Wolf-man seeks other.
Likes: blood, Gothic architecture, insidious acts of violence, serrated edges and My Little Pony.
Dislikes: Bloodborne players, tiny music boxes, cats, baths, thunderstorms and the postman.
Name: Father Gascoigne.
Temperament: demise incarnate.
Father Gascoigne, the man-monster who’ll clog your game progress like a doner kebab dipped in a pint of Guinness, the yardstick with which Bloodborne will beat you – repeatedly – and plunge said stick into your still-beating, new-game-starting heart.
In short, then, Father Gascoigne is a big fat meanie. He’s also Bloodborne’s first compulsory boss.
Father Gascoigne is the gatekeeper of Bloodborne. This is a man who exists with the sole intent of teaching you From Software’s carefully-crafted set of core mechanics: dodging and counter-attacks.
Fail to grasp these mechanics and Father Gascoigne is nigh-on immortal. For all intents and purposes, Gascoigne is your mirror image – your dark-dark-world self. He’s a role model, and Bloodborne wants you to learn by example.
For most of us, though, Father Gascoigne will teach by utter and repeated annihilation.
And he’ll endlessly school you until you agree to Bloodborne’s mechanical contract, signed in virtual blood. He’s the embodiment of perseverance, of the Souls-driven concept that knowledge is progress.
Gascoigne isn’t solely for the Bloodborne uninitiated, though. He’s Bloodborne’s mascot, the flagship of a very nasty fleet. His secondary function: to demonstrate to veteran Souls players that blocking doesn’t belong in the hallowed streets of Old Yharnam.
And Father Gascoigne’s class isn’t one that tolerates button-mashing fools lightly. Only once you’ve collared Bloodborne’s style are you allowed to truly enter Gascoigne’s world. This is a class passed only by giving Gascoigne a taste of his own bloody kibble, and only with his demise can you prove your readiness for the challenges to come.
But he’s more than a mechanical introduction. He sets the tone for Bloodborne, a world in which the man with the title of ‘Father’ helps you get closer to God in a way you wouldn’t quite expect. A world in which a man of the cloth wears cloth drenched in blood.
Items, too. Gascoigne can be temporarily subdued by use of the ‘Tiny Music Box’, providing you with a much-needed opening. To acquire this item involves exploration based on environmental cues. Its use only even vaguely fathomed by the reading of its description.
And in typical Souls fashion, Father Gascoigne is almost trivially easy once you understand what he wants. Knowledge is power – but knowledge only acquired through frustratingly brutal trial and error. Consequently, Father Gascoigne feels like he should be last on the list, a boss you fight to demonstrate everything you’ve learned.
What’s more, Father Gascoigne is the antithesis – perhaps even the antidote – to the Monster McMonsterfaces of video game boss design, which often dictates that bigger is almost always better. But big is impersonal, big is brutish – big rarely results in a nuanced, mechanically-satisfying fight. Final Fantasy XV’s Titan, for example, is essentially Noctis and pals slamming their weapons into a wall of high-definition flesh.
But it’s almost impossible to identify with something so gargantuan. We don’t understand how it brushes its teeth – if ever – or how it wipes its backside after a nasty case of the runs. Here, size is seemingly meant to make us feel empowered, as we dismantle something infinitely larger than us because we’re simply so goddamn awesome -“Hey, this thing has every conceivable advantage, but I’m going to kick its ass anyway.”
But it almost always results in a detached and hollow slash fest.
Father Gascoigne, though, feels far more personal. He’s human, like me. More importantly, he’s human-sized, too. He’s isn’t difficult because he can use the Golden Gate bridge as a toothpick, he’s difficult because he has a very particular set of skills.
That’s not to say that size can’t facilitate a compelling fight. Metal Gear Solid has Snake face off with foes both small and tall. Metal Gear Rex and Liquid Snake are equally compelling as encounters because of what’s going on under the hood, the relationship between twin Snakes.
That’s conflict. Remove Liquid Snake’s taunts and Rex isn’t all that compelling. We want to crush Liquid and his tin-can toy because he slaughtered our favourite red-eyed cyborg-ninja.
Granted, we aren’t part of Gascoigne’s tragic and storied past, either. But still, there’s tension. There’s an expectation we can win, that we’re in with a chance. A fight on equal terms. If we lose, it’s because we suck. If we lose to Biggy McBiggerson, it’s because he’s the size of skyscraper wearing high heels. It’s almost a given.
Perhaps, then, Gascoigne is simply misunderstood. His actions aren’t driven by an all-consuming hatred targeted at your total and complete annihilation – they’re merely a form of tough love.
Wolf-man seeks other and, for that brief moment, you are ‘other’.