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    Bloodborne: A demon’s soul-mate?

    The temptation with Bloodborne is to treat it as another Souls game, in spirit, if not in name. According to director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, doing that would be a mistake. “I knew it was not going to be a Souls game right from the beginning,” Miyazaki tells us. “Initial conversations with SCE were based on creating a brand new game on a new hardware regardless of Demon’s Souls,” he says, referring to the last playStation exclusive made by FromSoftware. “We have never treated it as a sequel of any kind.”

    Indeed, while a very cursory look at Bloodborne’s gameplay might not make it look a world away from what we’ve seen in Demon’s and Dark Souls, it doesn’t take long to start seeing some key differences as to how Bloodborne plays. While the game isn’t quite straying into the territory of a DMC or Bayonetta, it’s clear nonetheless that combat is more action-based, FromSoftware evidently wanting you to play the game in a far more aggressive manner than may have been the case in their recent output. As such, forget about using a shield and keeping your opponent at bay with a cautious approach as you may have done in Dark Souls. Bloodborne takes that option away, forcing you to master dodges and rolls, as if the game wants you to fight like Muhammad Ali in his pomp, ducking and weaving without his gloves up before knocking his opponent down.

    Pushing players to treat Bloodborne as “a more combat-focused game”, in miyazaki’s own words, is a mechanic whereby you are able to win back health from enemies if you retaliate within a timeframe. This is transparently a way to keep the pace of Bloodborne’s combat high, pushing players to maintain a terrier-like intensity in pursuit of foes. While the daring will be rewarded by Bloodborne’s combat system, you will still be punished if you try to win health back when you shouldn’t. This is stilla FromSoftware game. Nevertheless, the implementation of such a risk/reward mechanic not only adds a new dimension to the style of combat that’s come to be associated with the developer, but serves as an emblemof the more braggadocious approach Bloodborne wants its players to take.
    This game will transport players to a dark and terror-filled gothic world, a world full of deranged beings
    “Some of the things which stand out for me personally are the use of transforming weapons and firearms which could not be introduced in a fantasy setting such as Demon’s Souls,” says Miyazaki, as we further inquire about how Bloodborne differs from the Souls games. The introduction of firearms is perhaps the most eye-catching change and something that gave some Souls fans cause for concern when Bloodborne was first unveiled. We need fear not, however, because Bloodborne is certainly nota shooter. Rather, think of firearms asa tool to parry enemy attacks at close range. In that sense, guns fit perfectly into the more direct approach to combat Bloodborne seeks to foster, rather than being a means of allowing you to keep your distance, as you might expect. Guns become a tool for you to master to allow you stand toe to toe with enemies, interrupting their attacks and punishing them as severely as they will you if you time attacks poorly.

    As to Miyazaki’s mention of transforming weapons, that is an intriguing element, again evocative of action games like the Devil May Cry series and certainly different to what we’ve seen in the Souls games. Being able to, for example, extend the range of your weapon mid-combat, gives you a means to switch between different approaches on the fly (we’re back to that pace being lifted again). Aside from the axe, cleaver, hammer and twinblades that we saw early on, a new weapon has recently been unveiled a cane which can be extended into a bladed whip. It’ll be interesting to see whether the arsenal continues to increase significantly, or if From Software keeps it relatively limited to make balancing each weapon an easier task.

    Despite all this talk of how Bloodborne is different from the Souls games, there remain a plethora of similarities that cannot be escaped, as much as Miyazaki might talk about the game being something entirely different. One such example is the Souls games’ propensity to brutally punish players for their mistakes. In that aspect, at least, From Software is following the same approach to challenge and failure as they have in the Demon’s and Dark Souls games.

    “There will not be an Easy mode,” Miyazaki says definitively. “My approach to difficulty is ‘coming up with a challenging difficulty that everyone is able to conquer’ and it still remains so for Bloodborne,” he explains. “I personally am not a ‘skilful gamer’, nor am I rejecting Easy mode in games, but the idea of Easy mode to appeal to more users is something I feel is not right for this game.” Unquestionably, one of the things that has made the Dark Souls series such a surprising success is its refreshingly unforgiving approach to difficulty. In a landscape in which developers are terrified of turning players off by confronting them with failure, From Software’s refusal to mollycoddle us makes their games stand out. In the context of that uncompromising approach and given that Bloodborne will seemingly push players to take a more daring and risky approach to combat, we ask Miyazaki how challenging it is to make players feel empowered.

    “Not at all,” says Miyazaki, arguing that, counter-intuitively, presenting the player with harsh odds is precisely what it is that can make them feel powerful. “Because death is near, and hardships exist, people will search for power and with that will gain a great sense of achievement. This is a running theme in Bloodborne and the other games I have made,” says Miyazaki, seemingly prepared to accept that, in this aspect at least, Bloodborne does share some linage with the Souls series.
    Because death is near, and hardships exist, people will search for power and with that will gaina great sense of achievement
    That also goes for the structure of Bloodborne’s world. In between Demon’s and Dark Souls, From Software changed its approach substantially. The former is built around a hub where players are able to buy items, exchange souls and travel to the game’s other regions. The hub was dropped in Dark Souls in favour of a more consistent and persistent world, necessitating a labyrinthine design that allowed players to make their way to key locations without having to travel too far in order to get where they needed to go. Is that a design philosophy that From Software intends to continue with in Bloodborne?

    “It’s almost a hybrid of the two games,” Miyazaki tells us when we ask which of the two design philosophies Bloodborne follows. “The city of Yharnam is seamlessly intertwined and connected much like the world in Dark Souls,” he continues. “But there is also a definite hub area, which also makes it like Demon’s Souls.”

    Perhaps it is the city of Yharnam, in which Bloodborne is set, that best encapsulates how the game sits in relation to the Souls games to which it is always so inevitably compared. Miyazaki points to the visual design of Yharnam as another example of something that makes the game stand out from its predecessors. In a sense, he is right to do so. Its Victorian-gothic architecture does make it look quite different to the Souls games. Yet, there is an oppressive aura about the place, a darkness that is unmistakably evocative of Demon’s and Dark Souls. The same goes for the monstrous denizens of Yharnam. Yes, there are enemies that look nothing like those we’ve seen in Miyazaki’s past games, on the surface, at least. Nonetheless, their twisted design elicits the same sense of foreboding, disgust, even, and they come for you with the same hostility. In that sense, Bloodborne’s enemies are cut from the same cloth. What we are getting at is that, even in those aspects in which Bloodborne differs to From Software’s previous output, the ghost of the Souls games is still present.

    In teasing out the similarities and differences between Bloodborne and Miyazaki’s past games, the point is not to determine whether it is ‘really’ a spiritual successor to the Souls games or not. Rather, it is to highlight what makes the game interesting to us. On the one hand, it looks as if Bloodborne will retain many of the features that have made From Software’s games so popular: the harsh and brutal nature of their worlds, the sense of reward that arises from overcoming their punishing difficulty, the high-risk/high-reward structure of their systems, and so on. That’s a good thing, because the studio does those things so well.

    In spite of those obvious continuities, though, Bloodborne does look as if it truly is more than ‘another Dark Souls’. The relative speed of its combat, the more aggressive approach it asks players to take and its new systems means that it feels like a game with its own identity. A From Software game, yes, but one with a fresh enough approach that we’re far more excited about playing it than we would be Dark Souls III.

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