How the East gets Horror Right

How the East gets Horror Right

The featured image above is from Kentaro Miura’s renowned Berserk manga. In the scene, a mercenary band encounters corpses hung from the tree. Underneath one of the corpses lies a baby Guts, our main protagonist, literally birthed from his dead mother and waiting to die. It is only by the mercy of the mercenary leader’s wife that he is saved, only to be handed a lifetime of misery and uncountable horrors. And while we’re not going to look into the masterpiece that is Berserk just yet, I wanted to turn you to this particularly disturbing manga page. The heavy cross-hatched shading, the contrasting black and whites, the barren landscape, and the multitudes of corpses. Everything is extremely unnerving in this panel, and it is done with an unnerving level of detail. And this is far from his most disturbing page.
You see, Eastern media has a particularly terrifying way of showing horror. The pure undiluted stuff. I badly wanted to put a panel from Junji Ito as the feature image, or a particularly disturbing Silent Hill image, but that would probably just get me reported and banned. Ultimately, Eastern media has substance rarely seen in the West for more than one reason, and that’s why the West is so fixated on it, constantly adapting Eastern concepts for Western audiences. However, it is this focus on adaptation that ultimately makes most Holywood grabs bland in the end. So let’s take a moment to look at Eastern horror, and what makes it so damn good.



Medium is something which greatly enhances the quality of horror. It is quite a different thing to watch horror than it is to play it, and reading a horror novel is vastly different from reading a comic. Japan, besides having films, books and games have manga, a very different experience from what most people are used to. The black and white images on the page create a very stunning contrast, and good manga authors use this, plus the nature of flipping a page to their advantage. With manga, you’re creating a visual representation of something scary, not just describing it in words. So now, the readers have to force themselves to turn the page, leading to a glimpse of something horrifying. Tension has been built up, but you never expect what you’ll see, and because of this, manga authors, like Junji Ito have drawn some pretty disturbing shit. Take the image above for example, straight out of one of Junji Ito’s most famous manga, Uzumaki, literally meaning spiral. Imagine turning the page to see something as uncanny, visually striking and yet horrifying as that. All his skill has led him to draw an unforgettably terrifying image. One that is so visually unappealing in a way that Western readers, who are used to more violence, blood and gore, find disturbing.

But there are other mediums besides that which the Japanese have taken advantage of, most notably being video games. Playing a video game feels fundamentally different from watching a horror film. Now the player is in control, he has a chance to fight back…or die. And that makes his experience much more personal. The Japanese understood early on that it is this hope for survival that made horror games so frightening, which is why games like Resident Evil by survival horror legend Shinji Makami and Silent Hill by Konami’s Team Silent set so many lofty bars. The player, who usually feels like a demigod, is now put at the mercy of the game and has to use not only his intellect but quick thinking to stop from dying a horrible death. Take the first Evil Within for example. A more recent example, it displays the ingenuity of placing players in truly tense situations. Limited ammunition, enemies that can’t be killed, horrifying bosses and puzzles that kill you in brutal fashion leave the player in constant terror with their guard constantly raised.

And while I haven’t watched many Japanese horror films, I have heard very good things about South Korean horror films. A Tale of Two Sisters is a mortifying psychological thriller/horror with an emphasis on the supernatural and a twisted family, sure to give a few nightmares despite its age. And Death Bell is a movie that does well as gore fest, but ups the ante by making it a death carnival between high school students. The East has a good grasp of the medium, and that translates well into their work.




Eastern horror falls into slightly different veins than Western horror due to the many cultural influences of both societies. While the West was doused in gory spectacle, the East focused more on cultural issues, social problems, the psychological and supernatural. Urban horror stories are a big part of Asian culture, like the above pictured kuchisake-onna, and the South Korean Red Ink belief. And this shows within all the different mediums, with Asian writers and creatives much more willing to adapt popular urban tales of horror into something more relatable with everyday life, compared to, say, a chain wielding maniac in the American outback. Comparatively, I doubt we’ll ever see a Hollywood adaptation of the Slenderman, or Jeff the Killer.
And boy, are Asian urban legends terrifying. Asian culture is focused on discipline, respect, honour and other things besides. It can be rigid compared to what Westerners are so used to. Therefore, it stands to reason then that the East would focus on things like mental health, snapping minds and the downs of living in urban metropolises with millions of other people. Claustrophobia and urban internet myths and hauntings, as well as creepy things that not only haunt old homes, but forums as well.

And all this terror is wrapped up in a veil of finality. Ordinarily in Asian horror movies, there is no “survivor” at the end of the gory tale. If it is a curse, it is indiscriminate and final, affecting not just the adults, but children and even pets. And that’s something Western audiences cannot stomach or appreciate most of the times. They expect a “win” at the end. A small victory. Look at 2002’s The Ring. Despite the main character and her child being put into the most immediate danger, they escape unscathed, albeit a little scarred, with the solution to their problem seeming cheap. A famous scene from the Ju-On: The Grudge, which was faithfully put into the Western adaptation, shows a girl in bed. She raises the sheets to be the greeted with the face of Kayako, the ghost who plagues everyone in the film, and she drags our hapless victim down in after her, another casualty of Kayako’s curse. There is a sense of sacredness to being in the bedroom, and a sort of sacredness to hiding under the sheets, and this sacredness is utterly torn apart by the directors.



