Underneath my yellow skin

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The dark side of Dark Souls, part five

I am writing about the dark side of the Dark Souls series (very slowly as I get sidetracked by everything I love about the games) and this is part…five? Here’s part four and many of my issues with the DLCs of the third game. Having said that, I have finished NG, including the DLC. I got summons on the Champion Gravetender & Gravetender Greatwolf, Darkeater Midir, and Slave Knight Gael. One for CG & GG, two for DE, and one for SKG. On a Monday afternoon! It’s heartwarming that people are still playing the game. Ian showed me how to check how many people are concurrently playing and it’s roughly 14,000 at a time. I didn’t think that was THAT many people, but Ian assured me that many MMOs would kill for those numbers.

On the downside, that means that there are people still invading as well. I play the game offline until I reach a boss because I’m usually embered up (human form). I have gone on record several times that I hate being invaded, though I’ve accepted it’s part of the game. I’ve had people try to change my mind about it to no avail. One person in the RKG group got pretty earnest about it. We were talking about platting the game and I said that the pain of grinding for the covenant items made me not play the game for some time. He said that it was because I did it the wrong way–I needed to invade for the items and that would make it less grindy.

Now. Is he right? Yes. Invading for the items would have made it easier. How many items? Let’s chat. 30 Proofs of a Concord Kept for the Blade of the Darkmoon Covenant. 30 Pale Tongues for the Rosaria’s Fingers Covenant. 30 Vertebra Shackles for the Mound-Makers Covenant. 30 Wolf’s Blood Swordgrass for the Watchdogs of Farron Covenant. 30 Human Dregs for the Aldritch Faithful Covenant. 30 Sunlight Medals for the Warrior of Sunlight Covenant. Oh my god. As I was writing this list, it all came flooding back. I had repressed much of it and forgotten two of the six covenants I had to grind items for. There are a few of each item found strewn around the world, but not more than five of each.

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The dark side of Dark Souls, part four

In the last post, I talked about why I don’t like the DLCs of the third game, which is my favorite game in the world. I have played it dozens of time, and, yes I play the DLC every time except for the not-plat run on NG+ and NG++. I will say that I recently started not fighting the Champion Gravetender & Gravetender Greatwolf duo because I can’t get a summon for it to save my life. Can I beat them solo? Yes, I can and have. Do I want to? No. It’s a boring fight and it’s mostly so you can get an item for PvP. You can get that same item in the second DLC,  so it renders the boss fight moot. It’s just really uninspired and more to the point, it includes the worst of all the negative tendencies of FromSoft games. Starts with the gravetender and three wolves. That’s bad enough because I hate adds in a boss fight. It just seems like a lazy way to add instant and artificial difficulty. Then, when you get the gravetender down to a quarter health or so, he whistles in the greatwolf. If you’re a squishy caster like me, it’s difficult to finish off the gravetender before the greatwolf materializes, but it’s what you need to do. Otherwise, gravetender will cheese you from afar while the greatwolf bum-rushes you.

There is nothing new in this fight nor is it memorable in any way. As much as I loathe the DLCs for the third game, all the other bosses are memorable for one reason or another. Sister Friede is epic and one of my favorite bosses though she’s not fair at all. Demon Prince–ok, he’s not that memorable but there’s still the gotcha factor of it going from two demons to one after you kill the two demons. Midir is grueling and a test of your patience/skills. Gael  is fucking amazing, but also unfair. So I’m not saying they’re great, mind you, but just that they are noteworthy in one way or another. Champion Gravetender & Gravetender Greatwolf is a boss fight that doesn’t stand out in any way. So I’m not motivated to do it even though I can beat them.

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The dark side of Dark Souls, part three

With the horrific news coming out of Atlanta recently that has hit hard and has underscored the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes since the pandemic started, thanks in a large part to the inflammatory rhetoric of the previous president and his acolytes, I’m trying to find ways to stay on top of the rage that I am feeling. By the way, that’s an unexpected reaction, but not necessarily unwelcomed. In the past, I would have been heartbroken (still am), fearful (a little, but not a lot), and bitter about the lack of visibility of Asians in this country (it’s been mitigated by the outrage I’ve seen over the murders, and for the right reasons). Rage, though, would have been waaaay in the back of my brain and I would have tried to tamp it down. This time, I liked the rage flow through me. Once the spin started trickling in, which was roughly a minute after the suspect was said to have been arrested.

