It's my third playthrough of this game, on my second character, and my heart still races as I step through the nebulous threshold undulating before me. Vicar Amelia, a blind woman who has transformed into a horrifying giant reindeer dog monstrosity, shrieks with such reverberant ferocity that I'm convinced the windows in my apartment will shatter. I've heard the howls before. I've dodged her charges, her leaps, her flailing claws grasping desperately at my tiny frame. Yet, I'm still caught up in anxious excitement and a great deal of insatiable fury.
I've met this boss before. Multiple times, through other playthroughs of the game. But this time, for whatever reason, she's giving me trouble. She's grabbed me and gnawed on my body, puncturing my lungs and taking what little air I have remaining in them. She's thrashed about, eviscerating me in an instant with a sweeping attack that I am still absolutely positive I had dodged. She's dug her claws into the ground, pulled back and torn me to ribbons, blood ejecting from my body in a torrent of crimson streams that coat the floor and create a plasma pool into which I disintegrate.
This is my fifteenth try at this piece of shit. That's not hyperbole. Just rage. A lot of rage.
This time, though, I would beat her. I had to beat her. As I stepped through the void and saw her stupid dog body and her stupid antlers and heard her stupid howl, I knew I would come out victorious.
Then she pounces on top of me when I failed to effectively dodge and sent me back to the lantern in the cathedral halfway across the map. A long, arduous journey past giant foes and demented ravens and a lot of creepy dudes with weapons capable of killing me in a few quick hits. Bastards.
At that point, rather than sprint back to her (I had long since gotten fed up with trying to hack my way through the enemies that stood between the cathedral in which I respawned and the cathedral in which she dwelled), I said a lot of really terrible words in a very loud voice at my television. It didn't respond. I'm sure I really hurt its feelings. Regardless, I switched off the Playstation and called it a day.
If this was most games, I'd probably shelve it and forget about it for months, and possibly never think about playing it again. But Bloodborne isn't most games. I picked it up the next day and died five more times before I finally killed the bitch. O, rapture!
Bloodborne is a punishing, horrible beast of a game. If you're familiar at all with From Software's previous work, like Demon's Souls or the Dark Souls series (to which Bloodborne is a spiritual successor), you know that it obliterates all sense of self worth early on and makes you claw your way from the depths of Hell just to reclaim a modicum of your former self. This is unlike most video games you've ever played. It forces you to strive for excellence, because nothing else will assure your success. When you finally perfect a certain area, laying waste to all its inhabitants, or when you drive your blade deep into a gigantic foe in a wonderful killing blow, you enjoy the satisfaction of your technical prowess. You didn't just level up and overpower a beast. No, you don't claim victory in Bloodborne by becoming an all-powerful badass. You win at Bloodborne because you actually become better at playing it. It's a feeling like none other, and one that is sadly absent from the vast majority of games out there.
That's why I keep coming back to it. Even after multiple playthroughs and over a hundred hours invested. Death after death after death (after death after death after death), my lust for it still holds true. It stands in stark contrast to typical games, where a higher difficulty level means enemies have more health, do more damage, shoot more accurately, or pull off any number of cheap shots to strike you down. There's only one difficulty level in Bloodborne: Go fuck yourself. And if you don't have what it takes to best it, go play something else. Or cry, I guess.
It's rare that a game calls me back after I've beaten it. Seldom do I go through New Game+ modes and I damn near never create new characters with new builds to try different strategies. When I beat a game, I typically move on to the next one.
Not with Bloodborne, though. I can't remember the last time a game has taken hold of me with such vigor. When I'm not playing it, I'm thinking about it. When it's killing me, I'm getting frustrated, but even more determined to destroy its soul like it's destroying mine.
This is not a game everyone will enjoy (even though plenty have). In fact, I bet a lot of people would play this game and absolutely hate it. I pity them, though, because to me it is a magical experience. I love that it makes me hate it and drives me to be better at it. It's not a perfect game, but it's one of the closest examples I've found.
So even though Vicar Amelia, the giant bastard reindog, might succeed in making me want to throw my controller through the window time and time again, I can say with utmost sincerity that Bloodborne may very well be the best game I have ever played.