Underneath my yellow skin

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Miyazaki the brilliant storyteller

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.


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5 things I hate about the Soulsborne series

looks pretty benign to me.
Oh, Bed of Chaos. It’s never good to see you.

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.

Trying to wean off my Dark Souls addiction

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.


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The one game to rule them all award

*BONUS POST*

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?

::double-checks::

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.


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The reason why I play games awards

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: RebirthNight in the WoodsDead 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?


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Monster Hunter: World; my new Dark Souls

the killing blow!
Ah, Great Jagras, I know you so well.

I’ve mentioned that when Monster Hunter: World was released on consoles, I got unreasonably hyped about it. Why unreasonably? Because I played the previous iteration on 3DS and HATED it. Oh my god, it was so terrible. I hated everything about it, but not because of the game itself. I hated it because I don’t do hand-held consoles, or consoles in general, really (PS4 and Bloodborne excluded), and so many of the mechanics of the game were stupid as shit. I’m sorry. Even MH fans have to admit that the egg quests were pure horseshit. Funny side note: I chuckle that MH are my initials as well as Monster Hunter. Anyway. For whatever reason, when MHW came out on console, I was immediately intrigued. I watched all the videos of gameplay I could, and I was captivated.

Then, time went by, and the luster wore off because one, I wasn’t buying it for console no way no how, and the PC version wasn’t coming out in the foreseeable future. Two, I hated the way the monster limped, drooled, and twitched as they were about to die. It really bothered me, and I didn’t think I could do that to a poor creature who wasn’t attacking me. See, that’s the thing in Monster Hunter. Much of the time, the monsters are just going about their business, not paying attention to you at all. Mind you, I’m still in Low Rank, so it might be different once I progress further, but I’m getting ahead of myself. They weren’t doing any harm to the hunter, and really, you’re the aggressor. It’s a colonizing mentality that doesn’t sit well with me.

Anyhoo, MHW came out for PC last week, and Ian pre-ordered it and installed it. Through the magic of family/friend share on Steam, I was able to demo it without buying it. I created my character, mulan rogue (all my characters are such named), and I was pretty happy with how she looked. I couldn’t find hair as long as mine, but I found one hairstyle with a high pony and the hair reaching halfway down her back, so that’s what I chose. I made my Palico (cat companion) black, of course, and called him shadow. I jumped into the game and because I’ve seen the opening a few times, I knew the basics of what I was doing at the start.

Let me tell you, there is a shit-ton to learn about this game. The menus and meta-game information are overwhelming. The thing I like, however, is that you don’t really need to delve that deeply in the beginning to have fun hunting. I didn’t touch the load-outs for anything, for example, until I was many hours into the game. The tutorials suck, by the way. Don’t expect to learn much from the game. You’ll get the bare-bone basics, but that’s it. It’s up to you to learn in other ways, including looking it up and watching videos.

I spent a considerable amount of time in the training area because I wanted to try all fourteen weapons. Yes, I know it’s overkill, but that’s just the way I roll. I already knew I was interested to the Switch Axe, the Charge Blade, and the Insect Glaive. Yes, I’m that person, and, yes, I like to make things harder on myself. I know, I know, the Sword and Shield is the safe choice, but my god, it’s so boring. I know I didn’t even scratch the surface of it, but it just felt blah in my hands. Same with the Longsword, which is the other newbie-friendly weapon. It didn’t do anything for me, and I gave it an honest try. I zipped through the Lance, the Gunlance, both the Bowguns, the Hunting Horn, the Hammer, and the Great Sword. Didn’t care for the Bow, but I did like the Dual Swords quite a lot. However, I’m not a dex person, so I set them aside for my three babies.

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The Surge–put it in the done folder

making him feel it EXTRA.
Crucifixion never felt so good.

Ian and I sometimes talk about the way we game. He’s a Games Journalist™ now, but even before he had to play a million games a week, he had the tendency to dive into something for a bit, then move on to another game, rinse, lather, and repeat. I, on the other hand, will latch onto a game, then wring every ounce of content I can out of it and then some. ‘Coz I’m Taiwanese, and we’re a cheap people. I tend to have ‘my’ game, playing it obsessively until I finish the game. In this case, it’s The Surge. I wrote about the first half of it here.

