The Gothic horror RPG Bloodborne, released by FromSoftware in 2015, built itself off the difficult gameplay of the infamous Dark Souls, but tinkered with the “Soulslike” formula in several ways, particularly when it came to combat. Why did FromSoftware shake up the Dark Souls formula for this game, and how did these changes compliment the themes of werewolves, plague, dreams, and nightmares permeating Bloodborne?
Back when Dark Souls first came out, it acquired praise from fans and critics for offering the same difficult gameplay as Demon’s Souls, while improving or replacing awkward mechanics from its predecessor. When production started on Dark Souls 2, though, Miyazaki left this project in the hands of other developers; his ambition was to take the formula firmly established in Dark Souls and experiment with it. What if, for instance, there was a Soulslike that took place in a Gothic metropolis from 17th century Eastern Europe, rather than a medieval fantasy? What if the main enemies weren’t undead, but the infected victims of a werewolf plague? What if, instead of being bound to a magical bonfire, the player character was bound to a dream they ‘woke’ from every time they fell in battle?
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The resulting product, Bloodborne, was a masterpiece of brilliant visual design, coupled with a combat system that deliberately confounded the expectations of Dark Souls veterans. Instead of the heavily armored knights iconic to Dark Souls, Bloodborne players were expected to don the mantled coat and tricorne hat of a Hunter, dodging around the swipes of beast claws, shredding them with transforming trick weapons, and stunning them with shots from a blunderbuss. These major gameplay changes were made for two big reasons:
Bloodborne’s Setting Is More Modern Than Dark Souls’
Yharnam, the tangled, spire-filled metropolis where Bloodborne’s story takes place, is modeled after the settings of classic Gothic Horror stories like Dracula or Frankenstein – 18th/19th century Europe, where science and technology were in the process of displacing superstition and magic. The flintlock firearms of this setting had made the plate armor of earlier times almost useless, but hadn’t yet rendered weapons like swords and axes obsolete. In a setting like this, the combat system of Dark Souls would stick out like a sore thumb, unless it was changed in certain drastic ways.
Bloodborne’s Combat Emphasizes Aggression More Than Dark Souls’
The second boss of Bloodborne, an insane hunter named Father Gascoigne, exists to beat bad habits out of gamers who cut their teeth on Dark Souls’ iconic bosses. He runs down and hacks apart players who try to back away and play defensive. In contrast, he falls quickly to players who match his aggression, dodging around his axe swings and pressuring him with well-timed gunshots.
The novel combat features of Bloodborne are designed to reward aggression and proactivity more than Dark Souls did. Dodges go farther and cost less stamina, healing items are quick to use, gun-shots can parry enemies from a distance, and lost health can be regained if players counter-attack enemies quickly enough. A masterful Bloodborne player is a brutal whirlwind, dodging behind enemies to savage them with the saw-teeth of their trick weapons – a combat style that meshes with the underlying theme of Hunters being more monstrous than the Beasts they hunt.
Bloodborne was a reaction to the armor-and-shield combat of Dark Souls, while the latest FromSoftware game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, reacted to the dodge-and-light-attack-spamming combat of Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3. Odds are good that Elden Ring, upon release, will react to the parry-focused gameplay of Sekiro, continuing FromSoftware’s constant journey to refine the challenging gameplay of their Soulslike RPGs.
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A Chicago-based Writer, Author and freelance translator. Looking to prep his readers for the next renaissance or apocalypse, whichever comes first.
Write and publishes web fiction under the pseudonym Aldo Salt on Inkshares.com.
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