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How Bloodborne honours the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft

"The sky and the cosmos are one."

Without going into too much detail, it's clear that Bloodborne owes a lot to cult horror author H.P. Lovecraft. It's got more than its share of madness, tentacles, and inconvenient truths about man's plight in a grim world, but those are just surface details true of many horror games.

YouTuber and Lovecraft aficionado Super Bunnyhop digs deeper into From Software's latest horrorshow to explain just how much Bloodborne owes to Howard Phillip Lovecraft, as well as where it chooses to deviate from the author's most common tropes.

Warning: This video is filled with spoilers. Big, giant spoilers that discuss the game's ending and various secrets. Gaining some of this knowledge before you're ready to may lead to madness.

Cover image for YouTube videoBloodborne and H.P. Lovecraft (Spoilers!)

But for those who've completed Bloodborne, here's an overview:

"Video games tend to have a rocky relationship with Lovecraft," Super Bunnyhop noted. "They love the imagery and style of his horror, but the underlying tones that set it apart are a bit hard to convey with traditional mechanics."

After all, defeating unknowable god-like creatures as a mere mortal is completely at odds with the fatalism Lovecraft was so know for. But Bloodborne handles this differently. Yes, you can slay giant monsters and unholy beasts, but ultimately mankind remains intrinsically screwed by its amoeba-like lot at the bottom of cosmic food chain.

"Bloodborne manages to keep it subtle in a way even the official games do not," Super Bunnyhop stated. "Although mechanically you can still overcome the odds and defeat the villains in Bloodborne, the narrative endings reinforce that Lovecraftian sense of smallness, with each one revealing your character being played by the hands of greater powers."

Lovecraft's work, as far as I'm aware, did not contain werewolves. Yet Bloodborne's deviations from Lovecraft only accentuate its sense of surprise.

Super Bunnyhop also noted that in typical Lovecraft stories, the unreliable narrator is warned by "isolated backwoods people who the author intends to be susceptible to superstition," a cliche that remains common in horror today (and popularly satirised in Cabin in the Woods). In Bloodborne, however, the worship of terrifying otherworldly gods is the dominant religion in Yharnam. "A reversal of that concept makes for the biggest twist in how Bloodborne uses Lovecraftian horror."

Like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Eternal Darkness before it, Bloodborne has a sanity mechanic called Insight. The more insight you have, the more crazy, horrifying things you're able to see. It also make some of the more unsettling monster designs drive your character mad quicker, resulting in a Scanners-esque case of head explosion. Gaining insight can happen from viewing new bosses, finding new areas, or simply hearing about things man ought not hear about.

Even Bloodborne's status-altering Caryll Runes are a reference to Lovecraft. "In Call of Cthulhu, the language of the Old Ones is not efficiently spoken. Instead, it is transcribed as runes memorised in the mind," Super Bunnyhop explained. As such, the player uses peculiar stone runes to influence their power.

Indeed Lovecraft's Dream Cycle stories involved alternate realms that could only be accessed in dreams, a common theme in Bloodborne where the player goes to the "Hunter's Dream" to level up and replenish their supplies. Later, they'll go to some nightmare planes as well.

"By having different names and rules than the official Cthulhu mythos, it can still work mysteries," Super Bunnyhop explained. "That descent from Bram Stoker to Lovecraft had me so excited because it seemed in an instant that the game's universe suddenly got larger and more complicated than before. And isn't that the point? Cosmic horror is all about realising how much more there is to the universe than can ever be experienced by all of mankind's accomplishments."

"The 'Souls' game's formula, with its brutal difficulty and its vague but concrete lore, does an excellent job at prodding the player's morbid curiosity. And so does Lovecraftian horror. In both cases, you're going to end up confused and terrified by what secrets you uncover."