Underneath my yellow skin

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The one true game of 2019

*Bonus Post*

I have written about how meh this year has been as far as gaming goes for me. There have been dozen of games that I’ve tried and stopped after an hour or less of play. There are some that I played more than an hour and actually liked the game, but then fell off it for one reason or another. In fact, I wrote about two of those games in my last post. I toyed with naming this award The best game that I wasn’t good enough to finish (again) in homage to the category I used for the last two years (for Hollow Knight and Dead Cells, respectively), but, really, there is no need to name it anything other than The perennial FromSoft best game award. Or, The take my money, Miyazaki, award. I could drag this out for several more paragraphs, and you know I can do it, but it’s the worst-kept secret if you know anything about it–and me–so I’ll just blurt it out.

The one true game of 2019

My best game of the year–and The Game Awards agree with me–is Sekiro. It’s a FromSoft game. What a surprise!

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a brilliant game. I could end the post right here, but I won’t. I have written about the game countless times as I was playing it, and I’m currently doing a replay from the very start. Why? I mean, I do have an NG+ run in the bank (fighting Bird Daddy for the second time. One of my personal nightmares, and it only gets harder from this point on) and an NG run where I’m currently sat at the bonfire in front of the Guardian Ape. I started a new playthrough because I haven’t played it in several months, and it’s not a game you can go into rusty and expect to come out ahead. At least, I cannot as I’m firmly a scrub.

Funny side note: My niece’s husband is a big FromSoft fan, and we were talking about Sekiro at Christmas Eve dinner. We were also talking about nerd stuff along with my niece, and I said I didn’t consider myself a nerd. He looked at me weirdly and said, “Not even a Dark Souls nerd?” I laughed and said I wasn’t good enough to be a Dark Souls nerd. I think we’re using nerd in different ways. I think he and my niece mean it in the more popular nomenclature which is being a huge fan of something techie or sci-fi. I was using it ironically in that the more hardcore members of ‘the community’ disavow anyone who does not play the game in the exact same way they do. Of course, they don’t play it the same as each other, so that’s fun. I like to say that I am firmly mediocre at FromSoft games, and I stick by that. I also remain absurdly proud of myself for beating all the games without ever learning to parry.


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The close but no cigar game awards

Last week, I wrote about my year in gaming–which, let’s face it, has mostly been meh. I mentioned two Souls-like games that I played quite a bit and enjoyed until I didn’t, a game that I enjoyed and finished that wasn’t a Souls-like, and a game from the past that I resurrected as my comfort game. Then, of course, there is the one true game of the year, which I’ll get to at the end. If you know anything about me at all, you’ll know what it is, but you’ll have to wait for it, anyway. Let me quickly give the other games (hopefully) amusingly named awards before tackling the big one.

Quick note: In reading my game awards posts from last year in order to write this one, I stumble across this:

I play the hell out of each game I play. I wring every ounce of content out of it, and then I squeeze it some more. I would rather play three games a year that I really like than a couple dozen that I’m meh about.

I still feel that way, and that’s why I’m a bit down about this year in gaming. When I was thinking back on the year, I couldn’t think of many games that gave me dozens of hours of engagement. I’m hoping that 2020 will be different, but I’m skeptical. This post is for the games that hit a spot to a certain extent, but aren’t the One True Game. I have a hunch I won’t get to the big one in this post, but hope springs eternal.

The game I can’t quit no matter how hard I try

Binding of Isaac: Rebirth*

I played the shit out of this game when it first came out. I tried to play the original, but it felt ungainly, and I never got into it. That game was developed by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl. Edmund (and his wife) went with Nicalis for BoI:R and everything after. I was immediately hooked on BoI:R, much to my surprise, and I played an embarrassing number of hours. I also True Platinum Godded it before the requirements changed, and I’m only missing something on The Keeper, the worst character in the whole game. I forced myself to quit playing it and left it off for about a year. I did play again when Afterbirth+ came out, but then I didn’t. Then, for whatever reason, I  installed it on my laptop (the last one). Why? I don’t remember, but I think it’s because it’s small and I can play it with the keyboard and no mouse. I do the daily every day along with a free run (usually Eden), and it’s my comfort game at this point. When I can’t play a new game or feel up to a Souls game (which, while comforting, still takes more energy), I pull up BoI:R and escape for an hour. I’m going to give it up again soon, but until then, I’m enjoying all the weird synergies.


