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Almost perfect.

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    Bloodborne

    Rating: 5.0 – Flawless

    Almost perfect.

    Bloodborne is about the closest thing we’ll get to a perfect game in the modern era. There are a few flaws, but they’re flaws present in nearly every 3D game and aren’t exclusive to Bloodborne. The game was made by the same folks who gave us the Souls series, so fans have taken to calling the series "Soulsborne". Sure, whatever.

    This is the best game in the series by a lot, and the other games are really good. Bloodborne is just that much better, and it’s on the short list for best games of this era.

    "Do you hear our prayers?"

    Have you ever wondered what roleplaying as Jack the Ripper would feel like? Well here’s your chance. Bloodborne takes place in a setting based on Victorian London, and after some crazy old dude gives you a blood transfusion, you wake up and get thrown right into the thick of things. Before long you’re facing down hordes of beasts, corrupted humans, and lots of other things that go bump in the night. Your job is to kill them all and figure out what in the world is going on. Even by From Software’s standards of minimalist storytelling, there is very little storytelling in this game. It’s all indirect outside of the intro, one scene in the game, and the ending. Everything else is put into lore (usually item descriptions or various objects you can interact with), which you can thankfully look up yourself on the game’s wiki — you’ll want to do this, by the way, because the plot of this game is fantastic and shouldn’t be glossed over like the game tries to do.

    Without getting too big into spoilers, this game is heavily based in Victorian London horror, Lovecraft horror, and the old "nothing you see is real" trope. "It was all a dream" is the lamest plot twist in literature, but Bloodborne is nice enough to tell you this at the very beginning of the plot instead of the very end. That’s why the hub you’re immediately introduced to is called The Hunter’s Dream. The main gist of the game is you’re a hunter, stuck in dream land and looking for a way out — or in this game’s case, you have to fight your way out by murdering thousands upon thousands of horror freak show enemies who will just kill you if you let up on them for even one second. We’ll get into that in the gameplay section, but needless to say this is a much better way of telling the dream story than what we got in The Wizard of Oz or Mario 2. Cutting things to bits while literally feeling like Jack the Ripper is much cooler than throwing veggies into a toad’s mouth or pouring water on a witch.

    I don’t want to dig too deeply into the plot here because it would spoil the entire game, but you’ll end up loving it and you’ll do a full deep dive into the lore once you beat the game. Everyone does. Thankfully there’s a fantastic Bloodborne wikia available for just that purpose.

    "Only an honest death will cure you now."

    From Software games are all about the gameplay, which happens to be Bloodborne’s main selling point. Everyone compares this game to Dark Souls for obvious reasons, but if you go into this game thinking the Dark Souls style of defensive gameplay will work, you’re going to get destroyed. That being said, if this is somehow your first experience with this series, turn around and play Dark Souls first. You won’t have the proper context for how good Bloodborne is otherwise. If you have played at least Dark Souls 1 already, read on.

    Bloodborne is a third person perspective action game, with a heavy Japanese RPG influence for leveling up and such. When you first start out, your character will be really weak, and the learning curve will be insane. Dark Souls gave you the L1 shield crutch. Bloodborne does no such thing and basically hates you. All the enemies will feel unfair. All the bosses will seem too aggressive. You will very quickly learn that being anywhere near a wall or a corner means instant death with how the camera does its extreme zoom nonsense. Stay the hell away from walls. Lamps (this game’s version of Dark Souls bonfires) are few and far between. Getting to a lamp requires a ton of exploration and shortcut porn. The central hub, while welcome in other games of this series, is a respite you will desperately long for time and time again as you play. But you must press on, because you’ll eventually learn the ropes, level up, and get better with time. This game gives you virtually perfect freedom of movement, which is very notable. Other difficult games limit your movement intentionally to make things difficult, like a Silent Hill or Resident Evil likes to do. This game does it in a much more clever way. Outside of jumps and flying, you can basically do whatever you want, but the tradeoff is having brutal enemies to deal with.

