From Software's latest tough-as-nails action RPG is out, complete with, of course, the same vague and bizarre storytelling the Souls series was famous for. I've completed the game, read item descriptions, looked at some fan theories, and while it might take a while for the community to discern what's really going on in Bloodborne, let's take a look at what we can, safely, say. Major spoilers for Bloodborne, all the way to the end.
"Oh, don't you worry. Whatever happens, you may think it all a mere bad dream."
Bloodborne begins in media res. While this has been true of all the previous Souls games, in the other ones you were, generally speaking, at least given an upfront goal. Slay the archdemons. Ring the bells. Find a cure. Bloodborne starts with your character being given a blood transfusion by a mysterious man in a wheelchair, and being told to seek "paleblood." Unfortunately, you have no idea what paleblood is, and as far as you can tell, neither does anyone else. Those who will talk to you, that is. As you leave the clinic from which you begin, it seems that the vast majority of Yharnam aren't interested in talking.
The beast plague of Yharnam has led to nightly hunts, and the townspeople find themselves strangely drawn on these hunts, as they themselves become increasingly less human. Unfortunately, now that you've had a blood transfusion, you're not quite human either, and while you might not think you fit the bill, the townspeople clearly see you as a "foul beast." Should these townspeople kill you, however, this is not the end. You awaken in a hazy fog, a world called the Hunter's Dream, inhabited by a mysterious old man named Gehrman, and by a lifelike doll, who lies motionless and dead. This place, this workshop, is to be used by hunters, and Gehrman tells you to help yourself to whatever you need there, and not to worry about the specifics of the journey yet. Just hunt beasts. That's what hunters are good for, isn't it?
Luckily one of the first people you can encounter on your journey is Gilbert, a friendly voice calling out from a window by the very first lamp you can find. He's never heard of something called Paleblood, but suggests you seek out the Cathedral Ward, from which the healing church is based. They were the ones in charge of blood ministration, so if there's any place where you'd be able to find a special kind of blood, that'd be it.
You make your way through central Yharnam, and then through the city's aqueduct. As you encounter more bizarre, and exotic creatures, you begin to gain an understanding of this world. As you gain this insight into Yharnam, though, strange things begin to happen. The doll in the Hunter's Dream springs to life, and offers her assistance in infusing you with the power of blood.
After slaying a hunter, like you, who gave in to the beast plague himself, and in his madness slaughtered his own wife, you find the key to the Tomb of Oedon, which leads further on to Oedon Chapel. It is here where you find the first scrap of information hinting at greater things going on in the city of Yharnam.
A note on a table beneath the chapel reads "the Byrgenwerth spider hides all manner of rituals, and keeps our lost master from us. A terrible shame. It makes my head shudder uncontrollably."
This is odd, but you disregard it, and continue your quest for paleblood. On through Oedon Chapel, where you meet a fellow with no legs, who despite his strange nature, seems well intentioned enough. When you find more survivors as the long night rages on, you send them to the chapel, and safety. You send an old woman there, from central Yharnam, though she blames outsiders like you for the city's state. You send a man there, who claims to be resistant, but goes anyway. You also send a woman named Arianna to the chapel, who seems surprised at your kindness to, as she says, "a whore."
At this time, you can explore a small hamlet on the outskirts of Yharnam, Hemwick Lane. The residents of Hemwick Lane are extremely hostile to outsiders, attempting to slay anyone who enters their town. At the far edge of this town lies the shack of the Witches of Hemwick, two women skilled in the art of illusion, who are, like the rest of Hemwick, extremely hostile to outsiders, wearing cloaks lined with the eyes of hundreds and hundreds of outsiders, those they've slain before.
Beyond the witches lies the body of a hunter with a tool that lets you understand runes. These runes are ancients words, written in a language of great power. Merely being able to use these words grants the hunter increased abilities, although your mind is only able to comprehend a few of these words, memorized, at a time.
You make your way to the grand cathedral. Ominous statues, objects of worship, line the walls, depicting creatures unlike any you've encountered. There waits a young woman named Amelia here, and as you approach her, you can hear her prayer.
"Seek the old blood.
Let us pray... to partake in communion.
Let us partake in communion... and feast upon the old blood.
Our thirst for blood satiates us, soothes our fears.
Seek the old blood... but beware the frailty of men.
Their wills are weak, minds young.
The foul beasts will dangle nectar and lure the meek into the depths.
Remain wary of the frailty of men.
Their wills are weak, minds young.
Were it not for fear, death would go unlamented."
