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Posted on Apr 10th 2015 at 09:23:45 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Bloodborne, Bloodborne, Castlevania, challenge, southpaw, I now heart Sony

photo source: vg247.com

**Warning: light spoilers concerning the setting and philosophical implications of Bloodborne, and also some pics may be considered offensive to cat lovers.**

When it comes to Bloodborne, much digital and printed ink has been spilt in praising the game while warning the unaware about the intense challenge it unapologetically presents. As a result, I see no need to repeat this common narrative of which I happen to agree.  If you've played any of director Hidetaka Miyazaki's games, you know what you're getting into, and Bloodborne is both familiar in this regard while being tweaked enough to have its own identity.

Even with its critical praise and notable pedigree, Bloodborne and the Souls games in general, have a lot about them that would ordinarily keep me away.  I'm not into blood and gore and personally find most fantasy creature designs (vampires, werewolves, politicians with integrity) rather silly and hard to get into. And as much as I love many time-sink games, time is one resource I have very little of at this point in my life.  Not to mention that any "easy" difficulty setting has gone from a derivative eye-roll, to a bonus feature of "yay, maybe I can actually finish this before moving on to another game."

Yet, there are always exceptions: Knights in the Nightmare was tough as nails, but bizarre and fascinating enough to play.  The Halo games are lots of fun on tougher difficulties, particularly co-op, and Nightfall raids in Destiny feature some of the most intense gaming I've played.  We invested quite a bit of time in the Mass Effect trilogy and enjoyed every moment (yes, including the endings.)  What I'm saying is,  I'm always up for giving any game a fair shake.  Not to mention, there are also series that I've played since childhood and still feel compelled to pick up the new additions. This includes most of Nintendo's perennials, such as any version of Tetris, and a series that I personally feel in many ways is the true spiritual predecessor of Bloodborne, the early Castlevania games.     

The Demon's/Dark Souls games, of which Bloodborne is the latest, are often said to be a type of throwback to the older, less hand-holding game design.  I think Bloodborne in particular shares so much in common with the pre-Symphony of the Night Castlevania games that it feels more like a modern sequel than the recent Lords of Shadow games.  I liked that trilogy, but more as standalone experiences; they never really felt like proper Castlevania games.  Not to say that I'd rename Bloodborne, but it definitely was the closest I've felt to reliving those classic Belmont experiences before they went "Metroidvania."

Hey, I've gone through and enjoyed each Castlevania since Symphony, even setting aside time to enjoy the portable games as they were released.  But the original 8- and 16-bit Castlevanias were different beasts entirely, and in ways, mirror what also makes Bloodborne great:   

Straightforward Controls - Easy to get the hang of, all about learning the distance and timing of your weapons, enemy patterns, memorization, and learning each stage and enemy in-and-out by shear trial and error until it 'clicks.'  Sure, most early games were about this, and many games overall.  But there is a slow, deliberate, purposeful, and almost weighty feel to both these series, as well as an unforgiving, exacting, punishing demand to get good or go home.

Gothic, Foreboding Atmosphere - With simple graphic and sound tools, the early Castlevania titles were masterful at setting mood.  Not 'scary' so much as moody, they used (now iconic) music, sound effects, and characters to generate a vibe unique to the series.  No one was actually going to be frightened by them, but that wasn't what they were really after; a little eerie and a touch of unsettling, the artistic elements captured a feel no other series of the era pulled off in the same way.  By the time Castlevania III was released, the art and sound design had reached a pinnacle of what the ol' NES/Famicom could do.  Haunting ancient ruins, collapsing cathedrals, and earthen growth are staples in the graphic design DNA of the Castlevania series, and encapsulate the idea of 'destroyed beauty' long before Gears of War coined the phrase.  I'd argue that perhaps second to Sweet Home, nothing else on the system comes close to capturing that dark, moody atmosphere.  For more recent consoles, I'd argue the same for Bloodborne.

