We’ve sent our Games Editor Jake Muncy into the dark, unwelcoming world of From Software’s newest title, Bloodborne. Today, he narrates his journey deeper into the plague-infested city of Yharnam. As Jake journeys on, spoilers will be inevitable, so keep that in mind.
You can read the first installment of his Bloodborne Logs here.
Old Yharnam is a fortress. As I enter the place, through a hidden passageway in the midst of a shrine, a voice surrounds me, shimmering in the air, warning me to go back. I’m a good hunter, the voice says, but this place is not for me. Turn back now.
I don’t. The voice, a crow that sounds like it belongs to a cruel old man, is right about me being a good hunter. To get here, I beat another boss monster, a man who used to be a hunter named Gascoigne. Clutched by the hate working its way through his body, he murdered his wife. I murdered him back. Afterward, I found myself in the Cathedral Ward, on the doorstep of the holy place I’m looking for. On the way to answers, hopefully. At least a hint. To be honest, I’m not sure I even know enough to know what the right questions to ask are.
Frankly, I halfway agree with the voice telling me to turn back. I don’t think the cathedral I’m looking for is in Old Yharnam. But I have to find that out for myself. Besides, I’m feeling pretty confident. I can handle this.
The deeper into Yharnam I get, the more I keep thinking about the Spanish influenza. It was the most deadly known flu outbreak, killing millions, more than the world war going on at the time. It was a pandemic that occurred on the cusp of medical science’s ability to understand and deal with it. They knew enough to begin to understand what was happening, and to take measures to try to contain it, but they couldn’t stop it, couldn’t treat it effectively. There are studies that suggest that one meaningful cause of death during that time was overdosing on aspirin, which was overprescribed as a stopgap measure to ease the suffering of people that couldn’t be saved.
It looks like Yharnam, at the time the “beast plague” hit, turning its denizens into, well, whatever they are now, was at a similar turning point. The Healing Church at the center of Yharnam’s society had power over blood, but not enough. Imagine trying to fight something that gets bigger and stronger even as you fight it.
It’s the terror of that, I think, that caused them to put Old Yharnam to flame. I learn about the fate of Old Yharnam later, pieced together from item descriptions and hinted context. Old Yharnam was the epicenter of the plague, and the clergy chose to destroy it and lock it away to keep it from spreading. Obviously, it didn’t work. That seems to be a pattern here.
When I said Old Yharnam was a fortress, though, I meant more than that it had been sealed away and put to ash. I meant that in the interim, the man warning me to go back, who I learn is a fellow Hunter, or someone who used to be one, anyway, has made the place his home. And he has fortified it. He is perched atop a tower in the middle of the district.
He has a gatling gun. Allow me to break character for just a moment and say that, even for a From Software game, this is some bullshit. My early tries at Old Yharnam morph the experience into something like trench warfare, as I weave in and out of subterranean and indoor paths, behind cover, cutting down beasts in whatever safety I can manage as the cruel hunter taunts me and lays down hellfire. I finally reach the tower, climbing a long ladder to reach his perch. He taunts me some more, then comes at me, a massive gun in his hands. He beats me, telling me to reflect on my actions in my dreams.
The next time, I knock him off the roof. It feels both wonderful and terrible. He was trying to protect this place from me, though I’m not sure why. He didn’t seem insane, not like some of the others I’ve met in this awful city. Just frustrated.
Later, I find items that tell me a bit about the man I’ve killed. His name was Djura. He used to be a hunter, but abandoned the calling, frustrated by the fate of Old Yharnam. So he placed it under his protection, I suppose. The beasts—the half-wolves hanging from stakes, the cloaked terrors that claw at me from darkened corridors—did he see them as his charges? They were people once, citizens. Perhaps he thought he was saving them from me. I feel like I don’t know enough to say if he was right.
Remember the crucifixes? I realized something, or perhaps I couldn’t see it until now. The things hanging on them are bodies. Werewolves, with bandages and stakes wrapped around their heads. Victims of the hunt, I have to imagine, killed by the roaming bands of angry Yharnamites before they, too, succumbed to the plague. In Western culture, the crucifix is a complex symbol, both the site of the most exalted figure of one of our largest religions and an ancient, brutal tool of execution. The two, triumph and failure, death and life, are intertwined in our imagination. Imagine a bunch of dainty church-goers wearing electric chairs around their necks.
Were they always beasts on the crosses? One of my resources in the game is called Insight. I gain it from encountering bosses, from consumable items called “Madman’s Knowledge”, and from some incidental things that happen in the world. As I accrue Insight, some things in the world around me are beginning to change. I can hear the big Frankenstein monsters mutter angry, bitter words to me as they attack. Something like, “This is all your fault,” muttered between strangled growls.
As I push further into Yharnam, the statues of beatific, Virgin Mary-like women are replaced by women bandaged, covered up in what seems like mourning. I’m not sure if this is a change caused by my growing insight or not. I’m a bit scared to go back to investigate, really. I have this growing, unnerved sensation that the game itself is, by design, gaslighting me, changing things in subtle ways as I grow stronger in vision and blade. I feel consistently like I know even less than I thought I did when the game started. And I’m frightened of what I’m going to find out.
The church in Old Yharnam isn’t the one I was looking for. There’s nothing here but a chalice. I can use that to access a tomb under the city, a place where I might find hidden treasures, weapons, tools for survival. But not what I was after.
Not to say the church is empty, either. It has one inhabitant. When I enter the long, narrow sanctuary, it’s bent over the altar as if in prayer or offering. I imagine that it’s both the sacrifice and the priest. The beasts seem to consistently be drawn to places of worship, clinging to religious iconography like it’s going to save them from what they’ve become. Or as if it’s what made them that way in the first place. The game is drawing a clear symbolic line here. Whatever rot has accumulated in Yharnam, it came down from the steeples.
When the beast turns to me, it’s all claws. Its skin hangs in flaps over its torso like an ill-fitting coat. I’m not sure it has a face. It’s called the Blood-Starved Beast. I have plenty, but I don’t intend on sharing. I extend my weapon to its fullest length and get ready as it lopes toward me, its lanky legs stretching like its tendons are rubber. It seems all I’ve learned from Yharnam so far is that I’m not going to get anywhere without a fight.
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.