One of the things that irks me the most when people talk about the Soulsborne games is when someone glibly says, “Oh, there’s no story there.” I’ve heard actual games journalists say this, and it irks me every time. There is a story to each game–a pretty deep story with several NPC storylines. It’s just not handed over to you in cutscenes (though there are a few of those. The ones in the beginning are surprisingly explicit); you have to dig it up mostly on your own. Or, if you don’t have the patience for it, read up on it on the wikis.
I will say that you don’t have to understand the story in order to play the games and have a satisfactory experience. The gameplay itself stands up if you’re willing to put the time and effort into learning it. I’ve learned from ‘the community’ that the controls are shit, but I didn’t know that because it was the first time I’d ever used a controller. Any control scheme would have been foreign to me, and now, the Souls schematic is the one imprinted into my brain. I reinstalled MHW because Ian is powering through the end game, and his enthusiasm has perked my interest again. It’s hard getting back into the controls, though, because I’ve been playing Souls games in the meantime.
I was switching back and forth between Souls and MHW for a bit, and that was really hard. When I go back to Souls games, though, it’s like coming home. It’s one of my biggest gripes about Souls clones that they would copy everything about the formula EXCEPT the controls. If you’re going to be a Souls clone, then copy the control scheme. B is forever roll, and I will fight anyone on this.
Anyhoooooo. Back to the brilliance of Miyazaki, and this is specifically related to him. In each game, there are several NPC questlines. You have to do them in a specific, byzantine order in order to fulfill the quests. I’ll give you an example. Solaire is one of the most famous and beloved NPCs in the whole Souls series. The whole ‘praise the sun’ and ‘do you even praise the sun, bro?’ memes are about him, and the funniest part is that he never says the phrase at all. It’s the emote you get when you join the Warrior of Sunlight Covenant (his covenant), and you perform it by crouching slightly, then raising up as you hold your arms up in a V. If you’re summoned as a SunBro (nickname for the members of this covenant), you perform the gesture automatically as you enter your host’s world, and you’re a brilliant golden color as opposed to white.
Anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows I am a huge FromSoft fangrrl. I always return to the Souls games, and I am still finding new things in them. However, that is not to say that I think they’re perfect games and will brook no criticism of them. There are several fanbois who are exactly like that and will explain why each flaw is actually brilliance on the part of Miyazaki, but that’s not me. There are more than a few things about the games that annoy me, and a few that I downright hate. Some span all the games and some are only game specific, and I’ll note which it is during each point. They’re not in any particular order, and I will comment on my degree of hate as I talk about each one. With that said, here we go.
1. The whole second half of the original game. I recently played Dark Souls Remastered, partly with my NG++ character who had just beaten Biggie & Small. I thought about what I wanted to do, and I heaved a small sigh. Basically, there are four big bosses you have to beat after Biggie & Small before the last boss, and whenever I think about going into the four different areas, I just don’t want to do it. The first half of the game is near perfection, but the second half, hooooooooo boy. The first time I played it, the second half of the game made me hate the game in general. After I finished, I thought I was done with it and would never touch it again. Oh, how wrong I was, but it’s partly because of how much I loathed the second half of the game.
Miyazaki himself has commented on how the second half was rushed and was not nearly as good as the first half (paraphrased). He apologized for one of the areas, Lost Izalith, and a more fully realized version of it is in Dark Souls III (though not with the same name, though there is an area within the area that has the exact same name as an area in the first game, Demon Ruins). I’ve said before, but my measure of hatred for the area is such that even though I’m a completionist and will do Blighttown (the area in the first game most people agree is the worst) the normal way when I play the original game, but I skip the lava/dino butt area of Lost Izalith with nary a qualm. To me, that is the worst area of the game, well, one of them, and I don’t care if I never see it again. Indeed, I will be thrilled if I never do.
I also hate the Crystal Cave and it’s fucking invisible paths because fucking invisible paths! Need I say more? I also have a terrible sense of spatial recognition, so that doesn’t help. Plus, yes, I know, falling snow helps delineate the way, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t sharp turns between the falling flakes. I fell that way once. I hate this area because it feels hard just to be hard. Yes, Dark Souls is a difficult game. Fuck the try-hards who bleat that it’s not difficult–just challenging. It is hard for those of us who are strictly mediocre players.
