Ed Note: I will be discussing a specific incident in the game with a fair amount of detail. Needless to say, the whole post is basically one long spoiler.
I have nine hours into Spiritfarer, and I have finally done the titular job. Not after dragging my feet for a few more hours, mind you, but I really wanted to see what it was like more than I wanted to just meander around and I finally, reluctantly, did what I’d been putting off for hours.
Gwen is the first passenger I took on board, and I felt an instant affinity with her. She was a caustic, jaded deer who had seen some shit, let me tell you. She constantly smoked, and it was clear that she had a wall around her carefully crafted to keep everyone out. A few hours into the game, she requested that we go to the island where she used to live with her parents. She had told a few stories that indicated her father was an abusive jerk–emotionally, if not physically. She didn’t say anything about her mother until the very end, but it was enough for me to imprint her story over my own.
She mentioned she wanted to visit her home villa (on an island!) fairly early in the game. I, of course, ignored her and went about my merry business building up my boat and tending my crops. And cooking.
Side note: Because I tend to put off the main missions for as long as I can, I don’t get the necessary resources I need when the game wants me to get them. In this game, it doesn’t matter because the game doesn’t punish me for not progressing. Which I much appreciate. Around the five hour mark, however, I was itching to see the actual spritfaring mechanism so I reluctantly acquiesced to her request.
At her villa, she was contemplative and somber. It was clear that she was running from her demons, and I ached to help her however I could. I couldn’t, though, which made my heart hurt. We went back to the boat and soon after, she informed me that she needed some space. Um, ok. Don’t know how you’re going to get space on a boat, Gwen, but you do you. Later, she’s in her house, and I try to open the door. Usually, all the doors on the boat are open, but not this time. She’s locked the door, and I go away feeling worried about her.
Mortal Shell by Cold Symmetry is one of the few soulslike games that I was cautiously hyped for when I saw the trailer for it.
I mean, look at it. It could BE a Dark Souls trailer, down to the many bosses reveal. By the way, I never watch trailers for FromSoft games because they give away so many bosses. I always wait until after I play the game to actually watch the trailers because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of bosses for me. I am on the far end of ‘don’t want to be spoiled’ when going into a FromSoft game, which isn’t easy in this day and age.
Anyway, I knew the basic premise of the game which was that you were a…zombie? A walking skeleton? Something in between? Unclear. What was clear was that you could put on different ‘shells’ of enemies you…found? Beat? Unclear. But it was a cool concept, and I was intrigued. The graphics were gorgeous and very Souls-y, and the atmosphere was properly epic and bleak.
When it came to closed beta, I was doubly intrigued. It was so popular, they opened the beta. I downloaded it from Epic and hopped in. Immediately, I was aware that I was in a soulslike. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, mind, especially one that was as high quality as this game. There was a cutscene much like the ones at the beginning of the you-know-what games, and then I was dumped in an area much like the tutorial area of Dark Souls III but with much harder enemies. The shell I had at this point was that of a knight, and my weapon was a big fuckoff sword. Were we about to get OG Dark Souls up in this bitch? Apparently so.
They do tell you what the different buttons do, but it’s a lot to take in. They’re different from the Souls buttons, and they add a wrinkle that the first time you press B (Xbox One controller), you dodge. The second time you press B, you roll. I don’t like not having a dedicated roll, but I have to admit it’s an interesting conceit. In addition, it makes you have to be much more deliberate about your movements, which has both positives and negatives. Yes, combat is deliberate in Souls games, but it feels…almost clunky in Mortal Shell–at least in the beginning.
Completing the Dark Souls plat made me feel relieved, but still wearied. I didn’t feel that much joy or accomplishment, and it was definitely muted. Yesterday (Thursday), I buckled down to plow through the rest of the plat requirements for DS III. I didn’t want to do it; I seriously thought about taking a break. But, I know myself. I know that if I stepped away, I would just obsess about it more until I did it. So. Four bosses. Four rings. I took a deep breath and took the plunge. I went after Oceiros with the help of Hawkwood, and it was no thing; he never is. Champion Gundyr, on the other hand….First of all, I’d like to note that I was playing offline because I did not want to deal with invasions–human or NPC. I can’t get a human summon for the life of me, but I have been invaded. There’s an NPC invasion in this area as well, and I simply did not want to deal with her.