Anyway. One way I’m doing that is retail therapy. I went to TWO places yesterday (pharmacy and bank) for the first time in ages and deposited two checks. I’m eying this baby to match my twin broadsword set and an outfit for an important upcoming Zoom event. I haven’t worn anything other than t-shirts/sweatshirts and sweats in a year; I could do with a nice new outfit. The other thing I’m doing is playing Dark Souls III. I used to alternate between playing Dark Souls and Dark Souls III, but since defeating Biggie & Smalls, I’ve fallen off playing DSR(emastered). That’s not surprising given that the second half of the game is decidedly worse than the first half. I’ve reached my least favorite part of DS III as well (the DLCs), but I’m still powering my way through it because I’m a bit of a completionist. I’m doing the second DLC at the moment and am going to switch over to the first DLC because story reasons.

More on my dissertation as to the negatives of the Souls series. Here is part two of the series which has a link to the first post in it. In fact, the DLCs of the third game are a great representation of what is wrong with the series and the mentality of the hardcore fans. The DLCs have always been the hardest part of each game by far. They’ve been praised to high heaven for their difficulty and their design. Even the players who hated the second game gush about the DLCs. I’ve mentioned before that the second game’s DLCs stamped the beginning of FromSoft buying their own hype. Yes, the games were difficult, blah, blah, blah. But they were playable with any build if you put time and effort into it.

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The dark side of Dark Souls, part two

in my last post, I started a list of grievances against Dark Souls games to countermand all the ‘Dark Souls is perfect’ nonsense that gets tossed around. In this post, I’d like to start with the difficulty of the games. The first game is noted for its difficulty and it is hard. Fuck the people saying it’s not. I had to stop watching the Oxtra playthough because Ellen was like, “It’s not difficult; it’s methodical.” While hefting a zweihander before going to Blighttown and ten levels or so more than you’d normally be at this point. With someone giving her tips before each area and boss. Rory from RKG said the same thing playing Dark Souls with Krupa guiding him every step of the way. Cut to the third game and Rory complaining that the third game is much harder than the first game. Yes, because Krupa wasn’t guiding him every step of the way.

People in the Oxtra chat saying it’s gatekeeping to say the games are difficult. It’s not. They are hard! I agree that anyone can beat them–if I did, so can anyone else–but I also don’t blame anyone for quitting. The qualifiers that Krupa put on anyone beating the game were something like grinding, careful dedication, and reading the wikis (community). Rory did joke that having a Daniel really helped. Well, yes. But the people in the chat saying it’s not that hard…first time I played the original game, it took me nearly 150 hours to beat, including DLC. Now, I can do it in 30 or so hours and that’s because I like to grind a lot and fuck around. So, yeah, the games aren’t hard for me now, but the first time? I found the first game nearly impossible.

My point is that for most people going into the games, they don’t have any of the knowledge we have now. Or rather, back when the game first came out. Even trying it out now, though, probably most people aren’t Googling it before going it or watching tons of Let’s Play. It’s fucking hard if you try to go it alone as I did. If I knew anyone trying to play the game, I’d give them as many tips as they wanted to keep them moving along.

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The dark side of Dark Souls, part one

I love Dark Souls. I think that’s not going to be a shock to anyone. It’s my favorite series of games by a country mile and Dark Souls III is my favorite game, bar none. By the way, I’m happy that I can play DS III again, which I’ve been doing. I had to take several months off after the non-plat because it was ridiculously grueling* to get the covenant items and the thought of starting up a new game just did not do it for me. About a month ago, I started getting the itch again and I made a new character. Well, I say new, but I mean the exact same character I always play. Pyro starting out with the Hand Axe, switching to the Executioner’s Greatsword when I get it, then my beloved Lorian’s Greatsword near the end of the vanilla game. I use the Great Chaos Fire Orb until I can buy and use the Chaos Bed Vestiges. That plus Hidden Body and Tears of Denial are my spells. Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring, Lingering Dragoncrest Ring, Witch’s Ring, and Saint’s Ring are my base rings.

Stats-wise, I have to have 26 Strength 10 Dex to wield Lorian’s Greatsword. 20 Int and 10 Faith for the CBV. 18 Int and 18 Faith for the Crystal Chime (which I can use for both spells and miracles). I like to have 30 V and 30 End, but that’s not possible until the very end of the game given how many points I have to pump into other stats. I keep my Vit at 15 until the end game when I like to push it to 20. I have to get my Int up to 25 and my Faith at 20 so I can use a spell (Pestilent Mist) and miracle (Dorhy’s Gnawing) that take 30 Int and 25 Faith respectively. There are rings that add +5 to the important stats (individually, not all) so that’s why I need five less than the number stated.

In the past several days, I’ve been playing both Dark Souls Remastered and Dark Souls III every day, though not for very long on either one since I’m still dealing with a gamy thumb. Funny story: I went through DS III not getting any human summons and I shrugged it off, thinking it was just that I was playing at weird times or that people had moved on. I did get invaded, though, so there’s that. It was only after I had fought the Twin Princes several times with the NPC summons that I realized I had the password setting still on from when I was not-platting the game. I cracked doing the farming for vertebrae shackles and begged Ian to let me kill him over and over again while I had that covenant on, which was why we set passwords. I turned it off and voila! Human summons once again.

