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Fear The Old Blood: A look at the narrative of Bloodborne

BBIt has been several days since I completed From Software’s latest title Bloodborne. Despite this, my mind is still filled with the reverberating echoes of the games cosmic narrative. A vision of beings man was not meant to see, the distant sound of crying from a child never granted life, and the ever present illumination from the blood moon, hanging over me, ever watchful of my actions.

For me, Bloodborne is a masterpiece, both mechanically and narratively. Developer, From Software’s unique approach to storytelling means that one does not simply learn about the world and its inhabitants. Oh sure, some bread crumbs are scattered here and there to entice, to arouse curiosity, but the true depth of your actions are only really discovered through personal investigation.

Warning: Spoilers contained within

‘Fear the old blood.’

So let’s start with the obvious. Blood is a constant theme within the game. It refers to many key narrative devices as well as being the driving force behind a lot of the events within the game, including a good many of the players own actions.

The old blood is a reference to the blood of a Great One, found deep within the chalice dungeons. This event and discovery is pivotal in setting the scene for the game and sealing the fate of Yarnham and its citizens.

Bloodborne (art 4)

The academics at the college of  Byrgenwerth discovered the potential healing properties of the blood. They began experimenting with it, mostly in the hope of communicating with other great ones or even to transcend humanity and become great ones themselves. The theme of transformation is a key concept within the context of the games narrative, referenced in several different ways.

bloodborne-sony-invita-alpha-testLike drug addicts, the citizens of Yarnham abused the blood, and as a result, transformed into beasts. The player transforms when performing a visceral attack and can activate a beast mode when certain conditions are met.

The abuse of blood by the citizens of Yarnham led to its eventual downfall. We know the blood had healing properties and through the process of blood ministration, a person can be cured of many ailments, after all, this is why the player finds themselves in Yarnham. The blood has some pretty severe side effects though including the ashen blood plague that ravaged Old Yarnham.

Many of the characters we learn about have been transformed by the blood in some way, such as Father Gascoigne, Vicar Amelia and Rom, The Vacuous Spider. We even encounter what many believe to be Laurence, the founder of the healing church, in the chalice dungeons, having transformed into a hideous monstrosity due to his use of the old blood.

‘We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood.’

BB-ChurchWhat is interesting, however, is how the healing church was formed and grew to be the main power in the city being fully aware of what the blood was capable of and what it would eventually do to people. Despite this, the short term effects proved too alluring to the population and so Laurence and several others from Byrgenworth created a church built upon the foundations of a terrible and corrupt secret.

‘The sky and the cosmos are one.’

The other major theme of the game besides blood is the pursuit of knowledge far beyond the comprehension of mankind. Throughout the game world the player will find items called Madman’s Knowledge. Here is what the items description says:

“‘Skull of a madman touched by the wisdom of the Great Ones.

Use to gain Insight.

Making contact with eldritch wisdom is a blessing, for even if it drives one mad, it allows one to serve a grander purpose, for posterity.”

The game is full of people who tried to commune with the Great Ones, beings beyond their comprehension and this pursuit drove them insane. The players own sanity is being visually monitored, your ‘insight’ shows your level of perceiving the world as it truly is. Your eyes or, maybe more accurately your mind is being opened to the truth as you encounter eldritch horrors and explore locations entirely rooted within the mind.

The hub of the game, which is a place of refuge and safety from the night is called The Hunter’s Dream. This is a literal name, you are escaping the perils of reality into a dream world. We all have a safe place within our mind where we escape to from time to time. This implies that the great ones and their realm is parallel to our own and is reached via the mind. The Great Ones exist within us.

In an area called the nightmare frontier the player encounters a great one called Amygdala. This being is a giant, multi limbed monstrosity with a bulbous head made of eyes and tentacles.
Amygdala
It’s interesting to note that Amygdala is the name given to a part of the brain that processes emotions. This adds further weight to the argument that the great ones are actually human emotions manifested in some kind of psychic form, created from our own mind.

