Bloodborne Review — Another Soulless Franchise

by Jed Pressgrove

Bloodborne, which would have been called Dark Souls III if it were honest, comes one year after 2014’s Dark Souls II. Usually when a video game sequel gets a follow-up this quickly, you’ll see some critics lament this age of rapid-fire franchises. Not so with Bloodborne. Even David Thier’s complaint reads like a glowing endorsement: “Bloodborne deserves all the praise it gets.” Director Hidetaka Miyazaki sidesteps the franchise stench of his latest game with a different title and a switch in currency from souls to “blood echoes.” (Instead of Bloodborne II, perhaps the next title will be Rotgut and require even more intestinal fortitude.) Miyazaki’s references to the red substance may inspire a few theories, but the change mostly plays into a decades-old desire for video games to gain notoriety via body fluids. Game culture is in a sorry state in which superficial darkness gets hailed as part of an artistic triumph rather than a bankable ploy.

Notwithstanding the gaming world’s deification of Miyazaki, Bloodborne is a hack’s version of Dark Souls. The former is noticeably faster due to the increased speed and stamina of the protagonist. Despite this quicker pace, the addition of a gun, and a rule where you gain health back if you attack an enemy soon after it attacks you, Bloodborne retains the awkward timing and constant threat of death from Dark Souls, coming off like a less graceful Devil May Cry. In another way, Bloodborne turns its heritage into Looney Tunes. In Dark Souls, sneaking up on a black knight is a welcome discovery and builds mystery about the creature. In Bloodborne, stealth is expected, instructed, and even unintentionally humorous as you turn a sword into a big hammer and, as a depressing Foghorn Leghorn, smash the giant stone end of the weapon into enemies who might as well be sleeping dogs.

Miyazaki’s imitation of his previous work raises the question of how anyone familiar with Dark Souls can say with a straight face that Bloodborne is frightening, as if it represents the franchise’s first horror aspirations. Bloodborne’s standard Dark Souls tone isn’t served by allusions to the villagers from the campy Resident Evil 4 (critic Zolani Stewart wasn’t far off when he said “Everything is Resident Evil 4”). More importantly, the Dark Souls style is now too predictable for greater suspense. It’s an ingrained drill at this point: Church is evil. Resist overconfidence. Through death, learn enemy patterns so that you know when to strike and counter. Tread carefully because something all new and powerful can kill you with a couple of blows. Devise ways to tease out single enemies from groups so that you stand a better chance (and since Bloodborne’s enemies are more stupid, this doesn’t require that much imagination). Sure, this drill benefits from the fact that the sight of most creatures is impressive, but locking onto them (as in 3-D Legend of Zelda games), evading them, and attacking them make for D-grade horror at best.

Bloodborne forgets what made Dark Souls interesting. The nervousness and giddiness of exploring a strange world are reduced by Bloodborne’s generic structure. Bloodborne trades Dark Souls’ bonfires, which suggested questionable rituals as much as they relieved players, for lanterns that transport you to an agreeable hub called the Hunter’s Dream, a setting that pretends to be meaningful but feels like a pit stop that one often finds in mission-based games. In Dark Souls, discovering an item seller called for celebration because you had no idea what lurked in that world, but in Bloodborne, buying items is a given from the start thanks to the Hunter’s Dream. Bloodborne also takes a page from the juvenile Killer Is Dead with the inclusion of The Doll. If the sexual connotation isn’t obvious in how she’s introduced (“You’re welcome to use whatever you find”), The Doll’s voice sensually babies you, and when you use her to level up, she, of course, bends down (“Let me stand close. Now shut your eyes …”). Dark Souls’ subtlety takes a backseat to Bloodborne’s proven advertising. Still, Miyazaki throws in little twists, such as not being able to level up your character initially, so that players can pat themselves on the back when they inform others of these meaningless inconsistencies. Contrast Bloodborne’s sleight of hand with Castlevania III’s unapologetic conviction, which didn’t offer pretenses of accessibility or petty deviations from formula.

The biggest misconception about Dark Souls lies in a preoccupation with difficulty that is uninformed by video game history. A lot of the praise for Bloodborne continues this peer-pressure parade about accomplishment: beat this, and you’ve really done something. Nonsense. There are innumerable tough challenges in gaming, from topping high scores in Centipede to defeating a Street Fighter IV opponent who has always gotten the best of you to overcoming the trials of Contra 4. Dark Souls’ uniqueness comes from the emotional interpretation behind it. When you go back to Firelink Shrine and hear the violins, a bittersweetness accompanies the joy of hearing music again. In no other game will you feel the exact hopelessness that follows an accidental killing of a blacksmith. Bloodborne is just an enticing package whose next-gen visuals — which remind me of wet, slicked-back hair — are kept in check by absurd loading times, whose locations reject the habitats of Dark Souls, and whose “Prey Slaughtered” tagline confirms the curses of the Resident Evil 4 knockoff villagers. This poorly cloaked sequel is a disease.

