Underneath my yellow skin

My love/hate relationship with Dead Cells and other ‘hard’ games: Part one

come. at. me. bro.
Cursed, but it was worth it for the ice bow!

I think I’m reaching the end of Dead Cells. Not because I hate it. Not because it’s a terrible game. But because I’m hitting the wall, and while I’ve hit walls before, this feels like the wall I cannot overcome without putting in way more hours into the game. Let me explain. I think most people are familiar with the concept of hitting the wall in which you just can’t get around an obstacle in front of you (be it physical or mental). In a video game, it’s usually a boss that you simply can’t beat. In a ‘hard’ game, it can be other things, such as level design, difficult enemies, or just simply dying over and over again for a variety of reasons.

Let’s take Dark Souls for example. And, yes, it’s my go-to when I want to talk about difficult games. It’s notorious for its difficult bosses, and I’m betting that the Bell Gargoyles were the first real gut check for most Souls players. Well, OK. Asylum Demon first. Then the Taurus Demon. But definitely the Bell Gargoyles! Hm. What was my point? Oh, yeah, this! The thing, though, is that many people didn’t even make it to the Bell Gargoyles for a variety of reasons. One of the things about the game is that after you beat the Asylum Demon (if you do), you’re taken to the Firelink Shrine. There are three paths you can take from there, and two of them are ridiculously hard. Now, some Souls fans will tell gush about how brilliant it is because the two paths are so hard, it points you in the right direction. Hard disagree from me. What’s the one thing you hear about Souls if you’re a gamer, even if you have no interest in it? That it’s fucking hard. FUCKING HARD. You just tried to beat a demon to death with your goddamn fists because you didn’t know you were supposed to run from him (so you can get your weapon and fight him properly later, and he’s still no joke in your first playthrough), so being attacked by ghosts you can’t kill* or skellies who can one-shot you doesn’t seem that outre.  Your idea of hard has already been busted, so especially without context (the third path being hard, but not insanely so), it’s easy to think you’re supposed to run through the area with the ghosts or the skellies and just deal with it.

The reason I’m saying this is that there are tons of legit reasons for people quitting Souls. I love the games, and I’ll recommend them ad nauseam, but I also realize they’re not for everyone. I had a friend who reached Firelink Shrine and saw a message in front of the Crestfallen Warrior to attack him, so she did. Which is a BAD idea. If you aggro an NPC in Dark Souls, they will be permanently aggro’ed unless you pay an exorbitant amount of money to get your sins absolved. I know this because I accidentally hit Andre while trying to talk to him (first time I used a controller, and the controls for Souls games are, at best, whimsical), and I had to pay something like fifteen-thousand souls to make him forget (it’s based on your level. 500 souls per level, so the higher level you are, the more you have to pay). I seriously considered starting the game again because Andre is essential, and that much money (souls) seemed exorbitant at the time. Anyway, my friend couldn’t use Firelink Shrine, which is your hub bonfire, because the Crestfallen Warrior was aggro’ed, and that made her quit. I completely understand that, and I do not blame her in the least. 

the middle finger!
No good can come of this.

I quit Dark Souls for a year once. I came thisclose to quitting again when I went up against Biggie & Small. I kept getting drawn back for whatever reason, and despite my own love/hate relationship with it, I ended up playing all the Soulsborne games**, and it’s my favorite series by far. As you can tell, I can babble on about it all day long. My reason for bringing it up now, however, is because I want to talk about why I’m almost done with Dead Cells. Or rather, why Dead Cells is almost done with me. I wrote my initial feelings about Dead Cells here, so I won’t recount that now. However, I have to emphasize that this game grabbed me from the start, but I knew it would be a matter of time before I hit the ultimate wall. As I wrote in the first post, the first boss was a wall. Now, he’s not even a speed bump. Pro tip: spam your skills as much as you can, plus your ranged weapon. Hit with sword only if you absolutely have to. That’s how I beat him more often than not. I haven’t died to him *knock on wood* since I wrote my last post, and I honestly wish he wasn’t there after you beat him the first time (which, by the way, realizing that he comes back was such a disheartening feeling. I saw a YouTuber have the exact same reaction I did, which was funny. But, it also shows how far I’ve come in that he doesn’t scare me one whit any longer).

