When Bloodborne was revealed to the world, it was criticized by some for it’s apparent similarities to the Souls series. Ignoring the fact that it was, in essence, a spiritual successor to the From Software classics, a small but significant amount of people dismissed it out of hand for it being essentially the core of Dark Souls with a different wallpaper pasted over. This is an unfair assumption, especially seeing as how well the title was received.
There are a number of things to talk about when discussing the masterpiece of Bloodborne (and yes, I do consider it a masterpiece despite my own significant criticisms of it). I could write an entirely separate piece on just how sticking to their strengths is why From Software excels at what it does. I could write another on why, in an industry of so many derivative copy-and-pastes, it stands out in its uniqueness. I could go on for hours about just what makes it so great and special. But I want to highlight one small, insignificant aspect of the game that I feel never gets enough attention. I want to talk about the rally mechanic.
What is the rally mechanic exactly? Put simply, it was a small adjustment to the combat mechanics from Souls that changed the entire feeling of Bloodborne. All it essentially did was to let the player recover health by attacking the enemy, so long as they could do it quickly enough. For example, if one were to be taken by surprise by an ambush, reacting fast would allow the player to recover any health lost by the ambush, simply by being aggressive and hitting their assailant. It was simple. It was subtle. It was brilliant.
With Souls being known for the very methodical, patient combat that has been present since Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne was quite an adjustment, even for veterans of the previous games. I know that I myself had a particularly difficult time with it, as I approached every boss fight with a Dark Souls mentality (those who have fought Father Gascoigne with a similar playstyle can sympathize, I’m sure). However, the rally mechanic is just one of many small tweaks made to the formula that forces a player into the exceedingly fast-paced rhythm that the game wants the player to get used to. If you play patiently, you will get punished by relentlessly aggressive enemies that you stand no chance against. If you want to survive, you need to stop playing evasive and go on the offensive to get your health back quickly, or the opportunity will disappear. It immediately encourages you to play it the way it was meant to be played in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive, something that so many other games struggle with. Instead of forcing you to read text boxes explaining how to play the way it wants you to, or easing you in by starting slower, it throws you into the deep end and gives you all the tools you need to survive from the start. It’s organic and subtle, in a way that other developers could take a lesson from.
This isn’t the only mechanic of its type in the game, although it is my favorite example. I also like how there only exists one shield in vanilla Bloodborne, and it is almost completely useless as if to say “This isn’t Souls, so stop playing like it is”. Instead of a shield, you are better suited to having a gun in the offhand so that you can riposte attacks, allowing for further offensive capabilities instead of defensive ones. Also, the fact that you have more healing items that activate faster, at the expense of restoring as much health, goes even further to set the intended pace. These small little changes to the existing mechanics of an established and respected franchise make it into something so much more and give it the “soul” of something entirely unique.
While Bloodborne is, in my opinion, one of the better games to examine this type of design with, it is not the only one. Recent Call of Duty games, for example, have added the ability to double jump, turning what was already a fairly fast-paced and frantic shooter into complete chaos, for better or worse. A debate can be had about if it actually improved the series, but the effect it had on the moment to moment gameplay is undeniable. It changed up the whole flow of the game, and all it took was to press the jump button an extra time.
Some may look at these mechanics and think that I am making a much bigger deal out of them than I perhaps should. I admit that, compared to the massive leaps from, say, Oblivion to Skyrim, something like Rally is a little quaint. But the point that I’m trying to bring across is that maybe, just maybe, massive innovation isn’t always what’s needed. Sometimes, just changing the intricacies can reinvigorate even the stalest formula.
Looking at you Sonic.