This scene is from Audition, a 1999 Japanese film by director Takashi Miike. One night, my mate Tinashe and I had a horror night, being huge horror fans ourselves. We were astounded by the tension of the movie, moving from just unsettling to full blown horrifying by the final act of the movie. We see the girl, Asami’s true nature, and the gore that follows, which is sometimes way too hard to watch. The movie is a stunning example of psychological horror done right. No over the top madness, and nothing supernatural. Just the sad victim and the depraved psycho. But I only saw this modern horror classic last year, and I wouldn’t have seen it at all unless I decided to break out of my comfort zone and explore. There is an abundance of amazing horror all around the world, and the East is no exception. Watching media is a good way to glimpse a small bit of other people’s culture, and horror is a part of that. The orient has produced some truly stellar horror, and it’d be a shame if you went your whole life without seeing any of it.
As Shinji Mikami said, “Whoever first thought of killing someone with a chainsaw was a genius!”


Why Warhammer 40K Is So Frightening

Why Warhammer 40K Is So Frightening

I’ve been enthralled with Warhammer 40K for nearly a decade now, my first experience with it being a poorly cracked version of Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War before I went to high school. Provided, the Blood Ravens are not the best chapter, and the story was not amazing, but the beauty of the death and destruction, meshed with the zeal of the Space Marines and the righteousness of their wargear was too much for me to ignore. But until I was about 14, I knew nothing about the deeper lore of the Warhammer 40K universe, I was more interested in the gore and badass “good guys” who defended the Imperium of Mankind from the many xenos threats.

And now, about three years into my painful journey into becoming 40K loremaster, I only begin to understand the depravity, helplessness and philosophical views that Games Workshop have spent 30 years putting into the Milky Way Galaxy.

The Emperor Protects…


We are the slayers of kings, the destroyers of worlds, bringers of ruination and death in all its forms. These things we do in the name of the Emperor and in the defense of Mankind. Let none stay our wrath.
-Cato Sicarius of the Ultramarines

Warhammer 40K was created by Rick Priestley in 1987 to accompany the already existing Warhammer Fantasy. A miniature tabletop wargame, the lore, at the time, was merely meant to accompany the game and provide substance for its players. However, they must have realised they struck gold because a whole team was created to pump out lore and fluff, many good, some terrible, and fans have been faithfully reading it for well over a decade.
This is probably because the universe of Warhammer 40K is as grimdark as it is massive, filled with many pieces of elaborate lore. The writers try their best to keep it consistent, because unlike with comics, timelines cannot simply be reset and characters cannot be resurrected without dire consequences. Things are, for the most part, permanent and that means lasting effects and characters that will be remembered for their deaths as much as for their deeds in life, and the vast number of characters, races, species and cultures means that there’s an abundance of stories to be told. And while I would love to drone on and on, which I can considering my impressive well of knowledge on the subject, however that would quite possibly make this article the size of a small novel even if I tried to shorten it. So I will instead focus, on what exactly, makes the Emperor’s domain so void of hope.

To give a brief introduction, the universe of Warhammer 40K revolves around The Imperium of Mankind, otherwise known as humanity and the “rulers” of the galaxy. They have been ruling it for over 10 millennia, and longer if you count the Dark Age of Technology. In the 30th millennium, after a particularly nasty period of time known as the Age of Strife, one individual known only as The Emperor of Man came forth, and leading his savage and powerful genetically enhanced Thunder Warriors. After conquering Holy Terra, he created the Primarchs, 20 of the mightiest warriors the galaxy had ever seen. And from them, their gene “sons”, the mighty Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. However, his beloved Primarchs were scattered across the galaxy, so he launched the Great Crusade to “reclaim” the galaxy that so rightfully belonged to humanity. After centuries of nonstop war and bringing the imperial yoke down on lost human civilisations cut off during the Age of Strife, it looked like the Imperium would go back to a time of peace and prosperity. However, the Horus Heresy occurred, a civil war initiated the Emperor’s most skilled and most beloved son, warmaster Horus Lupercal. Untold trillions died, and countless worlds burned during this short but brutal conflict. 9 traitor Primarchs sided with their brother who who had been manipulated by the ruinous powers of Chaos, and so at the climax of the Heresy, the Emperor slew his fallen son, and annihilated his very soul, the battle leaving him broken, and a shell of his former self. After being interned in the Golden Throne, a massive life support system that requires the lives of thousands of psykers every day just to keep his corpse “alive” and powering the Astronomicon, the beacon that guides ships through the warp. Humanity had everything, and was about to secure a future for itself, but through the treacherous actions of a few, an empire was brought to its knees. For over a hundred centuries after the heresy, the Empire has existed in a form of suppression, and misery, Its citizen’s live in the worst time imaginable with no technological advancement to speak of in a state of unending war. He is taught to fear the mutant, the xenos and the heretic, whilst praying to his Corpse Emperor whom is now revered as a god, because no matter how bad it is under the Imperium, it could always be worse.

Fear the Mutant, The Xenos, The Heretic


Things are very seldom what they seem. In my experience, they’re usually a damn sight worse.
-Inquisitor Titus Drake

I think after reading that brief explanation you can see how dire of a situation the Imperium of Man is in. It is assailed at all sides by foul Xenos (aliens), the Ruinous Powers of the Warp, mutants, rogue psykers, other humans who threaten its structural integrity, and a thousand things besides. Which is already tragic considering the bright future humanity had with the Emperor at the helm and ready to expand its borders, perhaps even past the known galaxy. The Emperor himself was the only person who could have brought forth this new golden age. Someone who had a vision for mankind based on the experience he had, considering he was born, presumably in 10,00 B.C. He wanted a purely secular empire, free from any religious excess or unchecked technological advancement, despite the fact that he could have easily set himself up as a god, or advanced technology to the point where it could take care of all of humanity’s basic needs. Instead, he chose a safer pass, but as he was mortally wounded, any positive future was destroyed. The Imperium became a cesspool of religious zealotry and corruption, mixed with an authoritarian norm and a pool of technological stagnation. Everyone in power knows it, but can’t do anything. Every military man knows that older weaponry is more powerful and probably more reliable because technology has stood still for more than 5000 years, if not totally regressed.