Side note: Fanbois are so goddamn toxic with their macho attitude and peculiar brand of forgetfulness. I’m not completely exempting myself because I can slip into it as well, but I’m more aware of the toxicity than most (even among games journalist). There is a mentality in the Souls fandom that summoning a friend or two for a boss fight is pussying out (using the phrase deliberately), especially for the first time. I felt it myself when I saw Rory (of the RKG, nee Prepare to Try) summon Solaire and Lautrec for the Gaping Dragon fight without trying it himself. Gav said it was cheating with Krupa quickly demurring. It does feel like cheating, though, not to at least give it a shot. I also saw a streamer whose wife was trying Dark Souls II for the first time as her first Souls game summon for the boss fights, and it really sucked the enjoyment out of watching. And, yes, there was a tiny voice in the back of my head saying, “You really should try it solo the first time.”
I don’t go as far as to say you need to beat all the bosses solo, even though I do it myself (except the DLC for Bloodborne, and I will get to that later), but I do think since the bosses are the highlight of the games, for the most part, you should get the flavor of them by facing them alone at least once. I really try not to be prescriptive when it comes to playing these games because there are so many ways to play, but that’s one thing I do feel strongly about. You simply don’t get the same feeling in a boss fight with someone else there, so I do recommend trying each boss solo first.
Back to the second half of the first game. I’m not saying it’s terrible because it’s not. I think some of the bosses are solid (Nito who really needs to be a plushy and the Four Kings), but the areas themselves…yeah, not so much. It also contains the widely-agreed-on worst boss in the entire series–the Bed of Chaos. I think the concept is good, and I recently read a novel way to deal with her, but the execution is less than ideal. It is supposed to be a puzzle boss, and I don’t have a problem with that. It’s the random sweeps and crumbling of the floor (which probably isn’t random), and the totally bullshit that is jumping to the exposed branch. I can get most bosses in one or two tries, even solo, but the Bed of Chaos can still take up to ten tries, depending. Luckily, progress is saved during the fight.
2. Platforming. To piggy-back on the world’s worst boss, someone needs to have a firm talk with Miyazaki about platforming. I am of the belief that a non-platforming game should not have platforming because it’s difficult to do platforming well. You have to be precise and I’m assuming the coding is different than for, say, walking. In a game that isn’t specifically designed for platforming, it’s usually less than ideal. Every Soulsborne game has platforming, and every time, it’s bullshit. Complete bullshit. It’s hard to tell where you’re supposed to jump, and the physics are wonky at best. Whether it’s the tree to Ash Lake, the big pit in Majula, the way to the Abandoned Old Workshop, or the trees in the Ashes of Ariandel DLC, all of it sucks. I never once come out of a platforming section thinking it was a great experience, and I would be happy if I never did one again.
3. PvP. I. Hate. PvP. I hate it with the heat of a thousand suns. I do much better at it when I’m a tank than a caster because most people can roll out of the ways of magicks, but I still hate it. I was playing DS III DLC last night (I know I have a problem. Don’t @ me) on NG+ as a caster, and I got invaded. I immediately took a dive off a cliff because I did not want to deal with that and I had more than 99 embers, so I didn’t care about losing my embered form. By the way, I love being in NG+ and further because I can stay in embered form most of the time. That is 30% more health and being all fiery and glowing. Anyway, I have come to begrudgingly accept PvP because so many Souls players love it, but I don’t want any part of it. That’s why I play offline as much as possible when I’m human/embered until I fight the boss.
4. Not being able to warp. Even though the original Dark Souls is widely considered the best of the three games*, and I have a special place in my heart for it, it’s the one I play the least. Why? Because there is no warping in the first half of the game, and there’s only selected warping in the second half. Yes, I know the reason why. I completely understand the mindset of making the player know the areas in and out by the end of the game. There are no maps in the games, but they’re not needed because of how much you traverse over each area. That’s one thing I love about the games–how they become imprinted on my brain because of all the dying and the whatnot.
