Introduction is home of an institution called the

Introduction

 

When comparing Bloodborne and Dark Souls I (or
the other Dark Souls games as well for the matter), one can’t help but see the
similarities between these two games. Game play, difficulty and mechanics are
so very similar or even the same to some degree after all. And yet, Bloodborne
doesn’t seem like just “Dark Souls but with edgy Victorian aesthetics”.  Of course, visuals and plot help with that on
the first glance, but slight tweaks to game mechanics result in a different
game experience over all. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the role of
the player character and the specific power fantasy this game offers the player
in comparison to Dark Souls.

 

1. Plot

 

The story of Bloodborne can be hazy at points, encouraging
the player to fill in the blanks themselves, as stated by Hidetaka Miyazaki,
the game’s creator, in an interview with Future Press. However, the general
plot points, even if hidden in items descriptions, are still discernable.

The player is a foreigner who has come to Yharnam
in search of the so called “Paleblood” to cure an unnamed illness which has
ailed the player. Yharnam, having made a name for itself and flourished in
recent years, is home of an institution called the Healing Church by
distributing a special medical remedy that can cure any illness, referred to as
Blood Ministrations. However, as the research into blood healing progressed and
the usage became more widespread within the city, citizens began transforming
into beasts. These creatures, having lost all reason, ravage through the city
and are the cause for the deteriorating state of Yharnam at the beginning of the
game.

It is here that the protagonist signs a contract
with a wheelchair bound man, now sworn to serve as a hunter in the city of
Yharnam. The newly indoctrinated Hunter is then sent out into the city of
Yharnam, set to slay the various beasts that roam the city. But instead of
being just one of many hunters throughout the city (much like the player is
just one of many undead trying (or not) to fulfill the prophecy in Dark Souls),
the player begins their journey as the one trapped in the Hunter’s Dream,
unable to die until the player fulfills the task given to the them by the first
hunter Gehrman.

On the other side, Dark Souls spins a tale set in
a medieval fantasy world, known as the land of Lordran, as described in the book
“You Died: The Dark Souls Companion” by Keza MacDonald. After four powerful
beings defeated the immortal dragons, the Age of Fire was ushered in, letting
humanity prosper. Decades or even millennia later, the landscape of the once
opulent Lordran has changed considerably with demons roaming the surface and
humans dying or turning hollow.

As one of the cursed undead, the player begins
the game locked away in a prison cell until one day a key is dropped in front
of them. The player’s savior Oscar is, like the player themselves, Undead and
on the brink of going hollow, losing his humanity in return. But before that,
he tells the player of the legend of the Chosen Undead, hoping for the player
to inherit this quest. With the words:

…Thou who art Undead, art
chosen… …In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land
of Ancient Lords… …When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the
Undead thou shalt know… (Oscar, Knight of Astora, Dark Souls 1, 2011, figure
1)

 

Figure 1 ((n.d.). Retrieved from
https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/darksouls/images/7/77/Oscar.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120424033024)

 

it is now up to the player to take up this quest
as their lot in life or decide to do whatever else they want to do. There are
plenty NPCs along the way who offer other choices and ways to play the game. In
the end the player decides how they want to bring change upon Lordran.

 

2. Narrative Role

 

The YouTuber Digibro comments on the difference
in depth in his video, describing the difference of the struggles in these
games as a defining difference.

As a cursed Undead, the options the player has
are plenty. Whether the player chooses to follow Oscar’s request and usher in a
new Age of Fire, spend their life searching for scales to give to an ancient
dragon until they eventually become one the themselves or, having learned of
the dangers of linking the fire and become the ruler of a land of darkness
instead, it is up to the protagonist to decide.

Whatever the player may choose, the game stays unchanging
in the aspect that the player has to keep playing to make this happen. Because
playing is the only way for the protagonist to escape going hollow, the
determination in
itself to continue on in their journey to keep their humanity is one of the
biggest themes laced throughout the game. And no, not just because of the
difficulty these games are known for. It is the struggle to keep going and
bring about change in Lordran which is already way past its prime and on the
brink of extinction. If the player stops playing, the world of Lordran will
simply stay the same as it is during the beginning of the game, while the
player’s character presumably goes hollow like the many character the player
meets along the way.

In the world of Dark Souls the player character
is continuously remarked on being “one of the many” and overall nothing really
separates them from other Undeads roaming the land. Yet, the protagonist is
someone who, while dying and loses countless times, gets up again and again,
facing enemies way bigger than them with the odds stacked against them. The
player gains satisfaction, while being just one of countless Undead, from
defeating monsters of divine powered through sheer force of conviction and
courage. Assuming the role of an underdog or, as described by the YouTuber
Digibro in his video, “David in front of the hulking Goliath” (see figure 1),
Dark Souls in and of itself is a game about persistence against all the
challenges the game (and its world) may throw at the player.

