The optimal way to get through a Soulslike is to avoid damage entirely, but that isn’t always possible – especially with the game’s high difficulty. Luckily, there are useful healing options available to every player and every build. In Dark Souls, this is the permanent Estus Flask, while Bloodborne has consumable Blood Vials.
Despite these healing items functioning quite similarly, the games have such stark differences in their combat systems that they are quite distinct from each other. Thanks to this, they are designed in ways that suit the flow of combat of their respective games.
Described as “dull, green flasks” in all three Dark Souls games, Estus Flasks are either produced by or from a Fire Keeper’s soul. This links the flasks to the bonfires scattered across the world and is a nice touch that connects all three games together. The flasks contain the heat and flames from the bonfires, which have powerful healing properties. They are quite consistent in their design; each game allows the flask to be upgraded both in potency and number of uses before having to rest at a bonfire to replenish it. All three games have different methods of upgrading the flask, but they mostly boil down to finding key items scattered across the world and returning them to the game’s home point — Firelink Shrine or Majula.
As long as the player takes care to upgrade the Estus Flask on their journey, it will remain useful and, indeed, crucial at times. This is especially true if they upgrade its number of uses, as it will allow for longer expeditions away from the safety of a bonfire. It provides quick, potent healing, which is fantastic in a heated battle. Dark Souls bosses often make slow but powerful strikes, so being able to refill a lot of health in one go is very useful. Often, the only alternative in most games is to use healing Miracles, but they take a lot of time to cast and would be very risky to use in a pinch. Dark Souls II has Lifegems, but they grant healing over time and it’s all too easy to take a hit before they can fully kick in.
Instead of a replenishing flask of fire, Bloodborne has consumable Blood Vials, vials filled with a special type of blood “used in ministration” that was the spark that set Bloodborne’s story off. Each successive use of the blood is said to be more intense and pleasurable than the last. It may seem nonsensical to utilize them as a main form of healing, but it feeds into the game’s themes of desperation and dark times. The player can initially hold 20 of these at once but must collect them in the environment or from the corpses of foes. Blood Vials can be upgraded, although this requires the use of different runes, such as Communion Runes to increase the player’s Blood Vial limit and Radiance Oath Runes to improve the amount of health they restore. The problem is that these runes are interchangeable and not permanent, so using them to improve the player’s Blood Vials precludes using runes to improve other aspects of their build. In addition, the Radiance rune is a unique item that can be missed.
This feeds into a key feature of Bloodborne’s gameplay. The game seems to dissuade the player from relying on Blood Vials for healing and instead engage more in the Regain system. Players can heal damage by hurting enemies in a short window after being hit, which encourages aggressive retaliation as an alternative to Dark Souls’ focus on blocking and distance strategies. This can be difficult to adapt to for Soulslike veterans who may be intimidated by the game’s incredibly aggressive host of enemies. Still, Blood Vials as a mechanic do serve as a useful bridge between the two franchises.
There are strong arguments for the Estus Flask being the superior healing item. Flasks are a more significant source of healing in the game, thanks to the fact that alternative forms of healing are incredibly difficult to use in the heat of battle. Comparatively, Blood Vials are less essential to survival as Bloodborne encourages the player to make use of the Regain system to heal instead of relying on items. They’re even less important mechanically, being an infinitely collectible consumable.
Additionally, while the Estus Flask can be upgraded into a fantastic healing option that becomes more powerful over time, Blood Vials remain quite static; most players would rather sacrifice the passive upgrades to Vials in exchange for Runes with more offensive buffs. As a result, Estus Flasks are a more memorable gameplay feature and feel more precious as they make much more of a difference to a player’s survival. The Flasks can really be relied upon for their healing, while relying on Blood Vials can be almost detrimental to learning how to play Bloodborne in the intended manner.
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