In Shadow of the Colossus, the horse that helps you cover the vast distances of the world feels like a bus. In years late in playing Red Dead Redemption. But it’s obvious the horse physics haven’t evolved in the last ten years. Movement controls in the game aren’t terrific to begin with, but the horse is out of his gourd.
I’ve wanted to compare these two games for a long time, and with Bloodborne coming out, it seems like the perfect opportunity to look back on it’s heritage.
When I played Dark Souls for the first time, I couldn’t stop comparing it to Demon’s Souls (the apostrophe in “Demon’s” is so annoying when typing on your phone). This didn’t prevent me from enjoying Dark Souls, as it truly is a remarkable game. But I wanted to write this, and may continue to do so in greater depth in the future, because I often hear people talk about how transformative Dark Souls was. Edge Magazine (the reigning king of video game magazines, if there is one), rated Dark Souls the greatest game of the previous generation. This doesn’t surprise me, however throughout their article, it’s as if it’s immediate predecessor Demon’s Souls had been completely forgotten. Which is a shame, because regardless of Dark Souls, I would consider Demon’s Souls (and it’s stupid apostrophe) one of the greatest games of the previous generation.
Dark Souls is an amazing experience, an improvement in most ways on the original, but it was still only a natural incremental improvement. It was Demon’s Souls that revitalized my faith in gaming. At the time I first played it, it was the best game I had played in nearly a decade. In true genius form, From Software had given me what I was looking for, before I even knew what I wanted.
Despite the overall improvement in Dark Souls, there were several things that have never reached the same heights. The difficulty curve had a finer balance to it in Demon’s Souls, and Dark Souls implements what is perhaps the biggest detriment in the later entries: the ability to call in outside players. Multiplayer could be done amazingly. Instead, a fight against Smoug goes from world class challenge to laughably easy. Like any good cheat though, this is limited by a player’s willingness to abuse the system.
What’s perhaps even more glaring is the fact that Dark Souls has ignored some of the more obvious improvements that could have been made. There were only a few cinematic moments in Demon’s Souls, but they add a lot of flavor (think Scraps pushing you into a pit). At first, each Dark Souls game appears to recognize this, as they both pull you into their worlds’ through their opening scenes. Unfortunately, this is about the last until the end of the game. You never want to replace action with cinema, but there are times when it can push forward the story.
The other missed opportunity has been the open world. That was the most glaring thing missing from Demon’s Souls. Yet the way Dark Souls handles the open world makes it feel like long winding paths, rather than a single connected ecosystem. Traveling between points is a chore, a fact that was recognized in Dark Souls 2 with the fast travel. But this is only part of the problem. Until it feels like a complete world, instead of grafted on individual levels, the design will be hardly improve upon the hub system from Demon’s Souls.
In reality though, these are mostly lateral complaints. Not degradation, but simply a missed opportunities for improvement. There is however one way in which Demon’s Souls clearly surpasses its successor: the story, and the characters that live in it. There’s little than can be said without spoilers, but both make you piece the world together through isolated dialogue, but it was only in demon’s souls that the lore carries weight. Both endings are anti-climatic, but Demon’s Souls is intentionally so and beautiful for it. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in the lore of Dark Souls. It simply becomes an after thought, a little flavor text to flesh out the experience. I beat it twice, and I can’t even tell you how it ended. Demon’s Souls on the other hand was subtler and darker in its story. Each character a tragic figure, and you’re often asked to destroy those that are hardly different than yourself.
In terms of game-time, it’s probably a wash which one I actually played more. There are dramatic improvements in Dark Souls: the graphics are vastly better, it did away with a frustrating light/dark alignment system, and implemented a streamlined covenant attribute. The gameplay itself, which was the most transformative thing about Demon’s Souls, is somehow made tighter. And the level design… Demon’s Souls had two perfectly designed levels, two well designed levels, and one horribly designed level. In Dark Souls, all level design is a high note. It’s overall an improved experience, and as a result to the easier game to recommend.
Dark Souls is without a doubt an amazing experience. It might actually be the best of the previous generation (The Last of Us being a strong counter-argument). But to not recognize where it came from, and to fail to acknowledge that Demon’s Souls provided the most reinvigorated gaming experience of the past ten years, is to do a tremendous disservice to the apex that came after it.
The problem with Boredom
There is a tend in mobile game towards simplicity. There needs to be, as its made for picking up and playing in short bursts. It seems that games have gotten better at nailing this length aspect lately. But what they haven’t improved upon is the actual enjoyment. My tolerance for what constitutes a dull game is much higher on a mobile platform, but even still, so many lack the basic mechanics for enjoyment.
For every Punch Quest and Ridiculous Fishing, there’s dull affairs like Joe Danger Touch and Peggle. Technically proficient, good content depth, but a fucking bore to play. For a couple bucks you don’t ask for depth, you’re just asking for fun.
Growing up I always considered myself a completionist. I saw things through, and took each point to it’s natural conclusion. I’m not sure if I was proud of this, but I definitely considered it one of my defining traits. Now, after years of playing video games, I have to admit that at best I’m a “finisher”… which is a far cry from a completionist.
The differentiation became clear in my inability to grind for trophies. No matter how much I tell myself beforehand, rarely do I have that platinum trophy to show for it. Sometimes I will come amazingly close with games I love, like Dark Souls, only to let it drop for a few weeks and then be too far out to ever go back. The current game to hold this is The Last of Us. I continue to plug away at it, but I give only 10:1 odds I ever take it all the way.