BB9When you hold enough insight, you will begin to see things that you couldn’t before. Enemies change, gaining new abilities and altered appearances to represent the player being more aware of the things around them. This same insight drove many before you insane and you collect their madness, adding it to your own. The player begins to pull back the veil of reality and bridge the gap between their world and ours.

Obviously the theme of cosmicism has been explored before, most famously in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, an author whose work focused on the cosmic horror of the unknown, the unknowable, and how that knowledge affects those who seek it. Bloodborne does a wonderful job of applying these core tenets to its own mythology and it is executed beautifully. The search for knowledge and the desire to communicate with beings beyond our understanding sits at the heart of the game and it’s this driving force that shapes the turn of events leading you to the possible endings.

The game has several endings, each one more tragic than the one before it. There is one which really resonated with me and was one of the reasons why I wanted to keep digging and to keep learning about the game, a weird parody of what goes on within the game world.

BB8The ending in question is the most interesting to me and I think the overall narrative of the game, this is the hidden ending that the player can only reach if they collect what is essentially the remains of great one hosts. These vessels are what the great ones try and use to give birth to new children as they seem incapable of producing offspring as we understand it. They need a human host to procreate and this is what the night of the blood moon is for, when the two realities are close enough where physical communion is possible and the great ones can attempt to create children. If the player finds several of these rare items and consumes them, (gaining more insight as they do) they are too powerful to be consumed. Instead you ascend to become a great one yourself, shedding your humanity and becoming a new, young cosmic entity.

What I hope you take from this article is this. There is no victory, only a personal escape following the path of those who came before you, becoming that which you have hunted.

What I love about the Bloodborne narrative is that it is never really pushes the story upon the player. Most of the lore and the information needed to piece together what’s going on comes from reading item descriptions. The details are subtle and cryptic and I feel like I am only just beginning to skim the surface of what the narrative has to offer me. It encourages investigation. That is a rare thing in modern video game storytelling and considering the source material, it’s a fitting method of delivery.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Absolutely incredible article, Stephen. You’ve taken a ‘review’ to another level with a full-on exploration of the game and I love it! Nice link between this and Lovecraft too – I think Lovecraft would have a field day should he be around today and invited to write a novel or two within the World of Bloodborne! 😀

  2. Avatar Overlord says:

    For anyone interested in a ‘review’ of the game (i.e. a look at the gameplay, etc) check out:
    http://fantasy-faction.com/2015/bloodborne-first-impressions

  3. Avatar Stephen says:

    Also if you want to check out some amazing let’s plays whilst getting lore info from a guy who helped write the strategy guide, head on over to EpicNameBro’s youtube channel:

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCI6keWArpxmfeiuAATv7jZw

    His coverage is second to none and his gameplay videos are always really interesting.

  4. Avatar Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

    Great job! I’m glad you fleshed out the lore. I didn’t want to get to spoiler-y so close to release, but it really is one of the best parts of the game.

  5. Avatar Luka-Michaela says:

    I’ve been in love with this game for awhile now, the story is amazing and I feel sympathy for the NPCs a lot of the time. I wish it was also a novel or something, or at least there were more novels with the air of mystery and lack of hand holding like this game.

  6. Wow, I loved this article. You’re writing is almost as captivating as the game sounds! Gosh, after reading this I wish I was a bigger gamer! When I used to game, I loved when the game had a good story. A lot of my friends would just blast through the cinematics and I never understood that because I wanted to know what was going on as much as I wanted to play!

  7. […] Rhodes has written an excellent piece on Bloodborne’s narrative, Fear the Old Blood: A Look at the Narrative of Bloodborne and deftly summarises core aspects of the game’s lore. I would recommend reading this to brush up […]

  8. Avatar Random Dude says:

    Just found this. Pretty good analysis.

    The only thing I disagree with is the idea of the Great One Ending not being a Victory.

    To me, at least, that’s the greatest ending of the three. Break through everything, take down everything in our path, and ascend to a higher plane of existence. That’s fucking awesome if you ask me. But to each their own.

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