Pictured: Not anything from Bloodborne.  My kids have seen too much of it by accident anyway.  Go back to bed, guys, you have school tomorrow.  Source: Metro.co.uk

Fantastic Enemies and Bosses - Both of these series are well-known for their epic boss fights and detailed enemy design.  Many bosses cannot be overcome just by standing and spamming attacks; they require precise memorization of attack patterns, and often a bit of luck.....and dozens and dozens of deaths to overcome.

Forget item dupe tricks or memory leak exploits; this guy was the original Prof at Hardcore Boss University.  Source: vintagevideogamer.net
Ancient Evils and Religious Overtones - Even after being censored for the West (since when does a 'boomerang' look like a cross?) Christian iconography has always permeated Castlevania games.  Less overt and more mood setting, the classic battle of Good versus Evil is entrenched in bloody, monster-slaying warfare.  And (mild spoiler) though it takes awhile, Bloodborne's cryptic (badoom-ching) story shifts from a churches/religion/zealots-are-evil backdrop into a full-blown meditation on forbidden knowledge and humanistic hubris versus holy warriors and protectors of ancient deities.  Whereas the Castlevania games of recent years moved into anti-heroes, angst-ridden-anime, and who's-the-real-monster themes, Bloodborne turns into a Lovecraft-style narrative of beings so powerful they can drive men insane and only arrogant intellectuals or amoral worshipers assume they can be controlled.  The early Castlevanias are like Bloodborne in that they are less interested in telling a story, and more about feeling like you're already in one, featuring ancient and dark forces far beyond your understanding.

Our own world could never be grimdark while there's such a thing as a My First Cthulhu Plush. Source: Entertainmentearth.com

I know much of what I've compared can be said of countless other games, but I really do get that old-school Castlevania vibe from Bloodborne.  The purposeful mood makes me feel like I'm playing a modern version of those great classics.  They feature a complete, decaying decadence of a world that is moving on, surrounded by secrets and mysteries, and the player is left to survive by their own devices or be left behind entirely.

And when it comes to surviving, both series are notorious about how difficult it is to do so.  Until Symphony of the Night, Castlevania was synonymous with "controller-breaking hard."  Sure, the controls were a little stiff, but precise; like the Mega Man and Ghosts 'n Goblins games, occasional cheap deaths were overshadowed by the fact that most of the time it was simply playing until you were good enough to succeed, or you got so frustrated by the game's demands that you gave up.

It is from the souls/blood echoes of these gaming classics that the Souls games were born.  There are no lengthy hand-holding tutorials; the esoteric and obvious mechanics are taught and revealed in direct proportion to how much the player is paying attention. Ingeniously, a strategy guide for Bloodborne is coming, but has been delayed; while the official reason is a content update due to the game's day-one patch, the reality (intentionally or not) is that the game has yet to yield many of its secrets.  This has lead to a crowd-sourcing exploration of the game and continuous speculation, experimentation, and discovery not unlike the era of early NES games, where rumors and discussions in the schoolyard long preceded instantaneous smartphone answers. Bloodborne, as its predecessors, hasn't given up its secrets easily.

I've always enjoyed the Castlevania series, pre- and post- Symphony of the Night, and the gameplay challenges the early titles offered up.  I'd like to say the same of the Souls series.  I'd really like to.  But until now, I couldn't.

I've always had a strong appreciation for director Hidetaka Miyazaki's Souls games, even if I couldn't properly play them.  Oh, it wasn't the difficulty that kept me away, not directly.  Being left handed and neurologically odd, I get severely nauseated if I can't play 1st/3rd person games without a southpaw setup (analog sticks swapped).  Because a surprising majority of console games do not natively support it, I have to find third party workarounds.  And even when I can find a way to swap the sticks, so I don't literally throw up after fifteen minutes, there is another major problem.

I need to use the right stick to move, which means using it in tandem with pressing a face button is a bit of a problem.  I outlined it here:  http://www.rfgeneration.c...the-SouthpawClaw-1463.php

The gist is that if a face button needs to be pressed regularly and requires the analog stick to be moved at the same time, (like, say the crucial use of a directional roll/dodge in the Souls games) I have to do something like this:

Not pictured; the immediate hand-cramps that come with fighting a boss in Dark Souls.