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The Surge 2; the good, the bad, and the frustrating

So.  Let’s talk about The Surge 2. I’m still dealing with some shit physically, but I’ve been playing The Surge 2 on and off. More on than off, and I have feelings. So. Many. Feelings. I’m about halfway done with the game, which answers the question of whether I beat the first real boss or not. Who, by the way, is officially the third boss, but I refer to him as the first boss because the other two were tutorial bosses. In fact, in looking up the bosses for this article, I didn’t even remember the first boss at all. I mean, I had to fight him because I got out of the detention area, but when I saw his name, I was like, “What the fuck?” Even after reading about him and watching the video, I did not remember him. That’s how unmemorable he is, and I wouldn’t even call him a boss. We’ll get to that in a second.

Anyhoo, beating

*spoilers*

Little Johnny came down to sheer stubbornness on my part and something I mention often in playing Souls/Souls-like games: luck. There is always one or two moves by a boss that are troublesome for me.

Side Note: One thing I like about these games is how different people deal with different bosses. I’ve never had a problem with Gwyn, for example, and others took five hours to fight him. You’re supposed to parry him, and I’ve watched videos of people parrying him into oblivion. It’s a thing of beauty, and I really wish I could do it. More on that later as well.

I find in a good boss run, the boss doesn’t do the one move I hate that often. In the case of Little Johnny, it’s when he vomits the little spiders that shock you. He only did it once or twice in my successful run. Also, the stompy stompy bit. He didn’t do that much, either. I was pleased to be done with him and to be moving on with my life. Then, I encountered the area known as Gideon Rock, which was a microcosm of all I like and dislike about this game.

Let me just say flat out that gear is important in this game. In the original, I used the Liquidator set which was a light set with good resistance. Early on in this game, I wore the Scavenger set (Operator class) which was light, and the full set bonus was health regen on a finishing move. I will always take health regen over almost anything else. In Gideon’s Rock, I ran into an enemy that was way above my level. It’s called the GAIA Statue, and it’s a golden-plated statue that turns into a robotic enemy when you near it. When I first entered Gideon’s Rock, the statues had a red number–which meant they were waaaaay above me. I fought the first one right outside the hub for nearly an hour, and I didn’t manage to kill it once. I decided to run by it and continue on in the area.

I liked the new enemy type, Hunter, even if it frustrated me. They can go invisible, which they use to get next to you before trying to shank you. One thing I appreciate about The Surge 2 is that it has distinctive environments, which is so different than the drab industrial interiors of the original game. Gideon’s Rock is outdoors and very nature-based. I will say I had a chuckle at Metea Forest because it looked so much like a Souls‘ area, especially with the hunters, but that’s forgivable in my eyes.


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Hope is fading…like the First Flame

I hate video games. This, obviously, is hyperbole, but it’s starting to feel true. I tried Furi this week, and I couldn’t get past the tutorial boss. Before you tell me to git gud, n00b, hear me out. I knew going in that Furi was a hard game. It’s all boss fights, and each one is difficult in its own way. That’s all I knew going in. Oh, and that the protagonist is in jail and has to fight the jailer to get out. That’s all I knew firing it up, and I was prepared to have my shit pushed in time and time again. What I wasn’t prepared for was how fucking irritating the jailer/warden, whatever the fuck his name is. I’m going to call him FuckFace just because. No reason. Anyway, he talks waaaay too much. Maybe it’s because I play Dark Souls and Monster Hunter, but I’m not interested in someone flapping his lips at me as I’m trying to kill him. Yes, there was Micolash in Bloodborne, but he was fucking annoying as well. Not as annoying as The Jailer, though. He’s sneering and pompous an supercilious. And he won’t. stop. talking. He fancies himself a dom with me as his unwilling sub. He talks about killing me again and again and again. Blah, blah, blah.

I could tolerate that, barely, if it weren’t for the fact that he has eight phases. Yes, you read that right. Three of them are tutorial, and you heal to full after each one. But, so does he. Then, in the fourth phase, shit gets real. He starts attacking you with everything he’s got, and I died to him a few times. I also noticed myself doing damage, but then seeing he had full health. What? Oh, right. He has a fucking shield for each phase. So you have to kill the shield before doing actual damage to his health. You get three lives to do five phases (plus shields), and I just–no. I did not want. I set down the controller, uninstalled it, and sighed sadly.

The thing is, I think it’s a good game. I really do. I just think it’s above my pay grade, and I don’t want to put in the work it would take to get firmly mediocre at it. Plus, I hated listening to The Jailer being such a jackhole. In addition, there were two other things about this game that made me turn stop playing. One, there are bullet-hell aspects to the game, which I do not enjoy. The other is that you have to learn to parry.