I biffed it in my first attempt on Champion Gundyr, even with the Sword Master by my side. I was too hesitant and allowed Champion Gundyr to dictate the fight, and he pushed my shit in over and over again. I was already irritated, and, let’s face it, that did not help. Fighting a boss while in a heightened emotion in a FromSoft game means certain death. This time, I resolved to be more deliberately forceful, and I got all up in Champion Gundyr’s face–By the way, Champion Gundyr is so goddamn aggressive, but I managed to get him solo with not too much difficulty the first time I met him. Being a caster is helpful with certain bosses, including this one. That’s what I did this time around, and it wasn’t hard at all once I settled the fuck down.
I stealthed my way through the Black Knights though I normally kill them because I just didn’t care about anything that didn’t help my run progress. I made it to the Dark Firelink Shrine and beelined it for Lothric’s throne. Behind it was the Life Ring +3, one of the four rings I needed. I briefly chatted with the Shrine Handmaid then warped myself back to ‘my’ Firelink Shrine. I set myself up for the next part of my run–which was Lothric Castle. It’s pretty big, and it can take some time to explore the whole castle. There are dragons with black slooge that breathe fire as you try to get into the castle, so you have to go the back way, and there’s oodles of other shit you can do as well. I ignored the other stuff and went straight to the level to open the front gate. I died to the scrubs in the castle twice because I was rushing and not doing the area as I normally would. Plus, I was getting more and more worried about the last thing I had to do, but I’ll get to that later.
In my last post, I wrote about my not-plat Dark Souls run, but I forgot to mention Seath. He of the Moonlight Greatsword tail that I needed for the not-plat. I fucking hate the Crystal Cave. Earlier in NG, I went to grab the Titanite Blue Slab that is nestled there. I have never gotten it before, so I fell off that particular invisible path several times. Fortunately, I have several characters pretty far in this game so I was able to do the upgraded weapons with more than one character. That meant that I could use the Titanite Blue Slab I already had on one character (there are two in the game) for one upgrade and the one I nabbed in the Crystal Cave on a different character for the other.
Anyway, tackling Seath’s tail was a bitch. Getting there was more stressful because….I don’t know why exactly. I couldn’t remember exactly where the invisible path was, and I fell more than once. It took me five or six times just to get to Seath, and one of those fucking clams came into the arena with me. I died and was fuming as I made the trek again. One the second time I made it into the arena, I tried the strat of letting him kill his own crystal (I did it myself the first time) so he would be stunned as I ran around to his backside. I did not have Power Within activated, and I breathed Great Combustion on his tail…but missed once. I think I hit him once, but it wasn’t enough. So, I had to do it the hard way of running around him, baiting out the laser attack, and getting one or two swipes (Furysword) or GC on his tail–making sure I aimed at the tip. The thing is, though, he lashes his tail around, which meant I missed more than I hit.
I had to keep an eye on his health, obviously, as I did not want to have to do him on NG++. Not only did I not want to have to do him on NG++, I did not want to have to get to that part of the game as I only had to reach Anor Londo and Cuddles (Giant Blacksmith) to transform two boss weapons. I had Seath’s health down half just by attacking the tail, and I was getting nervous. I was wearing pretty strong curse-resist armor and had a high magic-resist shield, and I wasn’t taking much damage at all. I wonder if he’s like the Four Kings in that he does more damage the further you are away from him. Just as I decided I would probably have to let him kill me and try again, his tail came off! A few agonizing seconds before Moonlight Greatsword flashed on the screen, and then his tail…just…stayed…there. For the rest of the fight. As you can see in the pic above. Which was kinda gross, tbh, but at least I didn’t have to harvest it for the MGS as I would have in Monster Hunter World.