But. But. But. I almost quit the game because of all the slogging. Yes, I understand weighing going ahead with doubling back, but it gets tedious. I’m all about the fast travel, and I hate games that don’t have it. Again, I can understand the reason for not having it in the first half of the original game, but it definitely made me weary by the end.
5. Esoteric systems and ever-changing mechanics. I don’t mind the UI and the HUD, both of which took some time to learn. What I do have a problem with is that every game has a different system when it comes to leveling up, upgrading weapons and armor, and even turning boss souls into weapons. I know it was different in Demon’s Souls, too. I know they’re tweaking from game to game, which is a good thing, but it’s frustrating at the beginning of the new game. let’s talk upgrading a weapon. In the original game, oh, lord. I’m not sure I even know the entire path of upgrading (and this was completely byzantine in Demon’s Souls). You can upgrade a weapon up to +5 from the very beginning if you have the materials. Then, there’s the Large Ember in the Depths which allows you to upgrade to a +10 weapon. If you want a fully upgraded +15 weapon, you need the Very Large Ember in New Londo Ruins.
That’s only the simple upgrade path, by the way. There are many other embers for other kinds of weapon upgrades such as the Large Magic Ember for magic upgrades in weapons, obviously. If that weren’t bad enough, there are different upgrading materials for the different upgrade paths. Green titanite is needed for magic, divine, and fire, for example. Add to that the fact you have to modify the weapon to take it from +5 to +6 before further upgrading it, and the same at +10 again. Only specific blacksmiths can do specific upgrades, and one of them is very difficult to access (though they remedied that in Dark Souls Remastered).
That’s an extremely simplified explanation of the upgrading system, and let’s move on to Dark Souls II. Everything was streamlined for this game. There are only two blacksmiths in this game instead of four, and there is only one ember–the Dull Ember. You need that so the second blacksmith can do his thing infusions (which replace separate upgrading paths), but that’s it. The upgrades go up to +10. Honestly, it’s my favorite of the upgrading systems because it’s the simplest. I don’t think most people play these games to have to endlessly fiddle with the upgrading paths.
Dark Souls III fuses together the two systems. There is only one blacksmith in this game, Andre of Astoria, and he was the initial blacksmith in the original game as well. There are several coals to be found (the embers from the past games. Can’t be called embers because you use embers to become human. I know, I know, but that’s just the way it goes), and they are needed if you want to infuse your weapons with different elements. You can upgrade a weapon to +10. The upgrading system in this game is fine, but the one thing I don’t like is that it takes the same material to upgrade my Pyromancy Flame as it does to upgrade my weapon. By the end of the game, I’m swimming in Titanite Shards, but they are precious and few in the first several hours. In the first game, you simply needed souls to upgrade the Flame. In the second, there was a thing called a Fire Seed that you had to find throughout the game or buy from one of the Pyromancy trainers at an exorbitant price (and she only had three), and it was pretty pricey. I understand that it’s a weapon and should be comparable to upgrading anything else, but it’s still frustrating. Then again, the price of upgrading the Flame in the first game is exorbitant, so it’s a trade off, I guess.
A note: In every game there are special upgrade materials such as Twinkling Titanite for special weapons. These same weapons only go up to +5. They are exceptions to the rule. I’m not talking about that in this discussion.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I have more than five things I don’t like about the Soulsborne games, but this is getting long. I’ll write another post next week. See you then.
*The trilogy, Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne not included.
I’ve been morbidly watching the weather because we’re in a cold snap to end all cold snaps. It’s currently -15, ‘feels like’ -24, which is twice as warm as it was yesterday! It was supposed to get much warmer today, but Mother Nature apparently changed her mind. How like a woman, amirite? Ew. That felt gross, even saying it in jest. Yesterday, it went as low as ‘feels like’ -53. I kept checking because I wanted it to hit -60. Again, it was just morbid curiosity because it really doesn’t matter after a point. ‘Feels like’ -53 isn’t much different than ‘feels like’ -30. I don’t know exactly where that difference is, but it’s nowhere near where we are right now.
