*** This article contains spoilers ***
“Yharnam is the home of blood ministration; you need only unravel its mystery.”
These lines simultaneously introduce the player to the depraved land of Yharnam and lay down the game’s gambit: to uncover the mystery of what scourge has plagued the inhabitants of this world.
As any veteran player of Bloodborne would agree, the task of unravelling the secrets of this world requires patience, resilience and a forensic eye for detail; in addition to a modicum of imagination for storytelling – the game doesn’t hold the player’s hand in putting the pieces of the narrative puzzle together and leaves many questions to the individual to answer for themselves.
So, where do we begin? The player wakes on an operating table in Iosefka’s Clinic – our entry point into Yharnam – a city obsessed with blood. From here, the player weaves doggedly through inhospitable landscapes, hordes of beasts and hunters in order to delve into the nightmare of Bloodborne and discover the mania surrounding the elsuive Great Ones.
Stephen Rhodes has written an excellent piece on Bloodborne’s narrative, Fear the Old Blood: A Look at the Narrative of Bloodborne and deftly summarises core aspects of the game’s lore. I would recommend reading this to brush up on some of the game’s lore as I will not be exploring it in-depth in this post.
In essence, Yharnam’s fascination with blood stems from the discovery of the Great Ones, a Lovecraftian species of extraterrestrials. The scholars at Byrgenwerth sought to understand and harness their “godly” powers in order heal and evolve through blood ministration.
However, there was a rift within the college between Master Willem and Laurence over the transfusing of a Great One’s blood with a mortal’s. “Fear the old blood” was Willem’s warning to Laurence before he abandoned Byrgenwerth to found the Healing Church.
From this point, it seems that Laurence and his associates’ tampering with the blood of the Great Ones was responsible for beckoning the Moon Presence as well as catalysing the followers of the church into beast-hood. Indeed, we encounter Laurence, the First Vicar, in the Hunter’s Nightmare, now a grotesque flaming beast – the product of transfusing his blood with that of the Great Ones.The work of the Healing Church continued to spread through Yharnam with the practice of blood ministration which promised evolution to the state of a Great One. However, Yharnamites exposed to this process, such as Oeden and his followers who supped this “precious blood” did so with dire repercussions. Lovecraftian Epistemology
“When we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown—the shadow-haunted Outside—we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold” (H. P. Lovecraft, in note to the editor of Weird Tales)
Such is the fate of those who took part in blood ministration. Through their “excesses” they mutated into savage beasts, now pursued by the Hunters whenever the Hunt arises. While Laurence succumbed to beast-hood, Master Willem maintained his pursuit of knowledge of the Great Ones – seeking an understanding of the Great Ones rather than striving to become one.
Bloodborne contains ubiquitous references to eyes. It is Micolash, Host of the Nightmare, who prays to the Great One, Kos to “grant us eyes”. Eyes and seeing is conflated with Insight: an in-game mechanic which alters the player’s perception of the world as they gain more of it.
There is an almost literal association with sight and knowledge in the game, hence Micolash seeks eye like the mighty Rom, a monstrous arachnid which occupies Moonside Lake near Byrgenwerth.The pursuit of forbidden knowledge is a familiar tenet in Lovecraft’s oeuvre, where the efforts of humans to understand the wider cosmos is followed by regret or descent into madness at what they have uncovered.
The efforts of the Healing Church and Byrgenwerth scholars to come to a true understanding of these ancient gods of the cosmos ended in a Promethean catastrophe. Their will to power and thirst for knowledge was perverted and corrupted.
One of the most compelling aspects of Bloodborne’s gameplay and narrative structure is that it compels the player to undertake a similar journey to uncover the fabled secrets of blood ministrations and the Great Ones.
The game itself embodies its Lovecraftian narrative themes of forbidden knowledge and the quest for understanding leading to regret, destruction or insanity. It is noteworthy that if the player collects the umbilical cords and defeats the Moon Presence, then they themselves become a Great One and so the journey from understanding to divine evolution is complete.
Decoding Bloodborne’s Narrative
It is this investigative role that the player takes on to uncover the mysteries of Bloodborne that makes for a compelling narrative. Rather than being relayed overtly through linear progression, the game instead focuses on the minutiae of the world: descriptions of items, conversations with other inhabitants and oblique clues left behind as a means to decoding the narrative.
I have included some of these enigmatic clues in the screenshots above and in references to conversations between the player and other dwellers of Bloodborne’s bleak landscape. A notable instance of this opaque narrative style is the game’s singular hint to unlocking its secret ending:In order to confront the Moon Presence, the player must locate 3 thirds of an umbilical cord and consume them before defeating Gehrman, the First Hunter. It is not possible to intuit the meaning of the message on first reading and I believe that the game warrants numerous playthroughs to fully grasp the depths of its lore.
However, it is this experience of putting together the pieces of an intricate puzzle which makes the game so much more rewarding. You can of course progress through the game without pause to examine your interactions or surroundings, but to do so would hinder your enjoyment and appreciation of what FromSoftware have crafted.
It is far more gratifying to emulate the scholars of Byrgenwerth and excavate this gothic world of beasts and gods to come to a fuller understanding of the Great Ones, Yharnam, the Hunt and the dark art of blood ministration. As we are instructed, or indeed warned, from the beginning: “you need only unravel its mystery.”
I would love to hear your experiences of Bloodborne. Did you enjoy the narrative style? How do you feel it compares with other Souls games? As ever, please leave your comments below. Thanks!