I have written about how meh this year has been as far as gaming goes for me. There have been dozen of games that I’ve tried and stopped after an hour or less of play. There are some that I played more than an hour and actually liked the game, but then fell off it for one reason or another. In fact, I wrote about two of those games in my last post. I toyed with naming this award The best game that I wasn’t good enough to finish (again) in homage to the category I used for the last two years (for Hollow Knight and Dead Cells, respectively), but, really, there is no need to name it anything other than The perennial FromSoft best game award. Or, The take my money, Miyazaki, award. I could drag this out for several more paragraphs, and you know I can do it, but it’s the worst-kept secret if you know anything about it–and me–so I’ll just blurt it out.
The one true game of 2019
My best game of the year–and The Game Awards agree with me–is Sekiro. It’s a FromSoft game. What a surprise!
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a brilliant game. I could end the post right here, but I won’t. I have written about the game countless times as I was playing it, and I’m currently doing a replay from the very start. Why? I mean, I do have an NG+ run in the bank (fighting Bird Daddy for the second time. One of my personal nightmares, and it only gets harder from this point on) and an NG run where I’m currently sat at the bonfire in front of the Guardian Ape. I started a new playthrough because I haven’t played it in several months, and it’s not a game you can go into rusty and expect to come out ahead. At least, I cannot as I’m firmly a scrub.
Funny side note: My niece’s husband is a big FromSoft fan, and we were talking about Sekiro at Christmas Eve dinner. We were also talking about nerd stuff along with my niece, and I said I didn’t consider myself a nerd. He looked at me weirdly and said, “Not even a Dark Souls nerd?” I laughed and said I wasn’t good enough to be a Dark Souls nerd. I think we’re using nerd in different ways. I think he and my niece mean it in the more popular nomenclature which is being a huge fan of something techie or sci-fi. I was using it ironically in that the more hardcore members of ‘the community’ disavow anyone who does not play the game in the exact same way they do. Of course, they don’t play it the same as each other, so that’s fun. I like to say that I am firmly mediocre at FromSoft games, and I stick by that. I also remain absurdly proud of myself for beating all the games without ever learning to parry.
I am experiencing FOMO right now, and I know it’s 100% on me. I’m not even talking about FOMO as in seeing how great everyone’s lives are on Facebook and wishing mine were the same. On that topic, however, I’ve been thinking how easy it is to cultivate a FOMO kind of life online. If I wanted to, I could do it in this manner. Post pictures of my trip to Malta last year. Post pics to Binghamton from a few weeks ago. Talk about how I’m going to Philly in a few months to visit my other BFF. Talk about learning sword in taiji and knowing it to the point where I’m impatient with swordplay I see in popular culture. Talk about my friends and how fortunate I am to have them. Post pictures of my cat, Shadow, especially the one I posted here in which he put himself in a timeout. I will note that he opened the drawer himself and then hopped in it. I rarely take pics of him these days, but that one was so adorable, I had to snap it. Wouldn’t you be filled with jealousy if you saw this cute face peering out at you from a drawer as you were sitting on the toilet?
I would also mention how I was eating ice cream for lunch (dairy-free, gluten-free) just because. Haagen Daz Chocolate Salted Fudge Truffle Non-Dairy, to be precise. Want to know something funny? I think the store brand dairy-free ice cream at Target is better than any of the branded ones I’ve tried. I don’t go to Target that often, however, so Haagen Dazs is good in a pinch. I can eat the same thing every day if I want (and often do), though I’m not sure others would envy that. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission to do anything, and I just bought a video game yesterday without having to negotiate it. Granted, it was a ten dollar video game (on sale), but still. All decisions are made by me and me alone. I work from home and have a flexible schedule, and all the work I do can be done anywhere as long as I have a computer and a Dvorak keyboard. I can go to bed whenever I want and get up whenever I want*, and in general, am free from normal society constraints.