But despite all of these shortcomings the human race faces, it is hard to not see them as the bad guys. And it is a shame that you thought that because there are things out there infinitely worse. And that is arguably one of the most terrifying things about 40K, the enemies. There are too many to count, but the major ones are as follows. The Tyranids, extragalactic aliens who pretty much devour worlds, creating terrifying creatures to conquer planets and drain them of their biomass. Search them up, they’re basically what you’d get if Xenomorphs shagged Necromorphs, and then merged their babies with some crap out of Starship Troopers. However, they are just one of the more recent threats facing the entire Milky Way galaxy, and another one such threat are the Necrons. Undead organisms made out of “living metal” who desire the destruction of all sentient life in the galaxy. Even if you destroy their physical bodies, which is incredibly hard, their command protocols simply move to a new body, ever ready to inflict pain and suffering. They forfeited their souls long ago, and they are untold billions of them scattered across the galaxy, so there is no bargaining, no compromise, and no delaying the inevitable. Perhaps the most persistent however, are the brutal Orkz, the near primitive but extremely violent alien species that infest he galaxy due to their unique physiology. Asexual reproducers through spores, the Orkz cannot effectively be killed off, and thus have plagued the galaxy for millennia, spreading death and destruction, not only because it is in their nature and culture, but because it is in their DNA. They live for war, die for war, and they worship the war, and when it comes to the Imperium, they know it will be a hard pressed fight with the greenskin menace. Next up are the Eldar, a grim look into what humanity could become. Tall, inhumanely beautiful and graceful, they’re basically space elves, extremely advanced space elves. Able to feel human emotions much more intensely, they reached the height of technological advancements millions of years ago, moving on from altruistic endeavours to self-fulfillment and hedonism. Their hedonism reached unheard of levels due to the fact that Eldar Souls return to new bodies in a cycle of rebirth, allowing them to shag, murder and maim each other toll the streets were running with blood and a new Chaos God was born, Slaanesh, She who Thirsts. With the birth of Slaanesh, came the fall of the Eldar, as trillions of souls were devoured never to return.

And as terrifying as they may seem, my greatest fears are the Ruinous Powers of Chaos. They are absolutely horrifying, not only by virtue of them being literal gods embodying various aspects of life itself, but by the fact that they can’t be truly understood by human minds. Because the very nature, of the Dark Gods, is incomprehensible to humans, and though they claim to bring ultimate freedom and the unshackling of the soul from the material universe, it is not worth it. It stands against everything the human condition is, and unless you’re willing to part with it, heresy should be far from your mind. But because of the many faces of Chaos and the different philosophies and ideologies each god represents, I’ll give them their own little section.

Everything Human…and Inhuman


Chaos is devious, subtle… The way of shadows.
-Inquisitor Silas Hand

By the time Chaos has its grips around your world, its already probably far too late, and without the aid of the Adeptus Sororitas, or the Adeptus Astartes, you’re probably fucked. A bullet to the head is the only way to go after that happens. Chaos is something that can only be combated by the few special individuals stout of heart, strong of mine, and utterly ruthless. The strongest, are of course the Grey Knights, Chapter Millitant of The Inquisition’s Ordo Malleus, and the Ordo Hereticus. They deal with matters purely involving daemonic activity and heresy, respectively. However, they are not enough, because there are 4 Chaos gods, all of them heading immensely dark, twisted and magnificent armies.
Each Chaos god represents a primordial aspect of the human psyche and thus can never be truly defeated despite the fleeting but hard won victories the Imperium achieves. Nurgle, perhaps the oldest of the Chaos gods is the god of, death, rot and decay, and disease. Plagues, and festering sores that give birth to mutated and disgusting creatures mark Nurgle out as a pretty disgusting god, and his gift to his followers is decay. Because Nurgle is a psychic manifestation of the oldest sentient fear…the fear of death, and one he can abate. Those afflicted by his plague become afflicted in the worst ways imaginable, and are kept from dying by any normal means, so those poor souls who cannot end themselves turn to Papa Nurgle to take away their suffering.

The next Chaos god is the youngest, Slaanesh, Prince of Pleasure or She Who Thirsts. Born from the collective psychic debauchery of the Eldar race, Slaanesh promises to fulfil your strongest desire, at the expense of your freedom. And your desires will be warped and turned against you, and you become a living thing of pleasure, seeking only to fulfill your dreams and those of your master. And while that does not seem as bad, and you may think that you’re safe, Slaanesh is so dangerous because he can offer you anything, and that means no one is safe.

Khorne, the Blood God. Maybe the second oldest Chaos god, he encompasses war and strife, and is so powerful because the galaxy is rife with these things. His followers are blessed with anything that increases their strength and their ability to draw blood. It doesn’t matter where your allegiance lies, ultimately, as long as you are in the business of drawing blood, destruction and pain, you serve Khorne, who never shies away from blood, gore and more blood. If you’re willing to give away rationality and peace for death, destruction and everlasting then glory is waiting for you as a champion of Khorne.

The final and, in my honest opinion, most frightening god, is Tzeentch, The Lord of Change. He is knower of all things and the patron of sorcerers and those who scheme. No mortal can ever comprehend him and his, machinations, wherever thwarted or successful are but a small part of his grand plan. Eternal enemy of Khorne who sees all psykers as weak and without honour, Tzeentch’s followers come to him for knowledge, or to find some sort of meaning in such a bleak galaxy, only to be ensnared in his web of deceit, lies, and the intricate strings that entangle all living things, as all things are to be manipulated by him, to his own end. Which happens to be total dominion over the galaxy, however even this is but a step because he would still strive for change, ultimately bringing his own kingdom to ruin. Only the maddest, not most logical can take even the slightest glimpse into Tzeentch’s mind and hope to gleam even a tiny bit of knowledge, and those who do not follow the criteria, are lost.

