On Serration

The “trick” of Bloodborne’s trick weapons is that they are capable of sudden, radical change. Saws quickly fold out into clumsy polearms; a sword locks into its comically large sheath to create a massive, ornate club; swinging a metal cane just so reveals a bladed whip. Their silhouettes, their sounds, how they move through air & flesh — far from an anonymous longsword or dagger, each trick weapon is completely unique. Though there was a time in Yharnam’s history when these weapons were mass-produced, it is long over by the time the player-character stumbles into frame. The leftovers are battered, stiff, stained, & often found on or around the bodies of their previous owners.

Throughout the game, the player largely cannot fabricate new items, but must scavenge what she can from the world she’s walked in on. Between their distinct identity & their scarcity, FromSoftware insists that each weapon & usable item has a position in the game world’s history. There isn’t a single loose glove or rumpled hat which doesn’t cryptically gesture back to some time before the player was present. Generally, the player either ignores these gestures completely, or greedily inspects anything that falls into her hands, reading every object like a bent oracle. In typical FromSoftware fashion, items in Bloodborne are accompanied by a short description which often barely explains to the player how & why the item functions. It is precisely because of this reticence, this apparent shyness of the game’s “plot,” that these objects can be read as symptoms of Yharnam’s history. These tools are each monuments to trauma — by voluntarily taking up these monuments, the player is able to imagine herself as a participant in trauma (her foes’ or her own).

Many of the trick weapons have mechanical properties which are never clearly presented to the player. For instance, the “saw cleaver”weapon (pictured above) has the “serrated” property, meaning that the weapon does 20% more damage to beast type enemies, even though there is no information in the item’s listed stats which would indicate this to the player. To my knowledge, this bonus has only been quantified by experimentation within Bloodborne’s online communities. FromSoftware’s apparent dedication to the internal coherence of their fantasy has made it so that the only hint a lonesome player might glean that the saw cleaver’s aesthetic serration has any numeric benefits lies in half of a sentence at the end of the item’s description.

The saw, with its set of blood-letting teeth, has become a symbol of the hunt, and only grows in effectiveness the more grotesquely transformed the beast.

For as obscure as the mechanic is, its use can seem even more so. That the saw becomes more effective “the more grotesquely transformed the beast” means fairly little to a player who doesn’t yet know the scope of Yharnam’s beast plague. Even if the player can use context clues to understand the saw cleaver’s gesture towards a taxonomy of enemies, Bloodborne doesn’t ever stop to explicitly & consistently outline what a “beast” is. On the rare opportunity that the player learns the name of an enemy, she might note that it is called the “Cleric Beast,” or the “Blood-starved Beast,” though these typically represent the furthest reaches & most obvious examples of beasthood. Otherwise, the player often has to judge on visuals alone whether or not an enemy qualifies as a beast — a judgment which become complicated on the grounds that while many of her foes are bestial, most are inexplicably excluded from the fairly narrow category of true beast

The quantitative, meta-game decisions that the player makes — what items do you keep in what inventory slots for quicker access? what armor or trinkets can you wield to maximize or minimize damage? how will this precise firearm interact with this precise enemy? when do you use your weapon in its bladed form? its blunt form? — in some cases only become intelligible by participating in the interpretation & embodiment of the game’s aesthetics. Engaging with the game in this way, a trick weapon’s verbs can be transformed from “attack” into a variety of more particular, ideologically charged genres of trauma — “flog,” “flay,” “bleed,” “rend,” “slice.” Reenacting Yharnam’s history of experimentation, the player can discover the use of a serrated blade & locate the threshold of beasthood at once: whether or not an other is sufficiently grotesque can be determined by how well & in what ways blood can be drawn. If she participates even somewhat in the coherence of Bloodborne’s fantasy, the slippage between player & player-character becomes easier. The player herself can quickly become implicated in perpetuating the logic of the hunt. She finds that the monuments which she wields are, though perhaps cathartic for her, built in service to forces beyond her.

Rather than chastising the player for slipping into someone more comfortable, for simply using the vocabulary she has been assigned, the player-character of Bloodborne may ultimately be allowed to embody some radical parody of Yharnam’s constitutive violence. Arguably, in order to participate fully in Bloodborne’s coherence, the player must eventually turn her attention from the prey she cut her teeth on. As she seeks out more & more grotesque foes, she eventually finds herself targeting the social institutions of Yharnam. She cuts down scholars of the Mensis School, ancient benefactors of the ruling class, & various martyrs of the Healing Church; each offering her more rewards than the last. At some point she may even find that weapons which grow “in effectiveness the more grotesquely transformed the beast” no longer benefit her, as she stumbles beyond the threshold of beasthood into something else — though something else no less rewarding to bleed. Given no explicit instruction other than the mysterious hints to observe the hunt & to “seek Paleblood,” the player can even destroy & usurp the cosmic patron of the hunt. Over time, she finds that the fat that is upon innards of Yharnam is by far more nourishing than the blood of hapless beasts.

Notes

  1. For more on true beasts, see the Beasts article on bloodborne.fandom.com. For more on the complications in judgments of beasthood in Bloodborne, see Patrick Gill’s video essay, Bloodborne and Muppets.
  • Saw cleaver image supplied by fandom.com
  • if i ever stop writing about bloodborne please presume that i am dead or am currently dying just too far away from the keyboard to click “save & publish”

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store