One thing I love about this game is the branching paths you can take. Spoilers for progression paths if you don’t want to know about them turn away for the rest of this paragraph. You start in the Prisoners’ Cells, then if you’re still new, you have to go to The Promenade of the Condemned. You need the Vine Rune which you get by–look. I’m not going to write all this out. Here’s a handy guide if you want to see all the tricks and trade to how to get to places. If you go the vanilla path, after The Promenade of the Condemned, you go to The Ramparts, and then The Black Bridge which is where you fight The Incomplete One (the first boss). I have this path down cold. I can do it in my sleep unless I get one of the kicking weapons as a melee weapon (sounds good in theory, but, yeah, not really viable for me), but even then, I can find a different weapon fairly quickly. After The Black Bridge, things get a bit dicier. The Fog Fjord isn’t too bad now, but then comes the Clock Tower which is a fucking slog, especially if you are trying to get the key to unlock the blueprint of the area. On my current run, I have an amulet that makes me invisible five seconds after I last attacked until I attack again, and I made GREAT use of it to make my way through The Clock Tower. The ramp up is ridiculous for this level, and I usually try to make it past enemies without engaging many of them. Specifically, the Cannibal (has sharp clock hands as arms and is a dick) and the Grenadier who shoots out a bomb that explodes into three smaller bombs. Often, these two are on the same platform, so I desperately try to jump by them–and I’ll get to the jumping in another post–onto the next platform, where there is yet another combo of them. Plus, spikes on the wall, swinging mace balls, and, yeah. Oh, and the platforms are often small, which means you have no room to maneuver. So, yeah, I will Lionstrat (Northernlion running through Dark Souls) my way through it as best as I can unless I have frozen skills/ranged weapons, and then maybe I’ll deal with them. It’s so fucking long, too.

Then, you have the privilege of fighting *spoilers* The Assassin, another boss. As you can probably tell, she’s a ninja replete with ninja stars, stealth, and a katana. And I creamed her the first time I saw her. And the second. And the third. She is not hard for me with a few qualifiers. One, I have a fast weapon myself. No nutcracker or broad sword here! Two, I have some kind of freeze ability. Three, barring that, I have some ability to immobilize her (Ivy Grenade, for example). Then, she’s easy-peasy, and thank you very much, ma’am. Honestly, the freeze is the biggest part. In my current run, I have both the ice bow (upgraded) and the ice grenade (also updated), and I didn’t have to heal once. I melted her in no time flat, and it was glorious. Oh, another thing–skills and amulets that allows you to take less damage per hit. I’m assuming they stack (and in reading, the developer confirmed this, at least in November of last year they stack up to 75%), and I’ll always choose defense over offense. Well, maybe not always, but most of the time.

at least it looks pretty!
I love what you’ve done to your castle.

I actually find The Watcher, the third boss, who can be found much earlier in the game if you go on the alternate pass much more difficult than The Assassin. He was my wall for quite some time as he’s ridiculously tanky, has bullet hell stages that I always get tapped by, and stupid fucking tentacles that race across the bottom of the ground and come at me from off-screen. He used to be the end-game boss, and it feels like he still is as far as health points and how little damage he takes. One time, I was literally one hit away from killing him for the first time and died. I screamed out loud, startling Shadow who was snoozing on my legs, and I had to walk away because I was so angry. I died to him more times than I care to count, and when I finally beat him–I felt relieved more than elated (plus spitefully revengeful). I’ve beaten him more often than not since, but I still hate fighting him. Having a trap/turret for this guy is super important, and being patient is key. Also, damage reduction. I guess you could say that for everything, but especially in a long grind like this fight.

The thing is, there are several biomes (areas) that simply aren’t fun at all. Or even engaging. I went through The Prison Depths last night, and I mostly dealt with the area by tossing my two skills at enemies and waiting for them to die before moving on. Effective? Yes. Interesting and engaging? No. This is where balance comes into play. There is hard and then there’s fucking impossible. And, yes, it’s subjective, which is why I’m only speaking for myself. The last area, the Castle, is what is going to kill it for me, I think. No matter how OP I am up until this point, I’m instantly nerfed the second I step into the Castle. Part of the problem is that out of the hundreds of runs I’ve done, I’ve only reached the Castle a dozen times. I’m not exaggerating here. I’ve fought the final boss twice, and the first time, he promptly killed me. The second time, I got him down about a quarter (by a quarter, not to a quarter) while being WAY OP, then died. I can’t get better at an area (Castle) or a boss if I can’t practice against them on a consistent basis. I don’t even know all of this boss’s moves because I haven’t had time to study them.

I know that part of the process of beating a boss is thinking the boss is unbeatable. I’ve had it happen to me several times during my time with Soulsborne games. The difference there is that I can keep beating my head against a single boss over and over again until I finally beat him/her/them/it. I can’t do that if I have to run through the whole game to get to said boss. It’s why I quit Nuclear Throne and to a lesser extent, Enter the Gungeon, even though I loved the former and really liked the latter. I’m going to end this now, so I’ll expand more on this in the next post.

 

 

 

*Well, you can, but you need a special item or a cursed weapon. The item is right before the section, but it’s still pretty esoteric.

**Except Demon’s Souls. Still waiting on the remaster.

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