Whenever Japanese developer From Software is brought up, the “difficulty discourse” tends to come up as well. The studio behind the Souls franchise is notorious for its wildly challenging games that often force players to learn from their mistakes or die. With no difficulty tweaking options, From Software sends players through hell and back if they wish to see the end credits. While the Souls games were built upon this philosophy, it’s actually the spiritual successor Bloodborne that’s often highlighted as the studio’s masterpiece.
An action RPG/Lovecraftian horror hybrid, Bloodborne is set in the imaginary Victorian city of Yharnam. Players control a traveler of their own design who ventures to the city with hopes of discovering its famed blood ministration. One thing leads to another and you become wrapped up in a violent holiday that has driven the denizens mad called
Black Friday The Hunt. Like other From Software games, there are a plethora of horrific bosses standing between you and your sweet, sweet blood aspirin. However, the first major road bump you’ll encounter, minus the hordes of angry villagers, dogs, and abominations, is the game’s first real boss, Father Gascoigne.
Wait, wait, wait I see you about to hurtle yourself down to the comments section to tell me that the Cleric Beast is the game’s first boss. Yes, technically this is the first boss the majority of players stumble across and battle, but it’s actually not required. Gasp! In fact, the Cleric Beast is entirely optional and can be skipped over if you don’t feel like fighting it. Father Gascoigne is the first real boss, as beating him will progress the story and open up new areas to explore. Am I being entirely nitpicky about this? Yes, but I guarantee Father Gascoigne is a more interesting fight than Cleric “booty slapping simulator” Beast.
Announced during E3 2014, Bloodborne was met with heated anticipation from both critics and players alike. Releasing exclusively for the PlayStation 4 in North America on March 24, 2015, Bloodborne swiftly amassed a huge collection of positive reviews from nearly every major outlet. Considered by many to be one of the best PS4 games of all time, Bloodborne has a huge fanbase. Much of this was thanks to From Software’s impeccable world design, combat, and storytelling. Acting as a much faster-paced version of Dark Souls, players were often encouraged to prioritize movement and aggression over just hiding behind a shield.
Since its release, Bloodborne received a single large expansion titled The Old Hunters, and no additional support beyond that. Even with the PlayStation 5’s release, Bloodborne’s seen no visual or performance enhances, and the game still runs at a generally solid 30 FPS. Additionally, there’s been practically no news about a potential sequel. In an interview, Bloodborne director Hidetaka Miyazaki explained that the decision of creating a follow-up was not his to make. Instead, the studio focused on other projects such as 2019’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
A former hunter of Yharnam’s Healing Church, Father Gascoigne was tasked with cleansing the streets of foul beasts. Partnered to the hunter Henryk, Gascoigne was married to a woman named Viola and they had two children. However, like most people in Yharnam, Gascoigne succumbed to bloodlust, losing himself in the hunt and becoming the very monster he was tasked to kill. When the player arrives, they will find him killing a beast before he attacks you. Driven by his need to kill, Gascoigne only sees humans as future beasts he will need to slaughter. This, unfortunately, includes his wife, whose corpse can be found on a roof after the battle.
As for the fight itself, Gascoigne is broken up into two distinct phases. The first is his normal human form, where he will attack the player with a Hunter’s Axe and Blunderbuss. Even though he’s aggressive, Gascoigne does leave some obvious windows to parry or punish him during his heavy attacks. Once his health drops a little below half, Gascoigne will transform into a werewolf and gain a whole new move set. This consists of lunges, overhead swipes, and a speedy combo attack that will absolutely kill anyone caught in it.
Weapons like the Hunter’s Axe and Threaded Cane work wonders in this encounter, since you can keep Gascoigne at a healthy distance during the battle. Firebombs are also effective, but I recommend saving these for when he transforms into his wolf form. Landing a hit with these explosives can be tricky given how nimble he is in human form.
Finally, those who searched around the starting area of Yharnam may have come across a house with a child inside. This is actually Gascoigne’s child and the Tiny Music Box was originally used to remind the hunter not to give in to the bloodlust. You can play this a couple of times while he’s human to briefly stagger this boss, providing a small window for attacks. Just be careful, as playing it too many times will force him to transform earlier than he’s supposed to.
In comparison to any fight up until this point, Gascoigne will rarely leave the player with any time to heal. At first glance, this might seem like a wildly unfair advantage since he hits far harder than you do. However, From Software wisely uses the encounter as a way to teach the player about using the environment to create space between you and an enemy.
Unlike the Cleric Beast — who is fought on a very long bridge — Gascoigne’s arena is a large graveyard with a few clumps of tombstones, trees, and a massive statue in the center. Players can use these to separate themselves from the boss, providing an opening to heal or simply catch their breath. As the first major challenge that many will encounter, this environmental teaching moment will become critical as you face other bosses. Encounters such as The Blood-Starved Beast, Shadow of Yharnam, Pthumerian Descendant, and Martyr Logarius all feature environmental designs for players to exploit. It’s a critical aspect of Bloodborne since foes are often relentless in their attacks.
Gascoigne is also meant as a tutorial for how Bloodborne’s combat works as a whole. Up until this game released, many From Software fans were used to a more passive playstyle. A lot of bosses can be defeated by simply becoming an armored turtle and healing through damage. If you attempt this playstyle against the hunter, Gascoigne will split your shell in half within a few seconds. You are forced to unlearn everything you know about the Souls game — especially the idea of not being the aggressor. Given that you can regain health by hitting an enemy after they hit you, the ability to dodge and launch a counteroffensive is critical to your success.
This fight also acts as a way to learn about battling NPC (or even player-controlled) hunters. Parrying with your gun is one of the single most important mechanical aspects of Bloodborne. It gives you an opening to deal massive damage or simply back away to heal. Gascoigne can be easily parried if you study his moves and shoot him right as he begins to swing his axe. While you can stagger the Cleric Beast, its large size makes this very difficult to perform for newcomers. Inversely, you won’t get lost in a sea of fur when fighting Gascoigne, allowing for ample opportunity to understand how timing a gunshot works in this blood-soaked city.
Once he transforms, Gascoigne becomes a much easier foe to deal with. His moves evoke future beast-themed enemies like Vicar Amelia. It’s another great learning tool, as many bosses perform similar moves such as big, telegraphed overhead attacks or charging right at the player. Representing both sides of Bloodborne’s principle enemies (at least until things get very weird), Gascoigne is nothing more than a learning tool that will either push you to adapt or die.
Father Gascoigne is a prime example of what makes Bloodborne such a compelling experience. Not only is the boss fight mechanically demanding, but it oozes with atmosphere (and those story details, like the music box) thanks to From Software’s terrific worldbuilding. The battle is also your final exam in Bloodborne‘s tutorial. It’s a culmination of every basic gameplay change that you will need to master if you wish to survive the hunt. From Software has crafted a lot of tutorial bosses, but Gascoigne stands head and fuzzy shoulders above all the other nightmare this developer has crafted.