After defeating the Vicar, who has grotesquely turned into a beast, you are granted a vision. A young man walks to an older one, who holds a scepter. The young man, Laurence, bids the older one, Master Willem, farewell. Master Willem accuses him of betrayal, but Laurence insists he will never forget their adage. "We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood. Our eyes are yet to open. Fear the old blood." "By the gods, fear it, Laurence." The elder says, as the younger walks away.
The Path to Byrgenwerth
"Fear the old blood." This is the password which grants you access, spoken to a man behind a large door in the Cathedral Ward. When this door opens, however, the only one on the other side is a corpse, long dead.
This path leads you through the Forbidden Woods. This forest was off-limits to the inhabitants of Yharnam, though now they roam here too, some half-turned from the plague, but all clearly mad. One inhabitant who doesn't seem to be cursed with the plague yet offers you a gift, a strange item called the "Tonsil Stone," which is porous and blue, perhaps a meteorite of some sort. He tells you to take it to the right of the Grand Cathedral, to receive a boon of the gods.
As you progress further down into the forest, into a canyon at its base, you see creatures unlike those before. Some of these may be just another form of the beast plague, twisting men's flesh into writhing snake-men. Others, however, seem far more bizarre. A small group of bulbous blue men can be found at the lowest point of the canyon. Is this another distortion of flesh caused by the beast plague? These blue creatures seem to have an affinity for the arcane, able to cast some sort of spell from tentacles which writhe out of their heads.
Past these creatures lies the Shadow of Yharnam, which takes the form of three cloaked men. This shadow guards the entrance of Byrgenwerth College, a very old institution of learning. Byrgenwerth has long since been a forgotten, and forbidden place, though. The discovery that took place there changed the course of Yharnam's history, and it is a secret which, so it is said, lies buried with the lake.
As you now walk through Byrgenwerth, you find the college desolate, and abandoned, save for the twisted creatures which now walk there. In the college's courtyard lie monsters who were also, perhaps, once men, but now seem more like flies, or spiders. Further along the path waits a squid-faced being, who craves nothing more than knowledge, and will devour the insight you've gained, should it be given the chance.
After fighting your way through the courtyard, you reach the inside of the college. It is here where you will have your first encounter with a member of the choir.
The Great Ones
Inside the college lies a blindfolded woman, wearing distinctive robes, which identify her as a member of the choir, the highest order of the Healing Church.
Though she may be blindfolded, she quickly proves a formidable enemy. She holds not only powers of the arcane, like those seen cast by the blue men earlier, but can summon some form of tentacled grasp to harm you. When you finally overcome her, you are able to take the key to the lunarium, a spot on the college's terrace overlooking the lake, with a view of the moon. Here, you meet Master Willem.
The Master Willem you see now is nothing like the man seen in your vision. This man is desiccated, and overgrown by some sort of lichen. As you attempt to speak with him, the man only has the strength to point to the moon over the lake, and groan. You step out onto the edge of the lunarium, and look out over the lake. The moon's reflection seems oddly strong, as if it were not a mere reflection, but a source of light itself. You take a deep breath, and step out, off the edge.
You fall for a long time, but land unharmed, upon the surface of a lake beneath the lake. A great creature crawls here. Rom, the Vacuous Spider, is not like the monsters you have faced before. He's much more powerful, much more ancient, and much more important. A mere human, or whatever you are now, is inconsequential to him at best, and he will not even pay you any mind until you attempt to harm him.
Rom is not the most powerful Great One, nor the oldest Great One, you will encounter, but he is a Great One. As you gain insight into this world, you understand it for what it truly is, and you begin to understand the scope of things. You understand the world better, but to understand the world better is to dive further and further into the depths of insanity. Your mind has been touched by the Great Ones, and there is no difference between insight and madness.
It is by the power of blood that you are able to slay Rom. You are awarded for your kill with the cold blood of the kin of the cosmos. After slaying him, you are granted with another vision, or perhaps for the first time you are seeing reality. A woman in white stares at the moon, now blood red, and taking up the entire sky.
Suddenly, you are back in the Cathedral Ward. A church to the right of the Grand Cathedral, the one you were told to visit back in the Forbidden Forest. Now, though, you have enough insight into the world you are in to see things you could not before. A creature— Another great one, lies before you. A humanoid creature, though its limbs mimic the posture of a spider. This Great One attempts to pick you up, as the door behind it swings open.
Should it pick you up, the voice of a worshiper begs it not to kill you, instead asking it to have some fun with you first.
You are transported to another college. This is the School of Mensis, which branched off from Byrgenwerth, though its own experiments with the Great Ones have caused it to be lost in the Nightmare, a realm entirely apart from the one which Yharnam lies in.
