Tag Archives: demon’s souls

On Nioh: Nobody Ever Make RPGs About Feudal Japan

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I didn’t get a PlayStation 4 until after the original alpha demo for Team Ninja’s Nioh had expired, and also couldn’t get in on the beta demo in time, so this “Last Chance Trial” was the first time I got to check the game out. Aside from the quality of the game itself, I just need to say I’m glad somebody based a deep role playing game on feudal Japan. Continue reading

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My Dark Souls III Battle Plan

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Everybody who isn’t already playing the Japanese version of Dark Souls III is probably thinking about what class they’re gonna roll this time around. Well, that’s not totally the right question to ask when talking about strategy in Dark Souls, but the point is anybody who’s experienced with these games has got to be formulating their game plan at this point. I’ve been slowly diversifying ever since starting Demon’s Souls and I think Dark Souls III might be an opportunity for me to really try something different. Continue reading

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What I Miss From Demon’s Souls

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In the middle of a new game plus run through Demon’s Souls in these last few days before Dark Souls III drops, I think I’m gonna lay down why Demon’s Souls is my personal favorite Souls game. The first Dark Souls might objectively be the best one in terms of level design or UI or combat mechanics, but there are some things I personally prefer about how Demon’s Souls was put together. I should probably preface all this by saying I still haven’t played Bloodborne, and don’t know when I’ll acquire a PS4 on which to play it. Continue reading

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Weapon Mastery In Demon’s Souls

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A lot of people probably decided to roll through one of the previous Souls games to get ready for Dark Souls III. My choice was Demon’s Souls, and not only did I gain a new appreciation for the game, I also ended up learning a lot more about it and probably Souls games in general. Continue reading

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Back To Console Gaming

Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U just became the first physical console game I bought in… a year maybe? I don’t even know honestly. Playing it and starting a new Demon’s Souls character over the weekend, I thought my return to consoles for a while would be this big contrast against what I’ve been doing on PC for so long but now I’m not so sure. The convergence of PC and console functionality has been prevalent for years now and I guess I can finally say it’s a real thing in my experience. Continue reading

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What Skyrim Is Actually Good At

I think I’m done with Skyrim.

I mean “done” as in I’ve played all the parts of the game I care about. I’ve spent a total of $80 on Skyrim and its extra stuff over the last four years and even though playing 100 percent of it was never the goal, after 170 hours I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Same thing happened with Fallout 3 (in which I intend to start a new character before Fallout 4 drops) and New Vegas. Anyway, I want to do this post to talk about what I think Skyrim’s and Bethesda’s real strong points are compared to other RPGs and other RPG developers, maybe even why Bethesda’s games have been some of the most commercially successful RPGs of all time.

I’ve actually been thinking about this ever since Skyrim came out in 2011. If you think back, 2011 was kind of a big year for RPGs. At the very least you had three notable ones coming out: Skyrim, From Software’s first Dark Souls game, and CDProjekt RED’s The Witcher 2. Coincidentally the developers of all three of those games are releasing new games this year. More importantly, ever since the release of The Witcher 3 and the unveiling of Fallout 4, some people are wondering if the latter can match up to the supposedly new standard the former has set for open-world RPGs. I think Bethesda and CDProjekt RED make different kinds of games, but not completely different, and each is better than the other in different areas. From Software has its own advantages that when you think about it are almost unique to it in the RPG space. Continue reading

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Why Does Everyone Like A Game That’s Not For Everyone?

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Inevitably there was going to be a bit of push-back to what seems to be near universal critical acclaim of Bloodborne following up that of the Souls games. A Forbes article and a response article from USGamer frame up the issue neatly: these games are not for everyone, and that’s fine, but then why does such a plurality of game critics absolutely love it?

I think the reason is because in the retail space these days, there has been somewhat of a dearth of games that aren’t trying to be for everyone. It has kind of skewed reviews and how people look at reviews a little bit. Continue reading

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Dark Souls For New Players

Pretty much all my free time over the last couple weeks has gone to Dark Souls II but I didn’t want to just write about how that game is because pretty much everyone else already is. An interesting subject that’s come up though is its level of accessibility to new players, even compared to its predecessors.

