When Hidetaka Miyazaki was a child, he was a keen reader, though not a talented one. Often he’d reach passages of text he couldn’t understand, and so would allow his imagination to fill in the blanks, using the accompanying illustrations. In this way, he felt he was co-writing the fiction alongside its original author. The thrill of this process never left him – and it is very much there in his arcane and fascinating video games, the latest of which, Bloodborne, has just been released to wild acclaim.
After some cajoling, Miyazaki reveals that he grew up “tremendously poor” in the city of Shizuoka, 100 miles south-west of Tokyo. His office-worker parents couldn’t afford books or manga, so he had to borrow whatever he could find in the library. That’s why he ended up with works beyond his reading capabilities. “I found so much joy in those stories,” he says, seated in his Tokyo studio, having granted the Guardian a rare interview. “It was a rich reading experience, even if I wasn’t always reading.”
Barely known outside of the gaming world, Miyazaki’s studio – called From Software – is already responsible for two of the most revered games of the last 20 years: the dark fantasy adventure Demon’s Souls and its spiritual sequel, Dark Souls. These eccentric and demanding games take the basics of Dungeons and Dragons gameplay – combat, monsters, exploration – and place them in terrifying, intricate worlds that work like a series of fiendish clockwork traps, complete with spike pits, poison mists and falling masonry. While gingerly exploring, players must master a uniquely complex combat system to battle a menagerie of Lovecraftian beasts.
Many games require a button-bashing, hit-and-hope approach to fighting, but Miyazaki’s take a more lifelike approach: you must meticulously time your sidesteps and parries, and wait for an opening through which to slide an eager pike. And unlike most adventure games, which are overloaded with backstory and cinematic narratives, it’s never entirely clear what you’re fighting for. Miyazaki’s games may be rich in lore, but nothing is made explicit. Your character is always a nameless warrior lost in an inscrutable, archaic realm; the friendly characters you encounter speak in riddles or grunts; everything is arcane, much is hidden.