At release, players didn’t really know what to make of Bloodborne’s Chalice Dungeons. The Souls games had always had NG+ as an endgame, but this was something new. A healthy bunch of developer-authored levels sat alongside the ability to generate your own, with various criteria, and more importantly the ability to share your creations. More content than any player could ever ‘finish’ and, as the years went by, the source of several surprising discoveries.
Bloodborne’s world revolves around the first human beings who decided to explore these labyrinths, and what they found. So it seemed appropriate that for many players who couldn’t stop hunting, this was one place they ended up – prospecting, pushing on, searching through endless identical corridors in the hope of finding the one that, just maybe, contained something different.
There were genuine discoveries along the way: extraordinarily rare monsters like the mole rat or flaming giant, previously unseen attacks, or even just the many loot-filled layouts that players eagerly shared around. Even in their ‘vanilla’ form, and whatever the problems with repetition, the chalices served their purpose as a much meatier endgame option than Fromsoft had previously managed.
Come December 2017, something happened that blew the chalice dungeons apart and, thanks to a core feature of how they worked, opened up a world of discoveries to every single owner of the game. First, Bloodborne was datamined. Then, over subsequent weeks, an individual who goes by the online name Zullie The Witch began sharing their discoveries.
Some things have the tinge of the forbidden.
Zullie shares their dungeons through ‘glyphs’, a short code that can be entered at a gravestone in the Hunter’s Dream, which grants access to another player’s chalice creations. I initially held off on investigating with, I thought, good reason. A game is the product of countless big and small choices, and an overall vision for what form the final product will take. Bloodborne director Hidetaka Miyazaki is the best the industry has to offer. Bloodborne feels like a personal work as well as a brilliant videogame, and so, looking at what I considered to be rough drafts – the ‘cut content’ revealed by Zullie – had a level of illegitimacy.
I still believe that. But in the end, and Miyazaki would at least understand this, human frailty won out. I adore Bloodborne. I know almost everything there is to know about it, to a rather embarrassing degree – my twitter interactions column is often just people rolling their eyes at the latest digression into a minor lore point. I just couldn’t handle all these interlopers, these complete neophytes, seeing things I never knew existed. Even if it was non-canon, even if it was wrong, even if Miyazaki forbade it, I must taste this forbidden fruit.
The most headline-grabbing aspect of Zullie’s dungeon glyphs is that they discovered several unfinished bosses, and new forms of others. All of the names come from the community and, in this, should be taken with a pinch of salt. The first I went to see was called ‘the nightmare Moon Presence’, for example, implying it’s a variant of Bloodborne’s final encounter – but the comparison could equally have been to the bosses Ebrietas or the One Reborn, both of which it also resembles. But that’s minutiae – here’s what I did.
First, I know it’s boring, I backed up my save – if you’re going to try this stuff, and here’s a handy collection of the glyphs you’’ll need, you should do that too. I’ve had no problems accessing this content and getting out without it affecting my save, but better safe than sorry. After entering the glyph and heading to the ‘chamber of the seal’ – the opening layer of every chalice dungeon – it was immediately clear something was up. Bloodborne has almost no rough edges. But now I was in an environment suspended in the void, with nothing but grey stretching outside of its contours. Several exits led onto this featureless landscape, but one set of double doors obscured something else.
Here’s the thing about cut content, and I know it may be a little obvious to say this: it’s not finished. This gives it a curious quality, one that began to stir the lining of my stomach as I watched these doors and enormous tentacles began slamming down on them from the other side. I knew that the animation for opening the door would make my character invincible, so picked my spot and dashed up – and as my hunter pushed the doors forward, the huge tentacles began to slam down through them.
At first all I could see was a giant mass of flesh, tendrils, and the inside of my hunter’s head. When I was able to dodge through and into the arena, it was a sight I never thought I’d see again – a new Bloodborne boss, something that was once genuinely a part of the game, even if only a prototype. Some of the enemies that Miyazaki creates have, despite their undoubted deadliness, a pathetic quality to them – a soldier forced to fight for eternity, a monster tormented and trapped and left as a guard, a once-great hero whose mind has long since turned to dust.
As I watched the ‘Nightmare Moon Presence’ struggle to turn and face me, most of its body suspended above ground by a few feet because it was on a ramp near the door, I felt an echo of this. It was never meant to be seen. It has rough edges, it needs a lot of work. And nevertheless, more or less the first thing it did was one-shot me as I tried to get a better angle.
I idly wondered whether this would end the Chalice and I’d have to re-load, but no – I respawned outside the boss door and re-entered. The Nightmare Moon Presence is so-named because it resembles the Moon Presence, the hidden final boss of the game and a being who seems to underpin much of Bloodborne’s world. The prospect of an alternative version is tantalising, and there are obvious visual similarities in its huge tentacles – but the animations and other visual characteristics are more like the One Reborn and, on occasion, the abandoned great one Ebrietas. It is a mishmash because, of course, it is a prototype. Who knows what this Frankenstein’s monster may one day have looked like had it not, too, been abandoned.
