I’ve got a confession to make. My name is Jill and I am a recovering button masher.
I say recovering because if you were to engage me in a game of Tekken or Super Smash Bros, there is a 90% chance I’ll just spam the kick button. Yes I’m one of those, while you’ve put in the hours mastering all the combos I will come in and infuriate you by repeatedly kicking you in the ankle like a psychotic Chihuahua.
In fact it’s fair to say that my combat skills, until recently were a little mediocre. There was no nuance or flair, I’d simply run up and smack mobs repeatedly with my sword, axe or staff. I’d waste ammo by unloading full clips in the general direction of the enemy, or I’d roll a fire mage and do a long distance roasting.
This approach generally suited me well, especially when some games had little hidden mechanics which made you feel like a better gamer than you actually were. Things like enemies always missing the first shot (Bioshock) or that last sliver of health actually being worth more than most of your health bar when it’s full (Assassins Creed). Then the Dark Souls fighting mechanic became a thing and like the last banana in the monkey cage I was undone and smashed.
Now I’ve fought a few bosses in my time so I wasn’t completely inept, but I have to admit there have been occasions, namely the Arishok in Dragon Age 2, where I majestically ran around the palace pillars chancing one quick smack on the noggin before running around in a circle again like playing tag with a reluctant parent.
This tactic does not work in Bloodborne I can tell you!
I know there are some Souls enthusiasts out there who refer to Bloodborne as “Dark Souls Lite” but the Victoriana, steampunk aesthetic suited my moody goth sensibilities and I like big guns, I cannot lie. Both games however completely pulled the rug out from under me when it came to how I was used to playing games. There was no explanatory cinematic or tutorial. Naturally I spent a million hours in the character creator perfecting my face even though the headgear obscures most of it. Then that’s it, you’re getting minced to ribbons by an angry wolf-thing in Iosefka’s Clinic wondering what the hell is going on.
I spent the next few hours bumbling about with my axe, lost and alone in a world with seemingly no NPCs to talk to, no objectives and crucially for me, no map! When I finally did realise there were people I could talk to through windows and doors, it felt like most of the lore had passed me by. I literally had no idea what was going on and the constant “YOU DIED” screen was making me want to eat my own hands.
I very nearly threw the towel in when I reached Father Gascoigne. I couldn’t understand what people saw in these games. It was staggeringly unfair and I tend to get bored of killing mobs with no real reason. But it fully compelled me and got under my skin, and I ended up reading about the lore and downloading a companion guide. I couldn’t believe a damn video game had me doing homework, but there I was, music box in hand, taking Father Gascoigne to church!
After that the penny dropped and my perspective shifted. I stopped seeing it as a torturously unfair hack and slash and began to see it as a puzzle game but with teeth. This was not a game to be played, but learned. I watched enemy movements and patterns more, I anticipated ambushes, I eventually nailed my timings to do a “parry” and visceral attack. Traversing the Nightmare Fog became less of a curl in a ball and cry for a bit, to ok let’s see what this unholy mess of tentacles and claws can do!
Don’t get me wrong if I got a boss down to an ant’s testicle amount of health and it one-hit killed me, I spewed out language that would have made the Pope explode, but I always went back in, learning and improving.
Hand on heart I honestly think that Bloodborne has made me a better gamer. Ironically it’s taught me to be patient, to be more aware of what’s going on and it’s sharpened up my fighting skills and reflexes. Have I completed it yet and uncovered the “true” ending I hear you shout! Well no, to be honest. The Orphan of Kos (yes I know he’s optional but I’m a completionist) is giving me a bit of trouble with his tempura prawn on a rope, and someone needs to report Gehrman as a benefits cheat. That dude does not need a wheelchair at all!
But even if I don’t chow down on a buffet of umbilical cords and do an additional fight with a moon squid I’ve got a lot to thank Bloodborne for. I’m now playing games I actively would have avoided. The much maligned Vampyr, think Adam Jensen but even broodier, I actually don’t mind, even though I have neglected my doctor duties a bit and lost most of London to fatigue.
I’ve just picked up Nioh and as a rampant Japanophile I absolutely love it. I’m fulfilling my samurai fantasies and the Spirit Guardians and Kodama Sprits are so adorably Ghibli I positively squeal in delight every time I find one. The protagonist is a bit Geralt on his gap year but thanks to Bloodborne I now fully understand the necessity to keep replaying the same area over and over again to level up, get good and progress.
One game I’m now super hyped for is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I know that developers FromSoftware have been distancing this from the Souls series, and there are big differences such as no character creation or classes, and combat looks to be even more strategic, using a katana to attack poise and balance to lead to an opening for a killing blow. It will also have actual stealth mechanics including instant kills for successful stealth attacks. This in itself is enough to make me have a massive kawaii grin on my face.
So thank you Bloodborne for opening my eyes to a new world of gaming and a new state of mind. Praise the Moon! and maybe I’ll come and kick your shins in Tekken 8.