Bloodborne: What It Should Keep from the Souls Games, and What It Should Change

It’s pretty tough not to be excited about From Software’s Bloodborne if you’ve ever laid hands on its delightfully macabre Souls series. The upcoming PS4 exclusive looks to offer much of what makes that series great, but with a revamped combat system, a bigger focus on plot and narrative, and an exhaustively detailed city to explore in Yharnam. Original Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki is returning to work on the game, and really, there’s only one feasible negative for those who love the idea of a haunting, thoroughly next-gen action RPG — it’s not actually Dark Souls.

There’s little question From will produce a top-notch game, but in order to win over skeptics and entice news fans with new IP, Bloodborne has to separate itself. To put the challenge in perspective, imagine if Naughty Dog announced a new action game about an artifact-swiping spiritual son of Indiana Jones, but it were conspicuously not at all related to Nathan Drake or Uncharted? Or how about a third-person adventure title from Nintendo set in a fantastical world, but entirely unrelated to The Legend of Zelda? Developers often depart from a franchise to try something drastically different, and though Bloodborne’s decrepit, monster-ridden city is clearly a far cry from the sprawling lands that were Drangleic and Lordran (also known as Middle Earth on Fear Toxin), the similarities between the games are impossible to ignore. Thus, From’s challenge heightens.

Bloodborne needs to keep what fans love about Souls while blazing its own trail. For that reason, I’ve compiled a list of traits that From Software should absolutely keep, and how they ought to be altered for Bloodborne in the process.

Keep: The sense of fear and dread

Dark Souls isn’t quite horror, but when you equate the game’s unrelenting difficulty to the in-game terror your player avatar must be experiencing (aka “everything in this world can brutally murder me”), you’d be hard pressed to find something scarier. Both Drangleic and Lordran are drenched in foreboding scenery, imagery, and sound, and Bloodborne ought to be no different. Make Yharnam as unsettling as possible (within the framework of its world, of course), and ensure the player is never comfortable. It’s better that way.

Change: The atmosphere

All that said, Bloodborne has already trumpeted its visceral nature, and the mood it strikes into players’ hearts ought to reflect that. Shock-scares would make for a nice change of pace that suit the infected, zombie-like nature of some foes, and we’ve already seen from released footage that the mutilation of creatures via sawblade can get messy quick. Yharnam should feel not just spooky but cursed and possessed, and given the contained nature of a city vs. that of an entire world, the adjustment seems logical. The thought of slashing your way out of an area so teeming with the city’s deranged, diseased population that there’s little time left to think sounds awesome, and would contrast From’s trademark isolationism brilliantly if done well (and sparingly).

Keep: The well-tuned challenge

Some traits are tied to developers rather than individual titles, and Bloodborne won’t feel like a From Software project if I don’t hurl my controller at the wall at least once. The game’s fiction doesn’t necessarily allow for the most hideous beasts imaginable to roam the streets without explanation (a convenience afforded Dark Souls by its sprawling setting), but that stands to bolster background information and narrative detail dramatically. Want there to be a one-eyed, three-story brute dragging its knuckles down Main Street? You’d best come up with a reason other than “it’s dwelled here for years” or “it was awoken by an ancient power.”

Change: How it presents its challenge

Even so, as a Dark Souls player I don’t want to prefer Bloodborne over Dark Souls. I want them to co-exist. As such, it will be extra awesome if Bloodborne separates itself by demanding that players not just level-up and become badasses to defeat foes, but tap into subtle strategies. Now don’t get me wrong, Dark Souls most definitely does this. Despite this, there are also foes who can be dispensed by simply returning later once you’ve ‘roided up on souls and are able to slash them to death more effectively.

That makes sense for a roaming warrior, but in Bloodborne the protagonist is a traveler on a pilgrimage to cure his afflictions, and the RPG equivalent of hitting the weight room isn’t going to cut it. Badass though he may be (sawblades are no subtle weapon choice), hopefully Bloodborne’s hero will depend on wit to unravel puzzle-fied enemies as much as brute force and sheer ability.

Keep: The thrill of exploration and the unknown

For all the ruckus every AAA title makes about the extent to which it is or isn’t “open world,” the Souls series truly does imbue the player with the awe of exploring the unknown. GTA is massive, sure, but what’s really going to surprise you in a replica of Los Angeles? The possibilities and sprawl of Souls games are really only rivaled by Skyrim and MMO titles, and even those can lack consistency depending on who you ask. A large and detailed world laced with both hellish monstrosities and arcane mystery; that’s what From does best.

Change: The level of detail

As such, let’s not forget; Bloodborne is a PS4 game, and an exclusive at that. Certain PS3 exclusives are some of the prettiest console games in existence, and Bloodborne’s status as the next-gen equivalent may be what inspired a gothic city setting in the first place. Yharnam ought to be (or at least feel) as technically large as past From efforts, while offering the sort of advanced detail you’d expect from something built ground-up for PS4.

Things-to-do per capita should skyrocket in comparison to Dark Souls, and environments will no-doubt contain unprecedented visual detail and painstakingly-crafted minutia, from streetlamps and cobblestones to the design of weapons and other obtainable items. Additionally, though Dark Souls’ many hidden secrets are often vague and intentionally enigmatic, Bloodborne’s plot and scenario is far more deliberate. Thus, the game’s scattered rabbit holes ought to lead places that tie directly to the protagonist and his situation. He did travel here for a reason, after all.

The end of an era?

Hidetaka Miyazaki says Bloodborne doesn’t spell doom for the Dark Souls franchise, but that could just as easily be a safety net. Remember when the same was said about the Game Boy? Or how about Crash Bandicoot? Still, the game is poised to deliver a definitively next-gen experience, something I’d argue has yet to arrive. I love Namco Bandai as much as the next guy, but if Sony’s cash and From’s know-how can get the next wave of fantastic software rolling (on platforms that are likely to last 8-10 years, no less), then I certainly won’t be complaining. Still… I do hope the DualShock 4 is as durable as its predecessor. I’ve heard those things are expensive to replace.

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