*SOUNDLESS SCREAM*
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I don’t think I actually like video games

I came to a realization a few weeks ago that I may not actually like video games. Hear me out. I’ve been playing ‘hardcore’ games for roughly seven years. The first one was Torchlight, which I absolutely loved. I loved the protagonist who looked Asian if you squinted. I really loved that she came back as a voiced NPC in the sequel, and her voice was low and husky like mine. I loved that I could have a pet whom I could name and feed fish. The game was very addictive, and I immediately had the ‘just one more level’ feeling about it.

Diablo III was right after that, and I really dug that as well. Then the Borderlands, original and sequel, which I played for hundreds of hours. Then, I played Dark Souls, and everything changed. I could no longer play hack ‘n slashes afterwards because the combat was empty and unsatisfying. Yes, I played Skyrim afterwards and enjoyed it*, but I was a caster (of course), so I didn’t have to do much of the melee combat.

In all this time, I played dozens of games that I didn’t like. At all. Some that I really wanted to like and should have been up my alley, such as Alan Wake, and others that I just didn’t like at all. Like Arkham whatever. I’m not sure which game, but I hated the combat. I gave it a fair shake–a few hours–but I just didn’t click with it at all. Others, I liked, but there was one aspect that I just couldn’t stand that made me fall off it, such as Sleeping Dogs, which I call Sleepy Dawgs for reasons that should be obvious. I really liked it, not in a small part because of the badass Asian male protagonist, but the driving suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. I can’t emphasize that enough. I didn’t love the combat as it’s similar to the Batman combat, but I could hack that. It was the driving that I haaaaaaaaaaated. I distinctly remember the incident that made me quit. I had to follow a wedding cake truck (long boring story) to get the cake back. After failing it twice, I was DONE. When I went back to try it again much later, I accidentally erased my saved game because United Front Games, the devs, made the inexplicable decision to put New Game at the top of the queue rather than Load Game like everyone else, and there are no saved files in the game–at least when I played. That was it for me. No way I was playing the game again, and I have not.


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What is ‘normal’ isn’t universal

run, run away.
Just looking at her makes me tired.

It’s wearing to always be the weird one. I have to get that out there before I start blathering about whatever is on my mind. Fair warning: I woke up feeling as if I was hit by a dump truck (not as bad as a Mack truck, but still), and I’m slightly dizzy and nauseated. So, I’m going to write until my brain gives out, which could be in five minutes or it could be in an hour.

One common wisdom people give about depression is to write about your feelings as a way of tracking them. It makes sense, but I refuse to do it. Why? Because I write a lot on a regular basis, and I don’t want to make it a chore, rather than something I enjoy doing. Telling myself that I have to jot down every feeling I feel is a sure way to make me not want to write. I do it, anyway, in these posts, so making myself journal seems excessive to me.

Another common wisdom to counter depression is to get some sun and to exercise. I’ve heard the latter so much, it’s embedded in my brain. My experience with exercise, however, begs to differ.

Side Note: I have SAD in the summer instead of winter, which is yet another way in which I am not normal. I love winter. I roll down the windows in my car until it’s zero degrees. I used to do it sub-zero, but I’m more sensitive to cold now that I’m an Old. My thermostat is set at 62º during the day and 60º during the night. I did not wear a coat all of last winter, but I also didn’t go out during the coldest days. I think we reached something like  -50º including the windchill, which is cold, even for me. I do appreciate the sun, but in small doses. I like it better than gloomy weather, but it has to be paired with cold.

Back to exercise. I’ve heard it all my life, and I’m sure you have, too. “Exercise drives away the depression!” Well, no. That’s not true. I found that it didn’t make my mood worse, but it didn’t help, either. No endorphin boost for me, except when I did dancing as exercise. Fast walking (and I used to do four miles a day) just made me actively angry, in part because I was getting hot and sweaty while doing it. I sweat. A lot. More than most people. I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s not fun to be bathing in it. Also, being in the heat makes me actively angry. Anything over seventy is not my happy place. I read about the office temperature wars, and I have to shake my head. Most people seem to think 70º to 75º is the comfort zone. In fact, women in general prefer a higher temp than men do. Me, I would cuss everybody out if I had to be that hot every day.

People who like it warmer complain that they have to cater to people who like colder temps, but it’s because at some point, we can’t take off any more clothing. One person on this temp war thread said their dad started a new job at a place where a woman kept the thermometer cranked to 85+º. Eighty-fucking-five. PLUS. The commenter said their dad almost fainted, and I would have fainted. The dad also kept his thermostat at 62º during the winter, so he’s my kind of people.

