Life is usually more interesting to me when I let the weird stuff become a reality. Those moments where my brain feeds me something odd and I let it ride. For example, I wandered through the house in the middle of the night, not very awake. Caught somewhere between dreaming and waking, my house looked like it had been overgrown and wrought with decay. I blinked and it was my house again, but for a second I saw something else. I saw into that weird, swamp world from that other dimension. I saw into the abyss. Rather than ignore it and call it a sleepy moment, it’s cooler to think that I was able to travel between dimensions and see something from somewhere else.
I stretch this ability into other areas of my imagination. Isn’t life more fun to believe that vampires are real? Bram Stoker’s Dracula is infinitely more captivating if you read it like a biography of Vlad III and not a work of fiction. Life is more compelling to think that when a man dressed in all black walks by you as an old man, kneels, then stands as a young man is not your eyes playing tricks but rather Death wandering by the theater. Otherwise, it’s just some book and it’s just some kid.
If you ask Konami, they’d tell you that Castlevania is dead. Well, they might tell you that all of their intellectual property are well and alive, but their actions and output would say that Castlevania is dead. To me, it’s never been more alive. Castlevania added another game to its series just last year. It’s one of the best entries to the series in its history, and it’s called Bloodborne.
When I first saw the trailer for Bloodborne, it said, “Castlevania” to me. The gothic horror and Lovecraftian themes displayed during that first E3 trailer looked like Castlevania at its best had it been given the proper modern treatment in the third dimension.
Castlevania has always been about two things to me: monsters and Dracula. From the first game on NES, you march your way through the castle as Simon Belmont fighting every type of monster that has made its way into popular culture. At the end of 6 grueling stages, rife with mummies, zombies, bats, skeletons, and ghosts, you take on Count Dracula at the top of the castle. More often than not, a Castlevania game puts you in the place of a member of the Belmont clan and has you work your way toward killing Dracula again.
It takes different forms, as in Simon’s Quest where you must wander the countryside in search of the various pieces of Dracula and return them to the crumbled castle to resurrect and again kill Dracula. In Aria of Sorrow, you are inhabited by the soul of Dracula and in turn are trying to fight to remove him from within you. Along the way you battle against ghouls and werewolves and everything in between.
I was pretty vocal prior to Bloodborne about my rejection of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. I wanted really badly to like them, because they spoke to my attraction to games that challenged me and had no use for tutorials. Yet the setting and placement of both series in a medieval realm kept me from fully immersing myself. I could appreciate, but never live there. Bloodborne changed that immediately. It placed itself inside of a home that I wanted to settle down in. Everything about the way the game looked was attractive and begged me to come aboard. And so, I did just that.
When Bloodborne released, I had it ready to go on my hard drive at midnight. I launched the game and began creating the character. Without hesitation, I named the character Simon Belmont. Really, this was only for the fun of it and not much more. I really got a great Castlevania vibe from the game, and I didn’t know who else to name my character at the start.
After a few hours, when I finally realized how to retrieve a weapon (I asked for more than I thought when I didn’t want a tutorial…) I grabbed the threaded cane. It’s a cane that acts much like a sword when swung, and it’s a relatively straightforward all-purpose weapon. As I stumbled to figure out all of the weapon controls, I pressed a button that made my character snap the cane in a weird way. Doing so taught me about weapon transformations, something integral into the combo system in Bloodborne and into the variety of weapons and attacks in the game.
By pressing L1, I magically created the Vampire Killer. The whip that Simon Belmont and his family used for centuries to take down everything leading to and eventually the Count himself was here in Yharnam.
This realization snowballed into something greater than itself, and created these connections that you’re reading about right now. I didn’t name the character Simon Belmont. The character always was Simon Belmont. The town of Yharnam holds within it the same monsters that roamed the countryside of Transylvania and within the walls of Dracula’s castle.
In Bloodborne, you awaken in a room where you’re seemingly being operated on. You soon learn that this town of Yharnam is filled with monsters who have been transformed into such beings after the spread of a blood-borne illness. You are tasked with locating the source of it’s origin and putting an end to it so that peace is restored to the people and this wretched nightmare may come to an end.
The curse of Dracula is alive and well within Bloodborne. Dracula lives as the original vampire, spreading vampirism across the world like an infectious disease. The only way to break the curse of a vampire is to kill the original vampire; to kill Dracula, as the Belmont’s have sworn to do for centuries.
Like the charming Dracula as we see him in film and story, Bloodborne brings with it its own friendly charmer, Gehrman. We first meet Gehrman in the Hunter’s Dream, a respite from the terror of Yharnam and a place for leveling up and fast-traveling to other areas of the map. Gehrman greets us from his wheelchair and offers advice to us that will help us on our journey. He remains here throughout the game, adding layers to the story that would have otherwise been lost. He’s a key piece to the Bloodborne puzzle and without him the story is for naught.
As Dracula would later reveal the monster within to Jonathan Harker and his wife Mina, Gehrman becomes the greatest enemy to coda the tale of Bloodborne. Our final boss of Bloodborne is the man who we trusted from the start. He’s sent us through hell to make our way back to him and he’s as necessary as he is terrible. Gehrman awaits our return to the rear of the Hunter’s Dream as Dracula sits in his throne sipping from his chalice and mocking humanity at the behest of Richter Belmont. His final speech is an offer, as Dracula offered Alucard and the like to submit and allow darkness to reign. Killing Gehrman may result in multiple endings, one of which signifies that the player becomes Gehrman in the end, as Dracula would see fit. If you gather three different umbilical cord pieces, you are able to reveal the true monster and fight the Moon Presence, seemingly putting an end to the horror and creating a new dawn for humanity.
Bloodborne is littered with parallels to Castlevania, moreso than I had initially realized when I spotted a few intriguing images from that first reveal trailer. The further that you go into Bloodborne, the more that you can call it the Castlevania game that Konami will never give us. If you’ve played Bloodborne, start to unravel its story and plot and look at them not as specifics but more as archetypes and the like. If you know Castlevania lore, you can begin to drop it in and make sense of these two worlds as one.
Bloodborne takes place over the course of one single night. Progression through the game drives the clock forward and the higher the moon rises, the worse the environment becomes for the protagonist. Oh, what a horrible night to have a curse.
Obviously, Bloodborne is not a Castlevania game. It’s made by entirely different people at an entirely different company who have an entirely different agenda. Bloodborne could easily be relative to any number of gothic horror stories or fiction, and in fact Hidetaka Miyazaki has cited a few of them as influence on the franchise. I know that these two are not one in the same. I know that Miyazaki and From Software didn’t see an opportunity for a new Castlevania game that would never become reality and take it for themselves.
I know this like you know that there’s nothing hiding in the dark corner of your basement. Like you know that that noise was just the old house creaking. Like you know that that mark has always been there. Like you know that no one is watching you right now.
There’s no such thing as monsters. Right?