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Bloodborne makes me feel like a kid again. No, I’m not referring to the action game’s sadistic take on difficulty, which harkens back to the arcade games of my childhood that were designed to squeeze every last quarter out of a determined player. Nor am I referring to its thoughtful level design and enemies. Instead, I mean the game actually makes me feel like a kid again, momentarily paralyzed with uncertainty every time I prepare to tackle a new experience.
This thought first popped into my head a couple of nights ago when I first made my way into the Nightmare Frontier. I know, such a welcoming name, right?
Anyway, I had just finished waltzing through the familiar streets of Yharnam for the hundredth time, majestically cutting down enemy after enemy like a blood-soaked ballerina of destruction, when I found myself returning to this frighteningly named new location. I first reached the Nightmare Frontier about an hour earlier, when it occurred to me that I was dangerously low on supplies.
To correct this unfortunate state of affairs, I decided to pop on over to the Cathedral Ward, a favorite grinding location of mine. There were plenty of gun-toting mobs who would drop quicksilver rounds for my firearm and a nice collection of brutes that, nine times out of 10, would drop multiple healing items.
Luck was not on my side, though. My first trip through this gauntlet did not yield the desired results. I wanted to enter the Nightmare Frontier fully stocked and, thus, heighten my chances of making it through those uncharted territories relatively unscathed. And so I made a second run through the Cathedral Ward, this time moving even faster than before.
To a casual observer, I would have likely appeared to be in possession of precognitive abilities. I knew exactly where my foes were standing, exactly what attack they would use first, and exactly who I could approach and obliterate with a single attack from behind. I would run up to an enemy and take a quick leap back before they had a chance to unleash what was supposed to be a surprise attack. Turning a corner, I would instantly finish off a hidden foe that I had no way of seeing in advance. Without looking at the landscape ahead, I always switched to the optimal weapon before leaping headlong into a group of four crazed villagers, dispatching them one after the other and racing to the next area completely untouched.
In short, I was magnificent. I was a hunter of the highest caliber, well versed in the dastardly tricks of these nightmare creatures, their weaknesses, and exactly how many times I needed to strike them before they’d crumble to the cobbled street.
Positively overflowing with confidence, and in possession of all of my necessary items and even taking a moment to level up my character’s already impressive stats, I returned to the Nightmare Frontier finally ready to move forward in my journey.
That journey began in a cave that was littered with glowing messages of warning and shimmering bloodstains that were the tell-tale sign of another hunter’s death. After parading through the familiar streets of the city, throwing my self-assured weight around like a hungry sumo wrestler at a pie eating contest, all sense of superiority drained instantly from the proceedings.
That shift in poise was reflected in the real world, too. Before, I had been playing Bloodborne comfortably lounging on the couch, my feet propped up on the ottoman and likely humming something ridiculous to myself, like “Let the bodies hit the floor,” as I handily dispatched a known quantity of enemies in a region I was quite accustomed to.
My position shifted instantly as I exited the cave at the entrance of the Nightmare Frontier. I returned my feet to the floor, slid forward on the couch, hunched over and propped my elbows on my knees. “I’m ready for anything,” my now-tense posture informed the empty living room. “I mean business now. Earlier was playtime, and now we’re ready to face the great unknown.”
Visiting this new territory reminded me that, in Bloodborne, unknown troubles lurk around every corner. While I had been dashing about willy-nilly only moments before, launching myself from one fray to the next at full speed and almost carelessly unleashing my wrath on anything that moved, I now had absolutely no idea what lay ahead.
Instead of sprinting, I now moved forward at a walking pace, nervously angling the camera in every direction to make sure I had a good view of my surroundings. What’s that over there? What weapon will knock the biggest dent in that wolf-thing with the sideways mouth? Is that bog poisonous? Are those giant tentacle-beasts the only thing I have to fear here or could there be snakes hidden below the surface? Dear lord, did that giant just throw a massive boulder at me?
Slowly but surely, I began to pick my way through the Nightmare Frontier, moving from one visual landmark to the next before turning around and investigating an area a second time just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I was slow, methodical and did my best to commit each new enemy’s attack pattern to memory.
That’s when it occurred to me; Bloodborne made me feel like a timid child. Every time I enter a new area and see unfamiliar monsters crawling around, I find myself asking “How the hell am I going to get through this?” I tend to let myself bask in that brand of uncertainty and, in a weird way, I kind of enjoy it. The task appears daunting at first, and I’m sure I’ll come upon a high hurdler or two, but if I move forward carefully and let myself genuinely learn from each encounter, each new experience and each new failure, I know I’ll eventually walk away better prepared for the next time.
And that’s exactly what happened in the Nightmare Frontier, as with every other region in Bloodborne before it. My first trip through the area probably took about an hour of cautious progress, all the while questioning my decisions and feeling utterly unsure of myself. The next time I faced those problems, I was in and out in less than half the time, recalling what I had learned on my first trip and using it to my advantage. The third time through I moved like a scholar of the area, completely aware of every trick, trap and enemy. I was my old confident self again, lounging back on the couch and progressing with an indifference that suggested it was almost laughable to think I was ever afraid of this particular challenge.
That feeling doesn’t last, though. Now the unrivaled king of the Nightmare Frontier, head held high with confidence, I make my way to the next destination in my adventure, Cainhurst Castle. Once I step out onto its snowy landscape, the sight of massive and terrifying spider-like beasts prowling the area, I find myself once again edging forward on the couch, elbows propped on knees. I was just running through a poison-filled swamp as if I didn’t have a care in the world, and now I’m taking one small step after another, constantly looking over my shoulder and wondering what big surprise lies in wait around the next corner.
I’m a kid again.