The biggest way I could make people jealous is by flaunting my child-free state. I have posted many times that I am positively gleeful to be child-free. I like children in theory, and I like them in small doses, but I do not like children more than, say, two hours at a time. By children, I mean kids under six. Six to ten, maybe four hours. Ten to eighteen, a day. I’d up that incrementally until the ‘kid’ turns thirty upon which they become full adults. Is that ageist? Yes. I’ve felt that way since I was a kid, however. I’ve always liked older people, and I have a hard time relating to anyone under thirty. But. I could post pictures of me doing adult things whenever I want–and by adult, I mean going to see a movie I want to see that doesn’t have Legos in it–having a drink at three in the afternoon if I drank, etc. I know that the purpose of an online presence is make other people jealous, but I don’t see the point. And, yes, I know that’s not the actual point for many people, but for some, it absolutely is.
Ed. Note: I can’t post on my fiction blog at the moment, so I thought I’d write a bonus post for this blog instead. Shockers of all shockers, it won’t be about Sekiro, though I probably will mention it. This post will be about my return to Monster Hunter: World because of the Geralt expansion. I have many thoughts and feelings about it.
When it was announced that Geralt of Rivia was coming to Monster Hunter: World, I was stoked. I was still playing MHW on the regular, and Geralt is one of my video game baes. Playing as him in a MHW expansion? Hell to the yes!! A funny thing happened as I was waiting for the PC port, however, I started playing Sekiro. Well, even before that, I had fallen off the MHW track. Once I hit the Tempered Elder Dragons, I was out. It felt as if everything I’d learned up to that point was useless, and I didn’t have the patience nor the desire to relearn how to play the game. In addition, Tempered Elder Dragons should be multied, and while I had a fun time with multi in MHW, it all fell apart once I hit Tempered Elder Dragons. It’s really hard to multi with a random party on monsters of that high level. In addition, I specced my character to negate Elder Dragons’ ults, which doesn’t seem to matter when they’re in Tempered form. I also used my one and only augmentation for health regen, which is fine, but when an ult can one-shot you, it doesn’t really matter. The jump between Tempered Monsters and Tempered Dragons is so high, and maybe it’s because this is the first Monster Hunter I’ve played, but I wasn’t willing to put in that effort. I already had over 300 hours at that point, and I felt I got enough out of the game.
When the Geralt expansion (yes, yes, it’s The Witcher 3 expansion, but it’s Geralt! He’s the witcher! Plus, he’s faaaaaahn) came out, I was curiously reluctant to play it. Or rather, I had no desire to play it. It sat in my Steam library, calling out to me, but I kept playing Sekiro instead. It’s not even that I can’t quit Sekiro, which I can’t, but that I didn’t want to go back to MHW. I was done with the game, and even seeing my bae, Geralt, wasn’t enough to pull me back in. In addition, because I hadn’t played in a few months, I knew that I would be shit at it when I picked it up again. The controls were never comfortable, even when I was playing on a daily basis. Being away from it for a few months and only playing FromSoft games in that time meant that I would be pressing the wrong buttons all the time. I had that issue when I tried to go back and forth between the games, and since Dark Souls was the first game I played on controller, that is the button scheme that is firmly embedded in my mind. Bloodborne fucked with the formula a little by having a dedicated heal button, and Sekiro fucked with it even more by having a jump button and a dedicated heal button that was different than the one in BB. But, the main one was the same. RB for attack. In Souls games, it’s a light attack. In Sekiro, it’s the only attack button. RT is for Prosthetic Tools, and LT is for grappling hook. LB is block and deflect (same), and B is for step dodge, which is the same in BB.
Ed. Note: I’m going to Sekiro you until the end of time. Spoilers. I guess? Sure. Why not.
I started a new playthrough of Sekiro because I can’t quit this game no matter how hard I try. I really want to play Return of the Obra Dinn by Lucas Pope because I absolutely loved Papers, Please, his first game. It’s a game about being a border agent in a Eastern European country called Arstotzka, which sounds about as thrilling as watching paint dry, I know. Instead, it’s a tense, engaging, and surprisingly touching game that I gobbled up as quickly as I could. I had to decide who got in and who didn’t based on increasingly nitpicky specifications, and I had to decide if I wanted to let people in who shouldn’t be let in and accrue strikes against me. In addition, I had to deal with my home life, which was bleak. It was a fantastic game (and my name was in it! Lucas Pope asked for names for the passports, and mine got in!), and I was looking forward to the followup game. Why haven’t I played it yet? Well, Sekiro, obviously, but also because I’m afraid it won’t live up to the first game even though it’s gotten rave reviews.
