Do you like fantasy RPGs? I love fantasy RPGs! Who doesn’t love fantasy RPGs? We must all play fantasy RPGs. What’s that you say? You’d like to play a fantasy RPG not set in the medieval era? BLASPHEMY! Fantasy is all about the medieval era, the knights in shining armour fighting dragons, banging skimpy women and saving the world from… something. Go wash your sins by chanting the entire passage of The Silmarillion in the Grand Cathedral of Tolkien and bathe with holy water in the shrines of the three kings Bethesda, BioWare and Blizzard. Let us not speak of this travesty again.
That’s pretty much how a conversation over RPGs would go down between two people. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed fantasy stories in medieval era. I do love Middle-Earth tales, Tales of Earthsea, Game of thrones, etc as far as books go. I’m a huge fan of Berserk in the animated medium and I very much do enjoy the games dealing with the same. But, a case has to be made about the over-saturation of these games. The tropes have been carried around from one game to the other, with slight modifications yet largely the same. Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition, great as they are, too fall into this category. Even in the MMORPG medium, we get our share of medieval fantasy dominating in the form of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14: A realm reborn (NOTE: I haven’t gone far beyond this fantastic game, putting it in medieval fantasy would be a stretch at this stage since there are hints of other eras, but most of it is heavily influenced from the same). The new Witcher is out and is getting a positive buzz and is probably great. But, It again traverses the same path. Heck, even the Souls series is largely inspired from medieval era. This sort of irks me off. So, I implore to the powers that be – Can we have some variety? Or is that too much to ask?
Apparently one person heard my call. Hidetaka Miyazaki, the master-mind at From Software and quite possibly the illegitimate twisted son of Hayao Miyazaki, rises to the occassion and says to me “Alright you cynical piece of paleblood scum. You want something new? Well, you got it. I swear to Bram Stoker and HP Lovecraft that I’ll give you a setting so twisted you’d wish you were back in medieval fantasy. You’ll be bled dry. Talking about blood. Oh there’s gonna be so much blood. You’ll drink blood, bathe in blood and fart blood. Let the dark alleys of Victorian-era Yharnam and horrors beyond your imagination scare you back into playing Dark Souls.”
So, I’m halfway into this game. And all the horrors that be in it and the punishing difficulty cannot make me avert my eyes away from the beautiful city. Kudos to the art design team for that, but the major reason I love the city is because of how fresh everything seems. The architecture uses steel and iron and has its inspirations from the period of Gothic Revival. Gone are the metal armors and garbs of medieval era. Instead, we have trench coats with high upstanding collars and ridiculous top hats. Women have their exaggerated flower-laden clothes that the era was so famous for. The fashion extends to weapons too. You can now gain possession of a walking stick that which turns into a whip embedded with blades, truly a gentleman’s weapon of choice. Guns too exist in this game, something that irks fans of fantasy genre. There are castles too here that are much in the vein of classic Gothic horror movies like Dracula and upcoming Crimson Peak. Also, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mark Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is an underlying obsession with medicine and scientific knowledge. Instead of slaying dragons and orcs with a magic sword, you’re task is purging the town plagued with some sort of a blood-borne(heh) disease. Yharnam is also somewhere close to the Industrial age and we can see certain hints of steampunk influence too. And that’s just looking at it on the surface, The game goes places ,above and below Yharnam, which all feel unique. Despite everything, Bloodborne remains a dark fantasy RPG.
The only other game I can compare to is Nightmare Creatures (The Order: 1886 tries something similar, but we’re talking RPGs not walking simulators). Even then, it’s hard to cage Bloodborne in the box of Gothic horror. Initial experience might give certain impressions but there is a great curve midway (I did mention Lovecraft didn’t I?). certain themes go back to ancient times, way before most fantasy RPGS, and it all works splendidly.
It doesn’t hurt that the game itself is one of the best experiences to be had. I’m halfway through, and with the development of the plot as is, it can easily climb up in my top 5 games of all time. It’s not because Bloodborne has the greatest story ever told, it’s just because it’s traversing across themes that very few before it have tackled, and almost none do it this well and definitely none in the category include any RPGs. Sure, from gameplay perspective, Bloodborne shares a lot of similarities with the Souls series. But, in terms of setting, there’s nothing quite like it. The question then arises, why can’t more fantasy RPGs try to do this? Why not try to separate from the mold? There exist many realms of possibilities in which Fantasy as a genre can be interpreted that is not straight up sword and sandals and Bloodborne is the latest crowning example of this.