The profound melancholy of the Souls series

As I hacked, slashed, and bludgeoned my way through From Software’s Bloodborne, I found myself up against an impossible foe.

After refusing his offer to be released from this nightmare world, Gehrman, The First Hunter joins the hunt only to make you see the folly of your ways.

An old man in a wheelchair, Gehrman poses no threat to you for most of the game, but now he limps toward you with a scythe and power uncharacteristic of the man that once kindly gave you advice within the Hunter’s Dream.

And it’s a nightmare of a battle.

With his speed, power, and reach he trounces you over and over pleading with you to face the reality that you must perish to finally wake up in the true Yharnam. Something compels the player to push on until we finally drive our sword through him.

Depending on how you’ve played the game it can either continue on to another fight where your fate is to become the new Moon Presence or if you haven’t consumed a number of items you take Gehrman’s place as a guide to the hunters who enter into this nightmare.

Either way, his death is a profoundly sad moment.

He’s a man bound to this world by a contract forged with the Great One, but he wants to escape, he wants to flee, and even though he can’t he still offers you a way out. He wants to give you the chance that he never had.

He pleads with others in the outside world to free him, but no one seems to have the power to do so until you appear.

“…Oh Laurence…Master Willem… Somebody, help me… Unshackle me, please, anybody… I’ve had enough of this dream… The night blocks all sight… Oh, somebody, please…”

Bloodborne

Fighting this old man brings everything that you’ve done and the “beasts” that you’ve killed into focus. Djrua, another character in the game, if you kill him tell you that the things you have been killing aren’t the beasts you think they are.

“The things you hunt, they’re not beasts. They’re people,” Djura says upon his death in reference to the beast patients he has been protecting since the burning of Old Yharnam. It’s apparently why the enemy type is so afraid of the fire as most were gravely injured when the old town was burnt to the ground during a great purging by the Healing Church. They are humans whose sense has been replaced by an animalistic instinct.

And the hunters that track these beats mercilessly cut them down one after another in search of echoes only to realize that if they continue with this life that they are destined to become a tired old man like Gehrman.

It’s a melancholy, a sadness that you simply cannot escape.

***

Throughout Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Demon’s Souls there is a profound feeling of melancholy.

Melancholy is often indescribable. It’s a feeling that comes from seeing something that elicits a great sadness within you, but you simply can’t express the emotion yourself. It’s something that makes you cry within, but not on the outside.

It’s seeing a pair of bird wings on the ground, it’s that heaviness under your eyes that simply makes you want to sleep and give up, it’s hearing of the death of someone only to realize it doesn’t make you feel anything.

The way From Software has integrated this feeling into their games has done through making each enemy, each boss, and each setting a shadow of its former self. Boletaria, Lordran, Dranleic and Yharnam are all former empires of great strength that have been reduced to nothing because of the decadence of their leaders.

King Allant, Gwyn, Vendrick, Nashandra, Aldia, and Gehrman among many others have all fallen from their prime and they are old, desperate, and searching for a way to either end their lives or achieve immortality. The player’s task is often to bring about an end to the cycle that has kept these old rulers alive to bring about change to the world.

King Allant’s pact with The Old One turned him into a demonic being bereft of a body, but still radiating power. The player finds him far below the Nexus, a hub world in the game that houses the old king’s true body. The king we fight before the true ending of the game is simply moulded to look like former self and when his true self dies we are given the option to put the Old One back to sleep or satisfy your lust for souls by killing the Maiden in Black.

King Allant lusted for power by sealing a pact with the Old One only to be turned into a demon.

King Allant lusted for power by sealing a pact with the Old One only to be turned into a demon.

Gwyn’s death brings about two choices for the player. You can continue this age of fire started by Lord Gwyn only to have your fire eventually extinguish leaving you a shell like he once was or you can become the Dark Lord to rule over the land although it is bereft of the fire that kept it alive. However, with you as its new rulers the pygmies can bring about change in this Dark Age.

Gywn, Lord of Cinders, burnt far too brightly.

Gywn, Lord of Cinders, burnt far too brightly.

King Vendrick sought a cure to the Undead Curse only to allow his obsession to him hollow. Queen Nashandra, who seduced Vendrick and tricked him into invading the land of the Giants, is a fragment of a dark soul named Manus. The smallest of his fragments, she was the first to gain consciousness and she directs the player to open the Throne of Want to take their place as the new flame to drive this world. However, the true ruler of this land is Aldia, the elder brother and possible incarnate of Seath the Scaleless from Dark Souls.

Only within a memory is the king still whole. In reality he is a hollow.

Only within a memory is the king still whole. In reality he is a hollow.

Aldia speaks of rulers that come and gone in the past. One died in a pool of poison while another succumbed to flame, and another slumbers in a realm of ice. He sought to shed the shackles of his humanity to find the truth that lay behind existence only to fail and become an abomination. Much like Gehrman, he gives you a choice whether to live within the illusion of peace or shed the yoke to see the dark that truly lies within men.

Aldia's human form has been lost as he sought to shed his humanity to see into the true darkness.

Aldia’s human form has been lost as he sought to shed his humanity to see into the true darkness.

The world has fallen into darkness due to a lust for power, for life, or for the truth. These lords have all lost themselves somewhere along the way and the player’s job is to release them from their torment or take their place.

Gehrman sought to protect his world from the beasts, but found he could not escape.

Gehrman sought to protect his world from the beasts, but in doing so created a prison for himself.

Almost every single boss in the games has an origin story that elicits a kind of sadness. These enemies were once so much more, but through the years they have been beaten down into the monstrous forms that you see before you.

This is the true melancholy that exists behind From Software’s video game series. It’s also why people find the games so profound. Without a expressed “story”, the game gives you information about the world through item descriptions, snippets of dialogue, and what the creators let slip through director’s diaries.

Gehrman tests you as a hunter, but in the end he’s simply an old man looking to die. He doesn’t want to fight you. You forced him into leaving his wheelchair to make you see the light. He enters into the hunt unwillingly and only to die.

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