I’ve also been fighting off something or the other while dealing with sinus issues. I’m half-convinced it’s allergies because I mostly feel it right after I wake up and before I go to bed, and I’m fair-to-middling during the day. This morning, however, I woke up with something a bit more than usual, and I know I’m fighting something off. Which is aggravating. As I stated before, I’d rather just be sick and get over it in a few days (even though it’s never a few days. The worst part of it is a few days, then it lingers for weeks after).
I’ve put Dark Souls III on the back burner for now (uninstalled it) am an now tromping through Lordran again (Dark Souls Remastered). I forgot my current character is on NG++, and man, is she powerful. I’m wielding the Black Knight Halberd +5, and I’m enjoying it greatly. It surprises me because I’m not a polearm kind of gal, but the BKH is a fast and powerful weapon, and it’s great for crowd control. I was up to going to Anor Londo, running against the dastardly duo (Silver Knight Archers) before meeting up with the other dastardly duo (Biggie & Small). I actually made it into the church in one go, which I did the last two times as well. The key is running past the goddamn spears with confidence, ignoring the guy on the left, and attacking the guy on the right. Being powerful enough to block the spears he shoots at me is nice, and I was able to slice him to ribbons before he could kill me.
May I just say that being a Havel monster is the best? Yes, I was wearing the entire set, and, yes, it mitigates a lot of damage, but it takes a long time to reach the point where you can wear the whole set. I’m at 40 Vit, 50 End, and 50 Strength, so I’m a beast. I’m at 19 in Attunement, which gives me 5 attunement slots. That’s insane because you need 30 levels to have 5 attunement slots in Dark Souls III. Then again, magicks are much more powerful in DSIII because of the mana bar rather than the limited amount of casts in the original. For example, I have the Hidden Body spell in DSR, and I have 3 casts between bonfires. THREE. In comparison, I’m constantly casting it in DSIII, and I never run out of mana. Yes, I know it’s FP (Focus Points), but it’s mana. I have my flasks as 10/5, and I have a healthy mana bar. Plus, I wear the ring that conserves FP, so I can pyro my way throughout the areas.
In DSR, I have to save Hidden Body for special situations. Hidden Body/Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring to be a ninja. Currently, I’m wearing the Witch Set because I’m messing with the Hidden Body/Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring combo, which means I can’t wear Havel’s ring, which means I can’t wear his armor. There are only two ring slots in DS, and one of them is permanently taken by the Ring of Favor and Protection. It boosts HP, stamina, and equip load, but it breaks if you take it off. Therefore, I really only have one ring slot to play around with, which is frustrating.
I am always on the outside looking in. Even when I’m participating in a conversation, I feel outside of it–with very few rare exceptions. I’m gauging the other person(s) and calibrating my own responses. That’s not terrible in general, but taken to the extreme, it can be debilitating.
I’m a weirdo and a freak. I’ve discussed this with my taiji teacher because she is, too. The plus side to being an outsider is that it’s much easier to do things that others might consider odd because I’ve been doing that all my life. It’s always amusing to me when people get hung up on a certain band, TV show, movie, or whatever, insisting that you must like it as much as they do. Try saying you don’t like the Beatles on Twitter and see what happens. Or Breaking Bad. Or Titanic. The pushback is strong, and there are people who literally cannot fathom someone not liking __________. Well, not the last. There are plenty of people who agree with me that Titanic is shite*.
It’s the funniest when people tell me that my taste is horrible, especially in music, because I’ll cheerfully agree. It flummoxes them, and that’s when I know their intent is to put me down rather than have an actual conversation. I like to say I have no guilty pleasures, only pleasures because I don’t feel guilty about what I like (99% of the time). It’s weird because I feel guilty about almost everything else in my life, but not the pop culture I consume or not.
The downside, however, is that I just assume no one will want to hear about what I’m interested in unless there are plenty of indicators to the otherwise. When I think about dating, for example, I have a difficult time envisioning someone who will have the patience to put up with my oddities. Taiwanese American, bisexual, fat, agnostic, child-free (and do. not. want. children or steps), not interested in most mainstream popular stuff, and just plain weird. Add in video games as an old person and taiji, and the fact that I don’t want a traditional relationship, and, yeah. Prospects are dim.