The Nightmare Moon Presence’s hitboxes can be a little odd, and it’ll sometimes one-shot you out of nowhere, but this is still a surprisingly complete battle. The rhythms of a Bloodborne boss fight are there, in its wave of attacks (it even seems to get angrier as its health lowers) and the gaps you have to get in and do some damage. Unfortunately it sometimes struggles to leave the little ramp at the arena’s start, and doesn’t have great tools for defending its back end. In time-honoured Souls fashion, I eventually exploited both of these and slaughtered it – a mercy, I thought.
It is so appropriate that Bloodborne, a game that revolves around the world hidden to its protagonists, should eventually reveal it holds such secrets. One of the great in-game epiphanies is that ‘the sky and the cosmos are one’, which in English means that the gods are not up there in space, but right here next to us. In fact some of them are beneath us, in the chalice dungeons, which are the remnants of age-old civilisations dedicated, in their own ways, to serving the Great Ones.
I hunted a boss that appears in-game, but in a new form. Zullie’s glyph turns Mergo’s Wet Nurse from a one-on-one fight into a triple threat battle, and a wild fight it is. This boss is a kind of rush-down fighter anyway, that catches players in quick flurries that take huge chunks of health, and it works surprisingly well as a concept fight – this feels like one that was intended for the ‘normal’ chalice dungeons but, perhaps for lore reasons, was removed. Another glimpse behind the curtain.
The final boss Zullie has shared thus far is a cat-like beast in a reasonably complete state – it even features (untextured) fur effects. This wasn’t a bad fight but I understood why it was removed – the beasts in Bloodborne can be very different but mostly share a few characteristics, and almost all are canine in aspect. This is more like a big cat, and in that may have had some influence on final designs (the way Blood-Starved Beast paws at you feels catlike, and I think Paarl has feline aspects) but ultimately was too divergent from the core idea of what a beast should be.
The high quality of these abandoned designs will surprise no fan of Fromsoft. But they do bring home how focused the final game’s vision was. I can admire the Nightmare Moon Presence without wishing it was in the game – because there’s something not quite right there. It’s nearly finished, but it’s not right and may never have been.
There is something illicit here. What originally kept me away from the cut content was this idea I’d somehow be disrespecting Hidetaka Miyazaki’s extraordinary achievement. And there’s no getting away from that. The payoff is you get a different sense of the final game’s form, to see parts of the whole that were ultimately rejected, to lift them in your hands, feel their weight, and wonder where they might have once slotted in.
Here’s an interesting detail. The Great One Beast and the triple-threat of Mergo’s Wet Nurse are distinct chalice glyphs, but they both exist in the same void. The two giant buildings, each with their own cargo, float in the grey void – and you can look over from one to the other. Does this mean they were once intended as part of a sequence, or perhaps the mooted ‘boss rush’ chalices? It doesn’t seem there is a connection here but, then, why are they connected at all?
I visited another place, which has been affectionately named the Murder Room. This is a giant rectangular room that stretches into the distance, and is absolutely packed with monsters. From the second you spawn, they’re out to get you, and the sheer quantity and haphazard placement of the creatures makes it clear this is some kind of test room – never intended, in any form, for players.
I must’ve died a dozen times in here, mainly to the three giants which you spawn on top of. They’re pretty nasty, and the dog doesn’t help, nevermind the witches, banshees and dregs that litter the ground. It’s amazing that the game can actually handle this much action on-screen, even though it does eventually suffer some slowdown. Survive more than a minute or two and you might start making your way to the room’s end, whereupon an enormous monster – the Blood-Letting Beast, a chalice dungeon boss – spawns out of nowhere and tries to ruin your day. Nowhere else in Bloodborne is there such an accumulation of enemies, such a straight-up skills challenge.
So what was the murder room? Somewhere to test combat mechanics? It doesn’t feel that way – you’d have something less chaotic, more like the game’s regular encounters. Somewhere to test how enemies work in groups? Possible. A test-bed that spawns all the enemies in one given chalice? This would make sense, especially with the giant beast that turns up near the end. But ultimately there is no answer – it’s just there.
Even odder is a prop room, filled with items that you’d see in the chalices, that comes across as some eldritch branch of IKEA. Here are the guillotines, here the chests, and here are all of the statues you’ll see laid out in order. Most items here can’t be interacted with. As I gradually moved through, examining items that I’d seen before in a new kind of detail, I’d catch glimpses of other players – the white outlines of their ghosts flitting by, my fellow explorers.
Seeing things like this gives you the same feeling as looking at a great writer’s manuscripts, any initial concern over violating the artist’s intention soon giving way to the fascination of how great works are so painstakingly constructed. Huge creatures that were once part of Bloodborne but were cast aside, for reasons unknown, pace these unknown planes. The murder room has rested in the void for years, unknown and untouched, but is now excavated by a ruthless class of hunter. A room stuffed with props, that only ever had background reasons for existing, is now a stopping-off point for those who can’t stop searching.
It is simply remarkable that, however it’s happening, Bloodborne continues to throw up surprises. There’s still so much that even its most dedicated fans don’t know and, in this case, things that maybe we shouldn’t know. But that will never stop the tomb prospectors; the search must, and will, go on. And for all the focus on what was lost along the way, don’t forget what these new findings show. Bloodborne is one of the best games ever made, and what didn’t make the cut is a reminder that this was no foregone conclusion.