Should you explore the Nightmare college, and see what has become of those poor fools trapped in the nightmare, you may find the door to the outside. Another portal leads you into the Nightmare Frontier, a vicious place filled with creatures that mimic the werewolves now seen in Yharnam, but which are notably distinct. Perhaps, instead, the beast plague mimics these creatures?
Other beings here are covered in eyes, and merely looking upon them may bring you to madness. The more you understand them, the more quickly this frenzy shall set in.
As you fight your way through masses of tentacles, faceless giants, and other eldritch beings, you finally meet, this time up close, Lord Amygdala, one of the spidery Great Ones seen before (or, perhaps all of those great ones are Lord Amygdala, or some extension of it).
After managing to slay Amygdala, you return to the church, and venture forth into the Unseen Village of Yahar'Gul. This is a city hidden within the very walls of Yharnam, and it is the stuff of nightmares. Great Ones as large as buildings hang off of steeples as far as the eye can see, watching, and guarding, the path onward. The poor fools unlucky enough to wander into the Unseen Village now fall under the spell of bell maidens, dying over and over, only to resurrect in an explosion of blood, and hunt on.
Deeper in, creatures made of human limbs and skulls patrol the streets. It is possible to come across a group of men, working with the monsters of Yahar'Gul, who have been blending into the Yharnam crowds, and abducting the weak to take them here for an amount of time that is impossible to determine.
At the end of this nightmare, the residents of Yahar'Gul make a last-ditch attempt to stop you, summoning a colossal thing made of a writhing mass of corpses. This is the One Reborn, and you fight this monstrosity while being assaulted by the residents of Yahar'Gul on all sides. You emerge victorious, and continue on.
During your travels in Yahar'Gul, you find a key to the Upper Cathedral Ward. There, you are greeted by bizarre slugs, whose bites bring insanity. You are also able to find a choir set of your own here, and as you learn more about the choir, you discover that they chose to continue the work being done in Byrgenwerth, though Master Willem, it would seem, began to have his own doubts. After diverging from Master Willem's path, they attempted to make contact with the cosmos not through means beneath the ground, in the labyrinth where the first Great One had been discovered, but by turning their eyes to the skies.
Now a Great One called the Celestial Emissary resides high in the Cathedral Ward, in Lumenflower Gardens. These beings not of our world, from the very cosmos, are the same as the ones seen in the canyon of the Forbidden Woods. Even they, though, are mere guardians for the true secret of the Healing Church. The source of the Healing Church's power, the one who granted them the ability to partially summon herself in a mass of tentacles, Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos, resides beyond this, at the Altar of Despair.
Much like Rom, Ebrietas pays you little attention until you attempt to lay hands on her. She's a much stronger threat than Rom was, however. The power of blood has hardened you enough to slay her too, and you continue on your journey.
The Nightmare of Mensis
At the end of the Advent Plaza where you fought The One Reborn lies the mummified remains of a being, sitting in a chair, with its head in a cage. As you lay hands on the body, you are teleported away to another area of the School of Mensis. You are now able to access another door, leading to another area of the Nightmare, the Nightmare of Mensis. Here, you find Mergo's Loft, a colossal structure larger than any seen up to this point.
Here, within a labyrinthine library, you find a living man wearing the Mensis Cage you've seen corpses wear before. This man is Micolash, the Host of Nightmares. He shares many abilities with the members of the choir you've fought, and as you chase him through the library, he taunts you with his lunatic ravings.
"Ah, Kos, or some say Kosm… Do you hear our prayers? … As you once did for the vacuous Rom, grant us eyes, grant us eyes."
You corner Micolash, and wail on him, until he vanishes. With a laugh, he taunts you.
"Ooh! Majestic! A hunter is a hunter, even in a dream! But alas, not too fast! The nightmare swirls and churns unending!"
As you track him down a second time, his rantings continue.
"Grant us eyes, grant us eyes! Plant eyes on our brains, to cleanse our beastly idiocy!"
"The grand lake of mud, hidden now, from sight."
You corner him once again, and, though he puts up more of a fight this time, you strike the final blow. As he falls to the ground, he gasps, and bemoaning, says "Now I'm waking up! I'll forget everything…"
You take the cage he wore for yourself. With a key found in the maze, you can open a hidden gate, and discover a path leading to an enormous brain responsible for the madness brought on you on the path to the loft. This is yet another Great One, an unnamed brain, which it would appear was captured and being held by Mensis. After pulling a lever, and dropping it far below, you descend into a realm of darkness, and find it, mortally wounded, and alone. Should you attempt to make contact with it in the same way the choir made contact with the Great Ones they spoke to, the creature recognizes the gesture, and grants you one final gift before you put it out of its misery: A rune. Runes, you see, are words spoken in the language of the Great Ones, their mere speech holding incredible eldritch power.
