Bloodborne

You really don’t want to set your verevolves on fire. Because of the smell, primarily.

Game Name: Bloodborne (2015) aka “Budblorne”
Developer: from FromSoftware (King’s Field, Armored Core, Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls)
Platform: PS4 (reviewed on PS4)
Categories: 3rd Person Action (a Human/Alien/Warewilf ménage á trois), Multi-Ending, Multiplayer elements for PSN+ subscribers, Exploration and Backtracking, Shades of Blue and Gray, Furious Flurries of Melee Combat, Piecemeal Storytelling, Procedural Dungeon Extras, Bloodsports, H.P. Lovecraft Inspired, Top Hats and Canes m’lady

May Appeal To: die-hard Miyazaki fans, PS4 exclusivists, Team Jacob, Team Squidbillies, Cthulhu cultists, and (of course) action/horror survival junkies with a proclivity for the macabre and a hankering for the Souls series to don a new theme.
May Repulse: XBox fanbois, Lovecraftian genre abolitionists, Team Edward, and reasonable people expecting a full game without dropping money on the PSN+.

Comparable To: Demon’s Souls’ sense of pioneering new subject material. If you squint real hard, Bloodborne shares otherworldly traits and story with Darkest Dungeon. Dark Souls has a similar environmental hub to this game and I’d say that Dark Souls 2 is much easier to discern due to visual contrast, though Bloodborne sports a unified style. Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne aren’t identical battle systems though they’re forks off of the same Souls iteration. Monster Hunter has analogous weapon transformations.

Learning Curve: I genuinely advise researching Beasthood, Insight, and Frenzy to save yourself confusion. Other than that, you’d better get weaned from any substantial shield to hide behind since Bloodborne enforces one sole subset of playstyles from previous games.
Game Length: 35 hours
Difficulty: Mid to Easy as far as these games go. There is a smattering of infuriating moments where a new approach or an equipment respec is warranted.
Mastery: Sure, there’s enough optional content for short speedruns. The Chalice dungeons have some meaty length but low depth. PvP exists – though I assume that the Dark Souls version is more varied, entertaining, and chock full of competition.

Story: This lore isn’t as steeped with the fantastical reverie of the Tolkien variety though whatever mind drove and inspired the former games successfully wears a relatively pristine and Lovecraftian flair (its new to this genre at least). Never fear, the esoteric mythos retains the creator’s infatuation with sparse details and nearly drowns itself in a convoluted depth of its own digging.

Bloodborne’s story is not for the faint of heart nor the wandering, fathomless mind. Instead, it is upon the player to correctly interpret the items and events in a first-hand attempt to align the jumbled pieces of an otherworldly landscape. Or…. you can try it the correct way and entrust VaatiVidya’s haunting YouTube narration to unravel one of gaming’s most peculiar tales to date.

To blunder through what his brilliant videos would eventually explain: your character is an outsider that finds themselves traveling the layered town of Yarnham, lured by rumors of the regenerative properties in their local healing practices. Upon unwilling induction into a dwindling order of beast hunters, your character embarks upon a single night’s journey involving an eternal moonrise, a town’s insatiably essential bloodsport, and an ethereal invasion by forces unknown.

Y’see, the Great Ones were once a rare and unstoppable breed of divergent creations, those with specialized reproduction habits. And perhaps they’re not as rare as they once were, or rather, our eyes were not attuned to the forms at which we’d go mad upon viewing. The eyes tend to interpret what we’re prepared to comprehend, after all. If a power was to be harnessed and mankind was to elevate our understanding to the level of supernatural beings would we commune with the Gods, seek to conquer them, or strive to become deities ourselves?

In this setting it is quite difficult to discern the forces at play, though it is a player’s choice whom is to be greeted by a saw-toothed smile slung across your shoulder. As the bloody evening progresses one thing becomes predominantly clear: you must plunge your chosen armament into the writhing innards of all opposition. You must simultaneously take back the night and to die trying.