The problem is that I’m so inclined to discount that anything I have to say is of any interest to anyone because I’m used to being ignored and invisible.
Side note: It’s fucking 2019. There is no excuse not to have more PoC and queer folks (and other minorities) in popular media. If I see a trailer for a show that is all white people, I immediately tune out. There was a stretch where all the trailers for new TV shows fell into the category I called, “White guys doing white guys things”. I have no interest in that bullshit, and I never gave any of them more than a second of attention.
The centering around white straight dudes in media has definitely affected how I see myself in general. Add to that a hobby (video games) that is all about white straight dudes, and my negative self-esteem is reinforced on a daily basis. I’ve mentioned before how I can get into some aspects of gaming, but I never feel truly accepted. It’s as if I’m tolerated as long as I don’t make a fuss or stand out in any negative (in their eyes) way. It’s gender, but it’s also age and race. I’m too old to be a gamer, and it stops me from fully participating in the community in general. It’s not hard to see that 95% of the visible gaming journalists/YouTubers/Twitchers fall into this category. Maybe it’s not quite that high, but it certainly seems like it. I’ve searched out women, but they are few and far between.
I’m still having sinus issues, which means gaming-wise, I don’t want to tackle anything new. I want the video game equivalent of mashed potatoes, which for me is Dark Souls. I know it sounds strange because Souls games are notorious for being difficult, though you’ll get some strenuous argument about that in the community. Fans who have been playing forever have forgotten how hard the first time through was and now insist that the games are challenging and not hard. Nope. They’re fucking hard. Yeah, I get the argument that it’s more a shift in your way of approaching games than an actual difficulty, but as someone who jumped into the game after only playing a handful of ‘hardcore’ games, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of how the gameplay should be.
In addition, I had never used a controller before, and now I live for Dark Souls control mappings. It wasn’t until much later when I learned that they were considered terrible and awkward. They’re now embedded in my soul, and B is forever the roll button. It’s funny because when I was switching back and forth between Dark Souls (II and then III) and Monster Hunter: World, I would be flailing with the buttons whichever way I switched. However, when I went from MHW to DS, I quickly adapted whereas it was much rougher the other way around. Dark Souls control mapping (and, the Xbox One controller is DA BOMB!!) is what is the most comfortable for me, and it probably will be as I continue to play the games.
Yesterday, I beat the first DLC with the help of some awesome human summons for both the bosses, and it warms my heart that so many people are still playing. I also got two human phantoms for the Nameless King, and one stayed with me until the end. She was great, and I think she was the one wearing the same ridiculously big hat that I was (my favorite hat by a rather large margin in the whole game. You can buy it relatively early, but I always wait until the end of the game when 10,000 souls is trivial. It’s called the Sage’s Big Hat, and it’s an homage to Big Hat Logan, a character from the original Dark Souls), and it always makes me happy to see someone else wearing it. It has a plague mask as well, and it’s amazing. It’s not my favorite set because there is no set (Black Witch Set HYPE), but I will wear the Sage’s Big Hat until the end of dawn, no matter the stats, whih I’m assuming are not great for physical, but decent for elements. I’ve never looked at the stats because I was going to wear it, regardless, and I’m happy that I’ve reached the point where I can go for Fashion Souls rather than utility. The rest of the set is the Fallen Knight set, which looks like rags but in a cool way.
I’m too old for video games. Or, to be more precise, I’m too old for video game ‘culture’. To be even less precise, I’m too old for pop culture in general. I support two groups on Patreon, The Try Guys and RKG Studies (nee Prepare To Try)*, and I am in the Discord chat for both these groups. For the latter, I’m in the upper-echelon tier, the producers, which has a chat of its own. The boys dip in from time to time, which is pretty cool.
The problem is, I’m too old for either of these groups. It’s funny in that The Try Guys fan base seems to be predominantly young women in their early twenties, whereas the target demo for RKG is twenty-something dudes. I’m old enough to be their mother, and I often feel as if I’m the older and world-weary woman who has seen it all and done it all when I’m in either of the chats/reading the comments on the posts/videos.
Concerning RKG specifically, I’m fine when I’m commenting on games or supporting other people through their difficulties (I’m a healer, through and through), but any time it veers away from that, I feel alienated. I’m just too fucking old to jump into the banter, and, if I’m to be honest, much of it is uninteresting to me.
That’s one of my issues with the gaming community in general–it’s very lad-focused (and I use the word lad deliberately) with many of them not really knowing how to interact in a social way that isn’t, “me, me, me!”. I noticed this when I was in the chatroom once for a YouTuber I used to watch. They were all nice lads, but I had nothing in common with them. Plus, there’s a casual sexism that runs through most chatrooms (not to mention the more outright malicious sexism that is present in many) that turns me off to them. It’s very much a boys club in that you have to adjust to the atmosphere if you want to be tolerated.
The thing is, I’m not sure there’s a way to change that or if it should be changed. I mean, the casual sexism, yes, that should be changed. But, if it’s mostly guys who are drawn to the chatroom, then is it really upon them to actively recruit women? I have a hard time saying it is, but at the same time, there are ways to make it more inclusive. In the end, I don’t know where I stand on it, but I just know that I will mostly remain where I normally do–on the outside.
I have written three posts granting awards for various games throughout the year. They are all deserving winners, and I appreciate every one of them for a variety of reasons. However, we now come to the one game that is nearest and dearest to my heart, and anyone who has read my blog with any consistency can probably guess which game it is. Or if not the actual game, at least the developer.
Whenever I am between games, I always return to my roots–Dark Souls. I recently finished another playthrough of DSII: SotFS in anticipation of the Prepare to Try boys* doing a full playthrough in February. I played as a strength caster, which is now my favorite way to play Souls games. Nothing feels as good as a Greatsword +10 in hand and an array of powerful pyromancies/hexes/spells/miracles. There were still people playing, and I was able to summon humans for several bosses, even in the DLC. I love that the Souls community is alive and thriving, though not so much when I get invaded. I had one invader wag his finger at me when I used an Estus to heal, but if you fucking come into my world, I’m going to do whatever I can to come out of it alive.
The invader system is one reason I play offline until the bosses much of the time. I know it’s a beloved part of the games for many people, and so I accept that it will never change. Not to mention there will probably not be another Soulsborne game, but that’s besides the point. I hate PvP, and I know that anyone still doing it now must be really good at it because they’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve been invaded in the DLC area in NG+, and think about that. There’s someone camping out in the DLC in NG+ of a game that came out almost four years ago. Has it really been that long?
It has, indeed. The base game came out over six years ago! I think it’s pretty cool that people are still playing (and, yes, I realize that I’m people and I’m still playing, but the fact that I could consistently summon people for certain bosses made me happy), and I’m finding it the same in my current Dark Souls III playthrough, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
One thing I love about Dark Souls games is how they push me out of my comfort zone. My preferred playstyle when I first started out was as much a caster (preferably pyro) as possible. Now, I like a blend of strength and casting, and I lean more on the former than the latter once I’m past the first playthrough. This time, on NG+, I decided to try something different with Vendrick. I had five Giant Souls, so he didn’t have any hyper-armor, which was a relief. By the way, the Ancient Dragon is so much easier than I anticipated. Granted, I summoned Bashful Ray and Vengarl, but I could easily do him again on my own.
Side note: I love that once I’ve soloed a boss, I don’t have any compunction about summoning for the boss the next time(s) I meet him/her/it. Jolly cooperation is fun, especially when everyone is in synch. There are a few bosses in SotFS, however, in which you cannot summon, which means having to go solo. Vendrick is one of them.
There are many different ways to play games. Some people hop from game to game as if they were at a buffet and starving. “I’ll try a little of this and a little of that, and, ooooooh! Give me some of that!” They play the game until they either get sick of it or they finish it, then they put it away and never think of it again. I’m pretty sure games journalist especially have to operate in this manner. Knowing a games journalist, it becomes increasingly difficult for him to game just for fun when he has to do it for his job on a daily basis.
