I continue to be amazed by this game. Not just from the weird
little discoveries that seemingly exist throughout the world, but also by the
ingenuity of the puzzles and set pieces. In completing the first Guardian Beast
dungeon, I’ve been amazed at how well it came together. It’s one large,
continuous, perfectly designed puzzle that is both challenging and then upon completion,
obvious. Which is really the best type of puzzle.
It’s not difficult to make an easy or an incredibly obtuse puzzle. But neither of these is satisfying, and the latter is just grating. You can tell when a puzzle is obtuse, because when you learn the solution, you’re more frustrated than anything else (the old Police Quest games are seared into my brain with those moments. Who would inspect the tires before getting in a car!). And then there are challenging puzzles, where upon learning the solution, everything clicks into place, and you kick yourself for not figuring it out sooner. That sensation of how it feels after learning the solution, is how I judge puzzles, and by that measure BOTW is fantastic.
Of course, there are some Nintendo styled limitations that
seem both arbitrary and antiquated (and maybe a little endearing). For example,
you can only mark 100 places on your map, and with the map itself, it can be
difficult to remember where you’ve been and where you haven’t. Cooking, while
fun, is a grind (although I don’t know any games that have really gotten this
right). And yet these are small complaints, and realizing how much detail went
into this game, were probably intentional and debated thoroughly.
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.
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.
The stat bonuses are completely revamped. Only just realized that. It still is probably the case that upgraded weapons outperform the “unique” ones, but now the stat bonuses from intellegence, and faith, boost specific elemental damage (ie, magic and lightining damage respectively) , and share on others (fire and dark). It’s an interesting concept, as it presents the possibility of doing something different than a intelligence stacking katana (my final weapons of choice in the first two).
The boss battles are decidedly less epic. They’re still a solid challenge, but many of the bosses lack the grand scale of the original games. The levels do a better job of providing enjoyment, so it’s hard to be mad. The regular enemy cannon fodder (which is a terrible word because they can still be deadly) seems to have shifted to groups. Survival is now a matter of crowd control, isolating members and picking them off slowly. You always had to worry about multiple enemies in the previous games, but now they aggro together, which means 6 small knights chasing after you isn’t an uncommon occurrence.
A long break, and I’m concerned with how easy I can come back to the game. Enemies don’t continually respawn, and there’s an erie quiet as you travel through an area that was once full. In a way it’s a sense of progress, and a marker for the places you’ve traversed many times before. It serves as a useful flag after a break, making reentrance much easier.
Shortly after a boss fight my first phantom invasion occurs. I last awhile, but they know what they’re doing, and when I leave an opening they have enough stamina to end me. It mentions the word “Grey” spirit, that’s something new. He does what I think is a surfs up sign over my corpse. Weirdly it makes the costly murder easier to swallow.
The covenants are similar but better this time around. I learn the “Bell Keepers” are the grey phantoms. They invade when you enter a certain territory. This existed in the Nottingham-esque forest of DS1 as well. The problem with the forest in DS1, was the area was too large, and you had to hunt them down before the action began. Here it’s a simple goal, kill the player before they march up the small tower to the boss. Clever idea, probably my favorite covenant ever because of its simplicity.
One of the inferior things this time around are the actual worlds. DS1 had clearly delimitated worlds, each one unique. Sure, it was a bitch to get around, but you always knew where you were. It’s not the case this time, the aesthetics of each world bleeds into the other, the only thing providing clarity is the menu for fast travel at the bonfire. I realize this after clearing the Bastille, as the Belfry and Sinner’s, are essentially the same thing.
There are a lot more secrets, hidden paths and treasure chests, in DS2. Where as I used to blow past player notes, I become accustomed to reading every player note I come across. I even end up leaving a few. I’m progressing relatively easily, which leads me to believe I’m about to run into a sharp difficulty spike.
Shortly after writing the last paragraph, I drain all of my humanity dying over and over on the same boss. Beginner’s luck the first time, I leave him with a sliver of life when I die. I’m so frustrated, I’m quickly destroyed the next 3 times due to a lack of patience. I’m out of humanity, so I back track. Trying to find paths I overlooked before. 2000 souls open a path to a “copse”, which seems like they’re searching for nouns. The enemies are easy but I die 10 times on a jump before I realize I can press R1 to prevent myself from rolling off the landing. There must be a thousand people who have gone though the same thing. A quick google search and there’s huge threads of people bitching about the landing.
I’ll keep this travel log spoiler free as best I can, and instead discuss the ebb and flow of a game whose earlier entries I’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount.
My biggest complaint from the first two games, is how beautiful the world was created, while the story was left undeveloped. This is especially true for the DS1, which leaves an insane amount on the table. In DS2, the opening scene is phenomenal, and I watch it several times as I let the controller charge (and because I like the mood it puts me in).
Alone and forgotten, you need to choose a character. This is usually one of the most enjoyable parts of any game for me. In DS2 you have a number of choices, all with a decent amount of experience under their belts. Except for the last, the depraved, soul level 1 (the second lowest is 10), nothing equipped. But I like he description- “Has nothing to fight with, except life-affirming flesh.” I pick the Depraved, because if you’re going to play a game known for its difficulty, you might as well do it right.
Unknowingly I skip the practice area, which when I finally go back and play it, gives me a weapon (a dagger). But for the first hour or so I’m punching and fleeing from most enemies. I also appreciate how the series will give you access to monster at the beginning that can instantly kill you. This training area is no different, and after I go down I think to myself, “Ah, I should know better!”
At the bottom level, and with a low damage dagger, I have to spam the beginning level a bit. If the last two games have taught me anything, you dump your souls into endurance so the first soul level choices are cut and paste. It is nice to see that the feel of the previous two games has translated well, and I can dance around avoiding damage pretty well. Nothing’s changed, and hours run by quicker than I can remember.
Even though most of its familiar (the gradual progression from bonfire-to-bonfire, descending platforms, alternative paths), when I wake up the next day, I’m generally excited to keep playing. I found the beginning world of dark souls disappointing, and all the backtracking grates, and while many people will cry foul with the instant traveling between bonfires, it seems like a perfect alternative to the constant sprinting between already traveled areas.
I finally figure out how to light a torch halfway through the first area, not that I’ve realized the value of it yet. It was more the fact that all the unlit pyres were starting worry me. At the boss I’m killed quickly. He’s harder than the first boss in the previous two entries, and I realize I’m underleveled. My play style is shield-and-sword, but I’ve avoided putting points in strength, because I had the urge to go for a dex build. But either I need to learn how to parry, or give up the ghost, and just accept the way I actually play.
I push if off and decide not to make a decision about the strength vs dex and just keep dumping points into endurance and vitality. The first boss goes down but it takes a couple tries, and a NPC controlled summon. You can fly through the game by summoning live players, but I always felt guilty when I did it in the first Dark Souls. I would always wind up forcing myself to play without the aid the second time around.
There’s significantly less linersity this time around. Bosses come almost immediately when entering areas, so that everytime you enter a fog you run the risk of immediate death. Thanks to fast travel, you can also slowly work your way through multiple areas. Stopping with one, and picking up where the other left off. You tackle things in bits and pieces. In many ways, the progression has more in common with Demon’s Souls than Dark Souls- skip from world to world, eventually coming back to progress in the ones where you started