Presentation: Budblorne has a decidedly cooler theme and environment than most of its ilk, though the emphasis on wherewoolfs vs pale space slugs is pretty weird once this element is in full swing. The game’s color can be reduced to a fistful of somber crayons and a magenta so I’m compelled to neither look at nor rank the visuals very highly of my own accord (but I will since this sort of gamble is to be encouraged). It remains a bold, uncommon, provocative, and distinct look that could be embellished properly with the right kind of lighting. Frequent bosses are large and foreboding, an entrancing display of tentacles, fur (or furry tentacles) waggling disturbingly in the moonlight. You’ll discover and face a dissected veerwalf with sloughing skin as well as a multi-limbed, cage-headed creature of unknown origin and intent, a series of stunning visuals identifiable to this title alone and brought to life in a squiggling mass of spaghetti physics.

Audio-wise, most ambience is appropriately spoopy and the distant growls of tortured passion offsets the ravenous growls of ill-lit illithids poised in striking distance of your cranial confines. Each sound amplifies the doom and every track underscores the gloom, the music playing an excellent counterpart to the visual spectacle being beheld.

Unique Features: Insight is a numerical representation of what your character ‘learns’ of this world, acquired by differing actions and by interacting with certain enemies. More story is revealed in subtle ways though you’ll subsequently become vulnerable to Frenzy damage (your flawed subGod psyche just can’t handle the metastory, yo). Alternatively, Beasthood is an inverse statistic that governs physical prowess IF you discover and choose its mode for furry, werevulf attacks galore. Multifaceted trick weapons are the bee’s knees, a spiritual extension of the Switch Axe and Charge Blade from my favorite titles in the Monster Hunter series.

My raspberry jam packets! You monster.

Gameplay: There’s a good chance you already know what to expect. Lore and dialogue snippets serve as the slightest catalyst to a full-on blood-drenched, action-based excursion into the twisted, nonsensical city of gothic spires and Lovecraftian nightmare. You choose a starting weapon and don a favored garb based on looks alone (I mean, who has time to research marginal statistical differences?), and traipse about the night where fiends, beasties, and warevolves roam the obscured, gray streets. The player is beset upon per crook in the branching paths and will likely relive a few key moments until either the placement or pattern of enemies is memorized. This feint/counterfeint rhythm becomes second nature as Budblorne encroaches the limitations of our tolerance or skillset and embodies the nature of this aggressively new shield-less combat system. In any scenario the slow, redundant exploration of dreary alleys, cliffs, forests, and temples is a protracted exercise in reflex-dependent timing and a direct challenge at mustering courage in conquering interspersed boss battles of fluctuating difficulty.

The recognizable Miyazaki mechanics of multiplayer ghosts, floor scrawls, death stains, and invaders from parallel dimensions make little to no effort in justifying their existence here. Every item felt like quirky synonyms for their established counterparts, better known to me as “Bloodborne’s blue stone” or “basically the black separation crystal”. Key facets of the extra-planar design like the Hunter’s Dream could have been strengthened by such elements but felt rather tacked on in their implementation. (That lobby made little sense to me as a travel hub of poorly organized warp points, a respite that needed to be safeguarded, or even a prison depending on your viewpoint.) Dimensions mean more from a literary standpoint than a shared dream anyways.

Unique to this game, you have different obstacles based on the enemies you’ve witnessed and how many times your brain got leeched of said knowledge (or if this distinct currency was spent on sparse advantages). It’s simply a creative translation of the elements of Lovecraft horror, where arcane encounters can drive a person insane or otherwise take a cerebral toll. Cthulhu was ‘in vogue’ enough to yield yet another media star spawn. Conversely tethered by how bestial you allow yourself to become, both the enemy types present and the tactics used against them will hinge upon your experiences in subtle ways, not to mention unveiled story elements most would overlook on an initial playthrough.

To my chagrin: this game generally had easier foes, some proving inconsistent depending on the zone and possibly the time of day. There is no hollowing to speak of. There are no traps and perilous adventuring -the environment, itself, rarely expresses itself as an obstacle except for, like, two pits total. It’s way easy just to warp with purchased items to ROFLstomp your way to victory. They nerfed range combat so the slight characteristic differences between builds will feel all the more similar. Falling damage has possibly been nullified altogether. I also got confused on both story and area progression to the point of detracting from the experience.

