Bloodborne Is A Celebration of Fear

And totally acknowledges how weird that is

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Late to the Game is a bi-weekly column dedicated to exploring games of the relative and extreme past, deem if there’s something problematic or worth celebration within them and serves as a damn fine excuse to finish exploring the depths of my backlog.

“Every scene, every space, practically every object feels like something to be rejected.” These were the words Rob Zacny of Waypoint elected to share about the setting of Resident Evil 7, a game so drenched in horrific things, it’s repugnant to even listen to or observe let alone experience. It’s a testament to the artistry of the team and the proficiency of the technology powering it that such a sentiment can be conveyed about it. Assuredly, this was exactly the response the team meant to illicit and I’m happy for their success in that regard. However, when I read this, another game came to mind, a game I love so dearly but always dread playing because of the sheer nightmare fuel that walks the streets of it’s gothic landscape. It’s a game that if you’re familiar with Late to the Game, you’ve heard about endlessly. Yes folks, I’m back on my Bloodborne bullshit.

A few months ago, I was here preaching about how just watching PUBG instilled me with a dread akin to what I felt playing The Last of Us’ multiplayer component, an all time favorite of mine. A lot of the dread in those games is the unpredictability of other players, the multitude of approaches to any confrontation, and of course the limited amount of chances you’re given to screw up. Bloodborne works because it’s the offspring of an ideology driven by the desire to give shape to those feelings.

The atmosphere of the Souls games is incredibly underrated. They’re always mentioned as highlights but I always find it hard for people to put words to why these games feel the way they do and as I let out the longest sigh of my life, I would like to proclaim that this is my intention today: to finally put good, novel words out there about the thing that makes these games(specifically Bloodborne) unlike anything else.

Unless someone beat me to this.

Imagine, if you will, a college built overlooking a large, still lake. Imagine, above that lake, a clear night sky, pierced only by the light of the moon. Imagine how beautiful and tranquil this sight is especially with the reflection of the moon in the lake. It’s damn near perfect; I could spend endless days lounging by a sight such as that. I’d even seriously take up studying if it meant I could have an excuse to sit by that reflective lake. Now imagine this, right next to you.

Pretty fucking horrifying, right? Well, I think I might know why outside the obvious.

  1. Bloodborne gives shape to the unknown, and I bet there’s a pretty good reason things were left that way.
  2. Bloodborne beautifully realizes its setting and enemies in a way that prompts an uneasy relationship between the player and the game.
  3. While doing that, it also paves the way for new, even more monstrous nightmares, like that thing, that only an unfettered imagination can think up. It capitalizes on fears that are almost childlike in construction because only someone who knows so little could think up such a thing.
  4. As well as this, the game almost seems nostalgic of and like a celebration of the irrational fears that plagued us as wee lads and ladies.
  5. Bear with me.

Lovecraftian horror is firmly rooted in fearing the unknown. Ultimately, we as humans, were too feeble minded or too infantile in the grand scheme of things to properly understand the creatures of “The Cthulhu Mythos”. In those stories, man went mad attempting to commune and wrap their heads around them. In making the unknown and unintelligible tangible, From Software created a world where madness isn’t a possibility, it’s an inevitability. The Yharnam you fight through on that long night is a twisted, warped nightmare you’re trapped in. The creatures that run around in it, the forgotten “children” under it, the gods watching over it, and the Amygdalas coiled around the buildings are all pretty huge indicators that everything is screwed up. The first time you meet an Amygdala is a fantastic moment that communicates a sole thing: You haven’t got a damn clue what’s happening here.

Bloodborne likes to stick things that are generally beautifully constructed or natural chock full of monstrosities ready to kill or chill you. That latter part is the most important. Victorian London-esque buildings surround the cobblestone streets you, millions of foul beasts and deranged townsfolk reside in. The Forbidden Woods are like any other wooded area, except their home to piles of snakes, giant piles of giant snakes, men who sprout snakes from their neck and shadow figures that shoot flames, snakes and everything in between. The Grand Cathedral is immense in a way only Catholics can properly attest to, and yet the steps are littered with statues of quivering citizens with hands reaching out as if for mercy. Of course walking up and down these steps are men in religious garbs with marble eyes, deathly pale skin and sticks or axes ready to impale or butcher you in the name of whatever deity they may praise. Even help, in the form of ghastly apparitions emerging from the ground around you, doesn’t provide comfort. Perhaps most importantly, you never see or fight a foe in the light of the sun. While there’s a luminescence to the game, you’re never allowed to feel the warm glow of safety often afforded by the sun. Instead, you hunt and slaughter aberration after aberration incessantly under the shroud of darkness. In fact, the only change in the sky promotes an even stranger, more hostile tone.

Hidetaka Miyazaki, the game director, credits his childhood for his “unique” penchant for creativity. In an interview with The Guardian, he cites his poor reading skills as the first proving grounds for his brain. Due to the fact that he wasn’t the best reader, he’d reach difficult passages and just sort of imagine the story it was trying to tell. To him, these were the first and most influential steps in the construction of his games and it’s evident. The absence of a lot of knowledge gives the brain an abnormal amount of agency. When there’s no limiting factor on how far you can go or you don’t allow yourself to think there is one, it’s all too easy to see how insane the things you craft can get. It’s because of that that I reason it’s childlike: it’s not amateur in quality, it’s unrestrained.

At the end of the day, Bloodborne remains a game though, and one of the more difficult ones that stresses technical efficiency and surgical precision in your approach to it’s harrowing rogues gallery. Abominations will never stop hunting you and vice versa, until you eventually win out. Because of the fact that you can win or be good at the game, Bloodborne stops just shy of being a traumatic horror experience and is instead…fun. It’s like a playground dedicated to the most fucked up things you can imagine. Think Disneyland authored by Lovecraft. At no point in fighting The One Reborn, who is a lone man propped up all centaur-like by dead bodies, did I feel anything but dread and exhilaration. Just like it’s marriage of setting and tone, facing and triumphing over these nightmares feels equally terrifying and jovial. It’s off-putting but also just right.

While the game is sure to not traumatize anyone, it nonetheless leaves an indelible mark in your mind that won’t prompt a healthy night of sleep and dreams either.

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