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

So after months if not years of silence, there has been word on Elden Ring! Kind of. Ian has written about it over at PCGN. The first clip I saw was just the protagonist riding a horse around town. The clip was horribly compressed so it was impossible to tell how good the graphics actually were. I hate driving/horse-riding/etc. in games so my heart sank. The next clip I saw was of a dragon breathing fire (lol. Of course) and I felt a bit better. Then, I saw the longer ‘trailer’ and felt much better. It had everything I loved about Souls games. Magic, grotesque bosses, grim yet lush surroundings–I was reassured that this wasn’t just going to be Red Dead Redemption 3.

I’ve said over and over again that I want FromSoft to take their time with Elden Ring. I’d rather have a great game at a much later date than a game that came out in a short timeframe and then needed patch after patch to make it playable. And, given the pandemic, it’s understandable that production might have been slowed down and/or made complicated. The issue for me wasn’t that the game wasn’t out, it’s that we hadn’t heard a peep about it in nearly two years. Are we spoiled by having a new FromSoft game every year like clockwork? Yes.

That worked against them because when a year came and went with no word, people got nervous. That would have been around June of last year, right smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. I was fine with no info at that time, but then I got antsy near the end of last year. Again, I wasn’t demanding the game come out at the moment, but it was worrying that there had been nothing said about it. In the past few weeks, I’d taken to poking Ian every week or so to ask about Elden Ring news.  Yesterday, I had the urged to poke at him again, but I didn’t. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted with Elden Ring news! The aforementioned leaks plus reassurances from industry sources that an actual trailer will come out this month. I think it’d be symbolic if it was released on March 22nd because that’d be exactly two years since the release of Sekiro, but I don’t want to wait that long.

At any rate, I’m comforted to have some info and am now willing to wait until whenever for the game to come out.

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The replayability of Dark Souls

While I’m dealing with the issue of my sore and tender left thumb, I haven’t been gaming much because I would obviously need my thumb to use my controller. In some games, it’s not actively involved, but I need it to at least hold the controller. In my favorite games (Dark Souls, duh), I need it to maneuver the D-pad and the left stick, of course.

Speaking of Dark Souls, which we are because there’s no hint of a whiff of Elden Ring in the near future except for this and I can’t go for an appreciable amount of time without talking about something FromSoft-related, I’ve been watching videos of Dark Souls playthroughs. One is a n00b from Outside Xtra who is being guided by the Dark Souls ‘expert’ in the group. He’s not an expert by far, but he is the only one who has finished the game–and Bloodborne. And, I think, Sekiro. Oh, and Demon’s Souls Remake. I watched the first two episodes, but I doubt I’ll watch the rest. Ellen, the one playing, is actually pretty good at the game, but…she has a bad attitude when she plays these kinds of games. Luke is guiding her and she gets really impatient every time she makes a mistake, but always blames the game. It’s the camera or the mob or the corner, but it’s never her. She’s extremely competitive and it shows when she plays. It’s one reason I don’t like it when the Oxbox plays competitive games and she’s one of the players. She’s a very sore loser and a smug winner.

I actually couldn’t watch Luke’s Bloodborne playthrough because he was too fucking good at the game. He one-shot several bosses and rarely had much trouble with them. He had more difficulty with the areas and would get overly upset/frustrated when he died. He didn’t blame the game, but it was stressful to watch him play. Plus, my jealousy at how good he was at the game.

It’s difficult for me to find someone I like to watch play FromSoft games because my specific requirements are very picky. One, no sexism/bro behavior. This one is really difficult to clear, even by female gamers. There was one I stopped watching after fifteen minutes because it was ‘take that, bitch!’ when she killed every fucking enemy. I can deal with the occasional bitch, but the frequency was really annoying, especially as I felt she was just trying to be the cool girl*.

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Tales of the Neon Sea? More like Tails!

I’ve been playing more Tales of the Neon Sea by Palm Pioneer and am completely charmed by it. I wrote about my initial hesitations, but I’m all in. Why? Because of the cats, bay-beeeee! Also, murder mystery that is being handled well so far. I’m only two hours in, but I’m loving every second of it. Well, not every second, but most of them. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s start with the murder mystery part. i have tried for years to find a murder mystery video game that I liked to no avail. I’ve played almost all of the critically-acclaimed Sherlock Holmes games, and not to put too fine a point on it, I hate them. I know this is a me-thing and probably because I had specific expectations for the game which were not in any way fulfilled. I wanted to be able to deduce and figure out murder mysteries. Instead, I had to do a bunch of typical point-n-click games like how to cross planks atop a building in order to get to the other side but some are crumbling. Plus, the trope of seeing a thing that you KNOW you’ll need at some point, but you can’t pick up yet. Everything I did took away from the mystery aspect and I never finished one of those games.

