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I hate Playstation 4’s Bloodborne by FromSoftware. I hate it. I really do. When I was looking at joining the current console generation, I always look to what games are exclusive to the platform because that’s what really separates the two for me. Being a big fan of Nintendo, where basically every game is exclusive to its platform, and a powerful gaming PC, it almost seems pointless to own any current generation console with the exception of convenience of playing on a large TV or for exclusives. I came close to the Xbox One mainly for the tug at my retro gaming heartstrings with Rare’s release of Rare Replay. A single disc 30 game collection of classic games from Rare’s past including Banjo-Kazooie, Battletoads, Blast Corps, and Perfect Dark. It was a close call. But ultimately what pulled me to the PS4 was Bloodborne.
Bloodborne starts in with our main character, known only as the Hunter, being told he came to the right place for the “Paleblood”. The mystery man tells the Hunter that he will go on a strange journey that will seem like a bad dream. You pass out after seeing several beastly creatures approach. You then awake on an operating table in a small clinic. Upon exiting the room, the Hunter discovers they’re in Yharnam, full of dangerous monsters and mysteries, and begins their lengthy journey.
Bloodborne can be described as a Lovecraftian, mccabe Dark Souls game that contains gameplay that focuses more on dodging and counterattacking rather than parrying and attacking. Your ability to dodge attacks and wait for an opening will help you prevail more than standing your ground with a sturdy shield. Instead of knights standing in full plate armor, you have werewolves roaming the streets of the Healing Church. It’s the difficulty of Dark Souls with creatures only seen in nightmares. Sign me up.
But it is a Dark Souls game. Extremely unforgiving, short on healing potions or “blood vials”. The need to repeat the same areas again and again to collect experience or “blood echos” to level up your character. The game is no laughing matter. And because of that, I’ve played Bloodborne a total of 40 hours of game time. In that 40 hours, I have deleted and redownloaded the game at least ten times. Because I hate this stupid game and it makes me hate myself everytime I boot it up. But I can’t stop playing.
It’s a strange feeling to relate to a video game: hate. Not your typical gamer rage, more of a very precise disdain for a game. The second I hear the opening chime after my save is loaded, I’m filled with dread. I know exactly what is in front of me. I know where I’m going and what’s waiting for me there. And I hate myself for being in this position. The game is better than me and I’ve lost many times trying to prove it wrong. I hate that if I make a mistake, it points and laughs in my face by not only taking all of my blood echos and starting me over at my last save point, but also reprising all of the enemies I just killed giving me the opportunity to kill them once more just to get back to where I was. If I die again before making it back to my last spot, all of that experience I’ve collected will be gone forever. There have been many times where this lost was in the 10s of thousands of blood echos. Lost in an instant because I made a wrong move, or didn’t take my time for a boss to open up for me to strike without being hurt. I rushed through and ultimately paid the price for it. Three hours of gameplay lost in a few seconds. God, I hate this game.
But I keep coming back to play it. Sure I’ll go a few weeks maybe even months in between playing. I’ll boot up my Wii U, dominate some Mario Kart 8 or play through Super Mario World 3D again. Or hop down to my PC and experience Limbo, Gone Home, or try my luck at some homebrew games. But Bloodborne continues to haunt the back of my mind. Poking my imagination every so often with the possibility of beating the game. “It’s not that hard,” I would tell myself. “Sure it’s difficult, but you’ll level up better, take your time better, make better decisions. Come on back. Start a new game. Start fresh.” But it’s not me talking to myself, it’s the demon Bloodborne.
No one likes being bested in anything let alone something they love doing. For me, that’s video games. I have never said that I was a good gamer, in fact I’ve made a point to say that I’m a really bad gamer. But I enjoy playing so that’s good enough for me to keep playing. With Bloodborne, FromSoftware has figured out the way to keep players coming back death after death. The formula that hits you, kicks you when you’re down, spits on you, and steals your sneakers. But you get up, dust yourself off, put your hands back up, and come in swing again. Time after time, you come back to try again.
Bloodborne on the surface is a fairly simple game: you are presented with an obstacle, you have your tools to beat the obstacle, and you can see the goal stand right behind it. It’s just you against the obstacle. It’s so clear in fact, that when you fail, and you will fail, you only have yourself to blame. Everything is so set, so painfully placed, so perfect, that it’s hard to blame the game for being cheap or unfair.
All of this is relatively new in the world of gaming. When you talk about “Nintendo hard” it’s typically do to poor programming tactics or inferior hardware from a bygone era. Or the “rubberband effect” that keeps your AI opponents next to your regardless of how well you are doing.The Mario Kart series is chronic for this. Or changing the rules appearing to be cheap if you’re doing too well like the arcade football game Blitz. All of these things are designed, or ill designed, to create difficulty.
Bloodborne is hard, but it’s rewarding. It doesn’t resort to these types of tactics to create replay value. The game goes all in on what a lot of developers refuse to do: be hard. Because the fear is if you make the game exactly as you want, as difficult as you want, as unforgiving as you want, you are going to cut your audience down to a fourth for being too hard. No one is going to take you seriously. Your game won’t go anywhere.
But I’m pretty sure that this game is your game, not theirs. Create whatever game you want to create. If you want a hard as nails top-down action platformer, then make the hardest one you can make. Don’t live in the fear that something “bad” could happen. The only bad thing that can happen is you not making a game at all.