 

Figure 2 ((n.d.). Retrieved from https://games.mail.ru/pic/pc/gallery/93/44/ac869d06.jpeg)

 

In comparison, in Bloodborne the player starts
out as a part of an “elite force” sent to quell the beast scourge and return
Yharnam to the status quo from before the Hunt. As the one trapped in the
Hunter’s Dream, the player is unable to die, always reviving after succumbing
to an enemy until the character has fulfilled the task given to them by the one
pulling the strings behind Gehrman; to kill a Great One.

Bloodborne doesn’t give the player the same
freedom in choices as in Dark Souls. Because most characters the player can
encounter are actively trying to hide the truth of the situation from the
player, the player can’t do much else than slay beasts and progress throughout
the city to find the truth themselves. Only in the end can the player evaluate
the situation of the city and decide the ending with finally all information in
mind.

The protagonist is, however, the only one who can
ensure this change in the world of Bloodborne and being put into this positon
of power changes the thematic challenges the player has to face compared to
Dark Souls. As the singular focus of the game right from the beginning, the
player does not struggle with their journey and the world around them like the
Undead, but much rather against themselves, the bloodlust and the desire to not
escape the hunt. In conquering one’s own inner darkness lays the answer to the
struggle the protagonist faces and to be eventually able to transcend the hunt.

 

3. Mechanics and Animation

 

The role the respective characters hold in their
games can be seen even in non-narrative related settings such as animation,
mechanics etc. but especially during fights against bosses.

Fighting in Dark Souls is all about learning
about attack patterns of various enemies to be able to time lifesaving dodges
and parries with their shields, only to carefully strike while the foe’s guard
is down. The character takes time to perform an attack, putting their whole
weight into it, staggering back after each swing taken. Considering armor
carefully to match their play style, the combat in Dark Souls conveys how the
player character is just an Undead, managing to hang on to life through
resilience rather than plot related skill.

In Bloodborne however the game developers changed
how the combat is approached with just a few tweaks. Taking the shield away and
replacing it with a gun, timed just right, a blast from at close range can
“parry” an enemy mid-attack and give the player an opening to go in
for a Visceral Attack. From the beginning the player aims to get in the enemies
face, taking an offensive role with swift and vicious strikes. The best defense
is good offense in Bloodborne. To compliment the faster-paced combat and keep
the action fast and furious, players can regain some of their lost health if
they successfully counter-attack against enemies within a certain window of
time.

A Hunter never struggles with attacking, swinging
their weapon around gracefully and navigating the battlefield swiftly. Dodging
takes up less stamina allowing for mobility in combat much like a master of
battle. The equippable armor has next to no impact on the players fighting
ability, with mostly inconsequential stat increases, made more to look cool
than to enhance battle abilities. When fighting in Bloodborne the player feels more
like something the beasts should have feared all along, the true predator among
them.

After emerging victorious in Dark Souls, the
message “Victory Archived” (figure 3) appears on the screen, like winning
against too many odds staked against the player, while in Bloodborne the
message “Prey slaughtered” (figure 4) flits across the screen. Because this
victory  is expected of the character in
Bloodborne, just one kill among many still to come, like there was no other out
come from the beginning.

 

Figure 3 ((n.d.). Retrieved from http://static.comicvine.com/ uploads/original/11111/111115760/3169834-3072650720-dsv.j.jpg)

Figure
4 ((n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.psnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Bloodborne™_20150321072835.jpg)

 

4. Conclusion

 

While the gameplay stays basically the same
between these games, Fromsoftware managed to produce two games that still feel
completely different. And while this is aided by the different setting and
visuals, Hidetaka Miyazaki manages to differentiate Bloodborne from Dark Souls on
a more personal level.

Going from the fantasy story of a land already
long past its point of no return and its still somehow hopeful outlook on the
player’s journey to a Victorian setting of being thrust into a situation not
escapable by mortals, Dark Souls and Bloodborne offer two different experiences
in its narrative role of the player and its message. With this Bloodborne
becomes its own game instead of being viewed as just a spin-off to the Dark
Souls series with just a different name.

With changing not only how the player commences
battle but also experiences the story, we as the player base get to experience
Bloodborne which manages to feel both refreshing in its newness and familiar,
inviting both old and new players.