Some I never bother with. Metro Last Light had me convinced for a day I was going to go back and play it, but at the end it failed to address that final question: “why bother”? It has nothing to do with the number of endings either. I’ve been lying to myself since 5th grade that I was going to see all of the endings for Chrono Trigger (spare me). For me, the only thing that truly offers longevity is the gameplay. Which is difficult because most games have their gameplay designed around a specific difficulty level, it’s rare that changing this allows the game to main it’s balance. This is the reason Demon’s Souls (and to a slightly lesser extend Dark Souls) are such great games, and why FPS shooters shed fun for the slog as you move up the difficulty ladder. Or, perhaps the problem is worrying about trophies at all. Dragon Warrior 4 (this was back when it was still “Warrior” instead of “Quest”) rocked my world in second grade and I never had to play it again.
Love it or hate it, Tokyo Jungle has a lot of what modern counsels need to do. It’s execution as a game is lacking, but the elements are there. It’s short, downloadable, fulfilling, and it’s cheap. That’s basically what people want. Content is only valuable if it’s enjoyable. I can’t imagine anyone really enjoys collecting all the cars in LA Noire or doing all the side-quests in Red Dead Redemption. But you will if you want that trophy.
Here you’ll play until you feel you’re done. When you’ve seen everything you need, you can walk away without feeling bad about it. It mixes brevity with an open ended world, and people will extend that to whatever amount is right for them.
It turns out JPod is about as pointless and unbelievable as could be conceived, and maybe that’s the underlying statement. The characters lose themselves in fantasy, while their lives are beyond fantasy. The irony of wanting to replace yourself with something that is less bizarre. But that’s a lot of pages to get a simple ironic message across. The only real sad thing is that nothing comes close to the promise of the first two pages.
One thing that did amuse me was impossible to plan, and can only come from reading something years after it was written. They mention constantly the golden age of the 90’s, and they’re right, it was a golden age for tech. But the videogame industry of 2006 compared with 2012 must seem like a forgotten golden age itself. Most videogame companies haven’t even come close to their new worth in 2006 (check out Ubi-Soft’s or Nintendo’s stock history). It’s easy to do nothing on the job when times are good, you’re rising with the tide, and it provides the temporary environment for the characters unrelatable nihilistic attitudes.
Do authors intentionally make their characters unrelateable? It’s a hard thing to pull off, and something people like to try since Seinfeld. But that was a stroke of genius, or a fluke. I can’t understand why would anyone would want to. How does that motivate you?
In the end the book left me hating the concept of a videogame culture. Not games themselves, just the culture, or at least the one that’s portrayed in the book. It turns out there’s good reason to avoid mixing passions for literature and games.
He’s also ruined the name Kaitlin for me. I never minded it before, but now seeing it in writing makes cringe.
I rarely see DLC that interests me. Yeah, sometimes it helps the game providing more weapons, outfits, characters, and scenarios, but rarely does it seem like anything but a time extender. The new Assassin’s Creed 3 DLC however seems cooler than the actual game. The game itself has hardly registered while it constantly floats across the news sites. But an alternative history DLC is an awesome idea.
A tyrant king George Washington is an excellent idea, and the whole concept of famous individuals succumbing to the desires of man offers amazing possibilities. Radically alternative history (vs. small strategic alternations, like being able to command Napoleon to victory at Waterloo) offers the chance to explore Faustian Tragedy in a way that literature and movies have been able to. That’s not to say this is the depth that The Tyranny of King George will have, however the mere possibility for the future makes it intriguing.
Typically I don’t follow new release schedules so close. My usual modus operandi is to pick up a bunch of random games I know little or nothing about. Typically, they’re disappointments, but occasionally punctuated with the rare thrill of validation (Nocturne, Shiren, No More Heroes, all spring to mind).
So a new game is going to come out soon and I’m actually anticipating buying it immediately. The last time that happened was Dark Souls. What is it? Assassin’s Creed 3? Resident Evil 6? Harley Masternak’s Hollywood Workout? No, no, not those sure to be hits. I really want to play Tokyo Jungle.
Tokyo is left to the animals. With this setting. Who wouldn’t want to play as a Pomeranian leaving the safety of it’s apartment to get eaten by a hyena in about 5 seconds? I’m always interested in generational or DNA based games (which wikipedia calls Life Simulation Games, a term I hate because it makes me think of the Sims). Shit, I even played Seventh Cross: Evolution on the Dreamcast. Not long, but I played it.
I’ve loved all my Playstations. In each generation I have fond memories- Final Fantasy Tactics, Shin Megami Nocturne, Demon’s Souls. But even for me the idea of a Smash Bros style brawler is ridiculous. So if that’s the case, just embrace it. Instead of playing as gimmies like Kratos, put a bunch of failed icons in there. Blasto, Bubsy (the 3-D one), whoever the samurai was from Battle Arena Toshinden, and the Infamous guy. Oh wait, Infamous is in the real one? Wow…
A year ago I bought Shiren the Wanderer for the DS from the cart in Best Buy where all the discount carts are corralled. I’ve realized something while playing it. My iPhone can blow me.
I’ve been hearing about how handhelds are dying, but this simple DS game is leagues more enjoyable than the recent iOS games I’ve played. Even 100 Rogues, which is similar to Shiren, and saw me log plenty of time, doesn’t quite hold up to the same degree.
Momentum can make people predict incredible things. Free-To-Play was supposed to be the business model of the future, then with one bad quarterly earnings report everyone says that Zynga is dead. The truth is obviously in the middle.
A day with an enjoyable DS game and I’ve found myself again using my phone as a phone.