The Big Game: Bloodborne

Ask a group of gamers what the hardest game of all time is, and it’s likely several will name an entry from the Souls series.

Kicked off in 2010 by the release of Demon’s Souls (it launched in Japan and the US the year before), From Software’s Souls franchise, which continued with 2011’s Dark Souls and 2014’s Dark Souls II, is renowned for its punishing and obtuse gameplay.

Spurred by cult popularity surrounding its oppressive atmosphere and complex lore, the series quickly grew from having a niche appeal to becoming a critical and commercial hit.

To date, the first Dark Souls has sold in excess of 2.37 million units worldwide, while Dark Souls II has shipped more than 1.2 million copies in the US and Europe alone.

Now, Souls series creator and director for the first two titles Hidetaka Miyazaki, returns with a spiritual successor to Souls – Bloodborne.

Since Bloodborne was developed for only one platform, we were able to sharpen some of the ideas and implementation.

Hidetaka Miyazaki, From Software

While Bloodborne may not be a direct Souls follow-up, it marks somewhat of a homecoming for From Software; Demon’s Souls was a PS3 exclusive, before Dark Souls and Dark Souls II expanded the franchise to Xbox 360 and PC.

Bloodborne sees From Software return to the PlayStation fold.

Miyazaki (pictured right), who is also president of the developer, says that the return to a single platform has allowed Bloodborne to flourish as a distinctly original title, while continuing to honour its Souls predecessors.

“Bloodborne was created after thorough discussions with Sony to find out what would be the best for the title,” he says.

“We didn’t try to make it similar to Demon’s Souls – but nor did we try to make it totally different, either.

“Since Bloodborne was developed for one platform, we were able to sharpen some of the ideas and implementation.”

Joe Palmer, product marketing manager at Sony, adds that From Software’s return to PlayStation is in fitting with the platform’s past legacy of RPG titles.

“RPG fans are hugely important to us,” he states. “It’s a genre that traditionally feels like core PlayStation territory.

“Bloodborne provides a great chance for us to tap into a highly engaged audience and give an invaluable contribution to PS4.”

It’s been half a decade since Demon’s Souls proved that not all players are after an easy ride in their games. In the time since, several titles – both indie efforts like The Binding of Isaac and triple-A big hitters such as Alien: Isolation – have similarly introduced gameplay elements designed to lend more weight to failure.

So, with players perhaps relishing more of a challenge, does Miyazaki see more of a market for the sadomasochistic tastes of Bloodborne?

“We were so glad that Demon’s Souls was widely accepted by a number of players, but we don’t think the game changed their interests or tastes,” he responds. “There were a lot of users who were already interested in this type of game before the launch of Demon’s Souls, and it was lucky that the game attracted such users.”

Palmer, meanwhile, does see Demon’s Souls as the catalyst for player interest in a new wave of tougher releases.

“We knew that Demon’s Souls was a really strong title and that critical acclaim would be widespread,” he says. “However, this often doesn’t translate to commercial success, so our approach in 2009 was fairly conservative given the niche concept of the title.

“Demon’s Souls helped to establish a big demand for these kinds of games, giving publishers – including ourselves – more confidence to invest more.

“Furthermore, the success of the Dark Souls franchise has proved that gamers want more of a challenge – and this is something that we fully embrace in our approach to Bloodborne.”

Miyazaki adds that, while returning Souls players may recognise elements of past titles in Bloodborne, this is ultimately a whole new experience.

“As Bloodborne is a brand new IP, we are not thinking about differentiating between new users and existing users,” he comments. “We have tried to design the game so all users can enjoy exploring the unknown areas like the world or story and learn combat strategies using transforming weapons and guns. However, in that sense, this game may be more interesting for new users as many of its features are still unknown to them.”

Palmer reveals that Sony’s marketing of the game will seek out fans of Souls, but also emphasise that this isn’t just Dark Souls III.

“The Souls games are phenomenally popular, so ensuring that fans are aware of the common ground they share with Bloodborne is a vital part of our strategy,” he says. “However, it’s not just the similarities with previous From Software games that we want to communicate; how Bloodborne differs from the Souls series will be at the forefront of our communications.”

One feature that embodies this ‘familiar yet unknown’ approach is Bloodborne’s multiplayer, which remains a bit of a mystery. Miyazaki says the mode will differ from that of past Souls titles, which allowed players to invade other games and summon human helpers through the use of in-game items.

“The multiplayer system in Bloodborne differs from those in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls,” he explains. “As for the matchmaking system criticised in Dark Souls II, we are using a level-matching system similar to the previous titles I have directed.”

The success of the Dark Souls franchise has proved that gamers want more of a challenge.

Joe Palmer, Sony

Bloodborne might be its own distinct game, but it’s clear that the legacy of the Souls series lives on.

“We have not changed at all in the way that we make games,” Miyazaki comments.

“Just as when we were making Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, we are again just making games that we like. That’s very important to us.”

It’s clear that the games From Software likes, players like too. With the success of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls II already proving consumer interest in the Souls series, will Bloodborne kickstart another hit franchise? Palmer stays quiet on the matter.

“We have a really great relationship with From Software, and can’t wait to see what people think of Bloodborne,” he responds.

But until news of a sequel arises, Bloodborne fans will have plenty to keep them busy – the highly popular New Game Plus mode of the Souls games, which allows players to replay the story on a higher difficulty with new monsters and items for even more of a challenge, makes a return.

“Yes,” Miyazaki confirms. “There will be a New Game Plus mode.”

He laughs.

“We’re having trouble beating it, though.”

UNFORGIVING ENVIRONMENT

Though it shares much of its development DNA with the Souls games, Bloodborne also features some major differences.

One big change is a new focus on aggressive, fast-paced combat, in stark contrast to the slow, methodical encounters of the Souls games.

To keep pace, the player character is freshly equipped with firearms, such as shotguns, and weapons that can transform mid-combat, while shields are far less common.

Bloodborne also replaces the medieval castles and forests of Demon’s and Dark Souls with a more contemporary setting – a fantastical take on Victorian London, entitled Yharnam.

In fact, at first glance, Bloodborne’s environment is similar to that of another recent PS4 exclusive – The Order: 1886.

“For better or worse, we have taken a very unique approach with Bloodborne so that it will not be similar to other titles with the same themes,” comments Hidetaka Miyazaki, From Software president and director for the game.

“Rather, we are very interested in and looking forward to seeing the world based on the history and traditions described in The Order: 1886.”

He adds: “We are not worried about players growing tired of titles set in a Victorian environment.”

Sony product marketing manager Joe Palmer echoes this sentiment, adding that the differing tones of Bloodborne and The Order: 1886 set the games apart.

“Bloodborne and The Order: 1886 share a similar setting at first glance only,” he explains. “This is a coincidence, however, with two very different studios working on very different games.

“Bloodborne’s setting of Yharnam is an ancient gothic city, rife with a strange illness. There is a constant threat of danger, death and madness lurking around every corner, giving the world a unique atmosphere that is more unrelenting than any other IP.”