This is a sad post. Sort-of.
As much as I love vidoegames, it’s comparatively rare for me that a game has the same emotional impact as cinema or literature. There are some exceptions, Spec Ops: The Line, was bizarrely tight in it’s descent into madness, and Thomas Was Alone, made me feel for simple shapes, but in general it’s hard for a game to nail the emotional side when there is so much else to do and focus on.
The Souls games always were head of the class when it came to interjecting intricate easy-to-miss stories, but it’s Bloodborne that actually makes you care about them. However, there is one story that has stayed with me longer than the others, even though I finished the game nearly a three months ago: The story of Father Gascoigne.
There are about a million little bits than I can’t cover here from this single story or it would explode in size (the game is ridiculously detailed). But to give a quick overview: Early in the game you meet a little girl hiding in her home, she’s terrified and you offer to help her find her mother and father, which you eventually do. However, you find her father has lost his mind, her mother is dead (unclear if he was the cause, or this was the catalyst for his madness), and you’re forced to kill Gascoigne, her father. Without given away too much, from here, every action you take to rectify the decision continues a spiral of death and degradation.
The beautiful part is that all of this is missable. In fact it’s designed to be missed, but if you look hard enough, you can see the destruction and personal toll that this event has taken on a single family. It’s comparable to The Shinning, in that you watch a family not only tear apart, but also abandon and turn on the most delicate things that they should innately want to protect. There is something truly terrifying about that, and that is why Bloodborne is a masterpiece in storytelling.
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.
An old house is sold, and my articles are packaged and shipped to me from Minnesota out to Colorado. Boxes wallpaper most of my basement and my garage. Even a short lifetime of accumulation can easily overwhelm any storage space. I start with the kitchen supplies and linens, but soon have made my way to the boxes filled with video games. There are half a dozen of them, a few with incredibly rare Saturn and Neo Geo Pocket titles, while most is shovel ware for the PS2 and Dreamcast that I never got around to playing. The first box I open has perhaps the most pleasant surprises:
It’s mostly portable games (which has always been my favorite way to play games). The PSP might be my favorite system of all time (so what if it’s all rereleases of Playstation games? They’re still the definitive versions), and the first three games I find are some of the fondest memories I have with any system:
Most of the games that I find I have played at one time or another. However there are a few that I meant to get to which I was never able:
The last two are both unique handheld Ogre Battle battle games. The first is Tactic Ogre for the GBA, a game that I did play when I was 14, but the memories of which are so intertwined with Final Fantasy Tactics that I can’t tell you a single thing that happened. The second is an Ogre Battle game that only released on the Neo Geo Pocket Color.
The Tactics Ogre for the GBA intrigues me, and if I can find a GBA I’ll boot it up. Given how fantastic Let Us Cling Together is, it will probably be my next Travel Log feature.
So they’ve released videos, one for each of the new characters, in GTAV (check it out at Edge: http://www.edge-online.com/news/watch-the-new-gta-v-trailers-here/) I’m not usually a huge fan but I’ve been following GTAV more than any of the previous releases, if only because it seems like that last colossus swan-song for this generation of systems. It almost boggles my mind how much money is being spent on this game while all the indications from the industry continue to nose dive. I actually truly hope it succeeds if only to staunch some of the bleeding from the console industry.
Plus Michael and Franklin could be brilliant characters. Especially Franklin.
What the hell is echoshift? I’ll soon find out.
I just finished Dear Esteban. Which means I walked to the end of the level. Having never played Dear Esther, I’m guessing I missed the point (a little). Most of the lines are random for the sake of being random, which in the best and worst case sounds like a space ghost episode. But the lines related to 21st century 20-something life, are endearing, and make it worth it. Anyone who has ever tried to make small talk with the girl behind the bar will relate to these rants. It’s something we all learn the hard way with bartenders- don’t bother.
I have heard of JPod before. I realize it when the main character writes a bio about himself and says his favorite game is Chrono Trigger for the “Sony Playsation”. And I instantly think to myself, who the hell picks the Playstation version of Chrono Trigger? The main character is 30 in 2006, at that age there is no way your first experience with the game isn’t on the Super Ninentdo. And then I remember, I’ve heard this somewhere… this same critique of this same passage. At some point in my life I read an article pointing out the exact same ridiculous point.
He just can’t leave the poor game alone though. Later in the book when they are collecting drug money, he enters a house and a biker gang member is playing Chrono Trigger on “Sony Playsation”.
All I can think is, “No he’s not. That scenario has never existed in the history of the world.”
So this post is about a novel, that’s about videogames. But as I’ve been reading it I realize, not really.
Novels and videogames are perhaps two of my favorite things in the world. But I’ve kept them in separate universes. They felt like different parts of my psyche, and ones that I shouldn’t mingle. But I chose this book randomly. It sat alone, facing outward, on a stand at the library, lego figures and a catchy name- “JPod” on the front. I didn’t put it back when the slip cover told me it was about videogames.
Douglas Coupland must be somewhat famous. The first real line inserts him into the novel in way that would imply he is well-known. It came out around the same time as Brett Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park, so they both seemed to have grown the idea organically and independent of each other, but his insertion in the story doesn’t seem to be a metaphor. It’s like a form of name dropping, but for yourself. Still the name rings no bells with me.
All this being said, the first two and a half ramblings pages (followed by “$”s and “Ramen Noodles” printed over and over) that serve as a prelude before the book begins, are amazing. Perhaps the coolest thing I have read in years. But does two pages mean a lot? Yeah, I guess it kind of does, as it’s a bright spot that you can hold onto. The rest of the book remains decidedly uncertain for me.
I never played the first Borderlands. I’m not sure if that’s a regret or not. But unintentionally I started playing the second. My brother and I were home, he bought a new PS3 on a whim and we lost about a day and half to the thing before I had to leave. The experience was more enjoyable than I would have guessed. It was beautiful, twisted, and even if at it’s core it’s not all that complicated, it was unadulterated fun.
When I made it home I bought a copy of Borderlands 2 for myself. I started a few new games, tested out the different characters, and even though I was playing alone really liked it. But then I played it the other night, and I realized I wasn’t having that great of a time. What had changed? The most obvious thing was the lack of coop. But it wasn’t even that.
I had started playing the game all wrong. Borderlands isn’t an MMO, but I began treating it like one. I did online research trophies, I looked up where vault symbols were before even clearing areas. I tried to get everything, maximize my “efficiency” in gameplay. And when you do that with Borderlands, it starts to come apart at the seams. The enjoyment of the game comes from exploring the crazy beautiful world and the psychotic characters. If you’re completionist, it could be a big problem, because it’s a long grind.
So I shut my computer, closed the iPhone browser, stopped looking at the trophies and “badass” ranks (cool concept, stupid name), and just played the game again. If I’m waiting on my brother I will still go back and clear out areas we’ve already gone through, but it’s only a nice side distraction, not the main show.
I don’t remember a thing about the first Puzzle Quest. I remember where I played it, a coach in Prague while adjusting to jet lag. And I remember I played it a lot, but I’m not sure if I actually enjoyed it. I think it gave me headaches, but it could have been the situation I was in.
I read that Puzzle Quest takes place in the same world as the Warlords games. I don’t remember much of that either, but I think I liked it.
Regardless of how I felt about the first one, I’m leaving for ten days, can’t find my pile of DS backlog games or my PSP, and the selection at Gamestop was minimal unless I wanted just the cartridge (who tosses cases?). So Puzzle Quest 2 it is.
I take a Dramamine, get on the bus to the airport, and start up the game…