It took a little over year, but Sony finally has an exclusive game that has received universal acclaim. From Software’s Bloodborne has been getting jealous looks from every recently released game. As we enter into year 2 of the PS4, games like The Order 1886, which are largely tech demos, don’t cut it anymore. Whereas people may excuse Ryse: Son of Rome’s QTE mess, or Killzone; Shadow Fall’s lackluster everything because both of these were launch titles, that same forgiveness is starting to wear off. The real beauty about Bloodborne, however, from an industry standard, is that it’s a new IP… well, kind of. Ever since it was first revealed, it has been scrutinized as a Souls game, meaning a sequel to Demons’ Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls 2. However, I’m here today to explain why Bloodborne is, in fact, a new IP and not a continuation of the Souls series.
The confusion is understandable. Demons’ Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne were all created by director Hidetaka Miyazaki. Not only that, but all of the games are very, very similar. Each one sets the player alone in an inhospitable, interconnected, dark world. All of their stories are almost completely hidden, forcing the players to pick up the game’s context from little clues scattered through item descriptions and very, very little dialogue. Finally, and almost the most damning, the interface and gameplay for each of the games are nearly identical. Bloodborne brings in a lot of changes to the formula such as a faster-paced, aggressive slant to the combat. However, this is not enough for it to actually separate itself from its forebears.The fact of the matter is that Bloodborne plays and looks almost identical to a Souls game, and was created by the same man. A cynical person would say the only real difference is the name not including the word Souls.
I say that’s a pretty big difference. Bloodborne has all of the trappings of a Souls game, but it isn’t, partially because of the name. You see, being nearly the same as a Souls game is actually really meaningless in the video game industry. Countless games are almost complete copies of famous ones. The aforementioned The Order 1886 is essentially a Gears of War clone, but is clearly not part of that industry. One may target the story and setting as pulling those two games apart. But, under that reasoning, Bloodborne does not share the same setting, nor story. In fact, only some bare themes are shared such as despair, madness, and isolation. These are not enough to connect the games. Gameplay, and even interface does not impute a sequel.
Actually, what exactly makes a game a sequel? Is it the gameplay or tropes? Can I rightfully call Dino Crisis or Parasite Eve sequels to Resident Evil. I’m inclined to say no. In fact, the only thing that seems to matter is the name of the game as the manifestation of the developer’s intention. Zelda II is a very, very different game than The Legend of Zelda, but remains firmly in place as the game’s sequel. But that game was a continuation of the story. What about Final Fantasy games, where there is only a loose collection of characters, items and such? Would anyone presented with a copy of Final Fantasy 1 and Final Fantasy X, for example, consider them to be from the same series? How about Chrono Cross? Not even the absense of reoccurring characters is enough to make a game a sequel, such as in the SMT series. A sequel, to me, seems to be a sequel when it is called a sequel by the creator of the sequel. If this seems circular or simplistic, it’s because it is.
Back to Bloodborne, how about the involvement of the creator? This is also a weak argument. Not one person considers Bayonetta to be a sequel to Devil May Cry, despite both being nearly the same in style and created by the same man. In fact, the upcoming Mighty No. 9 resembles Mega Man more than Bloodborne does Dark Souls, and, again, nobody refers to it as a sequel or in the same franchise. Both Bayonetta and Mighty No. 9 are different games, despite their overwhelming similarities.
In my opinion, there are only two ways of looking at Bloodborne in relation to Dark Souls. It is either a new IP from a director who utilized the lessons he learned from previous games. Or it is a spiritual successor to Dark Souls. The spiritual successor title is convenient, but I hesitate to use it. Games like Bioshock are spiritual successors (in that case to System Shock). In fact, Demons’ Souls itself was a spiritual successor to an older From Software series Kings Field. The reason I don’t jump to call Bloodborne a spiritual successor of Dark Souls is because we don’t know if the Dark Souls series is defunct, and it’s also very new. Generally, games spiritually succeed older games, ones that have been long abandoned and would have a very hard time returning to relevancy. This allows developers to recycle ideas, while seeming fresh and effective. In this case, Dark Souls 2 was created by a different team than the one that created Bloodborne, and the publishing rights are owned by different companies. It would not be out of the question to see Dark Souls 3 at the same time as Bloodborne 2.
The best I can give Souls fans who insist on calling Bloodborne a Souls game is that they both belong in the same genre and subgenre. These games are all very similar, not necessarily because they are interconnected or part of a singular franchise, but because they are following genre tropes established by Miyazaki in his King’s Field series and popularized in Dark Souls. In this way, Bloodborne is in the ‘Souls’ subgenre, though that title is wholly inaccurate.
Many games share tropes, gameplay, interface, and even story, but that does not make them all part of franchise. It’s tempting to call Bloodborne part of the Souls series because doing so makes it easier to criticize by comparison. But this is an unnecessary fiction. Bloodborne is extremely similar to the Souls series, and it thus open to comparison. Calling Bloodborne a Souls game sets a bad precedent of lumping games that do not belong in the same franchise together. Bloodborne was created without the Souls moniker to separate the two as distinct entities. Pretending like this wasn’t the intention of the name change does the game and its creators a disservice.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer