FromSoftware is perhaps one of the most beloved games studios around. After releasing Demon Souls in 2009, game director Hidetaka Miyazaki earned his place along the greats, with his unique brand of brutally difficult, high-stakes gameplay spawning an entire 'souls-like' genre – kept alive by the incredibly popular Dark Souls franchise. But just as you thought the themes and settings of Miyazaki’s games were getting stale, in 2015 we got Bloodborne – a Lovecraftian horror PlayStation exclusive filled with unique beasts and deranged beast hunters.
Bloodborne puts you in the dirty, blood-soaked shoes of The Hunter and tasks you with entering the strange town of Yarnham to hunt down beasts and put a stop to the mysterious plague devastating the town. As you progress through the town, you’ll begin to unravel the mystery of the Healing Church and the conspiracy behind the disease spreading through the population.
As with all FromSoftware games, the lore of the Bloodborne universe is vast – largely told through cryptic conversations with mysterious NPCs, as well as environmental hints you’ll discover as you explore the world.
And what a world to explore. Yarnham is dark, disgusting and horrifying – but always intriguing. You never know what might be lurking around the next corner and whether or not it will want to help you or eat you.
From the confusingly-twisted swamps to the grand Cathedral Ward, each location you explore will make you feel equal parts curious and tentative, as you try to soak up the rich narrative while fighting for your life.
A unique spin on the genre
Bloodborne not only breathes fresh life into the genre with its stunning locations, but also its variation in gameplay. Dark Souls games often put the player on the defensive – patience tends to be your best friend and, waiting for an opening, your only option. Bloodborne turns that concept on its head, encouraging the player to go on the offensive. Once you’ve taken damage in Bloodborne you can earn some of that lost health back by immediately striking back at the enemy that hurt you.
Instead of having a flask of healing juice that refills when you rest – as in Dark Souls – Bloodborne gives the player a bank of healing vials that can quickly run out. This also works to keep the pace of the game up, as more vials can be found by murdering your way through the enemies littering the streets of Yarnham.
There is always a balance of risk and reward to navigating the environments of FromSoftwares games. Often enemies or even bosses can be avoided if you take the time to explore the towns, swamps and castles well enough. The difference is, in Bloodborne, it’s usually worth going for the kill.
Bloodborne rewards exploration with hidden items and even NPCs that could have been missed if not for your curiosity. However, the game also punishes experimentation in other areas.
For example, the best strategy is to find a weapon you like early on and stick to it. Upgrade materials are few and far between and you’ll need to focus on mastering one weapon’s move set if you want to progress. This does mean that replaying this game is more tempting than most FromSoftware games, but revisiting such a punishing game will be daunting for most.
Learn from your mistakes
While the game is challenging, as all FromSoftware games are, it’s also fair. The loop of working your way through a grim area, learning enemy movements, reaching the boss, learning their attacks, weaknesses and strengths, before finally slaying your prey is the satisfying core of this game.
While sometimes it can feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, overcoming a challenging boss, upgrading your weapon and mopping the floor with enemies that were dominating you just a couple of hours ago is one of the most satisfying things in gaming.
It’s the reinvention of well-established genre mechanics that make Bloodborne a game that people keep returning years after release. For many people, it is the game that got them into the souls-like genre and it has us incredibly excited about the Demon Souls remake coming to the PS5 – and the spectre of a Bloodborne 2 sequel, if such a thing ever comes.