It’s no secret that FromSoftware enjoyed an immense amount of success this past decade, with many considering the likes of Dark Souls to be the highlight of a generation. It’s easy to see why—they are challenging games that put the player in control of their own fate, and they popped up right around a time where handholding in video games was at an all-time high. Dark Souls came to define the dungeon crawling genre, reinventing it with unique mechanics like having to retrieve your souls upon death (a smart way to encourage smart play), and cryptic storytelling done through item descriptions and world design. While Dark Souls is arguably the game that started this kind of game, Bloodborne refined this template in many ways, and the convention of the SoulsBorne games shine brighter than ever in this macabre entry.
Like all the games from FromSoftware, Bloodborne can only charitably be described as “cryptic.” Characters say things that seem to hold meaning, even though that meaning never becomes crystal clear. Locations have a sense of history, although what the history is can be tough to parse out. I’m going to give my interpretation on what the overall story is, but this is not a lore or theory article. Rather, I want to examine how the game reinforces its themes of “alien” by making sure the player is never 100% sure of what’s going on.
You play as an individual I will refer to as the Good Hunter. The Good Hunter falls ill and travels to Yharnam, a kingdom that has fallen into disrepair for reasons at first unknown, in order to get Blood to heal themselves. You reawaken in Yharnam during the night of a hunt, which is where the townsfolk go around slaughtering those who have succumbed to Beast blood and become monsters themselves. As you go through the game, you do battle with gigantic monstrosities known as Great Ones. These include but are not limited to:
- A two-ton spider living at the bottom of lake.
- A two-story tall amalgamation of corpses.
- A thing with wings and tentacles and what can only be described as noodle eyes for a face.
As the game continues, it becomes clear that the Good Hunter’s mission changes. What started as a quest to find a cure for some unknown disease, turns into a quest to end a cycle of failure committed by the Old Hunters that led to Yharnam’s fall in the first place. You explore the world, seeing the once peaceful people turning into hostile maniacs, or sometimes literal monsters. And while Beast Blood is certainly to blame for this (Hunters spend so much time hunting Beasts that they eventually turn Beast themselves, evidenced by the early fight against father Gasciogne), it also becomes clear that the Great Ones you encounter have had some kind of…impact on the world. Something negative and bad.
Of the many, many mysteries present in Bloodborne, the Great Ones are, for lack of a better term, the greatest. Their origins are never made entirely clear (the closest we get is with the name of Ebrietas, whose title is “Daughter of the Cosmos”), and their motivations are even murkier. It’s clear that they use humanity to perpetuate their existence, though (the game’s secret ending even implies that the Great Ones may have been humans at some point). They need humanity, and their very presence turns people into warped, horrific abominations.
In other words, Bloodborne, for all its Gothic posturing is not a monster hunting story, or a fantasy story. It’s an alien invasion story in every sense of the word. The aforementioned gigantic spider at the bottom of the lake, named Rom, was kind of the jumping off point for humanity’s interaction with the Great Ones. There’s an academy in the game named Byrgenwerth, and numerous items and characters make mention of the “secret in the lake” that started everything. When you go there, the enemies take the form of what I can only describe as Fly People, or Jeff Goldblums, if you will. They’ve become perverted monstrosities because they were essentially at Ground Zero for the invasion of the Great Ones.
With the aforementioned Ebrietas, you fight this thing in a church that’s filled with enemies the game refers to as Kin, which look like the classic Greys in alien conspiracy theories. These are implied throughout to be people who were once human. But because these people sought the knowledge of the Great Ones, they themselves became something other than human. Maybe it’s not so much an alien invasion as it is an alien conversion in that sense.
This is all information I’ve pieced together, and despite having spent a lot of time on the internet making sense of the information the game throws at you, I lack a total understanding of everything in the game. And in that way, this game captures the theme of “alien” more than anything else I’ve ever seen. A lot of alien invasion stories, or stories centered on aliens, use humanoid creatures that are kind of just twisted versions of regular people. Often times, it can take away from the sense of awe that we would feel at the existence of extraterrestrials.
This game is scary in many ways, and a lot of that is thanks to the top notch enemy design. Even ignoring the aforementioned Kin and Great Ones, this game is loaded with things like werewolves, fish people, undead, and gigantic, building-sized bugs with six arms that shoot lasers from their heads. The high difficulty adds to the terror these enemies create. Not only are they just scary to look at, but there’s a real fear of losing progress by succumbing to their relentless assaults. It’s sheer visceral terror of reacting to something abnormal looking that wants to rip your face off.
But it’s more than that. There’s an area of the game called Yahar’gul that isn’t intended to be seen until later in the game. You can go there early, though, by getting killed by these weird looking jackasses in cloaks that carry sacks around with them. Dying to one (and you probably will, because they do a ton of damage) leads you to Yahar’gul, where you’re dropped in the middle of a jail and left with little to no lighting to claw your way back to safety. And the entire time, there’s extremely eerie chanting in the background. The fact that I had no idea where I was, combined with the chanting and aggressive enemies, frayed my nerves raw in a way most other games can’t claim.
That situation perfectly summarizes how Bloodborne captures this feeling of experiencing something alien. You’re put into this situation with a little bit of information, but you never come to full understand why you were brought there, who these mysterious hooded figures that stomp your ass into the dirt are, or where the god awful, otherworldly chanting is coming from. It adds up to the player trying to grasp the truth of the situation, and not being able to because such things are beyond their understanding, much like how people’s obsessions and curiosity with the Great Ones only turn them into something other than human.
Even though other SoulsBorne type games employ this cryptic method of storytelling to great effect, to me, it’s most appropriate in Bloodborne and hits the hardest because of the game’s themes of eldritch horror. It’s an alien invasion story told in a way that makes the experience feel alien in and of itself, and because of that, the game is a terrifying, unforgettable nightmare of facing challenging monsters and overcoming them. I only beat the game recently, so I’m not sure how it ranks with me personally against other FromSoftware titles, but in terms of marrying the gameplay and story themes, it is simply unparalleled.