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.