Halfway through the game, I started getting sick of the game. Now, this is normal for me when I play a game, especially a Souls/Souls-like game. It’s the downside of ingesting a game until it bleeds out of my eyeballs. I clearly remember the first time I played the original Dark Souls. After the infamous duo, everything went rapidly downhill. I didn’t want to play the rest of the game. And, it’s pretty much accepted that the second half of the original Dark Souls doesn’t hold up to the first half, do not @me, Souls fans, because you know it’s fucking true. When I beat *spoilers* Gwyn, I chose to link the First Flame, and watched the credits roll, I didn’t feel jubilation, elation, or any other kind of positive -ation. I was relieved, and I was glad to see the backside of Dark Souls. I put it in the done folder, and I thought I was through with it forever. Ha! I will get to that more in a bit.

One thing I quite like about The Surge is that you had to go back to one early area–Central Production B–several times because doing later parts unlocked new areas. What I didn’t like is that it wasn’t always clear what I was meant to do when I finished an area. Yes, yes, I know esoteric and Souls go together like hand and glove, but usually in a Souls game, you at least know what you’re supposed to go. And, because it’s not exactly linear, sometimes you have several places you can go. Yes, there are areas that you can skip or not even know exist, but in general, all the places you NEED to go are fairly easy to spot. There is one major counter-example in Dark Souls II, but, again, not a Miyazaki* game. In The Surge, I had to check the wikis more than once after finishing a section because I had no idea where I was supposed to go next.

Here’s where we touch on the story. The story is…meh. The premise is serviceable.  You start on a train into CREO, a company dedicated to using technology for the betterment of the world. Yeah, like we have never heard that one before. Like it’s not the basis of a zillion sci-fi novels/movies/TV shows. Yes, there’s the board that even for all their good intentions, ultimately do more evil than good. They are positioned to be the big baddie, which they are in the metaphorical sense, if not the literal one. *mild spoiler* When the train stop, you get off the train, wait, what? I’m in a wheelchair, which is an interesting choice. Not being able to sprint is frustrating, which is a good thing. Here’s the thing, though. It’s just a shtick. The first thing you do after getting off the train is to roll to a place where you choose either ‘Lynx’ (dex) or ‘Rhino’ (tank), and then you have the mechanical pieces grafted onto your body. You’re supposed to be sedated, but it doesn’t take. As a result, you get thrown into the garbage heap, and you wake up to a drone trying to drag you somewhere. And, of course, you can walk. *unspoilered*

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First half of The Surge–otherwise known as Junkyard Souls

grind 'em up!
You didn’t need that arm, did you?

In the world of the Souls-like, I have tried many–oh, so many–with dismal results. Most of them lacked a certain something that makes Souls games addictive to me, though it was different with each game. Ironically, the ones that hewed the closest to Souls were the most disappointing because they made me want to be playing a new Souls game. I haven’t finished most of those games. The one exception to that was Salt & Sanctuary, which I thought was a solid game as a caster, but a shite one as a melee character. I also promptly forgot much of it once I beat it, but that’s neither here nor there. Then, there was a Souls-like I really adored, Hollow Knight, that I just sucked at and knew I wouldn’t be able to finish. I still think it’s a great game, and I love the protagonist.

Anyhoo, one of the more slavish Souls-like games was Lords of the Fallen, made by Deck 13 Interactive. It made no bones about the game being a love letter to Dark Souls, and almost everything they did could be mapped onto something in Souls. It should have been my jam, except it wasn’t because one, the magic was shite (at least in the few hours I played). Two, they mistook careful combat for everything being suuuuuuuper slow. Three, the one thing they added is a timer for getting back your Souls (whatever they were called) when you die, and I hated that. A lot. I tried Lords of the Fallen twice, and quit within a few hours the second time because it just wasn’t very good.

Fast-forward to 2017. Deck 13’s next Souls-like game came out, called The Surge. Lords of the Fallen was called Clunky Souls, which was more than apt. The Surge is Junkyard Souls, though they prefer to say it’s Sci-fi Souls. I watched a bit of YouTubers and reviewers when they played it, and it was immediately much more intriguing than Lords of the Fallen, even though I’m not into sci-fi. At all. I’m way into fantasy, but LotF was so generic, it might as well have not been fantasy at all.