You see, the Imperium must fight these foes almost daily, and if that wasn’t enough to break your spirit, then this might be. Chaos, is completely unconquerable, because no matter how many victories you win against them, they recollect and are reborn in The Warp, another dimension ships use to travel, impossibly large and impossible to navigate as well. See, as long as Chaos represents the baser emotions that humans, or most other living beings have, they will never truly die. The universe is in a constant state of war thanks to the Horus Heresy, and in such a universe everyone fears the death that waits for them at the end of their short, miserable lives. Because of this, living things will most likely turn to anything to escape the suffering, including the literal god of hedonism, and this, it can be argued, all falls into a maddeningly grand plan. The Chaos gods will never be defeated, and that is true, because humanity alone, which counts in the trillions, inhabits the galaxy. And as long as humanity exists, so will Chaos. It is a never ending struggle, but to submit is to lose all semblance of humanity and become something foul and horrid, to human eyes at least, whilst to fight on is simply a futile and soul crushing act of defiance, one sure to drastically shorten your life, and end in pain.

So Easy to See…


We may be few, and our enemies many. Yet so long as there remains one of us still fighting, one who still rages in the name of justice and truth, then by the Allfather, the galaxy shall yet know hope.
– Wolf Lord Ragnar Blackmane

So it’s clear to see how fucked everyone is, and perhaps that’s why 40K is so scary. Because everyone is so, so fucked, it’s hard not to pity them as you read through the fluff. Normal citizens, those who aren’t Imperial Navy or Guardsmen are in such a sorry state that’s been going on for so long that they think it’s normal. It might be considered lucky to live until 20, or to manage to get some scraps to eat for the first time in 4 days. Despite having a more technologically advanced civilisation than us, their standard of living is way lower. In a galaxy populated by trillions upon trillions of citizens, it becomes easy for the average citizen to see that he is not special in the slightest. The guy next to me would kill to have my job if i start bitching about the low food rations, and it’s much easier for a commissar to put a bullet into a soldier for insubordination and replace him, that try and talk the soldier down.
Whole worlds are sometimes slaughtered to keep threats from spreading to other worlds, and this vast expanse of thousands of planets is ultimately ruled by a throng of extremely corrupt individuals who care only for their well-being in the end.

One of the saddest truths to come to a realisation to in Warhammer 40K, and one you realise only after much reading and analysis, is that the universe of Warhammer 40K is perhaps one of the most logical paths for the human race as we know it to go down. While the existence of the warp and Chaos is highly unlikely, the lore details almost exactly how the Imperium was brought to its knees, and the results of over a thousand years of despotism. Religious excess leads to mass worship of a mere man, not a god, but it is this faith that keeps people going, and the zealotry is more often than not harmful rather than helpful. An example that can easily be seen in today’s world through the Moorish invasion, the Spanish Inquisition and many more examples besides. Technological ruination ultimately came at the hands of AI, something the Imperium had under control initially. We are soon running towards the time that AI will be mainstream, and we can only speculate on the effect it will have, however people are not too optimistic. And the everlasting war in 40K is not too far-fetched. We’ve been on the Earth for millennia ourselves, but rarely have great steps been taken through peace, and even today we threaten each other with violence, or acts thereof.

And with prefrontal lobes too small, and adrenal glands much too large, it stands to reason that no matter how far we will advance, we’re still uncivilised monkeys with a penchant for hierarchy and violence. And that if any species could live and thrive in such a cruel environment, it would be us. Humanity is endearing, and it is that relentless grip on our ideals and the right to live that makes us so…human.

To steel your hearts for the rest of your, ultimately meaningless lives, Skold Greypelt had a few wise words, especially for an Astartes. “We may be few, and our enemies many. Yet so long as there remains one of us still fighting, one who still rages in the name of justice and truth, then by the Allfather, the galaxy shall yet know hope.”

Bloodborne: A Primal Fear

Bloodborne: A Primal Fear

Bloodborne was one of the most critically acclaimed games of 2015, arriving exclusively on PS4 and setting the internet ablaze.  From Software, the same studio behind the infamous Souls franchise, decided to go all out in developing a new, but familiar take on the genre so annoyingly named “Souls-Like“. And it is this familiarity, mixed with its Lovecraftian influence and new gameplay switch-ups that make the game so memorable, action packed, and harrowing. I managed to buy it in the summer release, it being my first experience with a Souls-Likehowever it took me literally the whole summer to finish the game. And I promise you it wasn’t because I suck at videogames (I really don’t, honest), but because I was instilled with fear. Two primal fears, to be exact. The fear of death, and the fear of the unknown. And I think it’s just about time I get over my PTSD and begin to tell the tale of how Bloodborne straight fucked me up.

In the Beginning…


I admit freely that growing up I had a major fear of the dark. It may have been a product of my over active imagination but even reaching my teen years, I could freeze up in abject horror when alone in a room and thinking of how something sinister could be just about to wrap its claws around my neck. Needless to say, I was a wreck for a long time, and I couldn’t get over it until I realised something important. That I wasn’t afraid of the dark itself, but that I was afraid of what might be lurking within it. It was imposing to say the least, and it scared the hell out of me. And within time I got over the fear, but Bloodborne brought that fear back. See, Bloodborne was developed by From Software, the crazy guys behind the Dark Souls Franchise. A franchise known for its punishing difficulty and imposing enemies. The series had, by the time Bloodborne was developed, achieved notoriety for its no hand-holding policy. You’ll probably die within the first 15 minutes of playing and be introduced to the despair, pure and unadalterated. People played Dark Souls on the defensive, biding their time and extending encounters with enemies and bosses. Essentially, playing it very very safe. So From Software decided to switch a few things up when developing Bloodborne, and that was the best decision they could make for the project. Enter game director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, the person behind the first two Souls games and someone who has been with the company since 2004. Miyazaki is one of those Japanese directors who gains a lot of inspiration from Western works, such as Dracula, and A Song of Ice and Fire. Its also clear to see how European Architecture inspired him, and this shines through in the level design of the Souls games, with high towers and the harsh facades of medieval castles. More on that later, however one influence on Miyazaki that he had never used in his games. The works of H.P. Lovecraft, the progenitor of Cosmicism, and The Unknown, and this as we will soon discover, created an unforgettable atmosphere.


