What do I want from a video game? It’s been on my mind for, well, ever since I became obsessed with FromSoft games, but especially after finishing Sekiro. To be fair, though, I go through this every time I finish a FromSoft game because I become so engrossed with them. Also because I get exhausted after FromSoft games and wonder why I give so much to them when they don’t care about me at all. Ok, that’s not fair. They give me a lot, otherwise I wouldn’t play them, right? But it’s a bit like an abusive relationship–right up to the point of beating the game.
I wrote this post about other games I like and what I like about them. I hadn’t even touched on the FromSoft games, which is the basis of my video game enjoyment. Everything I know and love is based on my time with the FromSoft games, and it’s one reason I have a hard time with most Souls-like games. The closer the game is to a Souls game, the more I just want to play Souls. It’s the question I have in the back of my head: Would I rather be playing Souls? To be fair, I ask that question in general, but it’s more pronounced when I play deliberate Souls-inspired games. If you are trying to make your game like Dark Souls, then I’m going to be judging it by that rubric. I’ll name-drop one Souls-like that I actually quite enjoyed, but had one thing that really bugged me. Salt & Sanctuary. It was almost a 2D Souls clone, and it made very clear that it wanted nothing more than to be Dark Souls. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing because they knew what they wanted, and they did it for the most part. The one thing that drove me crazy was that they changed the roll button. I think it was RT, and I tried it for half an hour or so before giving in and changing it to B. ROLL IS B, DAMN IT! It’s always B! I’m glad I could change it, but I heard that when it came out on the PS4, it wasn’t rebindable. I mean….I understand wanting to make your game distinguishable in some ways, but not by changing one of the building blocks of the Souls games.
I have a different set of standards when I’m not playing a Souls/Souls-like game. Currently, I’m playing Unavowed, which is a point-and-click adventure by Wadjet Eye Games, a much-revered name in the genre. I mentioned it in the last post and why I had reservations about playing it. I have been looking for a murder mystery game for ages, and I have yet to find one that is enjoyable for me to play. It made me realize that it’s me and not the genre because all the games that are revered that I have played I’ve hated. Notably, the Sherlock Holmes games. I’ve played several, and they drive me fucking crazy. I mentioned why in the last post, but briefly, their logic is like pulling out the items off a random Chopped ingredient basket. You need to unlock a door? Put together a wire, the handle of an axe, and a music box! Oh, and, go back five screens for the wire because you couldn’t pick it up when you first saw it.
I’m a few hours into Unavowed, and I can happily say that I’m enjoying it quite a lot. It has RPG elements such as picking a ‘class’. My class is actor (other two are cop and bartender), which means I can lie quite convincingly. The story is dark, grim, and otherworldly. I did many, many bad things when I was possessed by a demon, which lasted a year. I have a Fire Mage buddy (Eli) and a double scimitar-wielding Jinn buddy (Mandana), and I can ‘use’ their abilities as needed. There are conversation choices that make a difference, and the storyline is engaging to me. Best of all, though, is that the puzzles are logical. I mean, actually logical, and not just logical in the fevered imagination of the dev. If I need to electrocute someone, I can use copper wire and a puddle on the ground as I would in real life. Did I say that out loud? I may have to go to a different room to get what I need, but it’s not ten rooms away. It’s usually in the next room/area. Like I said, I’m only a couple hours in, but I’m very pleased with it so far.
Back to FromSoft games. What do I like about them? Despite my gushing about them, I don’t think there are perfect. There are many things I don’t like about them, and I’ve listed them in the past. I’ll recap. Before Sekiro, obtuse UI, a ridiculous way to jump, fall damage, and terrible platforming. Including Sekiro, wonky wall physics (sometimes, you can hit through them and sometimes you can’t. Most times they can, but once in a while, they can’t), too long, can be tedious in places, hardness just for the sake of being hard, and the second half is a huge ramp up from the first half. For Bloodborne, having to farm for blood vials, no viable magic (until the very end of the game), and no shields. For Sekiro, way too much duplication of mini-bosses/bosses, no classes, and lack of armor/weapon changes. Those are just off the top of my head; I’m sure there are more. In addition, many people think the control schemes for the games are atrocious, but as the original Dark Souls was the first game for which I used a controller, it’s my standard.
What do I love about FromSoft games? First and foremost, exploration. The worlds* are lush and gorgeous, and they’re dripping with atmosphere. If you can see it, you can get there.** It’s wonderful to be at the top of a mountain I’ve just climbed, look down, and realize that I’ve been everywhere! Or looking and thinking, “Hey, I haven’t been there yet. Wonder what that’s going to be like.” There are a ton of places that are hidden, and you have to really seek them out. Since I’m the type to go everywhere, I find many of them on my own. When I don’t, however, there’s always Wiki to guide me!
