What would FromSoftware’s 2015 hit Bloodborne have been like if it had been released not on the PlayStation 4, but on the Playstation 1? We need wonder no longer because Bloodborne PSX, developed by LWmedia and available on Itch.io, is finally here. But does it hold up as a fun and engaging video game in its own right? And how well does it evoke the spirit of the original? Happily, I can report that BBPSX stands up on its own merits and successfully recreates the grimy, oppressive atmosphere of Yharnam’s twisted streets.
There are a couple of things I should make clear before going on. First, BBPSX is by no means a full re-creation of Bloodborne. The whole game takes place in the city of Yharnam, which was just one area of the original. It does, however, have a genuine ending. The other thing worth noting is that this is not a one-to-one remake. There are a lot of surprises in store, even for Bloodborne veterans. And that’s a good thing.
Party Like It’s 1995 In Bloodborne PSX
BBPSX is so much more than a mere graphical update, or perhaps more accurately, downgrade. The clue is in the name really. To that end, the developer has gone to great pains to make all elements of the game feel convincingly like something that belongs on the original Playstation. From a purely aesthetic perspective, it works wonderfully. Character models are blocky and low-res, the draw distance is decidedly Silent Hill (that is to say, small), and there is even an optional CRT filter for those of us with a terminal case of nostalgia.
It’s all very charming and authentic. There are even new loading screens that break up what were seamlessly connected areas in Bloodborne. Mercifully, however, they aren’t as slow to load as the screens in the original, which took an age pre-update. It all runs smoothly, and it never stops being fun to see an old character, enemy, or imposing Gothic structure through a PS1 filter.
It may be short, but a handful of hours feels like the perfect length for this kind of experience, you get enough of the retro feel without the novelty wearing off.
Sound design is also top-notch. The voice acting is far above average for any sort of fan project, and the howls and shrieks of Yharnam’s monstrous denizens sent all the right chills down my spine. Father Gascoigne in particular really manages to live up to the reputation of his terrifying original Bloodborne counterpart.
There were one or two retro-style changes that bothered me, but they were in a minority. I don’t like how the weapon transformations are now tied to an option in a menu, and the limited number of quick select items was also a bit of a pain at times, especially when having to select specific keys for specific doors. For a game as small as this though, those niggles never amounted to anything serious. At most, they were a minor inconvenience.
Where Old Meets New
The moment-to-moment gameplay is also strong overall but does suffer in one or two places. Bloodborne, as I’m sure you’re aware, is a fast-paced game that calls for a degree of precision. The fact that BBPSX is such a faithful recreation, even regarding gameplay, sometimes clashes with the old-school control scheme. You have to use the D-pad to move, and the camera is tied to the trigger buttons. For the most part, it works fine, but there are situations where the game’s insistence on authenticity is to its detriment.
Trying to target an enemy that has managed to get behind you is particularly annoying. There’s simply no way to turn around in a timely fashion. This issue is compounded by the fact that your attacks have a strange way of knocking an enemy behind you. As you can imagine, an angry werewolf that you can’t quite see will cause you no end of trouble. A significant number of my deaths were at the hands of the camera.
That minor quibble aside, BBPSX controls surprisingly well. It may feel like it belongs on the PS1, but that’s not the put-down it sounds like. Sure it’s an exercise in nostalgia, but it’s nowhere near as clunky or frustrating as a lot of actual early Playstation stuff. It actually feels a lot like Bloodborne (surprise surprise), just as fast and just as brutal. There were times when I really felt myself getting into that souls-like “zone”. Quickstepping my way through a crowd of vicious wolfmen, and then hacking them all to pieces. It felt great.
All the original games systems are present and correct. You can still get health back by striking an enemy after you have been struck yourself, and parrying is still tied to your supply of quicksilver bullets. Honestly, it’s a testament to the purity of Bloodborne’s combat that it works so well here. Which, I should say, doesn’t take away from what LWmedia has achieved in faithfully reproducing it here. This is not a case of simply copying someone else’s homework. Imitating a game like Bloodborne this way is no mean feat.
The Devil is in The Details
I think what impressed me most was the way BBPSX manages to call back to Bloodborne but to simultaneously do enough things differently to avoid being merely a visual novelty. There are all sorts of little details included that fans of the original will no doubt appreciate. The way the Cleric Beast screams as you climb the ladder up to Gilbert’s place, the fact that you can still get health regen for a few moments after an enemy has technically died, and that way you can stunlock the werewolves into oblivion. As a big Bloodborne fan, it was nice to see all those little touches.
While I appreciate the attention to detail, and obvious love for FromSoftware’s masterpiece, I was initially worried that BBPSX would amount to little more than an elaborate “nudge nudge, wink wink” in-joke. That all changed when I reached the Great Bonfire. In the original game, there is a troll banging on a nearby gate. You can certainly hear him, but you don’t have to fight him until you’ve found your way to the other side of the gate, leaving you free to concentrate on the enemies on your side.
So I was doing what I usually do, clearing out the villagers on my side, before nipping around and taking care of the troll, as I had done so many times before. Imagine my surprise when the gate flew open. Before I knew what happened, I was no more than a bloody pulp. This was just one of the many moments where BBPSX deliberately took me by surprise, and I loved it. There are even more radical changes, including new areas, later on, that I won’t spoil here.
On a slightly different note, there were a number of “details”. They are by no means game-breaking, but BBPSX is a little bit buggy. My bloodstain (site of my most recent death) would often be in completely the wrong place, and some enemies would vibrate violently. There were also other minor visual hiccups but nothing serious. There are, however, patches on the way.
More Than a Novelty
I didn’t expect to enjoy my time with BBPSX as much as I did. Even after playing the first few minutes, I was ready to dismiss it as a cute, but insubstantial novelty. How wrong I was. Despite the odd moment of jank, the gameplay is amazingly fluid, and the new additions and changes breathe life into what could so easily have been little more than a nostalgia-fueled retread.
If you like Bloodborne, BBPSX will put a smile on your face. But even if you’ve never touched a FromSoftware title, this is a solid retro experience that transcends its role as a mere imitator. BBPSX is a delightfully atmospheric slice of original Playstation goodness.