The Hunter’s Tale

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Bloodborne does a great job of introducing its plot and setting before plunging you into a world of mystery and malevolence, and while I won’t be discussing all of its points, I sincerely suggest you watch VaatiVidya,Souls Series lore master. You are a Hunter from out of town. A slayer of beasts and monsters, and you arrive in the fictional town of Yharnam. A not so subtle nod to, most notably, 19th Century London with it’s Gothic atchitecure and cathedrals. Your character arrives on the night of the hunt, where the inhabitants band together to purge the city of everything evil and unhuman, and after receiving a blood transfusion from a local, you are plunged into a neverending nightmare. After this point, Bloodborne does very little to actively tell a story. It presents hints and links to the lore of Yharnam itself, the role of the hunters, the Church, and the people themselves, as well as the hunts and beasts. And the truly observant will begin to piece together a small semblance of a story, even though there is no official ending or plot line, so to speak. The game merely gives you the pieces and allows you to craft your own story, which is a brilliant way to tell a story while allowing the player to put just enough of themselves into the character.

And the various characters the player encounters on his or her journey definitely contribute to the feel of the world of Bloodborne. They offer insight into what is going on, what the people think of you (they hate you), and what you might expect. And the fact that they offer information sparsely and in intervals or after you reach a plot point, making you even more interested to hunt for information. Some characters, like Father Gascoigne, make you feel the feels, while others, like Queen Annalise only appear randomly after doing something not directly related to the main quest. However, many of them can just as easily be antagonised or killed for items or to unlock another plot point, meaning that being the “good guy” means you miss out on plot points or items. My favourite NPC function however, is how they each tell their own tales from their own perspectives. Whether it be a hunter watching over Old Yharnam, to a Healing Church cleric, to a prostitute. All of it can be considered incredibly important, or meaningless, depending on the player.

If it wasn’t made obvious by now, Bloodborne has a morbid obsession with blood. In fact, blood is the main driving force and currency of Yharnam, and at the end of the game, the blood will be all you think about. As you progress through the game, you discover story details that paint Yharnam as even more sinister than its creepy architecture suggests. The blood in Yharnam, distributed by the Healing Church, contained special properties. The ability to cure sickness and plague through blood ministration, essentially the letting of blood and blood transfusion became very useful, and the church restricted the knowledge of the different types of blood and how they were used. And in time, the inhabitants of Yharnam became addicted to the high the blood afforded them. But as the city became addicted, a plague hit the town, and turned the men to beasts who became less and less human. Of course, this was most likely all because of the Healing Church, but they conveniently came to the rescue, setting up the scene for modern hunting and continuing the use of blood ministration. This was of course, due to the knowledge that they guarded. That the secrets of blood ministration came from the Old OnesLovecraftian aliens who had visited Yharnam long ago and brought with them many secrets. So basically you, and everyone in the town is hunting things that were once human all because of their addiction to something that is, by all means, not normal, and this is brilliant.

It gives a certain element of repugnance to the player, especially knowing when the player realises just how much they rely on the blood. To heal themselves, to replenish their ammo when they have nothing, to upgrade skills and weapons and to buy items. Therefore, by the end of the game, just like the poor inhabitants of Yharnam, the player is just as reliant of the blood.

Yharnam, Sweet Yharnam


Ah, the setting of Yharnam, dark, imposing and infintely frightening, Hidetaka Miyazaki really outdid himself on this one. While previous Souls games were centred around medieval architecture, with quiet barrows, decrepit castles and lofty towers, Bloodborne went forward in time. Bloodborne’s architecture heavily revolves around Victorian-era architecture, with Gothic facades and elaborate masonry. Stairs rise for many a step, and doors to new areas of the game are heavy and slow to open, creating an atmospheric reveal.

As far as level design goes, not only is the world stunning, but it has the effect of weighing down on the player. There are few open areas where one can see the horizon. It is instead dominated by towers and steeples. You must run through courtyards and narrow corridors, be assailed on stairs and prowl through gaols. And lurking within these frightening locations, sometimes silent, sometimes causing a ruckus, are the various enemies you will encounter. Despite being coined as an action game; the game certainly does its best to throw the most terrifying enemies it can at you. Whether you have a fear of spiders, snakes, slimy things or hags, Bloodborne will take those fears, twist them into something worse, and throw them back at you. And the cramped and dark environment of Yharnam does its best to either keep you from running away, or trying to find an advantage.
It should be noted that Bloodborne does well in relaying religious imagery with its level design, the heavy orchestra found in the soundtrack replete with organs. And the locations are both varied and true enough to themselves, that each one feels rich with a long forgotten culture despite usually not being filled with a sane populace. There is always indication of worship to some terrible and unseen force, and it is only in the end do you see what exactly everyone reveres.

Some areas can only be found after a loss, such as being kidnapped by the watchers and being taken to the Hypogean Gaol, which unfortunately results in the permanent loss off your blood echoes. I think such choices in regards to level design are both risky, but exciting, because once the player experiences, they realise how screwed they are. The developers are a bunch of sadistic pricks who are not above using death to advance the story, and this id only heightens the players level of unease considering death is such a significant element in the game. One could even say that, story wise, the game revolves around it.


