Bloodborne is a game that blends cosmic horror with a Victorian Gothic aesthetic. A very cool combination, that. Although a lot of people—myself included—have written extensively on the influence imposed on the game by the inimitable H.P. Lovecraft, it seems that barely anybody has examined it in relation to Bram Stoker’s canonical novel, Dracula.
Let’s first address the fact that the player plays as the Blood-Drunk Hunter. That’s a fairly vampiric title, wouldn’t you say? The hunter is tasked with attempting to put an end to the Scourge of the Beasts, which plagues the city of Yharnam. The more beasts a hunter slays, the more they begin to lust for blood. Eventually, the hunters themselves manifest into beasts far more atrocious than those they once hunted. Although NPC hunters like Father Gascoigne grow to resemble a more lycanthropic sort of beast than one that is aesthetically in line with traditional vampires, it is not outside the realm of possibility to associate bestiality with vampirism. Specifically, it is not outside the realm of possibility to associate the perception of bestiality as a result of vampirism.
The argument here is that the more beasts a hunter kills, the more beastly they will become. Bloodlust could, in fact, alter a person’s perception as well as their appearance, blurring the lines between man and beast. Perhaps Gascoigne turns into a massive werewolf because he has been adversely affected by bloodlust. Or, perhaps you, as the Hunter, perceive him that way because the viciousness of the fight has caused you to develop quite a thirst for blood—the blood of beasts. “The sweet blood, oh, it sings to me. It’s enough to make a man sick.”
This may seem like a stretch initially, but it is far easier to believe that bloodlust affects a hunter’s perception than it is to believe that it causes the hunter to metamorphose into a beast. Beasts like Ludwig and Laurence were not ordinary hunters, and they have already become beasts by the time you encounter them. It was the blood of the Healing Church that brought about their transformation, as opposed to the psychological sensation of bloodlust brought about by the hunting of beasts. The player witnesses Gascoigne’s change, and it seems that this could just as easily be a hallucinogenic effect instigated by the fact that they are starved of blood. By viewing Gascoigne as a beast, killing him becomes far less morally grey. The more bestial he becomes, the thirstier the hunter gets.
Also, the blood vials the player drinks in order to regain health—in the way that blood increases a vampire’s vitality—are not filled with blood from the Healing Church. This is proved by the fact that the beasts felled by the hunter drop blood vials. When you drink these, you are drinking beast’s blood, as opposed to the transfused blood of the Great Ones synthesized by the Healing Church. Who is to say that these beasts aren’t humans, viewed as abominations through the medium of distorted perception in the same way that Gascoigne’s appearance changed so radically in such a short space of time?
The presence of vampirism in the world of Bloodborne culminates in the depiction of Cainhurst Castle. A coach drawn by spectral horses pulls up to collect you from Hemwick Charnel Lane. After a spoopy cutscene, you’re brought to the Castle. This entire sequence directly parallels the way in which Jonathan Harker was escorted to Castle Dracula, and there are even Tainted Dogs in the area in which the carriage arrives, resembling the wolves that chase after it in Stoker’s novel.
When you arrive, the horses that drew your carriage have frozen to death. A massive stone Castle looms over you, and there are vicious enemies known as Bloodsucking Beasts between you and it. Their silver hair and aged faces cause them to resemble the bestial forms of Stoker’s vampires. Usually handsome and elegant, vampires become horrifying in appearance once they have been starved of blood for too long. This is just the beginning of Cainhurst’s parallels with Dracula, though.
Cainhurst Castle was once home to the vampiric Vilebloods, who were elegant aristocrats that indulged in blood that had been deemed forbidden. The last surviving Vileblood is Queen Annalise, as the rest were murdered by Martyr Logarius and the Executioners, who saw their vampiric ways to be as abhorrent as those of the beasts they hunted. After the player kills Martyr Logarius, they can access Queen Annalise, who was his prisoner. The player can then join her Covenant, which allows them to acquire Blood Dregs from killing other hunters in PvP. Essentially, the player kills these hunters and drains their blood for Queen Annalise, the vampiric matriarch of the Vilebloods. The Vilebloods also use their own blood in order to imbue their weapons with blood magic, which resonates heavily with the traditional design of vampires in literature.
Bloodborne, although most evidently derived from the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, pays homage to Stoker’s Dracula in many ways. Cainhurst Castle is the only area in the game that seems to have little to no cosmic influence, and its design is derived entirely from Stoker’s Gothic horror novel. This makes sense, given the prominence of the novel in relation to the genre of the Victorian Gothic, which serves as the base aesthetic upon which the Lovecraftian aspects of Bloodborne are superimposed. Between the Vilebloods and the hunter himself, it seems that Yharnam is home to some whose thirst for blood is insatiable. The beasts in the game may not look like vampires, but maybe that’s because they’re actually the unwilling thralls subjected to the wrath of the Blood-Drunk Hunter.