From the brutal deathblows of Sekiro, to the nimble parries of Dark Souls, recent FromSoftware titles are lauded for their excellent animations that nail the impact of a killing blow. For games that are all about triumph in the face of hostility, it’s important for them to feel as satisfying as possible to trigger a feeling of achievement in the player.
This sounds silly, but my favourite animation in the entire “Soulsborne” series is a non-violent one: it’s how your character in Bloodborne opens a door. It’s a slow, cumbersome move, where the player (known only as the Hunter) places both hands on the surface and pushes hard. The doors make an audible grind as they separate, and the Hunter finally puts their whole weight in as it finally swings open.
The animation feels satisfying because of the progress it signifies. Bloodborne – while not necessarily a Metroidvania – carries many hallmarks of the genre. The player explores a large, interconnected world with a maze-like design, meaning alternative routes are eventually opened. You spend 15 minutes fighting foe after foe, moving through a dangerous area, and the game rewards you with a shortcut that drastically cuts down on the amount of backtracking you may do later. Creative director Hidetaka Miyazaki says he makes games that “give players a sense of accomplishment by overcoming tremendous odds”, and for me, this also extends to opening shortcuts.
Your initial goal in Bloodborne is to reach a large cathedral at the very top of Yharnam. Similar to the walls of Dark Souls‘ Anor Londo or Ashina Castle in Sekiro, this building is a visual landmark, seen anywhere in the city, that acts as an obtuse reminder of your task for the first third of the game. When you finally arrive at the doors of this holy place, and you see the Hunter push them open, you feel the weight of your progress culminated into a single animation. It’s a huge sense of accomplishment that can’t be expressed by defeating a boss or earning a new item. This is something else entirely.
But there’s also a bleaker side to it. The world of Yharnam is terrifying. It’s a place inhabited by the most hostile, otherworldly creatures imaginable. The mere presence of these beings can kill you on fear alone. There’s no telling what could be behind every door, and so it makes sense for the Hunter to approach them with a lot of caution. They’re probably having second thoughts before they’ve even begun opening it. Bloodborne needs moments like this to increase tension for the player, adding to the horror of not knowing what’s lurking around each corner.
Of course, every entry to the “Soulsborne” series features the same detail. Dark Souls‘ tutorial – which throws a tough boss at you right off the bat – uses the technique when reaching the climax of the stage. Sekiro, arguably the most polished FromSoftware title to date, has some amazing animations for interacting with objects and doors, but I think neither of these games plants the same feeling as Bloodborne does. Yharnam’s labyrinthine design, with its gothic architecture and large metal gates, gives the animation a bigger sense of tension. As a result of its setting, it’s a lot more memorable here.
The best part is that once a door has been opened, it stays that way for the rest of the game. There’s no chance of coming back to find it closed again. There’s no repetition, and the act of opening a new door always feels special and unique. There are pages and pages of reasons I enjoy Bloodborne, which I may expand upon one day, but I never expected I’d fall in love with something as trivial as a simple animation. Kudos, FromSoftware.