I also tried the Poirot game because I am a HUGE Poirot fan. But,  it was a crashing disappointment and I didn’t finish that one, either. I loved Paradise Killer, but it made me constantly nauseous and had to finally, reluctantly, quit. I played several point-n-clicks and fell off all of them sooner or later. The one that hurt the most was Kathy Rain. It was so great for the first two-thirds of it (as long as I ignored the usual point-n-click bullshit like endless backtracking and esoteric puzzles that only make sense if you’re high as a kite when you try to solve them) as a retro ’80s feel to it with a strong female protagonist. Badass who smoked cigarettes and drove a motorbike. There was an interesting story about her mother going crazy and her searching for answers. Her father disappeared and it was really building up to be something special.

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Watching the sausage get made

so that's how they make it.
Mmmmm, sausage!

We’re coming up to the end of the year–a really weird year, by the way. Doom Eternal was released this year? The Last of Us 2? Animal Crossing New Horizons? ACNH came out near the beginning of the lockdown which is probably the biggest reason it was such a hit, and to me, that feels like ten years ago. But also like yesterday. Time is meaningless at the moment. Anyway, normally, I do a few posts about my games of the year and give cute categories to each winning game. I’m still going to do that, but first, I thought I’d take you behind the scenes as to how I make these decisions.

First of all, I don’t play that many games a year. I wrote a few years ago that I would rather have three games a year I really liked than play a couple dozen ok games. Ideally, it would be more like four or five, but three is basic. I hit that floor this year, but just. In the meantime, I played a bunch of games that were meh or worse for a variety of reasons.

I would like to point out that I did both the Dark Souls not-plats this year. That took up a lot of my time and effectively killed my love for Dark Souls III for some time. I’m back in it again at a casual rate and it’s good to be home. It’s funny how it takes less and less time to snap back to my Dark Souls controls, which is the first game I ever played on a controller. The first time I went from Hades to Dark Souls III, I nearly decked NPCs more than once because RB is light attack in DS and interact with someone/something in Hades. The next time, it took less than a minute. The next time, it didn’t take any time at all.

Anyway, doing the Dark Souls not-plats took quite a bit of time. I also ended up 100%ing Spiritfarer and Hades because I was so close by the end of the game that it seemed a shame not to finish them off. I will say for Spiritfarer there was an achievement that you could only get by doing both the options for one certain quest. I was able to go back to an earlier save to choose the other dialogue option to proc the achievement (and it made no difference), but had I not been able to do that, I might not have bothered playing the game again just for that achievement. Oh, hell. You know I would have. I also cheesed a few of the Hades achievements by doing them on Heat Zero because I was not about making it any harder than it needed to be.

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Released from this Mortal Shell, er coil

Mortal Shell by Cold Symmetry is one of the few soulslike games that I was cautiously hyped for when I saw the trailer for it.

I mean, look at it. It could BE a Dark Souls trailer, down to the many bosses reveal. By the way, I never watch trailers for FromSoft games because they give away so many bosses. I always wait until after I play the game to actually watch the trailers because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of bosses for me. I am on the far end of ‘don’t want to be spoiled’ when going into a FromSoft game, which isn’t easy in this day and age.

Anyway, I knew the basic premise of the game which was that you were a…zombie? A walking skeleton? Something in between? Unclear. What was clear was that you could put on different ‘shells’ of enemies you…found? Beat? Unclear. But it was a cool concept, and I was intrigued. The graphics were gorgeous and very Souls-y, and the atmosphere was properly epic and bleak.

When it came to closed beta, I was doubly intrigued. It was so popular, they opened the beta. I downloaded it from Epic and hopped in. Immediately, I was aware that I was in a soulslike. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, mind, especially one that was as high quality as this game. There was a cutscene much like the ones at the beginning of the you-know-what games, and then I was dumped in an area much like the tutorial area of Dark Souls III but with much harder enemies. The shell I had at this point was that of a knight, and my weapon was a big fuckoff sword. Were we about to get OG Dark Souls up in this bitch? Apparently so.

They do tell you what the different buttons do, but it’s a lot to take in. They’re different from the Souls buttons, and they add a wrinkle that the first time you press B (Xbox One controller), you dodge. The second time you press B, you roll. I don’t like not having a dedicated roll, but I have to admit it’s an interesting conceit. In addition, it makes you have to be much more deliberate about your movements, which has both positives and negatives. Yes, combat is deliberate in Souls games, but it feels…almost clunky in Mortal Shell–at least in the beginning.

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