Image via ‘Bloodborne’
“Bloodborne” is for masochists, and I mean that in the best way possible. This action RPG is one of the most difficult games made in years, specifically designed for people who want to prove wrong the legendary Albert Einstein’s aphorism that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”
Playing “Bloodborne,” you will die, and you will die often. However, if you press on, you will reach a point at which you will defeat whichever boss you’re facing, and you will live. Then, honestly, you’ll probably die again. In all, you will experience brief euphoric bursts of victory between slogs of misery and hopelessness. The pain hurts so good though, which is what draws people back to Yharnam, the twisted Victorian hellscape where “Bloodborne” is set. All for a chance to emerge victorious after so much doom and death.
In a lot of ways, the ebb and flow of “Bloodborne” plays out like a roll of scratch tickets—you waste your money on them, and lose, and lose, and lose. Then, eventually, you get a winner. As much as I love waiting in line as somebody in front of me buys ten scratchies in a row, I’m not preaching the merits of convenience store gambling. I am, however, increasingly a “Bloodborne” evangelist.
It’s noteworthy that “Bloodborne” is a Playstation 4 exclusive developed by From Software, which was founded in 1986, and has since catered mainly to the hardcore market. In 2009, From released “Demon’s Souls,” which is now considered a classic, but was initially criticized for having a preposterous level of difficulty. Finally afloat in the mainstream, From’s 2011 sequel, “Dark Souls,” found much acclaim and eventually sold a couple million units.
Also consider the “Bloodborne” storyline. Most video games are like bloated, terribly written novels. I’m sorry, the princess is in another castle. My bad—she’s really in the next castle. Another castle after that. Eventually you reach the right castle, save the princess, and the credits roll. But “Bloodborne” is the opposite. Despite the lavish visuals and over-the-top violence, the contextual thread is refreshingly minimalist. Nothing is over-explained to the point of boredom; few aspects are explained much at all. Yet the ornate, macabre backdrop—in addition to the few snippets of dialogue—adequately evokes a powerful sense of dread, an intangible mystery. That, along with frenetic and challenging gameplay, should compel any dedicated player to press on. And then there are the world-ending bosses.
The behemoths of “Bloodborne” are immense, deadly, and exquisite in design, like deformed mutants from a lost David Cronenberg film. Defeating them feels awesome. I’ve never been so proud of beating a boss before I played From Software games; I typically find the victory hollow, a nagging reminder of how much time I’ve wasted. But beating a boss in “Dark Souls” or “Bloodborne” is a truly gratifying experience. When the words “PREY SLAUGHTERED” flash across your screen, you’ll feel capable of curing cancer. For about five or ten minutes at least, after which you’ll find a new enemy, and get brutally murdered again.
Spoiler: After beating the game, you immediately start New Game Plus, which is much, much harder. If you get bored of the main quest, there are also labyrinthine “Chalice Dungeons,” which are randomly generated and basically endless. You can also invade other people’s games and fight them for their “Blood Echoes,” which are for leveling up and building strength. You’ll need them, too, because you won’t want to escape the matrix. “Bloodborne” is about banging your head against a brick wall nonstop until the wall collapses, and in the process finding limitless nirvana on the other side … until you get slaughtered all over again.