I have a vastly different style when it comes to gaming. I’ve said this about my mindset towards pop culture in general, and it holds especially true when it comes to video games–I don’t cast my net very wide because I’m very certain about what I don’t like. When it comes to video games, I don’t like multis, RTS, FPS (though that’s more because of nausea, not the actual gameplay), bullet hells, platformers, 4X, and anything that calls itself “_____core” without a hint of irony. I hate JRPG, dating sims, survival, and most horror. I really want to like adventure games because they are more story driven, but I just…don’t. I hate all the ridiculous contrivances of the genre, such as combining a stick, a piece of lint, and a teddy bear to make a key*.
What do I like when it comes to gaming? That’s harder to define because I don’t tend to like genres in general, and it’s difficult to know what game is going to click with me. The first game I played for realsies was Pitfall when I was a kid. Then, Ms. Pac-Man as a teen. Then, while dating a guy who liked arcades, I got hooked on Time Crisis II and barked at him to get me more quarters as I finished it in one go. That was in my late twenties, and I didn’t touch a ‘hardcore’ game again for roughly fifteen years.
Once I did, however, I started playing a weird range of games. The first was Torchlight at the suggestion of Ian, and I immediately fell in love with the game. I loved that the protagonist was a woman who looked Asian if you squinted, and I loved all the dungeon crawling. I still have a soft spot in my heart for it, and I’m one of the very few who thinks it’s a better game than the sequel. Diablo III was next, and I played the fuck out of it. I reached Paragon with my Demon Hunter, and I’ve dipped my toe back in that particular river from time to time as they add to it. Borderlands (the original and II) was next, and I glutted myself on it. Playing them back to back with all the DLCs is not recommended, and I was thoroughly sick of it by the time I tried Pre-sequel, which I did not finish. I only played a few hours before I realized I thought it was crap (and not just because I had put hundreds of hours into I and II, and was sick of the formula).
Some of the other games I’ve really enjoyed: Path of Exile (beta. I fell off it once I realized I’d have to start over), Cook, Serve, Delicious (and sequel), The Sexy Brutale, Nuclear Throne, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Night in the Woods, Dead Cells, and, of course, the Soulsborne games.
What do they all have in common? Hell if I know. I will say that once I played Dark Souls, it’s been nearly impossible to return to hack-and-slash games. I don’t have to have combat in a game, but if it’s there, it has to be meaningful, apparently. There’s a bit in one of the Prepare to Try videos (the secrets video, I think) in which Rory says, “Imagine if Dark Souls was the first game you played. It would blow your tiny mind. You wouldn’t be able to play any other game.” He was joking, but I feel as if it’s true. There are so many games that when I’m playing them, I’m like, “I could be playing Dark Souls right now.” That’s pretty much my metric for a game–would I rather be playing Dark Souls?
I have very definite tastes when it comes to pop culture. I like or dislike something almost immediately, and it’s very rare when I change my mind. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, but I know it’s part of my personality. In fact, if I have a predisposition not to like something (such as Pulp Fiction or Titanic), there’s no hope of changing my mind. I saw both of them knowing full well that I would hate them, and I did. Oh, how I hated them.
Anyhoo, when I play a game, I can usually tell within five minutes whether I’ll like it or not*. Sometimes, if I think I may be unnecessarily harsh, I’ll give it more time, but it’s very rare when I change my mind. As a related side note, I like my beverages either burning hot or ice cold. I like to literally burn my tongue when I drink tea, for example. I don’t know why, but I do. It’s the same way with popular culture. When I consume a piece of it, I either love it or hate it. It’s very rare when I finish, say a novel and am meh about it. With video games, I will play up to an hour and then quit if it doesn’t grab me. Or, I won’t even start one that I know I will hate such as Collar Duty.**
This year, there are two games I played that while I wasn’t grabbed by them or thought they were the most amazing games I’d ever played, they had something there that made me like them more than not, but for very different reasons. I can’t say they were among the top games I played in the past year, but they are definitely worth a mention.
