While Japan's presence in the RPG scene lost a lot of its visibility and mainstream appeal over the last generation, one game served as both a breath of fresh air and a trendsetter in modern game design. Demon's Souls, and its spiritual successor series Dark Souls, transformed from sleeper hits to online sensations in a matter of years, all from word of mouth backing up excellent, player-driven gameplay and beautifully designed, fully-realized worlds. The Souls games elevated action RPGs beyond their mostly grind and loot heavy laurels and made them something to approach with greater consideration.
"...this isn't a sequel. Familiar elements may be there, but with Bloodborne they seem to be trying something new."
It's not surprising then that Sony went to the man who did it before and asked him to do it again. The result is Bloodborne, an upcoming PS4 exclusive by From Software with the Souls series' fingerprints all over it. Faceless avatars donned in fantasy apparel, vast and intricate Gothic fantasy landscapes, and a distinct sense of weight through movement are all readily apparent, but that's just the beginning.
For starters, director Hidetaka Miyazaki, who also directed Demon's and Dark Souls, says that this isn't a sequel. Familiar elements may be there, but with Bloodborne they seem to be trying something new. This is noticeable even from the first trailer. Bloodborne's city of Yarnham seems to have switched out the Souls series' medieval setting with a Victorian one. What is lost in full plate is made up for in bi-fold hats and rudimentary, Industrial Revolution-era mechanisms.
Gone are the numerous, traditional long swords, from the previews at least. Instead we see players using crude scythes and sawblades, weapons that make the game feel as though farmers revolted rather than knights attacked. But From seems to have added even more to the weapons this time around, as they can now transform between two different styles, changing the flow and feel of the fight mid battle. Certain attacks can only be performed while in the middle of transforming a weapon, adding more unique attacks to the game's combat even more.
In fact, transformation seems to be as big a theme with Bloodborne as it was in the Souls games. In those, the loss of the soul and humanity led to a transformation into a mindless zombie while those whose souls became corrupted were transformed into powerful beasts that lust for more souls and greater power. In Bloodborne, a blood born pathogen (hence the title) seems to bestow a similar effect. While this leaves most as mindless or insane, with what little we have seen of the game there are already some terrifying beasts to behold. The one boss highlighted so far is a giant, monstrous werewolf-thing that serves as the ending to playable demos at Gamescom and TGS.
But the biggest change Bloodborne is making to the Souls formula is its approach to combat. Not only has combat seemingly been sped up compared to Demon's and Dark Souls, but From wants to change the entire way the game is played for many people by removing shields entirely. The designers felt that too many people played through the game by hiding behind a shield that forces them into a defensive mindset. In their place they now have guns, but probably not the ones you're thinking of.
Don't worry, From's intent isn't to make a shooter. Rather, the guns are more akin to the musket rifle or blunderbuss variety and have so far been held in the offhand as a defensive weapon, though in a far more aggressive manner. Their shots are limited in range and damage in most cases, but firing into an enemy in the middle of an attack animation opens them up in a similar manner to parries in the Souls games, allowing for a greater retaliation by the player or interrupting an enemy mid attack. From what has been shown in trailers and gameplay, guns seem to run on limited amounts of ammo, though presumably at a certain point in the final game it will be easy to procure more.
To support the increased combat speed, it seems that From has returned to the Demon's Souls style of healing item, where it is a collectible Blood Vial similar to the healing grass that can be found in the world that when consumed immediately restores a set amount of HP. So fans of the Estus Flask and Lifegems from Dark Souls 1 and 2 will have to get used to this method. And while this could just be a convenient method of healing set up for demo purposes, it should carry over into the final game as the Triangle button is entirely dedicated to it.
From has been mum on multiplayer for the time being, doing little else but confirming that it is present. An ending shot for one of the trailers contains a group of skeletons holding a scroll coming up from the ground and seems to serve the same purpose as summon signs from the previous games. Another tradition returning from the previous games is that of NPCs that will help you in combat, though for the time being we can hope they are as fleshed out and interesting as many of the characters the series has become known for.
And while the actual RPG elements have also been kept to a minimum for Bloodborne's showings so far, we can assume that those elements are present as well and will hopefully be embellished upon in the coming months leading to its February 6th, 2015 release date. Next year can't come fast enough.