Bloodborne: 1-3 Boxed Set – Graphic Novel Review

Fromsoftware produce some great video games. They craft beautiful worlds, expansive environments, and punishing game-play that has been known to test some players to their limits.

One area where they sometimes lack, or at least at first glance, is in the storytelling. Unless you sit and examine every item, reading their descriptions, or talk to every NPC at every opportunity, it’s possible that you can complete one of their games and not know much of what it’s about. As such, when comics set in these worlds come along that promise to expand the lore, fans are eager to give them a read. Now Titan Comics are collecting together the first three volumes of their Bloodborne series. But how do the books stack up?

Bloodborne Volume One: The Death of Sleep follows one of the Hunters, people who have pledged themselves to fight the monsters that plague the city of Yharnam in a cycle of death and rebirth. The Hunter here looks like the iconic image from the cover of the game, complete with blunderbuss, saw cleaver, and costume. The Hunter begins their journey in Yharnam, where they find a group of survivors in a chapel. Inside is a young child, a pale blood, who the Hunter will need in order to complete their quest. When a huge beast and their ravaging horde assaults the chapel the Hunter attempts to slay the creature, but is killed in the process.

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The Hunter awakens in the Hunter’s Dream, before returning to Yharnam and repeating their quest to the chapel. Instead of fighting the huge beast, this time they take the child and flee the city. From here the two of them set out to reach the coast and find a boat in an attempt to escape the monsters. However, the beast is following in their wake, determined to kill them both.

The story of The Death of Sleep is an interesting one, though one that is fairly light on details and leaves the reader to have to fill in a lot of the blanks. It relies on the fact that readers know a lot about the game too. As someone who has played Bloodborne, but has not experienced the whole game, some elements were familiar to me, but not enough that I really knew everything that was happening. I liked that the first part of the story reflected the game, that the Hunter was aware that they were repeating actions, that they died and had to try again. I also like that it was never answered whether the Hunter was male or female, and had an androgynous appearance; allowing the reader to project their own player character onto the Hunter. However, after this it very quickly started to rely on elements that I didn’t know.

I don’t know why the Hunter was after the child. I don’t know why the child’s blood was white, or why that was important. I don’t know why the child could see things that the Hunter couldn’t, and what that meant. I’m sure these are elements that lore heavy fans will know, but it did make the story very inaccessible to new readers wanting to learn more. I was also quite disappointed that the story ends on a cliffhanger, yet does not continue on into the next volume, leaving it feeling vague and unfinished.

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The art for the story, provided by Piotr Kowlaski and Brad Simpson, is good. The action sequences feel full of energy and motion, capturing the frantic combat of the game. They also manage to make the book look both ugly and horrifying but beautiful at the same time; something that the game did wonderfully. The environments look great, particularly when the characters leave Yharnam. If the book explained things more I would have found it a much more enjoyable experience. As it is, fans of the game will probably find stuff here to like, but how much they like it could depend on their knowledge of the Bloodborne universe.

Bloodborne Volume Two: The Healing Thirst takes a much different approach, taking readers back to a time before Yharnam becomes the monster infested hell hole it ends up in the game. The book takes a look at the Healing Church, a religious organisation in the city, as the ashen blood disease begins to sweep through Yharnam. People are dying, people are becoming monsters, and it looks like the hunters who are supposed to keep them safe, and the church who are supposed to heal them, might be at the centre of it all.

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We follow two characters, Alfreidus, a doctor, and Clement, a priest. Both men can see that there’s something awful happening in the city, and both believe that the Church might be part of the issue. The two of them come at the problem from opposite sides, one relying on science whilst the other relies on faith, but eventually they end up meeting and forming an unlikely alliance. Working together, the two of them hope to be able to find a cure to the awful infection before it overtakes the city.

This is the kind of thing that I was hoping for from this series, as The Healing Thirst dives into the history of Yharnam, giving us something that we’ve not seen before. It’s really odd seeing the city as a working metropolis, with people going to their jobs, shopping, and tending to their gardens. Having seen the city in the game its easy to forget that this is a place that was once filled with life. There is a sense of sadness whilst reading it, however, as you know that this isn’t going to last. You know that these people are doomed, that the city is going to get worse, and you can’t help but feel a sense of hopelessness as Alfreidus searches desperately for a cure to help the person he cares for. I enjoyed watching the friendship form between him and Clement, and the fates of each of the characters was suitably grim.

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The art team from the first volume return for this story, and I think the book looks better than the first one in a lot of ways. I don’t know if its because its all set in Yharnum, so we get more time to marvel at the grandeur of the architecture and the small nooks and crannies filled with details that you can spend time looking through. It’s the same creative team, yet the art in this volume feels so much better, more detailed, and more interesting. This is easily the most enjoyable volume of the collection, with a clear story, and characters with understandable goals. This was the kind of thing that I was hoping for from these books, and it’s a shame that I only got it for the one book.

I’m not exactly sure what I ca say about Bloodborne Volume Three: A Song Of Crows. The story centres on Eileen the Crow, one of the more memorable NPCs from the game. In the game Eileen hunted your character, and other hunters, and is sworn to destroy those corrupted by their lust for blood. We see her burring those that she’s killed, dozens of bodies, but after that the story doesn’t really do anything. Eileen seems to be pursuing someone, but the story is broken, disjointed, and has fever dream logic to the point where I cannot tell you what happened even after reading it twice.

It doesn’t help that Eileen herself seems confused, with broken and disjointed narration. She wanders through strange places, where reality seems to shift around her and change at a moments notice, unsure what is happening or where she is. There’s an entire issue that has no narration or dialogue, relying on the images to tell the story; yet because of the weird and confusing story it adds nothing, makes things even more confusing, and feels like a waste.

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The same art team return for this volume, and do some good work, even carrying an entire issue where the art is the only thing on offer. And whilst I can’t find anything about the art to fault for this volume, a story cannot survive on pretty images alone. Thanks to the meandering, weird, and seemingly pointless story I was left confused by what I’d read. It’ not often that I have bad things to say about a book, as I usually try to find something to be positive about, but this time I failed to find much to like and felt like I’d simply wasted my time reading it.

Bloodborne: 1-3 Boxed Set is something that’s going to appeal to fans of the series, but I think mainly to those fans who have invested a lot in the game. Casual readers might find that the stories on offer here lack the depth they want, that they leave too much unexplained, and that they rely on game knowledge to get more out of it. However, if you’ve spent time reading all the lore, poring over the wiki entries, and doing deep dives into the world FromSoftware created this might be a set you get a lot out of.

Bloodborne: 1-3 Boxed Set is out now from Titan Comics.

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