To my elation: bonus newts are much easier to find, catch, and destroy. Enemies don’t disappear with repeated attempts. Combat has been improved by crippling the ‘turtling’ approach, forcing players to hack against enemies in retribution for their fleeting health. This faster gameplay is trickier and riskier [yet rewarding], a playstyle used since the conception of Demon’s Souls though few of us ever experimented with. I also ultimately perceived myself as a confused -yet integrated- element to this world, like my very being and combat stance were influenced by the slightest differences in my approach to the game as it unspooled.

Hey that non-blue, non-gray sky violates the sanctioned Bloodborne color range of melancholy. Get it outta here!

Additional CommentsOverall, the game mechanics are crisp and engaging, especially when married to the resurfacing mechanics that proved successful previously. Still, the overall impression was one of experimentation and not of a balanced spin-off that could maintain momentum on its own. I don’t expect sequels.

What I Liked: The architecture was illogical though the level design and connecting area layout was great, fantastical and interesting. (It could have been improved with loopbacks and revelations through secret passages, sure.) Iconic and creative bosses await, as well as locales seeping mystery and personality from every crevice despite it all being the same monotone shade of gloom. Effects like fog and darkness are used effectively in these environments and could do no better. There aren’t any epic set pieces to write home about though most confrontations -large and small- end up feeling cinematic, fast, and impactful due in no small part to the great use of sound. It was a provoking idea for the nearest enemy to absorb your desired bloodstain, and identifying its glowing pale eyes in order to best a tougher version of said enemy became a delightful ordeal. Physics along ledges are better, maybe even the collision detection all round. The town’s descension into chaos is well depicted; physics, falling, and hitboxes are improved; and the design of ‘trick’ weapons transforming into a second moveset is undeniably badass. I like the duality of Beasthood and Insight and the entwined effect they have on both combat and the environment’s reaction to your statistics.

What I Disliked: Large enemies and claustrophobic environments are certainly cool though the tension deflates impotently when simple doorways and bottlenecks disallow unfettered access to your gooey innards. (Even some bosses become prey to this exploit.) Due to low equipment count and limitations, exploration just isn’t rewarding – it’s no fun scouring for that bloodgem upgrade equivalent of used chewing gum. On the subject, you can’t update the scant sets of armor you get -just weapons- and those one trick ponies are few and far between on their own. You must also warp to the Hunter’s Dream lobby before teleporting anywhere and this tedious design choice actually doubles the ‘fast travel’ feature that absolutely immolates your time or patience, whichever you retain less of. Pick travel points wisely! Since locations lack a meaningful semblance of progression/organization and are textual names only, a lot of backtracking, aimless wandering, and internet lookups are in your future. Also, selling items for souls blunts a risk/reward edge of prior games.

Glitches Experienced: None, thanks Budblorne!

Hours I Played: 38

My Personal Reaction: Motherfucker. Here I was reconciling simultaneous draws towards fiscal responsibility and purchasing a PS4 console for the better part of a year (Bloodborne and Horizon: Zero Dawn won the argument) and this game goes and makes the quintessential multiplayer features locked behind a PSN subscription. The worst part is being aware of what I’m missing: depth via red phantoms, message scrawls, others’ death stains, and the eerie, phasing ghosts of other players. This experience was infinitely more ‘hollow’ without those things.

Noob Tips: Windows with red lanterns represent an NPC conversation so be on the lookout. (This was a conspicuously spartan art/animation choice though the encounters lead to story depth and items to line your pocket.) It’s worthwhile to run the gauntlet of known lanterns after each node in the story’s reveal so as to avoid missables and other kinks in your unofficial sidequests. If you start getting one-shotted by enemies, figure out their ‘element’ of attack and change your clothing on the fly, even if it means leaving yourself open to another form of assault. Since armor is not upgradable most outfits can serve some purpose through endgame.

Depth and Replayability: Medium – it’s quick and there are multiple endings. *OR* if procedural, identical hallways are your bag there is High replayability in the Chalice Dungeons. PvP and cooperative play sound money-worthy. Y’might check it out.

Suggested Value: $30

Where to Buy: Gamestop, Amazon, and local retailers

Subjective Categorical Ranking:
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Despite posing no threat, creepy statues had my full attention throughout the game due to low contrast lighting. Oh hey didn’t see you there Mr. Flayed Tendril Boss.

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