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End of Sekiro and I can’t play Return of the Obra Dinn

I’ve been romping through NG+ in Sekiro and not being fazed by much of anything. I two-shot Madame Butterfly and got Genichiro in half a dozen tries. The boss who gave me the hardest time was a mini-boss: Seven Ashina Spears–Shikibu Toshikatsu Yamauchi. It’s always the fucking spear guys that mess with my shit. I died to him seven or eight times, and I can’t imagine having to fight him for both Deathblows. By the way, it’s still one of my irritation about the game. Most of the mini-bosses can be stealth Deathblowed to start the fight, so why bother? In fact…I’ll get to that in a minute. No, I can talk about it now. The toughest boss until the very end game was the True Corrupted Monk. In my first playthrough, I cheesed by doing a stealth Deathblow for her first two pips, then just fought her normally for her third phase. I did that by intentionally dying any time I couldn’t pull off the first or second stealth Deathblow, so I ‘died’ to her more times than I actually count as deaths.

This time, I went in for the first stealth Deathblow, and I didn’t get the big red glowing dot. I let myself be killed so I could try it again. I figured I hadn’t lined it up correctly, so I tried it again. And again. I did it half a dozen times before fighting her first phase, then dying in the second phase. I tried it several more times, and I never got it. I mean, I’m not the greatest with spatial awareness, but it wasn’t *that* hard to get the first Deathblow. I finally looked it up, and it turns out they patched it out. Well then. Good to know. I had to fight the first phase the normal way and then try for the second Deathblow, hoping they didn’t patch that one out as well. I did that, and I got her on the first time I made it to the second phase (which did not have the stealth Deathblow patched out), and I moved on.

So, yeah. I was making it through the game at about a tenth of the time it took me on my first playthrough. I did some farming to get the skills I have yet to acquire, and I managed to get the one that costs 9 skill points which took me a goddamn long time. I would do it by going through an area and killing a boss, which at this point, took me to maybe half a skill point, then I would go to Ashina Castle Antechamber and farm. Or Gun Fort. I would do this until I went past the next skill point and bank it, then I would go to the next area. I accrued a ton of sen in this manner as well, which was really pointless as I have nothing to spend it on except Spirit Emblems. I’ve ended up buying sugars and potions and such because I don’t want to lose the sen, but it’s just luxury at this point.

Side Note: I’ve mentioned that one tip I kept reading about how to survive in Sekiro was to buy coin purses to save your sen. They’re like consumable souls, and you buy them at a 10% markup. You don’t loses the purses upon death, so the rationale is that if you’re, say, going into a boss and know you’ll die a lot, better to have 90% of your sen than none of it. I understand that. I don’t disagree with that. My quibble is with the overemphasize on saving sen. In my first playthrough, I was never hurting for it. Never. If there was something that was a bit more expensive (such as Madame Butterfly’s Phantom Kunai for 3,000 sen, which is a ton at the point in the game when you can buy it), I’d grind for it. My early game grind spot, a stretch of the Hirata Estate, netted me 500 sen in 5 minutes (1,000 with the Mibu Balloon of Wealth), so it wasn’t a big deal.


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FromSoft games are the ideal

come at me, bro!
Super-Biggie is MUCH less intimidating with a +10 Zwei.

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.

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What I want when I game

I’m in between games right now. I haven’t played Sekiro in several days, and I haven’t really had the wherewithal to pick up something else. I’ve been dealing with a cold/sinus issues, and it’s really wiped me out. I end up playing solitaire because that’s about what my mind can deal with right now. It’s also what happens after I play a FromSoft game. I get so drained by it, I have no desire to try anything else. I will say, I’m watching footage of the closed alpha for Nioh 2, and it looks really dope. I bailed on the original game halfway through even though I thought it was a good game for two reasons. One, I hated that if you left a level, you had to start it over the next time you went back. My MO if I’m getting my ass kicked by a boss is to go farm up shit (like Elixirs, the healing drinks, which is another issue in itself. I hate farming for healing items or buying them). The easiest way to do that is to go back to an earlier area in order not to have to use heals to get through it. If I did that, though, then I’d have to do the whole level up to the boss I was currently fighting again. Doing that for the last boss I fought was not something I wanted to do at all. I ended up farming on that level using Onmyo Magic for free heals (hey, it’s been ages since I’ve played. That’s the best I can remember) and tapping out when I actually had to use a heal. It wasn’t optimal, but it did work. I resented not being able to choose to go back to an earlier level, though. I really, really, really hope they make that change for Nioh 2. I did notice that they simplified some of the names of the level ups. Onmyo to Magic, for instance. I don’t have an issue with this because while I’m a big fan of obscurity, I’m also a big fan of not wasting souls. Or amrita, as I think it’s called in Nioh. But! There is a rolling cat ball in the Nioh 2 closed alpha demo, so I’m in!