Back to Sekiro. I started another playthrough even though I said I wouldn’t. I was so sure I’d be done with the game after my first run, but apparently, I wasn’t. I zipped through the first area (though not literally because I didn’t have my grappling hook yet) and saved my lord without a death. It was easy this time, but I did die during my first playthrough of this area, I’m pretty sure. Once I got my sword, I cut them all up including the leader. It’s amusing that he’s a mini-boss because he’s so easy. No one remembers him, but he’s really there to show you the basics. He only gives you Pellets (or maybe even just one) when you kill him, which is nothing. Most of the other mini-bosses give you a Prayer Bead and sometimes even a Gourd Seed. I made it to Genichiro is no-time flat, and I faced him with determination. I knew I was going to die because let’s face it, I’m just not that good without all my shit, but I was curious to see if I could at least get in a few good licks before he took me down. In addition, I had maybe a fifth of my Vitality and no heals. I wasn’t gonna waste Pellets at this point! You know what? I did ok. I got him down to about a fourth left of his first health bar. Hey, considering that I got maybe one block on him before dying the first time I met him in this part of the game, I consider that a win.
Ed. Note:I’ll be talking about the nitty-gritty details of the game and anything else on my brain. In other words, it’s all spoilers.
It’s been a little over two weeks since I beat Sekiro, and I’m still obsessed with it. Now that I’m done with the game, I can watch anything about it that I want. I’ve watched a ton of shit about it, including the launch trailer. I refuse to watch FromSoft launch trailers before I play the game because they spoil so much. So many bosses and different areas of the game. Most of it is in the first half, but there was some late-game shit in it as well. Also, they really highlighted the fight with Genichiro atop the Ashina Castle, which is definitely a set piece in the game. I’m including the video below, and it really shows off how epic the fight is. Of course it looks better in the trailer than in the actual game, but not by much. I also have to laugh because at the end of the trailer, they show Wolf decapitating the Guardian Ape and leaving it with the Wolf being triumphant. What a massive troll! Well played, FromSoft. Well played.
As I said in my last post, I’m on NG+ just past Genichiro. Yes, I said I was going to put the controller down for good once I finished the game, but I had to see what NG+ was like, didn’t I? Then, I had to see how I’d fare against Madame Butterfly. Then, I was so close to Genichiro, I had to give him a go. That’s the excuse I gave myself, but the truth is, FromSoft games just suck me in no matter how much they piss me off or how shitty they make me feel about myself. It’s weird to look back to the first FromSoft game I played, Dark Souls, and how I had vowed I was done with it once I beat it. I’ve tried to figure out why I came back when I was Done with a capital D. I mean, I know the reason I went back was because the sequel came out, and I wanted to brush up by playing the original again before I attempted the sequel. In addition, since I would be playing it on PC, I decided to wait until Scholar of the First Sin came out rather than buy the original game. Ok, the real reason is because I’m cheap and I don’t like paying full price for a game. I will say that Sekiro is one of the few games I’ve paid full price for–and I pre-ordered it. I pretty much will play any Miyazaki game, even though I think they’re starting to be above my pay grade. I’ll expand more on that in a bit.
One thing about doing NG+ or another playthrough of the same game is that if I missed something on my first playthrough, I’m going to miss it again on subsequent playthroughs. I’m pretty thorough on my first playthrough, and I tend to go down the same beaten path every time after. I remember recently playing SotFS for the seventh or eighth time (or more), and I was in the Brightstone Cove Tseldora watching Pate and Creighton fight. Oh, spoilers for DSII, I guess. I think I chose to help Creighton that time (I alternate between them), and after we were done, I looked around the room and noticed a hallway I had never seen before. I was gobsmacked. I also saw another room in this area I hadn’t seen before while watching a YouTuber play this area. How cool is that? New rooms after I’d played the game so many times. I’m down with that. Or when I’m watching a YouTuber and they tackle a boss in a completely different way than I had. Or an area. I can always learn something new about the games, no matter how many times I play them.
