Tonight I finished something that I started when Bloodborne was first released: I earned the game's platinum trophy. This means that I successfully completed every achievement in the game, which was no easy task. I temporarily gave up repeatedly, once for several months, but later made it my steadfast mission to finish. I've finally done that.
This isn't quite a review, but I feel like I have to unpack my experience now that it's over. Here are my thoughts, as scattered as they may be:
- I recommend the game for anyone looking for a thoughtful, action experience. It's sometimes slow and methodical, sometimes brutal and fast, but ultimately it's an experience that I recommend for anyone up to the challenge. If all you want here is a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, there you go.
- Like the Souls games, perhaps even moreso, the game is labyrinthine. I mean that literally, in that some areas are ridiculously challenging to memorize and navigate, and more loosely, in that some things in the game would be undiscoverable without help.
- Related to the last point, I eventually used a vague roadmap so that I could experience all of the areas and bosses the game had to offer. I tried to stick to nondescript hints, like "Don't fight X boss until you've fully explored Y area first," or "after you beat X boss, look for Y area next," with slightly more specific hints to uncover some of the game's more hidden bosses. I'm almost certain I would have never found Celestial Emissary or Daughter of Ebrietas on my own, never mind figured out the needlessly complicated hierarchy of chalices and chalice materials. It was worth treading lightly around spoilers, but I'm glad I didn't force myself to navigate the entire game on my own.
- Insight Mind Flayers, or whatever they're called, are total bullshit. Very few game obstacles in general come to mind as being so wantonly punishing for no real reason. I hate them, even now when I can demolish one in just a few hits. They deserve a loathing bullet point all on their own.
- The easiest fight for me was the Celestial Emissary. I didn't realize it was a boss until it was half dead. I thought it was strange that it was one of the most well-hidden bosses in the game.
- The hardest fight was against Bloody Crow, the optional boss at the end of Eileen's quest line. That said, I found his difficulty to be extremely satisfying. When I died repeatedly, I felt that I had done so because of my own errors. When I finally won, the victory felt well-deserved. That fight was the pinnacle of "tough but fair."
- The worst part of the game was the Defiled chalice dungeon that's required as part of the Blood Queen trophy. It's a three-boss chalice dungeon where your maximum life is halved. Since healing items scale based on your maximum health, this also severely hamstrings your ability to recover. Regular enemies become able to kill you in one hit and it's surprising when a boss doesn't kill you in one hit. I hated every part of going through that dungeon and it was the absolute low point of the game for me.
- I didn't like chalice dungeons in general, which I gather to be the majority opinion on them. They're procedurally generated, somewhat mindless side events that contrast sharply with the deliberate design of the game's main areas. Some of the bosses are great (Blood Queen is one of my favorite fights in the game), but largely they felt like a poor diversion from the game's relatively consistent mindfulness. They're Bloodborne without a designer and that's essentially a great combat game with no spirit. I would have rather fought those bosses in some boss-rush-like hub instead of forcing weak dungeons between each of them.
- Ludwig's Holy Blade both broke and revitalized the game for me. Until I got it, I struggled with my starting weapon, the Hunter's Axe, and gave up for a while once I encountered the Blood-Starved Beast and couldn't beat it for some time. I'm awful at the game's firearm-based parry system. Just terrible. When I got the Holy Blade, however, I exclusively two-handed it and the entire game became a different experience for me. It was back to being like Dark Souls, only without parrying or blocking, and I loved the nimble-footed play style I had to get good with. It's hard to say whether or not Bloodborne's parrying system is bad or if it's just a poor match for me, but the game became far more enjoyable for me once I was able to ignore it.
- Even after beating the game and being long past the point where farming for recovery items is a thing I sometimes had to do, I still think the Blood Vial system is far less elegant than the Estus Flask system. If the goal is to have X Blood Vials every time I respawn, why make them a consumable quantity at all? The fact that the parry system also relies on the same kind of consumable nonsense is further baffling. I can't help but wonder why FromSoft went from consumable recovery items in Demon's Souls to on-respawn recovery items in Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 then back to consumable recovery items in Bloodborne.
- I'm almost as puzzled by Bloodborne's story as I was by the story in Dark Souls, but I'm okay with that. I enjoy minimalist, environment-driven storytelling and I'm happy that continues to be a trend instead of getting replaced with exposition and ham-handed cutscenes. I like that it lingers in my head instead of being neatly explained and resolved throughout.
- I take it back, the hardest enemy in the game is the camera. Several bosses became difficult not because of anything they did, but because the camera just behaved erratically. This is most noticeable in any fight that takes place in a claustrophobic room with pillars (see: Every 3rd fight or so in chalice dungeons. see also: Capra Demon in Dark Souls), but it also becomes a problem with any boss that leaves the ground. The camera whips up to follow them, loses a lock-on for whatever reason, and you're left disoriented while the boss attempts to swat you with a some attack or another. It's adequate most of the time, sub-par some of the time, and painfully jarring and debilitating every once in a while.