I knew when I saw The Surge that I would try it out. I’ve given most Souls-likes a go, and this one had enough going for it that I wanted to at least give it a shot. I also knew I would wait until it went on sale because I wasn’t paying forty bucks for it. The Steam Summer Sale started last week, and both The Surge and Prey (for some reason, they are the same game to me in my mind) were on steep sale, and both had free demos. I installed both, and before I tell you about The Surge, let me tell you about my experience with the Prey demo.

I fired it up and was immediately nauseated. It’s first-person, and I have severe motion sickness. I fiddled with the FOV, and when I tried to go back to the game, it crashed. When I tried to restart, I couldn’t use my controller. Third time, I was able to get it running, but I was still nauseated. I messed with the FOV for a few more minutes, but nothing seemed to work. I went to the Googles, and the Steam forum informed me that it’s a motion blur problem, and that you have to go into the files to fix it because it’s not an option in-game. Which is infuriating because motion blur, apparently, is to make console game players forget that the game is only 30 fps and not 60 fps, like PCs. Ahem.

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I’m all about that Souls, that Souls, that Dark Souls

a worthy foe.
I bow to you, Sir Alonne.

Last we checked in with our erstwhile heroine, she was triumphant over her defeat of Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon, who slumbers no more, yo! She had thoroughly trounced the Ivory King with the help of her four Loyce Knights, and she only had one goal left in the DLCs*: beat Sir Alonne solo. Shocked and surprised that it wasn’t the Fume Knight? By the way, the nugget that he goes berserk if you dress up as Velstadt was interesting to me, so I tried it. I cosplayed as Velstadt, and, indeed, Raime lost it when I stepped through the fog door. He forewent the first part of the fight completely and jumped straight to, “MURDER THE ASSHOLE NOW!”, which means he only uses the Fume Sword and not the smaller sword. Funny note: It works if you’re only wearing Velstadt’s helm and not the full armor as well, but I can’t tell you if it’s the same if you only wear the gauntlets, chest, or legs.

Anyway, no. I beat Raime with my first tank character, even though it wasn’t easy. I remember blood, sweat, and liberal cursing for that fight, and while I tried him a few times solo this time around (and did decent damage. It’s just the slow, sweeping sword movement that got me every time), I eventually beat him with summons. I think it was the two NPCs, but it might have been with one NPC and one human. Might I say it’s so cool that these games are still being played? Not so cool was being invaded, but, yeah, I know it’s part of the game. A beloved part for many Souls players, so I begrudgingly accept it.

Sir Alonne had owned my ass every time we met in the past. I have difficulty with the quick human enemies, and he was no exemption to this. In addition, the area leading up to him is fairly brutal, and there’s a time limit to it as well–an interesting mechanic, and I was burned by it once or twice in the past. This time, I was resigned to spending two or three hours on him because I was going to beat him solo no matter what. I dug in deep and stomped my way to his fog gate with relatively little difficulty. I had to laugh, too, because one of the Let’s Players I watch (Super Best Friends, Woolie on the sticks for DS II, Pat ‘helping’, and I’m talking about Pat) was ranting about how he was grinding for the Blacksteel Katana, which the Alonne Knights in the Iron Keep drop, but rarely. The problem is, the enemies permanently disappear after 15 deaths (I think it’s 15), which means if you don’t get that drop by the fifteenth death, you don’t get it at all. I hated this addition to the formula, as did most Souls players. I understand why it was added, but enemies respawning is one of the mainstays of Soulsborne games.

Anyhoo, Pat was ranting about trying to grind for two of the Blacksteel Katana for hours and while he got one fairly early on, he didn’t get the other. The area was depopulated, so he couldn’t get the second one.  What he apparently didn’t know/figure out was that the Alonne Knights in this area drop the Blacksteel Katana as well. In my first run, I got two from the knights themselves, and there’s one in the bottom area–which apparently Pat didn’t explore/didn’t remember. I cracked myself up over the idea of tweeting him to taunt him about my incredible luck, but I kept that to myself.

I took a deep breath and walked through the fog gate. I was pretty sure casting against Sir Alonne wasn’t the way to go, so I had the weapon buffs magicks, but no pyromancies. Also, this area is made of lava, so I knew my pyro techniques wouldn’t work very well. We started battling, and I was astonished that it wasn’t nearly as hard as I remembered. He wasn’t doing as much damage (probably a better load out, more suited to his agility), and I was dodging him better than I ever had. I think it’s probably because of my time with Bloodborne that my dodging has gotten better over all, and halfway through the fight, I allowed myself to think I had a chance. He didn’t do his charge-up attack for whatever reason, and I actually killed him on my first try! I couldn’t believe it, and I allowed myself to feel proud for a full minute as I looked around the room.