So when Sony released a PS4 update that allowed complete and universal button remapping, and did so literally the day after I picked up Bloodborne, I was thrilled!   By remapping the dodge button to the unused left stick click, I can finally play games like these without the severe disadvantage of unnatural hand configurations and a growing anger at senseless game developers.  Besides being an important personal anecdote, this all has a particular relevance to my experience with Bloodborne.  You see, trying to tell me to 'just get used to normal controls' or 'lol jus git gud' responses (yes, I've heard people say these things) is akin to telling someone who's colorblind to 'just stop being colorblind.'  I can't help that I literally get sick trying to play with a 'normal' control setup.  Believe me, I spent years trying.

So Sony's new accessibility update, which allows not just button-remapping, but text-to-speech and color inverting, is an honest game changer for me.  I put hours into Demon's Souls before getting so sick that I couldn't continue.  With Bloodborne everything feels just right, because I've set it up so that it does.  It may be a little thing or even pointless to some people, and in fact, I've heard lots of whining that Sony shouldn't have bothered when there are other things to fix and update.  But every time I'm in the zone, exploring the dark secrets of Yharnam and conquering bosses, I'm thanking somebody at Sony who understood and took action to make a few of us gamers very, very happy.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some evil critters that need some slay----   


I what? Well, that's never happened before.  Source: Dealspwn.com

Can I go back to blaming the controller?

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Nice article!  It's good to see that games are getting harder, as I have heard these comments about games such as the Dark Souls series and Far Cry. One of my biggest gripes about more modern games is that I sometimes don't feel that challenged. Games I played early on in my life were crushingly difficult, but the overwhelming sense of accomplishment and school yard bragging rights during that time made memorizing patterns and continually pushing myself so worth it. Watching people like Crabby dominate some of the more difficult NES games is fascinating and makes me appreciate skill.  I'm not a big fan of hand-holding and games everyone can beat, so it warms my heart to hear people bitching about difficulty. Stop sparing the difficulty rod game developers, make more! #inmydaywedidnthaveeasymode
Well said! The game series that came to my mind more with Dark Souls in terms of difficulty was the Ninja Gaiden games on the NES, but I think the Castlevania analogy works much better for Bloodborne. I seriously can't stop playing the games in this series, and the amount of depth and replayability is something that I haven't found in games in a very long time. After playing a little Bloodborne, I am sure I will love it when I can get my hands on it, and until then I am satisfied being locked in the Souls universe. If you'll excuse me I have to go back to Drangleic.
It seems like you and I have the same thought process when it comes to this game. I haven't played Bloodborne yet, but from what I saw I made similar analogies.

The series of games from From Software (love the company name by the way) are intriguing me more and more lately. I was initially overwhelmed when I heard of Dark/Demon's Souls' difficulty and its ominous unforgiving "YOU DIED" game over screens but now I'm very curious and eager to play them because they exploit that old school "adapt to the gameplay and master the systems to succeed" approaching to gaming.
What is it about From Software and hand cramps?  You'd think they had a market share on hot compresses or...  Oh.  Maybe that is it.

To say that Bloodborne has intrigued me is a bit of an understatement, but not for the most obvious reason.  While I do enjoy the hardcore gameplay, I get on board exclusively for the moody atmosphere.  Great write-up (per usual).
I bought Bloodborne the day it came out. I took it home, put it in, and played. I made it to the first monster, got my ass handed to me, because I hadn't figured out where the weapons were. Once I found the weapons, I killed that monster, then got killed on the next fight.

I decided to put Bloodborne on the shelf for awhile, to play LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and MLB The Show 2014.
@EngineerMike:LOL yeah, it took me several hours before I made any 'real' progress.  It's a game that requires real commitment and time investment, and I almost just stopped many times over.  But once it 'clicked,' everything came together and I was hooked much deeper than most games.  And like all 'Souls' games, it takes a few hours of deaths to really get anywhere.

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