Apparently GameSpot has been doing something on the order of second opinion reviews of games, and theirs for Dark Souls II came from a newcomer to the franchise who scolded the game, essentially criticizing it as too obtuse and tedious. I feel like a lot of this reviewer’s complaints came from expecting the wrong things of Dark Souls II, but I might be able to understand some of them.

Anybody who knows about Demon’s Souls and the Dark Souls games understands or should understand their difficulty and punitive nature by now. I feel like those things get overstated though, and they aren’t even the main reason I enjoy these games. The real reason is the deft touch with which they convey information to players and how they allow players to learn, which is a stark contrast from modern action games.

Where most modern big-budget games try to make sure you never get frustrated by always pointing out where to go and what button to press, the Souls games give you the freedom and tools to figure that out for yourself. I think it brings back a sense of mystery I haven’t seen in console games in a long time. The review accuses Dark Souls II of not properly teaching how its stats work, not offering a meaningful storyline, and disagrees with its choice of encouraging players to repeat challenges many times before winning.

Ironically I think the Souls games have some of the best tutorials in modern games. Since I’m coming into Dark Souls II with more experience than GameSpot’s secondary reviewer for the game, I should instead recall my first experience with Demon’s Souls. I was able to figure out the basic controls in Demon’s Souls in about 20 seconds without any drawn-out prompts or cut scenes. I enjoyed how the tutorial area is pretty much a miniature version of a normal level, with the tutorial messages on the ground teaching you to read online messages throughout the real game. Dark Souls did this even better, with secrets to be found in its first area.

I hear a lot of people get really far in the games however before becoming aware of the lock-on system. I actually don’t remember if any of the three tutorials tells you about it but if they don’t, they should. It’s pretty integral to combat. One major complaint in the GameSpot article is that the author didn’t understand that you can’t just hide behind your shield when you’re not attacking. Stamina recovers more slowly when your shield is drawn and your stamina takes a hit when you block attacks. Admittedly, at no point do any of the Souls games tell you this, but I was able to figure that out the first time I blocked an attack in Demon’s Souls by simply looking at my meter.

Does completing the Souls games rely on shared knowledge? “Rely” is a strong word in my opinion. That shared knowledge of reading messages on the ground and browsing the Wiki is mostly good for figuring out strategies to get past bosses and other challenges, and maybe discovering extra secrets. Without outside help you just learn by dying more often. You can learn the basic mechanics of play by simply playing the game.

Is dying a lot to learn a game fair? I guess that depends on how you view games in this day and age. The Souls games sort of adhere to the old way of thinking where you got better at a game through trial-and-error, which is one of the GameSpot reviewer’s main complaints. I get that people don’t like fail states and don’t like repeating things a lot, but I personally don’t think it’s a problem if the basic mechanics are good enough. People die a ton of times in Mario games but keep playing because their controls and level design are so well-crafted. Some games feel fair to a point where you know immediately what you did wrong each time you fail, and thus want to try again. The Souls games in particular allow for many strategies for each challenge, accommodating many character builds, so it’s not even about rote memorization here.

The stat system in these games is another of the review’s complaints and I’m not sure it holds water. Dark Souls II hands players a lot of data, even compared to its predecessors, throwing out numbers on dozens of different stats for your character and each piece of equipment. Even of the symbols for stats are confusing, a single press of the select button reveals a description of each one.

One thing that’s probably up to personal taste though is the rate of character progression. The GameSpot review complains that you don’t feel perceptively stronger with each individual level, and it’s right. This is even truer in Dark Souls II than in the other two games because it has more stats to raise. None of these games gives you tons of rewards or stat increases upon each level like Call of Duty or even Fallout 3. In all the games each level doesn’t cost a lot of points (they’re especially cheap in Dark Souls II), and you’ll often be leveling up multiple times at once. It’s a gradual rise, and I can understand if someone used to mainstream RPGs doesn’t like it. The Souls games are not about instant gratification. I’ll also admit they don’t really tell you how important gear is.