I have to say, I’ve become the ‘well, actually’ guy when I watch streams/vids of people playing FromSoft games. I get so pissed when they miss shit, which is why I understand when people get salty in the chat or want to give hints. I still wouldn’t do it if I were watching in real time, but I do understand it.
Sekiro added a sense of verticality that I hadn’t even known I’d missed in the previous games. Being able to fly high over the heads of enemies and even use it to grapple to bosses was fucking exhilarating. Falling down and seeing a green circle, then latching on to it felt so right. The problem is that I’m pretty sure they’re not going to add it to every game, so I shouldn’t get used to it. It also mostly eradicated one of my issues with FromSoft games–the terrible platforming. Miyazaki loves him some platforming, but in past games, the results have been less than optimal. Way less. Adding the grappling hook was a way for Miyazaki to get his platforming on without having to worry about the pesky little thing called a viable landing. It’s also much more fluid than past platforming has been, and it’s the thing that I was worried the most about before the game released that was actually one of my favorite parts of the game.
I also love the obscurity of the lore. FromSoft simplified it for Sekiro (and I have to think it’s partly ActiVision’s influence), and while I didn’t mind it, I did miss having to dig deep for the lore. Yes, you can still find additional tidbits from item descriptions, but there are also long monologues from NPCs who have the need to tell you what’s happening. I will say that the streamlining of the UIs is much appreciated. That kind of obfuscation is just annoying, so I’m happy with getting rid of it. It’s a running joke (at least to me) that the skills you level up in the Soulsborne games are named something different in each game. The burden equipment, trying to compare weapons and armor sets, all the different status effects that can affect you and that you can inflict on the enemies, the countless consumables that have esoteric descriptions–all of that is doing too much with too little. I want difficulty in the combat, yes, but not in the UI systems.
Let’s talk bosses as they are the shining jewel in the tiara that is FromSoft games. We can talk about FromSoft games all we want, but we all know that the bosses are the big draw. Yes, they are difficult for the most part, but that is the beginning of the conversation and not the end. That is actually the least interesting thing about the bosses, even though it’s the thing that is talked about the most with these games. Let’s talk about Ornstein & Smough, and, yes, I’m going old school, because they were the first HARD skill check in the first game. Yes, there are the Bell Gargoyles who were terrifying in their own way, but Biggie & Small are in a league of their own. I went into it knowing there were two of them, but that was about it. I was mostly a Pyromancer, and I had my Battle Axe at +6 or +7, I think. I also had Quelaag’s Furysword, probably at +1 or +2, which meant I was fucking under-leveled for the fight.
It took me a week to beat this duo, and I tried for an hour every day. I estimated that they killed me between 60 and 70 times, but I bet it was even more. I spent much of that time thinking I could never beat them, but, obviously, I finally did. The thing is, though, that even though I felt like shit the entire time and that I could never beat them, I learned from every death. Or every five deaths. When I first started fighting O&S, I died pretty quickly. Or I ran around madly, then died. I used my pyro to get rid of Ornstein, and then I had to deal with Super-Biggie. First time that happened, I was NOT pleased that he came back full health. I also tried to fight Super-Small a few times, but hell to the fuck no.
The time I beat Super-Biggie, I did something I’d never done before, and I haven’t done since. I had it in my head that he was weak to fire and lightning. Probably from reading the wikis. I don’t think the lightning thing was true because he WAS lightning, but I was desperate for whatever advice I could get at the time. I equipped Quelaag’s Furysword in my right hand and the Lightning Spear in my left. I’d let Super-Biggie do his attack, then I would swipe right, swipe left, and back the fuck off. You don’t understand how huge this is. I’m a turtler through and through, and I played the first game with the my finger glued to the LB button. To dual-wield was unheard of, but it fucking worked.
That’s what makes FromSoft bosses exhilarating and a feeling that is impossible to recreate. They force you to change the way you think and play, and they force you to find reserves inside yourself that you never knew you had. They also make you learn the boss you’re fighting to the point where you could fight it in your sleep. When I’m watching a playthrough of a FromSoft game, I find myself shouting directives as the gamer is playing. I recently watched Lowko fight the Guardian Ape for all of eternity, and as I saw the Guardian Ape do certain moves, I would yell what Lowko should do in response. It’s because I fought the Guardian Ape so many times and really got to know his moveset. There are ways of brute-forcing the games, but in general, even for the cheese, you have to know what’s coming at you.
Again, this is getting long, and I’ve only dipped my toe into the FromSoft’s pool of love. Wait…Anyway, I’ll be back with another post to hopefully wrap this up. Soon.
*Yes, yes, it’s not the same with Dark Souls II. Get over it, already.