Bloodborne might receive a ton of attention for its vicious combat and ruthless difficulty, but all of that would be for nothing if it wasn’t wrapped up in a world that is as horrifying as it is spellbinding. From Software has proven themselves adept at creating worlds that demand your attention, if only because a distracted player is a dead player.
The city of Yharnam and its surrounding hinterland draws heavily from the Victorian period of Eastern Europe and the religious orthodoxy that permeated that culture. As you walk its foggy and decaying streets you are always painfully aware of the religious undercurrent pulsing through the ruined city. But as I wander those streets, I cannot help but wonder what other worlds From Software could bring to life. What other cultures could director Hidetaka Miyazaki draw from and then deform with his dark vision?
Here is a list of five cultures and their related mythologies that would be fertile ground for From Software to plant their twisted seeds.
1. Babylon and the Gateway to the Gods
Generations after a flood destroyed all life on earth, a migration of people speaking a single language found their way to what is now modern day Iran. Here, the story goes, they began to build a city with a tower that threatened to reach all the way to Heaven. Seeing this, God came to Earth to inspect their work. Upon realizing that their success would mean nothing was impossible for these people, he confused their language and scattered them across the world. The Tower of Babel is an ancient tale, one that highlights the potential men and women have when they work together, and the god who was threatened by this.
Imagine the chaos that would ensue from a city cast from such heights into the depths of madness, as men and women struggle to converse in their new tongues, as loved ones disappear forever, and society crumbles into anarchy. The golden glory of Babylon laid low by their own ambition would be a foundation ripe for the themes From Software works into many of their games — men who reached too high and have fallen so low.
Image from Simogo
While Scandinavian folklore has always played a key role in many fantasy settings (they are responsible for elves and dwarves, after all) there is plenty of it that remains untapped. One ritual in particular stands out as the perfect foundation for a Souls game: the Year Walk known in Swedish as an Årsgång (pronounced orsh-gong.
Year walking was a method of divination usually performed on Christmas or New Year’s Eve. After spending a day in total darkness, with no food, drink or social interaction, a year walker would rise at midnight and begin a journey, often through the woods, to the local church. After circling the church a number of times, they would blow into the front door’s keyhole. With this act, a year walker would be stripped of their Christianity and presented a host of supernatural beings who challenged them with tests. By completing these challenges, a year walker would be given glimpses of moments that would happen the following year.
A legend about willingly giving up an aspect of yourself to take on mystical challenges and be rewarded with visions of the future? If that doesn’t sound like a setup for a Miyazaki game, I don’t know what would!
3. Japan and Aokigahara
Japan is a pretty obvious choice for this list, if only because From Software calls it home. Sadly, Japanese history and mythology is often passed over in lieu of the more recognizable western mythos despite being equally as robust.
Aokigahara, commonly referred to as the Sea of Trees, is a forest at the foot of Mount Fuji. It’s a sprawling metropolis of woodland so densely packed that neither sun nor wind can penetrate it. A quiet stillness permeates the forest; a blanket of quiet draped over the shadowy underbrush. Animals avoid the place like the plague, and even compasses and GPS instruments are reported to become spotty when navigating its seemingly endless expanse. But Aokigahara isn’t known for this; instead, it is known as the world’s second most popular place to commit suicide.
Haunted forests have been a staple in just about every Souls game to date, yet none of them have come close to capturing the eldritch unease that lingers in Aokigahara. In ancient times, it is said that family members would abandon their sick and elderly in the forest, and that their tortured souls still linger it to this day. Even now, the forest is said to emit a supernatural call, beckoning the depressed and forlorn to come find their ends within its cool, dark embrace.
Aokigahara is a tremendously sad place, but it is undeniable that the myths that surround it resonate perfectly with themes established in Bloodborne.
4. Mesoamerica and Human Sacrifice
Mesoamericans — Aztecs, Maya and many others — are commonly portrayed as a barbaric people despite their societies often being quite advanced. The reason they are sometimes depicted as such is because of a fundamental difference in the way we perceived death. To many Mesoamerican societies, dying was simply another link in the great cosmic cycle. Death liberates divine energies which the gods use to create more life. In Mesoamerican culture, war is idolized since the most valuable sacrifices are obtained in combat. Each death of a warrior is seen as a great sacrifice, the energy of which allows the gods to continue their activities, such as changing seasons or bringing rain. Capturing soldiers became a way to climb social hierarchy. There was also a powerful relationship between warriors and priests, the former controlling religious ideology, and the latter providing the sacrifices that fueled it.
The cycle between life and death, and the relationship between combat and religion are all dichotomies that already exist in many of From Software’s titles. Imagine if they tapped into those latent themes to craft a game that explored and embraced them much more intimately. The jungle, with all its manner of deadly beasts, along with the themes of blood and sacrifice, would certainly make a spellbinding foundation to build upon.
5. Ancient Egypt and The Seven Year Famine
Egyptian mythology is saturated with stories of famine, something unsurprising given the climate and geography of the country. One story stands out as a particularly suitable foundation for the obtuse mysticism in various Miyazaki games: The Seven Year Famine.
The story tells of a king, distressed by a famine so severe that no vegetable or grain could be found in the kingdom, and men and women collapsing and dying from weakness. The Nile, the mythical life-giving river of Egypt, had not risen in seven years, and thus Egypt was brought to its knees. The king dispatched Imhotep to discover the source of the river and the god who ruled over it. Upon returning, Imhotep informed the king that the Nile rose from the island of Elphantine, where the very first city was built and from it rose the sun and all good things. The deity that guarded the mouth of the Nile was Khenmu, a ram from whose hands water flowed, with a pitcher balanced between his horns. The king, desperate to save his people, sent Imhotep to find Khenmu, and bring his life-giving waters to Egypt.
Egypt is already infamous for its mythological aesthetic, but an epic adventure through lands ravaged by famine to find an ancient city to make a deal with a god would certainly be an adventure worth playing.
Steven Messner is a writer living in Alberta, Canada. When he isn’t hibernating, he is fervently writing about videogames. You can find more of his written and video work at PixelAttack.net.and you can follow him on Twitter at @Stevenmessner