I think the narrative is the one area where the reviewer’s complaints are most sound, particularly in the case of Dark Souls II. All three games pride themselves on storylines efficiently-conveyed with minimal dialogue, environmental cues, and item descriptions. However, Demon’s Souls and the first Dark Souls still begin with elaborate cut scenes and tutorial levels that explain the setting and the player’s situation in detail (or enough to get them going). Dark Souls II doesn’t really do this. 20 hours into the game and I still only have a vague idea of what my actual objective is. You can definitely argue the newest game is a bit too light on story.

One nitpick I would understand (that the reviewer doesn’t make) is how dialogue works in these games. It’s pretty much the old school Japanese RPG system of walking to characters and pressing A to get canned phrases, except they’re all voiced now. The thing is, the Souls games expect you to continually talk to characters to hear everything everyone has to say. Not doing this may cause you to miss out on some crucial secrets. At least a Bethesda or BioWare-style dialogue tree might make all those phrases a bit more visible.

That’s just one example though of how the Souls games expect players to take the initiative to explore. That’s what really sets them apart in my opinion. Most modern console games strive to put all pertinent information right in your face. The Souls games want you to discover that information. I like this because it doesn’t insult my intelligence like too many big-budget games do.

I understand why that style isn’t for everyone though. People learn in different ways — some are active, some passive. Many games in the past were mainly built for hands-on learners whereas many of today’s popular games are different. This is also why the Souls games aren’t mainstream. It’s probably still a miracle they sell as much as they do.

BULLETS:

  • Kero Blaster is out. It’s the new game from the guy who made Cave Story. Look it up.
  • Any tips on laptop shopping? I haven’t looked at notebooks in a solid decade.
  • Nice article on the perception of games in the general media. http://t.co/1vrL0eotn1
  • A new zine about Nintendo. http://t.co/nVEeDzsrBJ
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The Cultural Mixture of Dark Souls

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The first game I’m trying to complete on my new computer is Dark Souls before the sequel comes out in March, and the more I play through it the more I become aware of the philosophies behind why it’s been received the way it has. This goes beyond its difficulty and becomes really more about the Japan/West divide a lot of people like talking about in the games industry these days.

I’ve already done other blog posts about some of the qualities of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls — they actually ask players to use their brains and give them the room to do so, as well as being meticulously-crafted in terms of level design and gameplay systems. It’s those gameplay systems I want to talk about but also the history of From Software in relation to other RPG developers.

To put it generally, a while ago I realized From Software had made possibly the best action RPG system to date — games that do the best job so far of reconciling the elements of role playing games and action games in one package.

People like to debate the western influence in the Souls games and whether they’re superficial, but we know Demon’s Souls is supposed to be the spiritual successor to From Software’s King’s Field series and we are just short of confirmation that King’s Field was inspired by Ultima Underworld. If you haven’t read my earlier post about that game, Ultima Underworld is basically the 3D dungeon-crawler that led to games like Elder Scrolls and BioShock. Its lineage leading up to some of today’s most popular games is well-documented, but I’m starting to think From Software’s history represents an obscure Japanese tangent that’s just recently come to the surface.

The Souls games share many of the qualities of this lineage with the sense of place they try to exude. Unlike most Japanese games they try to convey almost all their narrative through environments, codex information, and fully voiced dialogue, all occurring while you’re in control of your character. They go for a very unified narrative experience that’s uncommon in Japanese RPGs but more or less the norm in western ones. The reason the Souls games have been called oldschool however is because From Software maintained that approach to world building from its original early 90’s inspiration probably without any outside influence.

On the flipside, the Souls games are RPGs with very technical action combat. You build a character and manage stats, but unlike most RPGs, combat in a Souls game is still very much about knowing an enemy’s behavior and animations. It’s a technical approach that’s much more rooted in Japanese arcade games and character action games.

Almost every console game that calls itself an “action RPG” is essentially an attempt to reconcile RPG stat-building systems with action combat. Most fail because their developers are coming from just one side. BioWare is an interesting example: Dragon Age Origins and especially the first Mass Effect are RPGs trying to feel a bit like action games. The sequels to these games have gradually shed their RPG elements for an action approach BioWare is becoming increasingly comfortable with. I actually haven’t played much of From Software’s other games (outside Lost Kingdoms, which is an action-card battle mix) so I don’t know how they managed the balance.