As you near the top of the loft, reality seems to warp, as enemies become even more bizarre. Spiders with the heads of men, birds with the heads of dogs, dogs with the heads of birds, or pigs with dozens of eyes. You'll also come across, once again, black robed men like the Shadow of Yharnam. Whoever or whatever these are, they guard the great ones, or perhaps another individual later on.
Near the top of the tower, you see a woman in white, the same woman who was staring at the moon after you fought Rom. She does nothing but weep, and stare at the elevator leading to the pinnacle of the tower.
This woman is Yharnam, ancient queen of the Pthumerian people, or what remains of her. Should you venture into the ancient labyrinth beneath the city of Yharnam, the same one from which the people of Byrgenwerth discovered their first Great One, you shall eventually reach Yharnam, the Pthumerian Queen, as you have ventured too far into her forgotten city.
This is what makes it interesting that the robed men are called Shadows of Yharnam. The only times you see them, you see her too, shortly after. They guarded Rom, and she appeared once Rom was dead. They appear immediately before her here, as well. It would seem that they are not shadows of Yharnam the city, but of Yharnam the queen for which the city was named.
Above this elevator, you find a large lunarium, and at the center, a carriage containing a crying baby. You step toward the child, and a Great One descends, as the baby disappears into the robes of Mergo's Wet Nurse.
Mergo's Wet Nurse does not disregard you like Rom or Ebrietas did, or merely play with you as Amygdala did. You've posed a danger to her child, a threat she takes very seriously. Ultimately though, you prove to have gained enough power in your journey to overcome even this Great One, and slay her.
Though the child has vanished, upon defeating Mergo's Wet Nurse, you gain an item called "One Third of the Umbilical Cord." Forgetting the paleblood you started this journey in search of, it would seem slaying Mergo's Wet Nurse is enough to satisfy the requirements for your journey.
Upon returning to the Hunter's Dream, you find the workshop ablaze, and the doll tells you to seek out Gehrman, in the gardens. You do so, and he offers you a choice.
"Good hunter, you've done well. The night is near its end. Now, I will show you mercy. You will die, forget the dream, and awake under the morning sun. You will be free… from this terrible hunter's dream."
Should you submit to Gehrman, he says farewell with pride, as he tells you to "fear the blood." You kneel, and Gehrman takes your head.
You awaken to the sunrise, upon the streets of an empty Yharnam— not a sign of life to be seen. As you stagger off, a cut back to the Hunter's Dream shows the doll kneeling before a grave, saying "Farewell, good hunter. May you find your worth in the waking world."
If you refuse to submit your life to Gehrman, however, he chuckles at you. "Dear oh dear, what was it? The hunt, the blood, or the horrible dream?"
Gehrman rises from his chair, clearly not needing it, and wielding a terrible scythe, fights you. Should you fall to him, he encourages you to accept your death.
When you finally fell him, your eyes are brought to the moon. A Great One appears from it, a mass of flesh and tentacles, with a form not unlike the beasts you have fought on your journey. You are mesmerized by the being, and it approaches you, taking you in its tendrils, and clutching you tightly.
Now, a cut shows the doll pushing Gehrman's wheelchair, though no longer holding the old man in it. You have taken his place, doubtless to lure more men to the hunt, as the doll comments "and so, the hunt begins again."
However, there is a third option.
The third of the umbilical cord which you received for felling Mergo's Wet Nurse is not the only one out there. Hidden in a destroyed passageway in the Cathedral Ward lies the abandoned workshop. This is where the Healing Church commissioned all of the fantastic trick weapons collected over the course of your journey, to be made. Geniuses like the eccentric Archibald, or the rebellious Powder Kegs, or the first hunter Gehrman, crafted wondrous things here. Now, though, it lies empty, and as you walk through it, you can't help but notice a remarkable resemblance to the Hunter's Dream. This location is what the Hunter's Dream is based off of, and you can find a lifeless doll lying in the corner, along with a hair ornament, and some clothes which match the doll's which seem to have been taken care of, almost to the point of madness or compulsion.
On the altar here lies something else of note, though, another One Third of the Umbilical Cord.
The final third can be found one of two places, as two women in the game have been chosen to give birth, selected by the Great Ones. The first is Arianna, should she be saved. After slaying Mergo's Wet Nurse, she can be found in the Tomb of Oedon, having given birth to an infant Great One.
