeless and abandoned in the corner and a section of an umbilical cord once belonging to an ‘infant Great One’ lying on the workbench, your visit to the Abandoned Old Workshop serves to show you that shit is about to get very strange.
the way you get blood-tan lines if you remove your mask after a fight
summoned to Cainhurst Castle
One of the less horrifying things you can find upon your return to Iosefka’s clinic via that wondrous shortcut I detailed above is a mysterious letter, addressed to you, summoning you to the forsaken and forgotten Cainhurst Castle, home to an ancient royal bloodline. With its parapets and turrets covered in snow it’s a stunning location, offering something altogether visually unique from anything else you’ll see in the game. The interior is like a medieval castle and is populated with shrieking headless ghosts and blow-dart spitting old crones and should you successfully fight your way to the top and defeat the boss, you’re granted an audience with Annalise, Queen of The Vilebloods. The Vileblood’s are one of the few hidden covenants in the game that a player can join and their Caryll Rune, a symbol of your membership, tells how their predilection for Blood Dregs (blood drawn from the bodies of the Church’s hunters) was seen as corruption by the church and so Cainhurst residents were hunted, executed and cut off from Yharnam. Again, this is a totally optional area but one I couldn’t imagine not experiencing. You also get a crown to wear. If you like that sort of thing.
ROM, The vacuous spider
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Rom, the enormous celestial Great One spider. And not just because she’s without a doubt the boss fight that caused me the most trouble in the whole game, but because of everything she represents. That’s why the image above isnt of Rom, but of the red moon that descends upon her defeat. Despite her presence over the story from very early on (a note found in Cathedral Ward tantalises with “The Byrgenwerth spider hides all manner of rituals, and keeps our lost master from us…”) there isn’t really a lot of concrete information within the game about her. Instead we get beguiling notes that can be found and unsettling dialogue from other characters. It suggests that Rom was once a human, possibly studying at Byrgenwerth, who achieved (either by accident or intentionally) significant enough contact with the Great Ones to ascend and become like them. Whatever Rom was hoping for though surely can’t be how she ends up. As we can learn from the description of the Great One’s umbilical cord, other instances of human contact with them has “resulted in the stillbirth of their brains”, something which Rom certainly proves. She’s vacuous in more than just name. Hers appears to be a pretty tragic fate; was her mind obliterated as punishment by the Great Ones for trying to interfere in matters that she can’t possibly comprehend? Or is it that, as the game’s Insight mechanic proves, too much contact with the cosmos will inevitably drive you insane. She’s a fascinating character and her purpose as warden of the Moonlight Lake where you fight her is also unclear. If we assume that the note referencing her keeping “…our lost master from us” is written by a member of the sinister Healing Church, are the more morally grounded scholars at Byrgenwerth using her as a gatekeeper? Keeping the Healing Church from getting any closer to meddling with the horrors of the cosmos? It certainly seems so as when she dies the red moon is pulled closer, something that we’ve learnt will, among other things, aid the Church’s goal – the attempt to cross-breed with the Great Ones. Either way, Rom’s state as a mindless abomination is looked upon by Mensis (an even shadier and more crazed sect of the Healing Church) as one of the ultimate achievements. Which leads me nicely onto…
The fight with Micolash
As Miyazaki boss fights go your tangle with Micolash, a crazed acolyte from the School of Mensis, isn’t the most thrilling in terms of combat. Set among the labyrinthine chambers of Micolash’s nightmares it’s a fight that see’s you spend as much time chasing after him as it does see you twatting him with your sword/axe/electrified mace of choice. What makes it so memorable is not the combat, though. It’s the things he says while you’re chasing him. Aside from your seemingly benevolent guide Gehrman, Micolash is really the only other member of either Byrgenwerth or the Healing Church who you interact with properly and he’s as delightfully insane as you’d come to expect. He adds even further weight to the theory that Rom was once human and that her position as a monstorous, mute abomination is envied by Mensis’ members when he mumbles “As you once did for the vacuous Rom, grant us eyes, grant us eyes. Plant eyes on our brains, to cleanse our beastly idiocy” and spends the rest of the fight gleefully ranting about how “…the nightmare swirls and churns unending!” and how he wants to “…sit about, and speak feverishly, chatting into the wee hours about new ideas, of the higher plane!” He might seem a bit pantomime for some but he reinforces the notion, at this point hinted at only in notes and item descriptions, that the Healing Church have severely lost their perspective and are dangerously insane.
discovering the hidden horrors of Upper cathedral Ward
At the point in the game where you can finally get the key to unlock the door which leads to Upper Cathedral Ward you’ve already got a pretty clear opinion that the Healing Church are A) up to no good and B) totally off their collective nut. Even with that in mind, though, you’re still not quite prepared for the full extent of their misdeeds. The upper echelons of the Healing Church are known as The Choir and they reside exclusively in Upper Cathedral Ward, accessed via a locked door at the top of the Healing Church Workshop tower. It’s here where the studies they began at Byrgenwerth continue as they gaze into the cosmos for answers. More troubling than that though is the discovery of The Orphanage, where it seems that the Healing Church would repurpose Yharnam’s child orphans for their own ends; using them to become “potent unseen thinkers for the Healing Church.” Barnardo’s, it aint. The best is yet to come though as deep underground you discover the Great One Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos. An enormous mass of tentacles and aquatic appendages, topped off with a grotesque, bulbous head full of teeth. She’s the one abomination in the game that is the clearest visual reference to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and is a guaranteed source of nightmares. Your slow walk towards her, as she sits with her back to you (mourning an effigy of Rom, no less!!), before she becomes hostile was one of the most tense and unnerving moments in the whole game.
poor old gilbert
Gilbert will likely be the first NPC you speak to in the game and his story arc, true to Bloodborne’s overall theme of despair, is a tragic one. Possibly not this tragic, but he suffers a pretty grim fate all the same. As you progress through Bloodborne, you’ll do things that cause the environment and the time of day to change. It pays you to check back in on NPC’s that you’ve met to see what they have to say as the nightmare around them seems to be closing in. At the start of the game Gilbert, who speaks in hushed tones as though he’s scared of being overheard dishing out advice to a stranger, provides early guidance on which locations to aim for and he’ll even hand over the Flamesprayer weapon if you check back in on him after killing a certain boss. But as things progress he seems to be getting weaker and sicker; coughing violently and speaking of being thankful he can at least “die human“. Visiting his window late in the game once the red moon is in the sky you find it torn open and a feral beast stalking around outside. A beast who we, naturally, murder the heck out of. So much for dying human. Sorry Gilbert. Deep feels aside, it’s a lovely example of From’s incidental, subtle storytelling. Completely optional and easily missed it may be but it’s the little details like this that make Bloodborne the rich experience that it is.
no happy endings here
By this point did we expect anything but misery? Bloodborne has 3 endings and all of them are uniformly excellent and a total bummer. Which is perfect, really. We cant expect to interfere with all-powerful beings from the cosmos and come off clean, can we? Following a fantastic (albeit optional) one-on-one hunter battle with Gherman in a field of white flowers, you’re presented with one of 3 cinematics depending on certain choices you’ve made. In line with all of Bloodborne’s story and lore so far, things are kept vague and are open to player interpretation as to what the true meanings are for each of the possible conclusions. But when the ending of a game either renders my character as 1) decapitated in a field, 2) incapacitated in a wheelchair and cursed to guard a dream for forevermore or 3) turned into a slug-like infant Great One to replace all the cosmic horrors you’ve killed? I’m happy. I’m very happy indeed.