It would likely surprise people who only met me as an adult to learn that I was a deeply fearful child when I was very young. I was a sensitive soul, who cried even watching the Emperor torture Luke Skywalker with lightning at the end of Return of the Jedi. Not a single bit of me was drawn toward the dark or the macabre in those days.

So then the obvious question to ask is, “What heck happened to you?”

Well, between growing up in a haunted house (a story for a different post perhaps), my father’s sleep deprived tirades, and the more generic vicissitudes of puberty, at some point something in me snapped. From then on, I just decided hell, if you can’t keep the ghouls out, become their king, you know what I mean?

It was firmly during my reign as the Ghoul King, while playing my beloved Final Fantasy VIII that I first began dreaming of a horror RPG. Something that could fuse what I loved about videogames like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame and the like with what I loved about videogame RPGs: Final Fantasy, Baldur’s Gate, Persona, and so on.

I perused many games looking for this. It’s was what got me into Persona and Shin Megami Tensei in the first place. Neither of which are truly horror, but they are at least occult. It is probably the reason I was one of like ten people who actually bought Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth as a new release on the original Xbox. From the moment I saw trailers online for it, I wanted to play Nightmare Creatures 2, a game where you play an axe-wielding Victorian lunatic. None of these things would come to quite scratch the itch of a true horror RPG that was, somehow, both scary and allowed you to ultimately create a truly badass horror hero. One forged in the white hot crucible of facing off against the most skin-crawling horrors to ever shamble up from the pit and then crushing them under your boot.

For many years, I thought this thing could simply not be done, that the power fantasy of the RPG simply didn’t meld with the horror game. And then:

Bloodbourne was not just dark fantasy, it was genuine horror. It is set in Yharnam, a brooding nightmare of a gothic city. Sort of what Prague might look like if it had been run for several hundred years by a demented blood cult. Right out of the wrought iron gate, you are confronted with axe wielding maniacs, werewolves, deformed giants, crows with broken spines that slither on the ground like snakes. Those are the starter enemies.

But I assure you that many of the things you confront in Yharnam’s depths…

Are not…

Okay.

They are, in fact, one of the furthest places from “okay” I think I’ve confronted in games. But, as all horrid beings birthed in the Sicko Lab that is From Software, they also tend to possess a sort of gruesome beauty too, a rotten kind of nobility.

To say I fell in love with this game would be an understatement. From its release in 2015, I’ve easily played it through to completion at least twenty times. It is the only game I ever got the platinum trophy for on my PS4, a sign that I’ve 100%’ed the game. In the desiccated land of Yarhnam, I have seen every atrocity, learned every unspeakable secret, consulted with every benighted soul contained within its game world.

So I was quite delighted to learn that not only had Titan Comics done a run of Bloodbourne comic books, but that it seemed to still be ongoing, all the way up to a Volume 6. I went out and picked up the first three volumes right away, since they came in a delightful little boxed set.

I found these first three volumes written by Ales Kot, illustrations by Piotr Kowalski, colors by Brad Simpson and Kevin Enhart and Lettering by Aditya Bidikar to be filled with highs and lows. First off, the art in every volume is outstanding, truly worthy of the source material and so obviously drawn by a fan of the game. Frequently, I can place exactly where in the game world any given scene is taking place. The composition was stunning and I loved the way color was used. Everything feels like it’s genuinely lit by firelight or lamplight depending on the scene in such a profound way, casting the whole world and its events in hues of orange or pale blue respectively.

The writing though, I was less certain about. It was excellent some volumes, curious in others. Never bad. But some volumes, like the third in which we follow fan favorite character Eileen the Crow, felt too dream-like even for Bloodbourne. Which is, spoiler warning, a game in which the player becomes ensnared in the evil sentient dreams of abominations from beyond the stars. So you have to get pretty freaking dream-like to be pushing it too far. I will grant, I was reading through that third volume very late at night, but all the same. It’s probably not a good sign that when I completed it, I set the book down in my lap, turned my head to one side and then just to myself I said, “…what?

I am like the target audience for these books. If even I don’t get it, I’m not fully convinced there’s enough there for it to be got, you know what I mean?

The opaqueness of that third volume aside, I did enjoy my time with the comics version of Bloodbourne. The first volume in particular felt like kind of a fun treat for fans of the game, featuring a panel that includes the infamous “YOU DIED” screen that accompanies your every quick, ignoble, and gruesome demise in every FromSoft game since Demon’s Souls.

I also thought it was very fun that the protagonist of that first volume was the Player Character from the game. And that, since the character can be customized to look like whatever the player wants, the writer made the decision to not only make the character of indeterminate gender, but even have other characters in the story remark on how they’d never been sure if the Good Hunter was a man or a woman. Regardless of what they were assigned at birth, this hunter has extremely pretty eyes.

That first volume explores a mystery that is kind of unsatisfactorily dealt with in the game, a note you find on first awakening that says, “Seek paleblood to transcend the hunt.” This message is clearer in how it is resolved in Japanese, but due to translation shenanigans, this instruction does feel like a loose thread by the end of the game in English. The comic creators set out to provide a concrete meaning to that phrase and succeeded in creating a well-told little horror story using the locations, characters, and creatures of the game in a brand new way.

Volume two is probably the most readable for someone without any previous knowledge of the source material. It features what I think are original characters and details the last days of the city before everything plunged into the Turbo Hell state you find it in at the start of the game. You can feel the sense of everything slowly falling apart in the background of the small story being told. A doctor has come to identify that something is very wrong with the blood ministrations the church is performing in the city and his infatuation with his next door neighbor. There is a delicious twist on both those plots by the end.

I’ll not dwell too long on the third volume as I already expressed my confusion over it’s story. The art in that volume is perhaps the best yet, so I’ll give it that.

The one thing I kept asking myself the whole time I read these books was, “If I didn’t know anything about Bloodbourne at all, would I still like them?” I think so. But it’s so hard for me to say because I know everything about this game world. Maybe I would like them less without my level of experience, but they do intrigue and they are beautiful all on their own. They might lure me into finally getting around to playing these games if I hadn’t done so already. But just the fact that I’m hovering anywhere near the fence says to me that it probably wouldn’t hold up as a solid recommendation to non-fans of the game itself as a standalone work. But maybe someone will let me know out there.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, my friends. If you read the whole thing, I love you for it. If you’re not subscribed, there’s a little place over to the right there where you can do that. I’ll catch my fellow ghouls next time and as always remember to tend to your dreams because if you don’t, who will?

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