At 9am on Sunday morning, I died. I watched myself at a remove, falling first with the right knee and then the left, until my whole body collapsed prone onto the floor and began to fade into opacity. Before me, a gigantic skeletal structure, electrified in blue and white, swiped and smashed the space I had just vacated. A few seconds passed, to let me appreciate another failure, before the words "YOU DIED" appeared on the television screen. No fucking shit, Bloodborne, I thought. No fucking shit, Miyazaki, you glorious bastard.
I looked at my phone. I added another notch to my tally and then checked my watch. The timer read 18 hours. Only six more to go. I think I had a drink of Lucozade, felt a bit sick, and then took myself back into Yharnam, a shadowy figure wailing bloody murder down the shaft of his axe.
Over the weekend, while you were all out enjoying the sunshine, I played Bloodborne for 24 hours straight. For some reason, I thought this would be a good idea. I am, clearly, an idiot.
I struggle to stay up late. I'm the sort of guy who can't wait for the headliners to play at a festival, so that I can go straight into my sleeping bag and read the Observer Food Monthly. I have never seen the dawn from the satisfaction of an all-nighter. If I were to run a VICE series it would be called something like "Straight to Bed with a Bovril". You get the idea.
I suppose it was a challenge. To see what would win out: the spiritual successor to "the Hardest Games Ever made", Demon's Souls and the two Dark Souls titles to date, or me, a 26-year-old guy who just so happens to adore the series. I've lost count of how many hours I put into the previous Souls, but it's safe to say that if my social circle caught wind of what I was really doing when I was "feeling a bit sick", they'd stage an intervention.
If the beginning of this article hasn't given it away already, I will not leave you in suspense, folks: I lost. His name is Darkbeast Paarl and he is a motherfucker. After two hours and – I counted – 21 unsuccessful attempts to defeat him, I decided the rest of my playthrough would be best spent exploring the remainder of the game world.
Yeah, I wimped out. Yes, I found fighting Paarl about as enjoyable as a BBQ at a vegan cafe. But, I was tired, okay. It was a challenge to keep my headache from consuming my entire body, let alone out manoeuvre a super-fast, super-belligerent undead prick with a penchant for endless attacking.
I went back into the world and did some exploring and discovered that I wasn't meant to be fighting Paarl at the point I had attempted to. This is classic Bloodborne design. For as long as I played, I stumbled through the maze-like city of Yharnam with no real idea of which way I was supposed to go. I adored this. At first I was disappointed in its apparent aimlessness, but after taking a hidden lift here or secret door there, I fast realised that Bloodborne doesn't just contain one Firelink Shrine or the Nexus (the hub worlds of Dark and Demon's, respectively), it has about seven.
No matter how deep you chisel your way into the darkness, there will always be a way back. And if you happen to find yourself somewhere you shouldn't be, then, as is only polite, FromSoftware has ensured that you'll be carting your backside out the door faster than you can say "Umbasa".
Yharnam itself resembles a goth pub that goths would never go to. It's like an overly stylised quirky London boozer, filled with tourists whispering how "quaint" the "Brits" are. It's a decent place to visit for a cheeky pint or two, but I've got to admit it's no Lordran, wherein I'd happily drink Estus with Solaire for days. A man can only talk to so many NPCs behind locked doors before it all feels a bit bland.
Luckily, the city of Yharnam is not the only place you get to visit – From has obviously put the work in, here, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of players consider this the greatest world they've ever made.
'Bloodborne' launch trailer
BUT HOW HARD IS IT, DAVE? I hear you ask. STOP TALKING ABOUT THINGS WE DON'T CARE ABOUT.
Well, okay. Up until Paarl, I was actually finding Bloodborne a relatively gentle ride. As is customary in a From game, I died at the hands of the very first enemy, but from then on actually found the combat relatively simple. This isn't to say it was easy – a word that to some of the Souls community is synonymous with terrible – but familiar in a comforting way, like that first sip of tea after being away.
To the point I reached, I beat most bosses on the second or third attempt. Very few enemies, large or small, gave me much trouble. But I was nevertheless dying. A lot. The action, which is much faster than its predecessors and focuses on quick reactions over defence, can easily get out of hand. Especially when you get cocky, which will happen.
Bloodborne punishes you when you make a mistake – it's not out to stack the odds against you, it just simply shows you the rules and asks you to play by them. So, yeah, Bloodborne will make you its bitch if you accidentally get too big for your black leather boots.
And it's fair to say that as I played, I got worse. It's funny what staying awake for an entire day/night cycle actually does to you. Turns out that pizza, chocolate and beer is a fucking terrible way to nourish your body. Around the time I was killing the second boss, my teeth began to ache; at midnight, I started to experience mild anxiety; by four in the morning, I could actually feel a spot growing out of my face.
Think about that for a second. The neuron receivers in my face were so wired on sugar and grease that I was experiencing the swelling of a spot, in real time.
A really odd alteration involves armour and weaponry. Nobody drops shit. It took me about six hours to find a new get-up and another couple to pick up a unique weapon. This may not disappoint everyone, but for me it was a vital part of what made the Souls games so special: you may not be able to make it to the next bonfire, but as long as you picked up that new straight sword, then who cares? Bloodborne does not dish out small bonuses like this. From my vantage point, there are no boss weapons.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream death threats in block capitals to From president Hidetaka Miyazaki on anonymous forums. But more than anything, I wanted to have a shower. Take this from me: if you don't sleep or move for ages, the human body sweats more than Lee Evans on a really hot day.
At the end of my trial, I decided to stay up. I was a quivering gelatine diaspora of nerves, but I was also deeply satisfied. If any game better captures the learning curve of life than Bloodborne, then I haven't played it. Again and again you are forced to redo the same areas, taking notes, developing your understanding of what works and what doesn't, until you are spat out on the other side and have to do it all over again. And, unlike the Souls games, Bloodborne rewards you for taking a chance. It celebrates experimentation and balls. If Bloodborne were a person, it would be that bloke you know who's always off on adventures around the world; it'd grab you by the collar and demand you ask out your crush right this second; it'd be the first one on the dancefloor and the last one to leave.
This is what it teaches us. This is what I did for one day.
Bloodborne is a fucking brilliant game. The law of diminishing returns has definitely been halted – it is a far, far, far superior experience than Dark Souls II. More demanding than a drunk at last orders, sure, but a truly wonderful experience, that will get you – like it did me – crying and cheering in equal measure.
In the end, as my alarm sounded completion, I thought of Ernest Hemingway. There is nothing to playing Bloodborne. All you have to do is sit on your sofa and bleed.