The other is Iosefka, a worshipper of the Great Ones who has performed grotesque experiments on any humans you were foolish enough to send to her, along with what seems to be a dissection of the otherworldly creatures belonging to the Celestial Emissary. She is with child after you've slain Rom.
The description of these items reveals some profound information about the motivation of the Great Ones.
"Every Great One loses its child, and then yearns for a surrogate. The Third Umbilical Cord precipitated the encounter with the pale moon, which beckoned the hunters and conceived the hunter's dream."
"Every Great One loses its child, and then yearns for a surrogate, and Oedon, the formless Great One, is no different. To think, it was corrupted blood that began this eldritch liaison."
"Every Great One loses its child, and then yearns for a surrogate. This Cord granted Mensis audience with Mergo, but resulted in the stillbirth of their brains."
The Great Ones are beings of immense power, but one thing it would seem they are incapable of doing is creating more Great Ones. They cannot have children. It seems they've found a way around that, though, as they can use humanity to have their children for them. Some of the Great Ones, like formless Oedon, use women like Arianna to have a child when their influence is strongest. Some, like Mergo's Wet Nurse, however, it seems either appropriate children for themselves, or transform humans into their children.
It seems even the Moon Presence behind the hunt may have attempted to have a surrogate child, before the hunt began, or even is one of these surrogate children. It's not too far of a stretch to imagine that Gehrman may have had a daughter, on whom the doll is based, which died with the Moon Presence child, leading Gehrman to raise the child, and become the first hunter. That is getting into pure theory, though.
If all three thirds (yes, there are actually four, you only need three) are found and consumed before refusing Gehrman's offer, you become too powerful for even the Moon Presence, the Great One who appears to be behind the hunt, to control, and it will be unable to absorb you into its own will. You fight it, and when you emerge victorious, are treated with the "true" ending.
A new infant great one lies in the Hunter's Dream, and the doll approaches it, and picks it up. "Are you cold…? Oh, good Hunter." It would seem the Doll is to become a motherly figure to the latest Great One— You.
Bloodborne's story is, at times, infuriatingly vague, and the removal of boss souls and overall fewer loot drops in the game are going to make deciphering the lore harder than ever. There's a ton of people hard at work in the community doing so right now, though. There's a lot left to find, I'm confident, and I'll probably do a write up on some theories, or smaller bit of interesting lore discoveries, later on.
Overall, the unexpected shift from gothic, to cosmic horror made Bloodborne a stronger game, in my opinion. It's still distinctly a From Software title, the emphasis on cycles is still present, though less prevalent than in Dark Souls or Demon's Souls, and the storytelling is as environmental and inferred as ever.
While a lot of this is, obviously, based on my own conjecture and interpretations of the events of Bloodborne, I tried to keep this all as close to "factual" as possible, not a ton of theorycrafting in this post, though the closing hours of the game virtually require it.
There are still some lore spots which I'm unclear on, and which it seems like (from what I've found) the community is as well. What, exactly, is paleblood? Is paleblood even real at all, or merely a macguffin Gehrman sends you after, hiding your real quest? Was there even a real quest, or was the whole thing merely a game being played by the Moon Presence, seeing how far various hunters could get in the hunt before dying? Did the Moon Presence want Mergo's Wet Nurse, and possibly her child, dead? Or did it just decide to pull the plug on the whole thing after seeing you become strong enough to take down several Great Ones, fearing for its own security?
One thing I will note, I don't think there can be any doubt that the events of Bloodborne are a dream. Between Micolash's comments, and the Yharnam Sunrise ending, it seems that the events of the game are not set in the real Yharnam, but within a dream version of it— with the Hunter's Dream being a dream within a dream.
I say it's a dream, but understand, I don't think that means it wasn't real. The great ones are strange, eldritch beings. I think it's entirely possible, and in fact likely, that (with the exception of the Celestial Emissary, who seem to just be straight up U.F.O. flying saucer aliens) they aren't necessarily beings of the physical realm, all the while being able to influence it. The School of Mensis lies afloat in the nightmare— but perhaps the entire game, the Yharnam we play through, is afloat in the nightmare as well. A very real dimension, a very real world, but one which humans can only access through dreams.
Bloodborne's lore is a very compelling love letter to the works of Lovecraft, and hopefully the community will be able to work out satisfactory answers to the many questions I listed above. It feels like we're still figuring out secrets of the game in general (as far as I know, people still haven't figured out what that wedding ring key item does), and the lore could take a while to hammer down. Still, it's a great game, and an exciting time.