    Dark Souls had a decidedly medieval setting and rewarded proper defense. There were traditional weapons and traditional settings and traditional enemies. Bloodborne takes all of that and spits on it, which is why fans of this game love it so much. It’s not that we dislike Dark Souls — far from it — but Bloodborne is a gameplay change that was fresh and exciting even though the exact same people made it. You get trick weapons with multiple forms and attacks. Saws that turn into cleavers, swords that turn into hammers, greatswords that can sheath to become bigger greatswords, and…. aliens. You get guns that turn into bigger guns, flamethrowers, cannons, spinning saw blades, and everything in between. You get crazy items, crazy settings, crazy characters, crazy enemies, and you pretty much have to play in a crazy manner to win. Oh, and parrying is done by shooting things in the face instead of swiping with a shield, because that’s just the kind of game this is.

    One thing you’ll eventually pick up on, even though this game will seem hilariously difficult at first, is that this game rewards aggression. When you get hit, you have a window to hit the enemies back and regain lost health. You get no Dark Souls-type shield in this game, but you get a massive dodge range. Once you learn how to dance around everything and dodge toward all the enemies instead of away from them before beating the hell out of all of them, you’ll feel like a god. Then you’ll find a new enemy that smacks you down in two hits. As it should be. This game is absolutely not playing around with you. It does not like you.

    Your rewards in Dark Souls were often new areas, new items, new weapons, or new characters. It was a very vertical game, and after a conquest you’d often be able to climb up to somewhere new or climb down to somewhere new. Bloodborne decides to spit on even the rewards of exploration. Your reward for killing that huge executioner, that crazy boss, or finally getting to the bottom of that area that’s been driving you crazy is usually nothing. You get a lamp and get told to piss off. For a lot of gamers who expect gratification for everything, this will be a huge turnoff. Good. We don’t want you in our fanbase anyway. For those who love that sort of thing, you’re in for a hell of a ride. From Software figures you’ll end up using a guide anyway, so why should they help you? Over half of the game’s content is completely optional, which is about as ballsy a design decision as you’ll get by today’s standards. It’s as much a play on how games are played as it is a design choice, and given the overall theme of the game it really was a genius move. I try not to use hyperbole too often in reviews, but it fits for this game. When you finally figure Bloodborne out, and it’s different for each player when things finally "click", you’ll get why fans of this game love it so much. From Software was clearly thinking of all this stuff intentionally, and all these things coming together the way they do is no accident. Bloodborne really is genius, if not completely horrifying.

    Now this isn’t to say the entire game hates you. There is definitely a plot progression and a means to an end, and that’s where exploration comes into play. This game has incredibly complicated maps in it, and exploring every inch is definitely worth it. This is how you’ll find the shortcuts, the new lamps you so desperately need, the optional content you’ll so enjoy, and the best items. Good weapons and armor often aren’t given from bosses; you’ll just find them lying around. Explore everywhere, or just use online maps to figure out where to go. If this game has one major flaw, it’s the lack of an in-game map. These games don’t usually need one because the idea is to make exploration difficult, but Bloodborne stands out in this series as the one game that really needed it. These maps are not easy to get through at all, and that one tiny little life line would have been great. But they exist online, so it’s whatever.

    The optional content in this game is insane, especially if you count the DLC and optional bosses — and definitely throw down for the DLC, because it’s incredibly good, especially if you’re a lore whore. It’s almost worth using online maps just to find all the optional bosses, because boss fights are the highlight of this game and the more the merrier. Bosses in this game are very difficult, and there is no "strafe and pray with your shield" strategy in this game. You win by getting good. That’s it. Even if you powerlevel, there are number caps in place and bosses who will still eat you alive anyway. Do you really think they didn’t take you little no-skill powerleveling cowards into account when designing a game like this? Please. There’s a couple of streamers I could call out here, but I’ll just take the high road and move on.

    Chalice dungeons are the bit of optional content that garners the most arguments among fans of this game, and people either love them or hate them. I’m in the camp that loves them, but some of the bosses and item requirements are completely unfair and basically force you to use guides. The very short explanation of chalice dungeons is as you play the main Bloodborne content, you’ll come across chalice items. If you go to these little tombstones in your hub, you can use the chalice with some items to make a small dungeon, then hop inside. These are very tiny compared to main game areas, and you’ll quickly learn that they’re repeatable with lamps and bosses in between each floor. Most chalice dungeons have three floors, and there are occasional bonus doors on each floor’s "hub" area that you should explore for items. Usually they’re items you need to make the next dungeon you need.

