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I BEAT BLOODBORNE!08:12 AM -- Sat December 3, 2016

That's an all-caps title! So this is a Hamumu Revumu. Bloodborne is a truly amazing game. It's by From Software, the infamous Dark Souls guys, and this is every bit a Dark Souls game except in a different universe. And that's part of what's so great - it's an infinitely better universe! While the lore/story/world of Dark Souls is all knights in heavy armor (even the weird mutant bosses are generally either dragons or giant knights in armor) and other boring medieval stuff, the world of Bloodborne is this amazing gothic steampunk Lovecraftian insanity. I can't remember the last time I was so deeply invested in a game's looks. Just wandering this realistic (well, hyper-real? All kinds of impossibly vast architecture going on) run-down 1800's city is a treat. The artwork is incredible. The views of cathedrals and spires, the gloomy atmosphere, every part of the style is just perfectly tuned to my brainwaves.

Inside that grim world are the most hideous and disturbing creatures of any game I've ever played. I love them and want to snuggle them. There's so many I could point out, but lemme just hit on two: First of all, the fat crows. Yep, fat crows. In a game filled with twisted demonic beings, these fat crows sitting on the ground should be perfectly fine. But they are actually the only enemy to cause a physical revulsion reaction in me. See, they're just crows, but they look like they're dead laying on the ground. If you get close, they come towards you, but not in a squawky fast way (not yet!), oh no, they sloooowly lurch along the ground like slugs. The model is nothing but a realistic crow, but with the animation and sound they managed to make it absolutely horrifying. And of course when it gets close, it does leap at your face.

Secondly, there are these massive creatures that cling to the sides of buildings, generally posing you no harm at all. They are definitely very disturbing in appearance, with insanely long limbs and a face full of tentacles. But the real trick is, you can't see them at all. As far as you know for about the first half of the game, they don't exist. You think you're just in a city full of werewolves, madmen, and ogres. But once you raise your Insight stat enough (it seems to represent your knowledge of the occult, and your ability to perceive it), suddenly they're just there. And you realize that this whole time you've been walking around beneath these towering monsters that could've squashed you at any moment. That's a nasty sight. There is at least one that can grab you before you're able to see them too, which is just a random death out of the blue if you lack the Insight to understand it. Here's a video, which also shows you the amazing style of the architecture and visuals a bit:

Come on, that's creepy. So I've written all these paragraphs, about a video game, and it's me writing it, and I haven't even mentioned the gameplay yet! Gameplay is officially all I care about in games! But this game, I'm telling you: the world, the story, the visuals, the sound (oh man, the sound is CRUNCHY and LOUD and upsetting all on its own), it all builds a masterpiece. I should also give a shout-out to the story: It's a good story, to the extent I understand it. Which is the point: the story is delivered in tiny cryptic tidbits you pick up as you play, rather than expository cutscenes. Everything is a clue, right down to "why does that type of monster or item show up in this area?" which would be throwaway in any other game. I don't entirely know what happened in the story, but I have my ideas, and from reading online, so does everybody else. It makes you think, and that's a good thing. There are a ton of elements I would've never even known about if it weren't for my massive FAQ-cheating at the game - entire sidequests that aren't explained, you just have to think for yourself "maybe that guy would like to come to the church instead of being eaten by monsters". You can miss so much of it all, but the clues are there to find.

So gameplay. It's super fun. In short, it's your typical action-RPG: you level up, you slash monsters with sharp things (cool sharp things that can transform between two modes), and you complete 'quests' (though there is no quest log and you may not even realize you're on a quest). Before this, I played Dark Souls (years after everyone else did). I didn't get super far in it. Steam says I've played 12 hours, most of which was probably grinding to get strong enough to beat the first 2 or 3 bosses. I was surprised how much I liked that game. I recommend it as well, and I feel like I should go back to it. Bloodborne is remarkably similar in almost every way. You can see all the same game systems in action, just slightly tweaked, and I don't doubt this is built from the same codebase. Bloodborne is better though. It's much more fast-paced. One nice trick is that when you get injured, most of the health you lose can be gained back by simply hitting enemies, but it becomes permanently lost after a few seconds. This means that when some enormous monstrosity pounds you into the ground, instead of going to hide behind a pillar, you are almost forced to charge back at it and start wailing away to recover what you lost. It's really satisfying to end up beating a guy with full health even though he hit you several times. There's also a huge emphasis on rolling around to dodge attacks. You don't get a shield in this game (well, there is one you can find at some point, but I never tried it, and I've heard it said that it was included as a joke), so it's either dodge or be hit.

And the badguys hit hard. Being from the makers of Dark Souls, this game is near-impossible in terms of difficulty. You can literally die in a single combo from an ordinary enemy even when you are fairly over-leveled for the area you're in. But you know, people talk about the infamous difficulty of these games a lot, and it really isn't that bad. Don't get me wrong, it's among the hardest games I've played, but there's a real difference in a game like this, where I can learn better strategies (or just level up), and something hard like VVVVVV or Super Meat Boy or Super Hexagon... those games I find so much harder because it's just brutal failure constantly and insane reflex testing. You can't really get that much better at them. In Bloodborne, nearly every boss killed me a few times, but even when they did, I always was left feeling like there was plenty of spare time and visible warnings of the danger, it's just that each mistake is punished severely. This is so much more forgiving in terms of timing than a game like Super Hexagon, where you have to be perfect every second. Here you can roll away, drink a potion, and try again. I am avoiding the age-old adage of "it's hard, but when you die it feels like your fault" - that's (usually) true, but it's more than that. It's that it's actually not that hard. It just requires you to learn through dying a few times (which is not penalized harshly at all).

A large part of the difficulty is like that - memorization can get you very far in this game. Once you've been through an area a few times, what felt like an insurmountable challenge is nearly child's play... as long as you don't make any mistakes. It's strange to praise this, but it's very fun that the world never changes. You can memorize every enemy's placement, and know exactly what to do. There's a real shift in the gameplay resulting from the lack of shift in the enemies: you start out exploring slowly and stealthily, and testing each enemy's reactions and abilities, then after a few deaths (or many), you're running through full-tilt chopping off heads as you go. Then you reach a new area and start all over. It's actually more dynamic than it would be if it were randomized - that'd just be repetitive. This way changes over time (not that every game should be so static, it just really works here). There are fairly long stretches of the game with no enemies at all, but you don't know that the first time through the area, so you inch along waiting for death to pop out around a corner...

I certainly wouldn't recommend this game to non-gamers in any way. It's the hardest of hardcore gaming. But it feels fair. Except maybe that stupid forest full of snakes... but even that I got through on my 3rd or 4th try. And each time I made good progress, I'd unlock a shortcut. The shortcuts are amazing. You'll make your way through a big convoluted area only to find you're right back where you started, and can open a door connecting it to where you began. Again, hard, but fair. You get through the hard part and then you don't have to do it again, the shortcut is there. I was stopped cold a few times with the game, saying to myself "Okay, guess I've gotten all I can out of this game, it's too hard for me." and set it aside for a week or two, but inevitably I was drawn back to give it another shot, until finally yesterday I actually won the game, months after I started. It was an immensely satisfying experience. I keep thinking about firing it up again to either work on a different character build or continue in New Game+ mode. I'm not sure why I would do that, but I certainly feel the call of the Great Ones in my corrupted blood.

Have I said enough? I've said too much. Bloodborne is great and comes highly recommended, as long as you are a hardcore gamer who likes scary stuff. There are things I would change for sure, but they're not even worth mentioning.
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