We’ve sent our Games Editor Jake Muncy into the dark, unwelcoming world of From Software’s newest title, Bloodborne. Today, things start to get a little strange. As Jake journeys on, spoilers will be inevitable, so keep that in mind.
Check out the previous installments:
I haven’t talked about the Hunter’s Dream yet. I’m not sure what it is—somewhere between a hallucination and purgatory, a peaceful meadow perched atop unwaking firmament. I go there when I die.
Here’s how my visit to Yharnam started: I woke up on a metal slab. Primitive medical instruments were gathered around me, blood pooled on the floor. The last thing I remember before that, an old man, a doctor whose name I never learned, was giving me a transfusion. Preparing me to enter Yharnam. Whatever he did, whatever power was in that blood, is what made me a hunter.
Then I got killed. A lycan was prowling near the exit to the clinic—a clinic owned, I learned soon after, by a woman hiding behind a locked door named Iosefka—gnawing on a dead body. I had to work my way past it, but I didn’t have any weapons, and well, he wasn’t very impressed with my boxing.
When I “woke up,” I was in the Hunter’s Dream. Fog drifts over the meadow here. The dream is covered with flowers and graves. The messengers, ethereal imps that burst from the ground, visible only to me and other hunters, offer me a weapon. A wheelchair-bound man named Gehrman, another hunter, explains to me about the beasts and the hunt. (The next time I arrive at the Dream, he’s gone.) By bowing at the right grave—the death of Yharnam itself? I can return to the world I came from. Back from the dead.
The only other denizen of the Hunter’s Dream is a doll, which comes to life as soon as you begin gaining insight. She lets you exchange blood echoes for more power, and she offers you encouraging words. She intimates that she’s an artificial being, created by the hunters, existing, it seems, solely to serve you. I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with this.
Any of this, really. But you’ve probably gathered that by now.
Meanwhile, I’ve pressed into the Cathedral Ward, toward the Grand Cathedral at its center. Watchmen with pale skin, dressed in the hats and scarves that seem to be standard among the clergy, patrol the grounds. They don’t look like beasts, but they have a certain mindless, automaton quality to them. Their skin is so pale it’s almost blue. Hypothermic. When they see me, they roar in anger. I wonder how they came to be what they are.
The Cathedral Ward has been sealed away. First, the bridge where I fought the Cleric Beast was blocked off, forcing me to take to the sewers to get around it. That was the path that took me to the graveyard where Father Gascoigne lingered. Now, there are massive gates and these guardians. In all of Yharnam, I am an intruder, especially here, where the barricades are so clearly set up to keep the things of the beasts and the hunt away. Much of my time is spent finding back alleys, unlocked doors, keys and levers to open up closed paths. It feels roguish, scrappy. I come like a thief in the night.
I make it, though. My path leads me inexorably to the Grand Cathedral. Inside, I find a Vicar. Amelia. I’m too late, though. She succumbs to her beastly nature, transforming into a giant wolf and assaulting me. With moonlight trickling in the massive windows, around the array of tapestries and columns, my dance with the beast is almost beautiful. She’s a giant, breathing snarl of a thing, and I circle her constantly just to stay in one piece. I only am able to kill her with help, a powerful hunter from some other world coming in and beating her in moments with a sword of fire.
Beasts hate fire. I’ll keep that in mind.
When she falls, I follow a light shining on the altar. There’s a cracked, malformed skull there, positioned like a sacrament. I touch it and receive a vision. Two old men mutter conspiratorially. Master Willem, a hunter, and… Gehrman? The old man from the Hunter’s Dream? I’m left with a mantra, a watchword that I can use as a password to open a blocked door. “Fear the old blood.” Useful, but not informative. I’m beginning to consider the possibility that there’s no one left alive who can explain to me why I’m here.
I can’t shake my growing frustration with Yharnam. There is no exposition here, no one to explain what I’m doing, to give context or meaning to my hunt. Just hints, whispers, skulls with no bodies. Maybe it’s foolish to look at a city like this and expect it to teach me something. But it’s how we’re trained to think about art, a viewpoint that extends to games. We want to wring meaning from every pore. But it’s naive to expect something didactic from a disaster.
When I first arrived in the Hunter’s Dream, Gehrman told me something that I’ve been turning over in my mind.
“You’re sure to be in a fine haze about now,” he said. “But don’t think too hard about all this. Just go out and kill a few beasts. It’s for your own good. You know, it’s just what hunters do! You’ll get used to it.” The animalistic rhythm of combat backs him up. It’s easy to focus on it entirely, revelling in the crunch of cutting into a dead beast. It’s not exactly an innocent pleasure. It’s certainly an anesthetizing one. But I can’t confidently say Gehrman’s wrong.
The Hunter’s Dream serves two purposes. First, it’s a hub area for the player, containing necessary resources and breathing room. Second, and more importantly, in my mind, it is a surrealistic breach in the logic of the game world. Most of your time as a hunter is spent in a sprawling hellscape of a city. It’s seamless and at least somewhat realistic. I mean, there are mutated beast monsters, but this isn’t high fantasy. It’s more grounded, a mood influenced far more by the early science fiction of Frankenstein than the dark fantasy of the most recent From Software games.
The presence of the Hunter’s Dream immediately changes that tone, or, perhaps, keeps it at arm’s length. It’s a hint that there’s something else going on here, something behind or around the bloody gothic horror on the surface. The Hunter’s Dream, hanging in the clouds as it is, with pillars with no beginning and end floating in the distance, is pure fantasy.
It’s a hint. I should have been paying more attention.
I’m combing back through the Cathedral Ward after my victory over Amelia. I’m eager to explore along a path around the back of the Grand Cathedral. I take my time working my way back, fighting the pale-faced keepers, prodding for anything I’ve missed. As I do so, I glance into a corner I passed over the first time, just outside of a safe haven at the Ward’s center.
I find something. A man-beast with a cloak like burlap cinched over its head. His one normal arm holds an empty bag. His other arm is twisted, and weaponized. He comes at me like he has a vendetta. I don’t last long. His arm is like a dagger plunged into my gut. My blood seeps away and I see black.
When I return to life, the hunter blood remaining in me doing its good work, I see brown fabric. I’m being dragged. This is not how this is supposed to go. I fade away again, and when I finally wake up for good, I’m in darkness, standing on worn stone. It’s cold and the air is still, that swirling nothing feeling of being in a deep cave coming over me.
This is wrong. Where the fuck am I? I step forward, muddled hands waving in the dark, and I find a note on the ground. No idea who left it. My gut says it wasn’t the one who took me.
It reads: “Madmen toil surreptitiously in rituals to beckon the moon. Uncover their secrets.”
Chewing on that, I pull out my torch, light it, and find the door. I’m in a makeshift jail. The bars are bent and dented. Whoever was here last put up quite a fight. The door, strangely, is unlocked, a detail which serves to make this only more unsettling. I have no idea where this place is, or how that thing stopped me from returning to the Hunter’s Dream. I feel like I’m clawing my way out of my own grave. This is all, all wrong.
The game tells me this place is called the Hypogean Gaol. Gaol is an antiquated form of “jail,” and “hypogean” means subterranean, underground. It also has a botanical meaning: it’s the part of a seed that it leaves under the soil. I picture the roots of a terrible night coiling around me. Wherever I am, I don’t think it’s Yharnam. And I have no idea how to get out.
Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to functioning as Loser City’s Games Editor, his writing appears on The AV Club, Ovrld, and anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.