The game that should be grateful that they were not sued by Iron Chef
Battle Chef Brigade
I was drawn to this game, developed by Trinket Studios and published by Adult Swim Games, for a very silly reason–the protagonist was an Asian woman named Mina Han. I mean, how could I not want to play her given that she was me in cartoon form! Not really as she’s in her early twenties, slim, with short hair, and loves to sleep, but the name, gender, and Asian part were enough for me to buy it. It didn’t hurt that it was a mashup of a monster hunting game (lite)/fighting game (lite) and a cooking sim/Match-3 and more.
The graphics are a mixed bag. The characters look hand-drawn, and the game is bright and colorful, but some of the environments and monsters are not as pleasing to the eye. Each character is distinct, and the story is fun if not silly. The basic gist is that Mina is a simple country girl who works for the family restaurant. Part of that is killing monsters in the backyard for their parts as ingredients in the family recipes. There is a something called the Battle Chef Brigade competition in which all the best fighting chefs in the world gather to compete against each other. Through some trickery, Mina makes it into the competition.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game up until the point where you start having to do different dishes for different judges. All of the gameplay is frenetic which is in sharp contrast to the leisurely pace of the rest of the game. The ramp up is too much for me and my aged reflexes, however, and I had to give up the game before I finished it. I will add that the turn towards the paranormal didn’t jibe with the rest of the game, either. I would have been fine with the game sticking to the competition and not throwing in that vampires (or vampire-like creatures, can’t quite remember) were infecting the monsters.
It’s nearing the end of the year, and you know what that means. Countless top ten lists, best ofs, and other navel-gazing articles/videos. I did my own list last year citing my favorite games of the year, and I’m doing the same this year as well. While I enjoy me a good ‘best of’ list, I like to do things differently. I don’t think there’s an objective best, anyway, so I’m just going to list my personal favorites. As to the title of this post, it’s true. I don’t play many games, but when I do, I play the hell out of them.
The game I was reluctant to play, even though theoretically it was tailor-made for me (maybe because), and it ended up capturing my heart
Night in the Woods
When I first heard about this game early in 2017 when it was released by Infinite Fall, I immediately thought it was made for me. Indie game with a female black cat protagonist? Hells, yeah! Plus, the design is gorgeous, and it seemed like it was narrative-driven. It should be right up my alley–which was why I hesitated in playing it. Plus, it was nearly twenty bucks, and I’m really cheap when it comes to games. I like to pay less than fifteen bucks for a game (which means buying during steep sales most of the time), though I’ve loosened up on that recently.
When I finally bought it and started it up, I was immediately stumped by one of the earliest ‘gameplay’ moments. I put that in quotes because it fit the definition but barely, and it was embarrassingly easy in retrospect to figure out–if you play plenty of games. Once I got past that, however, I was swept up in the game and the protagonist, Mae. She is the aforementioned female black cat, and she captivated me in a way no protagonist ever has. A young college dropout who was consumed by anxiety, depression, and sarcasm, she was me. It was later revealed that she’s bisexual, and I felt connected to her even more strongly than I had before. Add to that her propensity towards inertia and sticking her foot in her mouth by excitably blurting out awkward truths, and I became increasingly protective of her.
I played through the game three times and still didn’t see everything in it. I only played it more than once because I watched Campster’s (Errant Signal) video on it, and I noticed things in his video I hadn’t seen in my playthrough. In addition, he said the game benefited from a second playthrough, and he was right. It was on the third playthrough that I fell in love with the game.
The art direction is fantastic, and I empathized with each of the four main characters: Mae, Gregg (GREGG RULZ OK), and Angus. Whenever I spent a significant amount of time with any of them, I came to care about them even more. The overarching story/mystery is underwhelming, but by the end of my third playthrough, I accepted it as a metaphor for what is happening in the dying Rust Belt town rather than anything literal.
I won’t gush about how lovely certain moments were or how I legit cried at the poignancy of some of the interactions. I’ve written three posts on my emotional connection to the game, and I still don’t think I managed to convey how much it means to me. It might seem ridiculous to become attached to an animated cat-girl who’s sullen, mentally ill, and a brat from time to time, but Mae wormed her way into my heart, and I’m grateful for it. I’m probably going to do a fourth playthrough before too long because there are a few things I know I haven’t seen. If there is one game that I played this year that I would recommend with all my heart, it is this one.