There are few things more likely to set eyes rolling into a terminal capsize then when so-called gamers start talking about the 'lore' of their favourite games. That they usually do it with the sort of reverence associated with a dead pet or lost love isn't even the worst part of it - people like being excited about stuff, and so you can kind of get on board with that. No, the worst part is that the thing they're talking about is usually, objectively, rubbish, and this love for lore - no matter how ridiculous - has inadvertently started choking the games themselves.

You'll hear, in hushed tones, how noughties microcosm Billy Coen is the best character in Resi, and he was mentioned in a note in N64 Resi 2's Ex Files, so he could come back in the remake of Resi 2. Doom 3 was a game that wanted you to shoot demons but also, y'know, read a lot, and that really built the atmosphere, yeah? Metal Gear Solid 2? Shit on purpose to bolster the world and tell the story, mate. Didn't you know that?

It's bad enough when it's the fans doing this, but it's even worse when it's the developers, who try desperately to tie together all the decisions they made years ago before the budget was halved, telling players and press how there's this 'really cool' (lie), 'living breathing world' (obvious lie) 'you'll want to know more about' (OJ Simpson-esque lie). And when fans and developers combine into a lore-off, you get this:

Which is obviously brilliant in about fifty thousand different ways, but the main issue is that lore - and audiences' love of it - often starts to stifle games and their storytelling. Resident Evil was a far better series when it wasn't trying to connect every dot, make every character and interaction matter, and the less said about Metal Gear Solid, the better. There are fighting games - where Karate Man punches Centaur Bloke over and over - with more backstory than the First World War, and yet developers (never the greatest storytellers), keep pumping it out, tying themselves in knots in order to feed a borderline unhealthy demand for justifying everything.

Not everything needs to be explained, of course, and that's one of the reasons I'm so excited for Dark Souls 3. Very few developers have used lore as well as From Software, and the reason is Miyazaki and co know that the history of these environments should leave room for interpretation of the mythology which forms that lore, rather than constantly running into expository cutscenes which show character X hanging out with/killing/shagging character Y.

This understanding is at the core of why Souls games feel like proper adventures: the feeling of moving through a world which contains just enough 'reality' to navigate yet which also contains secrets and ambiguity for you to consider and comprehend, using both the clues available to you and your experience within it.

Bloodborne is amazing at this. For much of my first playthrough I didn't have a fucking clue what was going on. There were different factions, obviously, and a hunt. There were beasts and men, hunters and ghouls. The world itself evolved with my actions, but I wasn't quite sure why. I was driving the experience but not necessarily the story, of which I seemed a passenger, never sure where it was heading. The people I spoke to talked in riddles and from behind closed doors, many of whom seemed to need saving from the madness around them and many of whom promptly told me to fuck off. (It's entirely possible to miss these people.) The ones which didn't then asked me to perform quests for them, but no marker appeared and often I wasn't sure what they even wanted.

Having defeated Gehrman I still don't know everything about Bloodborne - I barely know anything about it. By design it recalls, in and out of the narrative, dreams (or nightmares, more accurately), albeit with a careful interlinking structure and complex fighting mechanics. But its different areas function not to explain the dream, but to deepen its effects, and it uses the ambiguity of its lore to do it.

You meet a man who tells you incredible things about a castle which can only be reached a certain way, but you don't have to go there. If you do decide to go there, you find yourself in both the best modern-day Castlevania and somewhere of the same world as Yharnam but markedly different to it, with its own foes, its own tricks, its own traps, its own style. Byrgenwerth and the Forbidden Forest are much the same, and you find yourself wondering - without the need for an answer - how all of this got here, or even where 'here' is. (Step away from Bloodborne for a month or so before going back to it and you'll find yourself asking how you got there, a slightly more pressing concern.)

All the while you're getting drip fed lore via pickups, the environment, and loading screens, 'explaining' in oblique terms how some if not all of how it all fits together. Even so, there are no easy answers, and there's such a particular attention paid to how this information is imparted, especially in terms of phrasing, that it often adds another layer of intrigue. Bloodborne would be infinitely weaker if there were up-front answers as to what happened with every element the Healing Church, the scholars, the Great Ones, etc etc, and I think its lack of transparency is why most people feel no shame in turning to FAQs to navigate the world: if Yharnam is an adventure to be undertaken, then it makes sense to have a tour guide, even if it's in the form of GameFAQs instead of a comedy sidekick.

This is why I'm so excited about Dark Souls 3: it's another world to explore, another journey to undertake, and another puzzle to try and fit together. Yes, there are differences in how the DS games present their worlds as opposed to Bloodborne, but the discovery of Anor Londo is still one of my favourite gaming moments for many of the same reasons listed above. Whenever Miyazaki's games are discussed it's often couched in talk of their difficulty, or their systems, or the fact that they hate you, but it's the use of complex lore to create their world's intrigues, not explain them, which provides a reason to press on in the first place.

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