A Fear Oh So Lovecraftian


Even though Bloodborne is penned as an action-RPG game, it is obvious that it has not-so-subtle elements of horror within it. And this horror, despite not being specifically labeled a horror game, is so palpable for multiple reasons. The first, being rather obvious in that it is a Souls game. Dying is easy and every victory is hard earned, with the risk of losing all your precious blood echoes (the currency), or having to face the same enemy that initially killed you, only know that it is supercharged and tougher. In a sense, Bloodborne very early on fills the player with the fear of death. The prospect of having to face the same enemies, with less resources and the risk of losing all your hard earned money is no doubt, fear-inducing. The fear of death is primal and perfectly normal, but the fear of having to die horrifically at the hands of beasts multiple times simply to achieve a task, sometimes minor? Now that is panic-inducing, and a fear that most people will never have to deal with.  And coupled with the fact that Bloodborne is much more aggressive than Dark Souls means that players will constantly be in a state of panic, trying their hardest not to die.

The second obvious fear, is the typical fear seen when we see something scary or disturbing. Think Resident Evil or Dead Space, if you need something to envision initially. The enemy designs in Bloodborne are horrifying consisting of normal horror tropes like witches and, to more creative takes on classic characters, like the fishing village inhabitants with writhing snakes for heads. And every seemingly “normal” enemy is warped in some way, like the feral and decaying dogs, or the slowly transforming townsfolk with their elongated limbs, fur covered faces and torches. It’s the cosmic enemies that really stand out however, slimy, icky, and with all sense of humanity long gone. Ebrietas comes to mind with his outlandish character design and otherworldly appearance. And for all this we have Ryo Fujimaki to thank for the twisted and sinister character designs. And the more you delve into the game and explore the lore, the more the character design feels relevant. The character’s strange changes from raving humans to true beasts has great relevance the more you play, and those like the Healing Church bosses grow to extreme sizes due to their adherence to the blood.

And the final and perhaps most disturbing part of Bloodborne’s horror is the Lovecraftian cosmicism that seeps into every aspect of the Bloodborne’s world. Lovecraft delved into veins of horror that were both outlandish and unexplored. And Bloodborne has enough of that to keep the Player both intrigued and fascinated. The idea that we as humans are but specks of dust in the grand scheme of the universe, and that there are no gods or beings above that love us or treat us as special. We are infants, and nothing more, and that makes us insignificant. This and many more revelations such us the true nature of the Hunter’s Dream, a game mechanic that has you travel to a safe area to heal and buy items and weapons, which is revealed to be far more sinister. There also exist Nightmare Realms, areas in the game that hold the consciousness of a Great One, or a baby Great One, and these realms are truly nightmares in themselves. However, one truly interesting mechanic is “insight”, something that allows you to see through the veil that separates the “normal” world from its maddening reality. And as the game progresses, and your insight reaches new level, the true world is shown and although it is the same old Yharnam, it is given a new, evil light and old levels are filled with new and terrifying enemies as well as new paths and new areas to explore.


Journey’s End

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So with that we come to the end of Bloodborne, a terrifying but exciting game. One that, I think, everyone should play at least once. Not only for the mystery and combat, but for the lore and the hidden frights you might encounter. Yharnam is big and full of enemies and hidden treasures, and you might craft your own story at the end of it.
As usual, to end the post with an insightful quote from the game from a doll who serves the hunters in the hunter’s dream. She says, almost nonchalantly, “hunters have told me about the church. About the gods, and their love. But… do the gods love their creations? I am a doll, created by you humans. Would you ever think to love me? Of course… I do love you. Isn’t that how you made me?”

How the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Perfected Fantasy in Games

How the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Perfected Fantasy in Games

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt initially came out in 2015, followed by two large expansions, Hearts of Stone and finally Blood and Wine, along with multiple free DLCs. I am more than embarrassed to say that I am 2 years late to the party, finishing it only recently, however, I am not embarrassed to say that I enjoyed the experience immensely. I might even be so bold as to place it in my ever shifting gaming hall of fame due to not only the game’s profound effect on me, but the work ethos displayed by the Polish developers and publishers CD Projekt S.A. that no doubt contributed greatly to the success of The Witcher franchise. And while I may go more into depth on why developers usually need publishers to be successful, and the rare but inspiring examples that exist, I think it would be best to devote the majority of this particular blog to The Witcher 3, and how it set the standard for future “AAA Games”.

I’ll begin with a solid foundation so some of you may grasp this much more easily. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open world action role-playing-game developed by CD Projekt Red, a Polish game development studio under CD Projekt S.A. The games themselves are based on the series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, a very talented author well versed in fantasy writing and whose books have been translated into nineteen languages.  I can’t speak much on the actual novels as I’ve only read the first one-The Last Wish, however I have pieced together quite a bit of lore from the games, and as such, I’ll be focusing on the games. However, credit where credit is due, because one of reasons the games are so amazing, is because of the source material. CD Projekt S.A. have specific company philosophies, one of them being working on lesser known franchises that they can bring to a wider audience. However, they also focus on the player, and rather than focusing on normal game rhetoric such as making game worlds bigger, they decided to put more life into the games themselves, encouraging players to explore the game more and become attached to the world, the lore, and the characters.

And it shows in the Witcher 3 more than most other games. The game cost $81M to make, half of which went into marketing, which was handled by CD Projekt S.A. However, devs like Bioware quite possibly spent much more than that with a much bigger team and most likely, a higher budget to come up with something that was not at all what was advertised. This not only shows the failing of the devs and the publishers, but shows the great amount of effort, time and commitment that The Witcher’s developers put into it. Motion capture, coherent facial animations, interesting characters, well written plots and subplots, engaging side quests, a gorgeous open world, and physics that aren’t god-awful all contribute towards its success. Each character is voiced with an air of care for their character, and each NPC that you can have a conversation with has enough quirk that they are remembered even later on in the game. When we look at development, The Witcher 3 got so many things right, and in an industry like gaming where so many people are privy to the process of making a game, the fans could appreciate the efforts of the dev team.

