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Lovecraftian Horror and ‘Bloodborne’

Hidetaki Miyazaki’s new game, at its core, is about the fragility of human life and flesh.

Amongst a thrall of modern military shooters and hum-drum action games with a skeleton of role-playing mechanics sits a string of games that are loved and adored as cult classics by critics and fans. Developed by Hidetaki Miyazaki, Demon’s Souls (2009) engulfed players in its dark world, punishing gameplay and subversive undertones of a King who has lost everything sans the regal status. While exclusive to the PlayStation 3, word of mouth spread quick and a spiritual successor (Dark Souls) was conceived and then released in 2011. With the player base expanding, the commonly referred to “Souls series” grew into a franchise with Dark Souls 2 released in 2014 on PS3 and Xbox 360 with a re-release in 2015 on PS4 and Xbox One.

Miyazaki, however, had very minimal input on Dark Souls II. In a translated interview from 4gamer.net, the acclaimed, now president of From Software, shed some light on the development of his PS4 exclusive project: Bloodborne.

When asked about the overall tone of Bloodborne, Miyazaki says that, “The setting for this game is not based off London, but more on the remote towns that may have existed in the era. Towns that would feel really old and gloomy. The setting we created takes these old gothic towns and layers more Victorian era elements, such as street lamps, on top of them.” He also references Bram Stoker’s Dracula and its “plague of beasts.”

Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls have always toyed with the player’s imagination of characters in their games going hollow/insane and the feeling of insignificance in a larger, more daunting world. Dark Souls featured a character that the player could interact with who was driven to amass greater knowledge of that which he did not know. When the player followed this story path, the man was driven insane in his pursuit of ultimate knowledge within an archive of a Greater Being. The themes of inherited guilt of never escaping what has come before pervades the “Souls series” in nearly every narrative to the point of Dark Souls 2 being solely about pointless cycles.

Bloodborne, however, seems to go one step further into that cosmic abyss. The first half of the game, entrenched in Werewolves and dark cults, is evocative of Bram Stoker but at the midpoint, the game delves into the cosmic horror with creatures and bosses that are multi-eyed and have enough slithering tentacles to beat the band. Bloodborne takes the preconceived notions of Victorian-era settings and oppression and then pushes harder on the player with a slew of horrifying creatures from beyond.  

In the moments of battle and combat, the player can make out brief glimpses of their humanity that has now become twisted and uprooted from the core. And that, at the core of Lovecraftian Horror, is emulated in Bloodborne: the fragility of human life and flesh. What was once considered human has been warped and contorted. The Stoker-esque monsters animate and move with a lack of control and frenzy that would suggest that they are driven by a more primitive desire while the cosmic Old Ones attack the player with precision and elegance.

There is also a degree of weight that is retained from the previous “Souls series” in Bloodborne. When a creature comes barreling towards you or jumps on-top of you, the world shakes and the player is left disorientated while the weapons the player uses - saw-cleavers and swords - have a visceral punch to them. Adding to that disorientation are the normal enemies that you encounter that move about the world with comfort in knowledge, which takes advantage of the player’s lack of knowledge.  

Bloodborne explores the Lovecraftian themes and imagery more overtly than its predecessors. The feelings of insignificance and the unknown have culminated in Bloodborne but ultimately it’s the fragmented story that will drive players to the game. The quest for more knowledge than man was supposed to have is what drives Lovecraftian Horror and the fragmented story drives the fanbase to theorize and postulate stories and motivations that may or may not have been intended by the storyteller. That drive to learn more, to discover that one clue that answers that specific question, is the Lovecraftian Horror that Miyazaki himself has designed so elaborately and effectively for the players.

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Spencer Fawcett is a double major in Film and Media Studies and English Literature. He has written for Parade Magazine and The Arizona State University's The State Press. Twitter: Whizbang813 

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