Like right now, in Dark Souls I’m trying to grind levels in endurance so I can get my equip load high enough to where I can move more quickly with a new halberd I just started using. Stats like endurance, poise, and burdens affecting action game elements like movement is the kind of action RPG experience I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Honestly, one of the most impressive parts about Dark Souls when I first played it was when I found out it handles poison status with a meter, skillfully bringing the chance of poison from turn-based games into a real time system. The fact that you can beat Dark Souls with a level 1 character if you know what you’re doing signifies how important its action elements are.

From a cultural perspective, the Souls games are a near-perfect reconciliation between western RPG world-building and Japanese arcade game combat.

BULLETS:

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Can Fast Travel Harm a Game?

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As open-world games continue to be popular, one increasingly present subject I see brought up is how to handle fast-travel. It’s sort of a weird issue because of how it pits convenience against… well the experience of playing the game.

I personally don’t mind a lot of the criticisms people bring up against games like Skyrim (combat, world design, bugs), at least not enough to stop playing it. Like a lot of people though, I use its fast travel system as seldom as possible. It’s pretty much as close as you can get to perfect convenience without breaking the game — the ability to instantly zip to any major place, so long as you’ve been there before.

The obvious reason for not using it is that it puts a large artificial shadow over something that’s supposed to feel like an organic world. Bethesda probably wants you to run around in the fields and paths of Skyrim and discover things within them, not spend the whole game teleporting from town to town. Some people however argue that having this sort of fast travel can lead developers to ruin a game’s quest structure.

There are a lot of instances in games like Skyrim or Fallout 3 where you might start a quest, and the destination for the next objective is almost on the other side of the entire game world. If it’s a place to which you can already fast travel and you choose to do so then it’s not really a problem. If you choose not to use fast travel too much though, then a quest that has you zipping back and forth across the whole game world can get very tiring.

This is why some people are concerned about CDProjekt Red’s decision to implement the same fast travel system in their upcoming The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Hopefully CDP is smart enough to write the game’s quests to be more localized — objectives rarely straying too far from their origin point. If you’ve read the Witcher books the open-world structure isn’t really a bad fit for the universe depending on how CDP ends up writing the quests and designing the world.

The way I handle it in open-world games is to generally only do quest objectives as I near them. If I’m given a new objective on the other side of the game, I’m just gonna wait until I happen to be around those parts to actually do it.

The other side of the coin is how Japanese RPGs have handled fast-travel for a while — essentially only giving it to players very late in the game, after they’ve explored most of the world. I think this has a lot of advantages depending on how a game is planned out.

This year’s Ni No Kuni is a textbook example. You walk from town-to-town completing quests wholly in the area surrounding each town, and eventually you get progressively cooler and more liberating modes of transportation until you eventually get fast-travel, which is usually contextualized in the story somehow. Your world expands when you finally get control of a boat, and once again when you get the ability to fly. It’s basically enhancing the atmosphere of the game through restriction.

I think Dark Souls is one of the most impressive examples of efficient travel and world design in a recent video game. You travel everywhere by foot, and there’s no teleportation (except from the tutorial area), but getting from one location to any other never takes an extremely long time because of how many shortcuts are in the game. Dark Souls’s world much smaller than Skyrim’s, but it’s really insane how intricate it is. It’s always surprising to find a secret stairway or elevator in one area that physically links it to a much earlier area of the game. That game’s predecessor, Demon’s Souls, did a good job of this too on a smaller scale. Instead of straight-up checkpoints from which you continue every area, that game has unlockable shortcuts. It’s a pedigree of level design that I think is sorely missing in many of today’s big-budget games.

The only restriction a lot of western RPGs and open-world games seem to have is places you haven’t been to yet, and the only contextualization that seems to be there is a few hours automatically passing in game time. For some this may be enough, and the choice to use or not use fast travel may also be enough for a lot of people. Ultimately though I think the issue lands with how a developer designs a game’s world based on its mechanics.

BULLETS:

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