As for plot, that’s where The Witcher 3 has its highs and lows, although this is just me nitpicking for the most part. In this particular adventure, we follow our main character, the fame Geralt of Rivia, also known as The White Wolf and The Butcher of Blaviken on a journey to find his surrogate daughter, Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. As far as RPGs go, this is part and parcel of a standard main quest. Something that will span hours and stretch across the map. However even before you take control of Geralt, you can see how much he loves Ciri despite not having seen her for many years. He dreams of her, has premonitions involving her and talks about with concern despite usually having a cocky. slightly sarcastic demeanor. And as the game progresses, it is this single minded search for Ciri that helps and hurts the plot. From an emotional angle, we can understand why Geralt is searching for his daughter. It is immensely important that he keeps her safe and it is this care for her that makes us relate to him as well as sympathise with him. This unfortunately has the effect of streamlining the plot, making it rather simple and without much diversity. Few questions are asked and that robs the intrigue out of the story, making it seem boring, and making Geralt himself seem very one dimensional. However, that is remedied almost entirely by the abundance of side quests, many of which are optional, but extremely interesting. They contain one-of-a-kind characters with their own backstories, motives and personalities. If you do a side quest, the more you progress, the more you will feel that you’re missing out afterwards if you don’t do the side quests. Besides building Geralt’s character and revealing areas of his past and motives, they also give the player freedom to make their own choices and give Geralt his own ending. The player gets to live out their gritty medieval fantasy through him best in the side quests, whether by helping villagers with petty issues, solving murders, appeasing spirits, lifting curses, and slaying monsters.

But The Witcher doesn’t get by solely on its plot. The world of The Witcher is filled with interest, living or dead. Lore wise, it contains a huge bestiary of beasts terrible and strange, and on top of this, it has a large index of characters that you meet. Part of the core gameplay is visiting the bestiary to see what category of monster you’re fighting, and the best way to defeat it. Doing this gives you a certain sixth-sense when facing monsters and increases your cautiousness, however it makes you dive deeper into the world of The Witcher, because if you not you’ll die in horrible,and often pitiful ways. But luckily, the monsters exist everywhere, and by creating this system you can be surprised and pleased depending on the situation. For example, if you ride in the forest on your faithful horse Roach, expect to find a pack of wolves, or if you’re especially unlucky, a Leshen. If you go into a swamp or ride by a beach, you’ll be greeted by the pleasant moan of a Water Hag or a drowner. But all is not lost because the nastier monsters, like Lycanthropes griffins, wyverns and noonwraiths are usually only encountered on Witcher Quests. However, it is possible to run into one by accident, at which point it is probably best to turn tail and conduct a flawless tactical retreat. And all of this never get old due to the inspiration of these monsters coming from Slavic mythology, which has been untouched by many authors despite having a wide range of legends and tales. However, at the end of the day, preparation is usually key, and the Witcher who is prepared, is victorious.
The designs of the monsters are visually striking, and one can see this without even glimpsing the concept art. The attention to detail is immense, from the rotting decaying flesh of the undead, to the graceful and sharp movements of vampires. Ogroids are lumbering, and relicts are unique and different. Unless species are related in some way or another, most monsters do not look alike. Which is great character design as it keeps players highly interested in the game as well as showing that the creators cared enough.
And it’s not just the design of monsters and the human characters. The whole world is gorgeous, featuring 4 distinct locations-Velen, Novigrad, Oxenfurt and Skellige-before Toussaint was added to the Blood and Wine expansion. The cities are bustling and full of life, and the countrysides sprawl for leagues in every direction, littered with forests, swamps, highlands and fields. It’s a straight treat to the eye, and the changing weather and travel options such as boat and horse make the world feel so much more alive.

But enough about design, because the gameplay mechanics take into play so many things from the lore and design and turn them into fully functional elements. One such example, which gave me enough incentive to run about for hours completely ignoring the main quest, is the crafting system. Not as extensive as some RPGs, and fairly straightforward, the ability to dismantle any common item for materials in order to build new and powerful weapons and weapon sets is an exciting one, and is extremely practical in the long run. Besides, getting a full witcher gear set is an exciting quest in itself, exploring long forgotten caverns and haunts. And while one can get money from hunting monsters on quests for people, the fully fleshed out world means that even repairing weapons at a blacksmith requires money, making it very impractical to hoard money to save up for that fancy sword. And that brings us to the alchemy system. A Witcher has many enemies, supernatural and human, and having the right tools on hand might make the hunt more exciting than nerve-wracking. Lathering your sword in necrophage oil can make dispatching a group of rotfiends much more enjoyable than tedious, and chucking a dimeritium bomb robs spectres of much of their annoying invulnerability to normal attacks. All of this can be achieved by obtaining ingredients rather easily from plants as well as monster corpses. And the stronger the enemy, the more potent the oil or potion will be, making the game progression much more balanced as you progress.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will undoubtedly be remembered as a pinnacle of gaming for years to go, backed by an amazing development team and an enthusiastic fanbase. The more you delve into the game, the more you realise how much the different elements fit into the game, from the easy loot system, to the more advanced potion and mutagen creation systems. And it is this in-depth RPG system, mixed with a unique world and interesting characters that make the game so appealing. There is so much substance that it is so hard to lose interest. It’s hard to find a franchise that has existed for so long and with such success. However, it is not a fluke and the reasons for its success can be listed down and analysed clear as day. So for the casual gamer you have a whole new and amazing experience, for the avid gamer, you have a game that surpasses all expectations and can be explored wholeheartedly, and to the industry-man, you have a benchmark for “AAA Games” that can be followed for the next few years. As Geralt of Rivia said so effortlessly, “you don’t need mutations to strip men of their humanity. I’ve seen plenty of examples.”