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Getting out of my own damn way

I’m my own worst enemy, and I know it. I can think about a hundred things I want to do or should do, but when I actually get down to the nitty-gritty, I start throwing roadblocks in my own way. I immediately think about a million of things that will go wrong, and then, more often than not, I end up doing–nothing. One big decision I made in my life was going to SF for grad school in writing. Writing & Consciousness, to be more specific. Yeah, it’s SF. Whaddya going to do?

Immediately, I was inundated with doubts. I poured them all out to my therapist, one after the other. After listening to me for twenty minutes or so, she stopped me and said, “Minna. Half of the things you imagine will never happen, and things will happen that you can’t even dream of right now.” I know it sounds cliched, but it really hit me hard. I didn’t have much control in my early life, so now, I worry obsessively as a way of trying to feel as if I’m in control. Her timely reminder that I can’t control what happens was what I needed, and it emboldened me to go forward with the move. The results were mixed, but I at least fucking did it.

You’d think I’d learn something from it, like, yeah, do something, anything, and just keep it moving. I’ve said it before, but one thing I really admire about my brother is that he’ll get an idea and just do it. If it doesn’t work, he’ll move on to the next thing. Now, obviously, there are downsides to that (like wasting time on unfinished projects), but it also means he can shrug it off when something fails or when he goes to the next project. Plus, he actually finishes a lot more things than I do. He once told me he had no regrets in his life, which blew me away. I regret everything in my life–everything! Even the good things, I can find a reason for regret.

You know what? I should take a positive example in my life–taiji. I had taken it before, and it was a terrible experience. Once I was recovered from it, I decided that I wasn’t going to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I liked taiji itself, and I wanted to take classes again. Of course, my brain was telling me a million reasons why it was a bad idea, but I managed to push through it and started researching nearby studios. I had a few things I were looking for–one was Asian-led. I let that one go pretty quickly, though, because I live in Minnesota. the second one was that the teacher was a woman. That one was a bit more fruitful, and I was encouraged. The third was no payment schemes. What I mean is, there are some martial arts schools that are more interested in getting paid than in teaching. A common way is to have paid belts. (There are no belts in taiji, or shouldn’t be.) There was one studio that insisted on a uniform and that you had to buy everything through them. NOPE.

I came across my teacher after hours of searching, and I have to say, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve learned so much from taiji, and it keeps giving to me (even if I’m currently frustrated with it because of all the changes). It’s hard for me not to think of all the ways I’ve failed, though. All the bad decisions I’ve made, many of them in my personal life, are scarred deeply in my soul. Sometimes, I can’t help thinking about them and picking over what I’ve done wrong. Or, I Google my exes just to torture myself. (Not all of them, just the ones I regret where things went wrong.)

I tend to let things happen to me rather than actually be proactive about things. There are things I want to do, but I have a real fear of actually doing them. All these doubts besiege me, and I end up paralyzed emotionally. Let me give you a current example. I blog (duh), but I know that podcasts and vlogging are the ways of the future. Or, having a strong social media presence and piggybacking off that. Or streaming if you’re into video games, which I am. I *know* all this, but am I doing any of it? No. Why not? I’ll tell you why, one by one.

Podcasts and vlogging: I hate the way I sound and look. Now, I know the former is pretty common because we can’t hear our voices as they sound to others. I’ve accepted that I have a voice that others find soothing and pleasant, so I can deal with it. Barely. As for the latter, I hate the way I look. A lot. For several reasons. As I’ve noted before, I don’t look in the mirror unless I actually have to, and every time I do, I cringe. I don’t know if I can get past that barrier, either for vlogging or for streaming, but I know that people respond better to face cam than when there isn’t one (for streaming), especially with women, but that brings up another issue with women and streaming–the rampant sexism that women have to face online. On the one hand, there’s the death threats, the rape threats, the ‘you don’t belong here, bitch’ threats, and such. On the other hand, there’s the stalkers, the obsessed fans, and the “I want to get in your panties” assholes. For whatever reason*, misogyny just spirals out of control online.


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