I’ve been promising a breakdown of the top 5 bosses, e.g. the top hardest bosses in the game for me for quite some time, and I decided to write that post today. Am I going to write them in the order of least hard to hardest or in order of when I met them? I don’t know. I’m making it up as I go along. What I do know is that I’m going to meander first and talk about bosses in general because that’s my way. Why use ten words when a hundred will do?
Let’s talk bosses. There are nearly fifty bosses + mini-bosses in this game. I faced thirteen or fourteen actual bosses and over thirty mini ones, several of whom were replicates. My most hated boss in the game is Headless. He wasn’t the hardest, but he was easily the most annoying and felt the cheapest. Having five of them was irritating as fuck. Yes, I know they’re optional, and, yes, I know they give you the Spiritfalls (one each), and, yes, that means they tie in neatly with the lore, but fuck them. Fuck their Terror bullshit. Fuck their slow you down so you’re walking in molasses bullshit. Fuck their teleporting behind you and pulling out your innards through your rectum bullshit. Just fuck them, fuck them, fuck them.
Fuck also the Shimichen Warriors, all three of them. It’s the Terror bullshit, really. I can’t tell you how much I fucking hate the Terror status and the way it can instantly kill you if your meter reaches max. I know it’s similar to Curse in the other games, but it’s way more prevalent in this game. I will say having the Phoenix’s Lilac Umbrella that deflects apparitions has made the Terror bullshit so much easier. I’ll get to that in a second.
Honestly, I would have preferred 10% less content if that meant cutting out all the duplicate bosses. I’ve said before that I feel like FromSoft sometimes gets tripped up on having to live up to their own hype, and this is one of those times. There will always be players who whine about how there isn’t enough content, but does anyone really want multiples of the same bosses? I’m sure there are probably some, but I am pretty comfortable in saying they’re the minority.
Ok. On with the list.
5. Madame Butterfly. Yes, yes, she’s Lady Butterfly, but she’s always Madame Butterfly in my head. Man, I still have all the feels about her. One of the Let’s Plays I’m watching faced her much later and had five Healing Gourds. FIVE. I had one and then two. I mean….Anyway. I faced her in NG+. I was curious to see if I could beat her the normal way rather than spamming one move (Nightjar Slash). The answer is yes, and no. I fought her the normal way for most of the fight, but then just got tired of it before the first Deathblow icon. I Nightjar Slashed into the second phase, which I find slightly easier except for how much damage her goddamn butterflies do. When I use her shuriken, I don’t do nearly as much damage. I rarely use them because they cost two Spirit Emblems as opposed to one for the other shurikens.
Madame Butterfly is still a handful in NG+, but nowhere near as difficult as she was the first time around. I died to her once in the second phase because I got greedy and tried to heal at an inopportune time. She hit me with the butterflies and took all my health. I had maybe a fourth of her health bar left, and I called her many nasty names as I died. I got her the second time, but it was still a hard fight. I cursed her soundly as I fought her, and I cursed her even more as I killed her. I did use one of the Bundled Jizo Statues to rez a second time in the second phase because they’re handed out much more frequently than in NG and in place of important items, such as where I found Prosthetic Tools or Prayer Beads in the NG, for example. It’s funny because using the Bundled Jizo Statue gives me a steaming effect, and I have no idea why. (Ed. Note: I learned it’s not the statue–it’s the Umbrella Prosthetic Tool. It smokes when you use it to deflect projectiles, and it doesn’t stop until you switch Prosthetic Tools or die.)
The first time around, I fought her for hours before I even caught a glimpse of her second phase. I am slow, and my reactions aren’t great, so facing a fast enemy like her tested all of my skills, especially so early in the game. I honestly wondered if I could ever get past her, and I was contemplating putting down the game. I looked to the forums in desperation, which was how I found the one magical tip that got me past her. And, yes, I did use the Nightjar Slash liberally in NG+, but I also did other things, too. I would say for where she is in the game, Lady Butterfly might be two or three in terms of difficulty, but overall, I’m placing her fifth.