Gaming, the Universal Medium

Gaming, the Universal Medium


I’ve probably said that gaming stands to be the most altruistic form of media around today. There are far more creative properties than I can think of, and for the non-gamer, that can be incredibly overwhelming. Where to begin? What to play? In it’s nearly half century of existence, videogames have challenged ideas, created new stories, breathed new life into old franchises and driven multi-console narratives that have left people in awe for over 12 years. People often wonder why some people can obsess so madly over videogames, often spending a large amount of time playing a single game. I am definitely not above this since I have easily put in more than 60+ hours into my favourite games, easily going back for more and more playthroughs either out of boredom or in order to find out more key elements of the story. Games, unlike movies or books are experienced on a more personal level. More often than not, you are placed into the shoes of the main protagonist and it is your actions that affect whether your character lives or dies, and in more choice centred games, whether the outcome is good, or bad. However, this only works because of the high level of variety within the gaming world. It’s easy to be blinded by the massive yearly spectacles like Call of Duty, FIFA and for a time, Assassin’s Creed. However, it is just as easy to remember that amazing gaming experiences are being released that cater to so many other demographics, and that there is no shame in being attracted to such games.

Using myself as an example, I am utter shit at FIFA, couldn’t score a goal for my life. However, I am an excellent real time strategist, in love with RPG worlds, and also have an immense love for story driven games. I know people that can’t hold a controller and can still play PC MOBAs with startling skill, and others who have an abject talent for simulations and the precise are of fighting games. But besides that, there are so many other genres that even those who are not into “conventional videogames” can fall into its subtle grasp. Why, not even three years ago, I became enamoured by rhythm games which are primarily made for mobile or handheld devices, and Rayark easily became one of my favourite studios for their original scores and striking art. And this isn’t even close to half of the games available for everyone, and I really do mean everyone.  Of course, part of the reason for this is that gaming is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Even if it’s a small percentage, it makes sense that companies would want to cash in on each person who feels drawn to a certain genre. And so, companies will try to exploit as many genres as they can, whether or not some people think that this is in the best interests of consumers has yet to be seen. However, it definitely opens the door for more exploration into viable games, which opens the door for even more opportunity, and far more creativity.

However, if the gaming industry itself is full of cashgrabbing executives, as has been the case for so many games that have turned out horribly in the past. However, there are still many indie developers who don’t let the cash get in the way of the development of video games. They focus on the artistic and thematic elements of gaming, more designed to highlight certain aspects, be it a satire of society, or analysis of certain phenomena within culture. Silent Hill, which while becoming a horror franchise and sensation, started off as something as an experiment from an underperforming staff in Konami tasked with creating a rival to Capcom’s Resident Evil series. It became a highly disturbing exploration into the human psyche, exploring themes of hopelessness, despair and fragility, considering the fact that you are extremely weak compared to every other enemy. If you don’t believe me, watch the video WhatCulture made on the enemies in the Silent Hill franchise at the end of the post.
My point is, when not constrained by budget, or social norms, or even current trends, the Silent Hill team created something amazing without the extreme power afforded to gamers today. And a lot of teams are like this, creating breath-taking indie games like Inside, to majestically haunting games like Hellblade, and even untested (and highly controversial) games like No Man’s Sky. And the stage is still set for many great ideas to come out, because yearly we are getting games that both exceed expectations, match up with them, or hit with the force of an unexpected typhoon. It stands to reason therefore, that there’s always going to be something on the horizon.

That being said, it is very important to note that gaming has more liberty to explore due to its unique nature. It has multiple audiences, both young and old, male and female with many different tastes. There’s no clear cut separation of genres and the like for gamers as there can be an action adventure game with very stealth heavy elements, showcasing the variety. And, this is just from my own personal observations, but gamers are generally less sensitive to topics that might raise controversy. You only need to look at games like Grand Theft Auto, Ninja Gaiden and more, featuring elements of violence, gore, sex and drugs. However, this means that more mature themes can be explored, and this allows developers to put in more coherent ideas with much more weight in them. That and the fact that games can easily have hours upon hours of gameplay, not counting cutscenes or interactive scenes where players need to make choices, this gives the player much more time to digest all the information as well as discovering many more things. Take a game like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, released 2012 I think. Within minutes of starting the game, a major story point has occurred, setting the tone of the main character, Joel. Therefore, as the game progresses, we can understand his motives and actions, whilst feeling genuine emotion at his slow and steady change of character, ultimately leading too one of the most emotional and heart-breaking endings in the last 10 years of gaming.

Games also spend a lot of time bringing in many other elements to provide relevance an enhanced experience, and the best developers use these to the greatest of effects. In Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the song The Man Who Sold the World by Midge Ure plays both at the beginning and the end. While in the beginning its meaning is lost, by the end, the title and its significance is highlighted as we find out just what Big Boss has done, and why the song foreshadows so much. Many developers decide in original scores to highlight the themes of their games, one has to look no further than the Halo series. But they also use very distinct artistic choices as well. Minecraft’s world is made of blocks to highlight the building nature of the game, while making it easy to render and run on multiple platforms. Borderlands by 2K studio has a distinct watercolour-esque art style that is far from traditional and Bioshock’s dark heavily contrasted world, just to name one more.

I think it’s important to highlight the importance of gaming, not just as an industry, but a massively underappreciated form of art as well. In it, there is something for everyone, and perhaps more than one might think, but of course jumping into new territory s absolutely frightening, but perhaps it is worth it.

As Warren Spector said, “for me, the cool thing is doing things that could only be done in gaming.”