explaining the fromsoft game design ethos and the perils of taking shit too seriously

if you’re reading this hopefully you know the basics: in nearly every soulsborne fromsoft game you play a no-name nobody of no consequence who gets dropped into the world after watching a single cut-scene that only kind of make sense. by the time you arrive the world is dying, but you don’t know that (yet). the game mechanic of starting over from the last checkpoint is baked into the fiction with an in-universe explanation. you glean information about the world from the item descriptions, which will describe the purpose of the item within the fiction as well as its purpose to you, the player. the descriptions will drop references to people and concepts that mean nothing to you but must be commonplace knowledge in-universe. then you run around and do a bunch of things that don’t seem to have much if any connection to each other and watch some even more confusing cut-scenes. then it ends and you don’t know what happened until you think about it in hindsight and decide to start a new game plus (NG+). there is a guy with a big arm. these are the core elements of the fromsoft playbook.

the joy comes from slowly untangling information from more than just descriptions. there are environmental clues, audio references, hidden details in nearly every facet of the world they carve out. you can draw out a pretty good understanding of what exactly made everything so fucked up if you care (a.k.a. if you are insane). i swear to you there IS information to be gleaned!! its real and its out there!!


my first fromsoft experience was dark souls 1, not demon souls, so here’s the trick i was exposed to: during character creation you choose one “starting gift”. the descriptions are so vague as to be near useless, so if its your first time playing and you don’t want to look it up, you would have to intuit the importance of these items on your own. i think we all agree that most games would offer something of equal use or value for all gifts. dark souls does not do this.

the goddess’ blessing, black firebomb, and twin humanities (description: Tiny sprite called humanity. Sometimes found on carcasses. this means nothing to you) turn out to be very common consumables. the binoculars offered on the gift screen are the same as an in game pick-up near the hub area about 15 mins into the game. these are worthless, or at least options with a really limited lifespan. the tiny being ring at least gives you an actual semi-permanent health boost even if its is truly pathetically tiny. its also useless because it mostly just takes up one of your ring slots.

which leaves the old witch’s ring, the pendant, and the master key. the master key rips but its only really useful on new game plus or for experienced players who already know what doors it opens and what to do with those open doors. the ring (with a description that reads simply, “Gift from a witch. Ancient ring with no obvious effect“) allows you to talk to a character about 40 hours into the game and literally nothing else. you get nothing for it but dialog, and its not even especially revelatory.

which leaves the pendant, which fromsoft game director and foot quality inspector hidetaka miyazaki stated he would choose at the start of the game. it has the description:

A simple pendant with no effect.

Even so, pleasant memories are crucial to survival on arduous journeys.

it does nothing. sometimes it can be an item drop under certain circumstances but they aren’t remarkable and aren’t any less revelatory.

people have datamined the game to hell and back looking for what secrets the pendant might be influencing within the game code. people would tell the most outrageous, 1999-video-game-era lies about it unlocking a new ending or that you had to play until “the final BG+”, which is not a thing but it is a hilarious time waster. when miyazaki had to come out and say he was pranking everyone and we all got owned, then the community turned to trying to come up with tortured lore explanation of why the pendant was actually SECRETLY SIGNIFICANT. for a period of time it seemed unthinkable and impossible that the item’s purpose to simply to impart that fact things were once good in lordran and now they are bad. no!!! every single thing is the most important thing or else they wouldn’t have included it!!!! the pendant was velka’s and she used it to make solaire forget he was gwyn’s first born and priscilla’s father!!! the pendant is the dark soul!!! the pendant will solve the game and all the problems in my life!!! aaah!!

how do we know what information to value? how do we determine the line that differentiates realities of the medium (re-use of assets or use of stock images) from an intended message (re-using assets to establish a relationship between two spaces)? obviously without interrogating the entire dev team over every single byte of information in the game, we are never going to get an “official”, objective explanation. and we don’t need, want, or deserve one. the ambiguity is the charm point. the fun is in trying to peel the layers back and doing the archeology yourself. when investigating, its your own responsibility to not get so caught up in the weeds that you lose sight of what the point of your exploration is: what information is trying to be conveyed to me, and what does it mean?

we are all overthinking this, of course. there is no way that the dev team purposefully accounted for every plot extrapolation now treated as common knowledge in the community. whats been cobbled together is a tightly bundled collection of intent, happy accidents, and a willing suspension of disbelief on behalf of the player base to overlook contradictions or obvious last minute edits to the entire plot and game structure. bloodborne is not a complete story and any attempts at objectivity is an exercise in frustration. what i’m writing here is my best guess at an explanation using primary resources (item descriptions and information within the universe to draw conclusions), datamines, and community guides where more patient people than i have recorded the raw gameplay numbers. i will also try to concede places where what happens is obviously just a product of being a video game lol.

my overthinking is based on 2 things: the content of the game primarily and cut content second. cut content is examined in the context of how it may have influenced the game and what that means for the story that remains. as i edit this thing i will try to correct myself away from using cut content entirely as the basis of a theory, VERY special circumstances excluded. i am trying to keep my speculation limited to the most objective information. otherwise, i’m just writing fanfiction, right?

thank you very much for a-read my post,

mario bea


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