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13 comments

  1. Nice to see a different opinion of such a widely acclaimed title. I personally adore the game, but strangely enough Dark Souls never quite clicked with me the way Bloodborne has. Perhaps I’m just not built to get along with its brilliantly difficult world.

  2. “Uninformed by video game history”?! Brah video games probably aren’t the best topic to write about if you want to be an Armond clone.

  3. Hilariously misinformed. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, i’m just glad the opinion that:
    – the doll is in ANYWAY sexual
    – Bloodborne is a dark souls hack
    – Bloodborne is a “disease”

    is among the VERY SMALL minority.

    Good for a laugh though.

  4. Although, Bloodborne is not as great as dark souls, but it is better than dark souls 2 in many aspects including the lore behind it. It did come 1 year after Dark souls 2 but it was a game being developed for over 3 years, but with games being rushed these days, i still felt that blooldborne was a bit rushed and the loading times have gotten better.

  5. I like Bloodborne quite a good bit but I’d be lying if this review hasn’t stuck with me since I first read it. Love the line about BB forgetting what makes Dark Souls interesting — that seemed to be my main problem with Dark Souls II. Fantastic review.

  6. Dissenting opinions are fine and all. Especially for games by Hidetaka Miyazaki who probably needs to be taken down a notch or two. But this review is just godawful writing through and through. It’s such a shallow overview of the game that I doubt this person played past the first few enemies in Central Yharnam and maybe a boss, be it Cleric Beast or Gascoigne (before being killed and getting sent to Hunter’s Dream so he could write that absolutely hysterical portion about the Doll – mate the only one sexualizing her is you – the problem is not with the game it’s with YOUR own over-imaginative, which is putting it kindly, sexual hang-ups).

    You’re also that same person that wrote that horribly spoilerific negative review of Her Story while lacking the self-awareness to put in a SPOILER WARNING before the actual review. Ah but I guess that is what “progress” in games criticism and journalism is all about, isn’t it? Not showing any respect toward your readers and flipping them the bird instead. “My way or the highway.” You couldn’t even abide by common decency to type out two words to preface your review so that people interested in trying the game for themselves would know to avoid reading it until later to compare perspectives, or at least if they do decide to read it, that they know what they are getting into. Narcissism at its absolute finest.

    With your kind it’s all about going against the norms of “games criticism” and “taking a stand” yet without a good model to replace the old one with. This review is exemplary of that. Your writing and analysis is so shallow and deficient of any actual observation of the game as a whole (likely because as I’ve said before you did not bother playing enough of the game to come to a proper conclusion) that it makes the average IGN or hell even Steam reviewer look like Jonathan Rosenbaum by comparison. Rebels without a clue. Just like that other miserablist you associate with, Tevis Thompson. You both represent what I disdain most: contrarianism for its own sake with vapid social critique in place of anything else and zero insight in the form, function, and art of the games you pick apart.Even Armond White, as obnoxious if not downright loony he can be, at least knows his stuff, his history, film theory and so forth. You, Tevis and other children sitting in their ivory towers can only pretend. Yell and demonstrate but all you know is destruction and passive-aggressive tantrums against the so-called “status quo”, and yet provide nothing better. Rather, in fact something worse, worse than nothing at all, worse than those charred, decaying remains, nothing to replace as a foundation for something better. People are supposed to be seeing the likes of you as among the minority, the “step forward” in games critique that is needed, but what you provide is a retrograde, regressive mimicking of the socio-political criticism, a sad emulation of the early years of the Cahiers du cinema method of criticism applied to gaming but you’re an amateur at best, a fraud at worst.

    Reading many of your other pitiable attempts at games reviews, I have only to conclude you have zero to offer to the wide world of gaming criticism, are an awful, no not just that, worse alternative to the usual Metacritic circle-jerk and I suggest either finding a different hobby or quit your shallow, childish pretense at rebellion and maybe learn some fundamentals of gaming theory and criticism and then maybe you can come back and write decent pieces for once and not vomited-out trash like this and just about everything else you and your fellow clique write.

  7. I feel incredibly sorry for you my man. The Doll bends down ahahahahah, how disgusting that must make you feel.
    You might think you are part of a new wave of gaming criticism that hopes the elevate the medium, but your misinterpretations, pettyness, and cynicism will only leave you in the dust.
    Horrible review, but keep it up, its always a joy to read reviews by people who think they understand what they are talking about.

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