From Demon’s Souls, all the way through to Dark Souls 3, the Souls series has gone from strength to strength. Every game in the series has fantastic narrative, level design and gameplay but in my opinion, the standout is the darkly atmospheric Bloodborne. FromSoftware outdid themselves when it came to this twisted Lovecraftian masterpiece.
One of the hallmarks of a Miyazaki game is precise, elegant combat, and Bloodborne is no exception. Unlike the slower, more measured approach of it predecessors, Bloodborne is all about speed. You can no longer circle your opponent, shield raised, waiting for an opening. You have to stay light on your feet and be ready to move at a moments notice. The combat in the earlier games was far from being bad, but after three games, a change was needed in order to freshen things up. But simply speeding things up wouldn’t be enough. The developers needed to add an incentive for players to play with a quicker, more aggressive style. To this end, they added the “rally” mechanic which allows you to regain lost health by striking back at your opponent (within a certain time frame). This made it advantageous for players to quickly get back into the fight, naturally speeding up the combat’s overall tempo. Other changes in the name of speed include the removal of (useful) shields and the replacement of Estus with blood vials, which are much quicker to use.
You can’t have a Souls game without at least a few memorable bosses, and in this aspect, Bloodborne knocks it out of the park. The first boss in particular, (some mild spoilers here) Father Gascoigne, is among the best in the genre, not only for being a tough, tragic and terrifying encounter, but for the way he teaches players that old style Dark Souls combat simply will not cut the mustard. His first form is relatively easy to deal with, but once he transforms, things get hectic. He comes at you relentlessly, meaning that backing away and playing cautiously is simply not an option. To emerge victorious, you have to play Bloodborne the way it was meant to be played. The fight actually becomes pretty easy once you realise this. From here onwards, the player understands how they have to play the game and can face off against the monstrosities that lie ahead with a newfound confidence.
The combat is fantastic, but we have to look beyond it in order to see Bloodborne’s true strength, the storytelling. It allows you to be as invested as you choose to be by telling the story primarily through the mechanics and the environment, and yes, the item descriptions. Where a lot of games would simply suffocate the player with lengthy cutscenes, Bloodborne takes a more hands-off approach. Small details and lore bits about the world are gradually revealed, but only to the more attentive players. A nice example of this is the way that the player character uses their healing items, blood vials. Rather than simply using a generic heal animation, the developers very deliberately have the player character jab a small syringe into their leg. This alone means very little but later in the game, you can find this quote in the description of a pair of trousers, “A widespread belief of the period was that “beast blood crept up the right leg”. You can probably put two and two together.
Bloodborne is a special game, in many ways being the perfect sequel. It does just enough to keep the formula fresh, while still managing to feel like a classic FromSoftware game. Few other games have burned themselves into my mind the way Bloodborne has. If you own a PS4 and haven’t picked this one up yet, remedy that immediately. You won’t regret it.