    As you beat a chalice dungeon and explore it properly, you’ll find items and open up the next one, which will get more difficult, and it eventually culminates with a boss you need to kill for the platinum trophy. These are "story" chalice dungeons with fixed layouts, and at the beginning they’re great. You’ll find the items you need no problem, the bosses aren’t too bad, and things are great. The last two or three of these dungeons are unbelievably obnoxious, including one where you’re at half health the entire time, and one requires two items that are almost impossible to find without using a guide. If you care about the platinum trophy, do yourself a favor and do not start a new game plus until finding those items and all the chalices you need. You don’t want to be in a spot where you waited too long and need to kill a souped up boss for a chalice you missed. New game plus difficulty doesn’t affect chalices, thank goodness, but those last few dungeons are insane. The main game is difficult, but those dungeons make the main game look like Dora the Explorer. If you don’t care about platinum trophies, you can skip them. If you do, good luck. It’s very rewarding, but it’s very difficult to get to the end of the last chalice. I ended up having to finish it on new game plus because I missed the one famous ritual item everyone laughs about. Stuff like that clearly only exists because the developers figure everyone will use a guide anyway, but for players like me who only use them when necessary it was… yeah. Moving on.

    "A bottomless curse, a bottomless sea, source of all greatness, all things that be."

    Graphics don’t usually cause me to grade a game down unless they’re loaded with glitches and idiocy (hi Mass Effect Andromeda, what’s up), but they can do wonders when they’re great. The purpose of good graphics is good atmosphere, and man does this game pull it off. The graphics and the soundtrack combine to really make you feel like you yourself are stuck in the hunter’s dream, not just playing a character and going through the motions. If virtual reality games can ever pull off something that feels like Bloodborne, watch out.

    There are tiny little details everywhere in every area that really hammer this home, from statues of church worshippers to frozen Mensis cultists with cages around their heads, from barnacles all over the fish tribe in the DLC to the subtle little changes that occur in the environment as you gain more insight (I’m intentionally not explaining the insight mechanic in this review for spoiler reasons, just play the game and see for yourself), from the very graphics the weapons have to the very names of things and everything in between, Bloodborne’s strength lay in the details. A really good comparison is Blade Runner. For all the infighting and nonsense that went into that movie’s production, the details in every aspect of that movie are insane, and fans really appreciated the effort even though it didn’t do too well at the box office. Bloodborne isn’t some all-time seller in the video game industry, but this game doesn’t have cult classic status within two years by accident.

    I am not a professional movie, music, literature, video game, or graphics critique. I’m just a gamer who puts thoughts to paper with as much passion as I can muster. I cannot properly convey in a historical or literary sense why this game’s graphics or soundtrack or atmosphere prove video games as a medium classify as artwork. All I know is this. For all the tryhard morons out there who think garbage like Shadow of the Colossus proves video games are art, show them Bloodborne instead. If I want a giant world with nothing in it, I live near thousands of acres of farmland. I’ll just take a hike through it some time and then jump off a tree to get the Shadow of the Colossus experience. That is not art.

    Bloodborne is art. All those little details in the graphics, the lore, and the music really add up. To quote a buddy of mine, art is defined by its capacity to achieve great effect through seemingly small means. Go put this soundtrack on some time. Did you catch all those howls of terror during the Cleric Beast fight? All those bells during the clock tower fight? All those little sound effects and bells and whistles in almost every song and every boss fight and every major "thing" in this game? They aren’t there by accident. 6 composers, a 65 piece orchestra, a 32 member choir, and well over two years of time went into the soundtrack alone. Is that not artwork? Or would rather cite role playing a mosquito and make gamers look like complete morons?

    "Fear the Old Blood."

    Dark Souls 1, Super Street Fighter 4, Skyrim, Undertale, and Bloodborne. Of what I’ve played of the games released since 2010, that’s the list of the best of the best. I’m sure I’m missing some games here, but no one can play everything and love them this much. Those who know me know how hard it is for me to give such high praise, so… yeah. Play this. You won’t regret it. Just remember to play it offline, because the PvP in these games has always been completely dumb and there are no benefits to playing online that you can’t just look up. The messages from other players aren’t that necessary. You also need to buy PSN to play this online, which is dumb. Thankfully it’s Sony’s fault and not Bloodborne’s, so we’re good.

    Even though I’m no better than a beast, don’t I have the right to live?

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