When Bloodborne came out in 2015 from FromSoftware, it didn’t ping my radar. For so many years, I enjoyed games solely as narrative devices, a means of telling a story. The Zelda series, or the JRPGs that dotted my PlayStation felt more complete than platformers or roguelites that held little plot but levels and levels of intense action. Bloodborne seemed like more of the same; an entry into the Souls series of games (that have a reputation for being extremely difficult), Bloodborne situates players in a world of monsters and combat with little to no explanation for what’s going on. I’m told that this is a hallmark of Souls games, and that piecing together the plot and lore is part of the fun (looking at you, friend-of-the-pod, Kyle!), and to begin with, I didn’t find it engaging. With nothing to go on, I’m not sure why my nameless hunter is roaming the streets of Yharnam, slaughtering inexplicably hairy monsters and listening to their groans and screams.
That’s not to say that the world of Bloodborne is all bad, though. I found myself waking up after a late night session of gameplay wanting to delve back into the senseless combat. While some people might be able to jump into Bloodborne--or any Souls game--and feel at home, it’s also possible that you’ve never played a Souls game and need a little help.
Here are five things I’d wish I’d known before beginning Bloodborne.
1: Muting the game might be in your best interest--or maybe not!
I’ve read this take elsewhere, and I agree with it wholeheartedly. Turn the sound off, pop on a podcast (maybe ours?) or listen to some music. The noises in Bloodborne, both in terms of the music and ambient monster sounds are horrific. Creatures sound like a mess of gurgling, moaning, meat and to be frank, I hate it. Things are much nicer once the screams of the afflicted have ceased. That being said, there’s one particular baddie that sounds like a person attempting to mimic a cartoon ghost, and I love them muchly.
2: Don’t be afraid to die (even if it means losing your Blood Echoes).
You are going to die. A lot! When I first started playing Bloodborne, I felt frustrated with the sheer number of times I died, but that’s because I was thinking about the game wrong. Bloodborne isn’t just a level by level platformer; instead, it features vast, sprawling levels that you’ll need to revisit throughout your playthrough. It also has MINIMAL save points, or points where you can enter into the Hunter’s Dream (the in-between space that allows you to level up and take a breather from fighting). You will die in this game, and I’ll venture to say that you’ll die and learn to love it. Change the way you think about the game. The goal isn’t just to level up and beat bosses. Instead, make smaller and more tangible goals. Instead of saying, I want to beat Father Gascoigne, I had to shift my perspective to I want to collect enough Blood Echoes to level up my strength. Accomplishing small goals helps you reach the larger goal later. This is probably good life advice too, but that’s not what we’re here for.
3: Don’t look too hard at the enemies, and don’t think about why they’re there.
One of the most painful truths of Bloodborne is that the lore gets doled out in the smallest of bites. I’ve been playing for hours, beaten the first boss (and optional boss), and leveled up most of my stats, but I still don’t know what’s happening plot-wise. It seems like there are monsters, yes, and maybe they were once people, but I don’t know why I have to kill them, or what the Hunt really means. Or why people won’t let me come inside their houses for safety. Or who hunters are, really. Ultimately, games like Bloodborne prioritize style and difficulty above plot. Yes, Bloodborne (and most of the Souls) games have rich, intricate worlds and stories within them, but I’d argue that those stories aren’t always effectively communicated in the game itself. There are lots of subreddits that have interesting theories, and lots of fans that have pieced together the most minute of details, but that doesn’t mean that story is actually getting told within the game. Some diehard Bloodborne fans will fight me on this, and that’s okay.
4: Farm, farm, farm.
This is probably the least surprising thing I wish I’d known. JRPG fans are likely familiar with grinding, fighting random battles and small enemies in order to gain enough experience points to level up, therefore preparing them for harder challenges to come. In Bloodborne, you don’t really need to grind so much as farm. Sometimes, you just need to go out into a level and farm some Blood Echoes, the game’s currency, in order to purchase new abilities and fortify your weapons. Sometimes, that means traversing the same area over and over again, defeating enemies whose movement patterns you’ve memorized. Each enemy you defeat gains you some Blood Echoes, and eventually you’ll have enough to get more powerful, and therefore be better prepared for later parts of the game. It’s essential, and it’s tedious, but there’s a certain joy in going back to an early level once you’ve progressed and slaughtering every enemy there.
5: Believe you can do it, and keep plugging away.
Bloodborne requires a certain amount of sheer will and confidence. Beginning the game with a self defeatist attitude ensures failure. Of course, every time you venture out into the world won’t be THE time you defeat that one boss, or THE time you march through the city and save the day. It could, though. And you will eventually succeed as you gain skills along the way. Learn from the game, make your own strategies, and believe--really believe--you can do it. Eventually, you will. We need that sort of positivity in our lives, I think.
I don’t know if I like Bloodborne yet. I’ve logged a lot of hours in the game, and watched it being played a lot, but that doesn’t mean I’m well versed in all its ins and outs yet. There’s a reason that people have flocked to it, though, and why it continues to sell well on the Playstation Network. If you want a solid, challenging game, you might want to check out 2015’s Game of the Year.