There are two games I have my eye on that are actually in my pile of shame. One is Return of the Obra Dinn by Lucas Pope. I have talked about this game before and I’ll talk more about it later because I will be mentioning Papers, Please, the seminal game by Pope. It’s one of my favorite games of all time, which is why I’ll talk about it later. The second game is Unavowed, which is an adventure mystery demon game. It sounds right up my alley, and I am desperately looking for an adventure mystery game I can sink my teeth into. I’ve tried several, and this is made by the highly-respected Wadjet Eye Games. They are revered in the genre, which is part of the problem. I hated the Blackwell series they did, and it’s one of the gold standards of the genre. I had to use a walkthrough to get past the first chapter of whichever game I tried. I think I tried two–I have almost all of them because hope springs eternal and they were cheap and I’m an idiot. My biggest gripe about adventure games is that their logic is not logical. They have certain events you need to do in a certain order, and it’s not intuitive at all. I mean, it probably seemed that way as they were dreaming them up, but in retrospect, they aren’t at all. Maybe if I’ve played a million of them, the logic will be immediately apparent, but it wasn’t as I was playing them. I resorted to using the walkthrough for the rest of the Blackwell game I played. I’m hoping against hope that they’ve upped their game concerning logic, but given how much people swoon over their games, I fear they consider it a feature and not a bug.


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I suck at Sekiro

father 'dying' in the background.
Everything is on fire.

I was watching the RKG producer stream (for producers and posh slugs, long story), and the discussion turned to Sekiro, of course. The boys got their start with Dark Souls, and they’ve done every FromSoft game* except Demon’s Souls and Sekiro. They’ll be doing a Sekiro playthrough later in the year, and I’m profoundly grateful they waited to do it because I wouldn’t have been able to watch it if they did it at release. I won’t watch anything about the game I’m playing, and it would have made me sad to have to delay my viewing. I know they took that into account when deciding upon the timing of the playthrough. Plus, they were still doing Scholar of the First Sin (DS II), and they plan on doing the remake of Resi 2 next. In addition, Daniel has to play through the game first because he’s the lore master and the one guiding Rory through the game. The lore side of it won’t be too hard as much of it is explicitly transferred in text or dialogue. There is some subtext, and if you’re going for the best ending, there’s a ton. In general, though, it’s the most accessible of the FromSoft games, lore-wise.

Anyway, in the chat, someone asked about the difficulty of Sekiro compared to the other games. I said for me, it was by far the most difficult. Someone else said for her, it was on par with Bloodborne (she’s only up to Genichiro, but she has beaten him). Someone else said it was the easiest game because you just needed to learn the movesets. That, of course, was a guy. Dudes tend to state their opinions as if they’re facts, regardless of what the opinion or the subject is. In fact, there was a study that showed dudes (especially white dudes) thought the most expert opinion in any subject was…themselves. I’m exaggerating slightly, but not much. It’s from being the center of attention all their lives and having everything catered to them. Look how many of them lose their shit when something isn’t focused on them. A Star Wars movie dares to have a woman or PoC character? It’s an outrage! It’s giving into the dreaded ‘diversity’ ‘identity politics’ as if having all white men isn’t an identity politics thing.

I will tear myself away from that rant with difficulty because I’ve done it many times before and it’s not worth getting into again. It’s also not really relevant to this post except that I wish I had a tenth of that confidence. I know I undervalue myself in many ways, but I really don’t think I’m overstating it when I say I suck at Sekiro. With over a hundred hours put into it, I suck much less than I did when I first started, but the game still goes against everything I find instinctual. In Dark Souls, I’m a turtler. I hide behind a shield, and I rarely let it down. I’m also a caster, so then I just stay out of range and hurl my fireballs/hexes. I’ve learned not to have my finger glued to the LB, but I still tend to keep my shield up more often than not. It’s one reason I had a hard time with Bloodborne. In addition, arcane is not viable until the very end game, so I really put myself at a disadvantage when I started out. I knew I would because I had heard the warnings about not doing an arcane build on your first try, but I’m stubborn. I am a caster through and through, and I’m going to play the games my way.

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