Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thoughts on my second Dark Souls playthrough; also, I reviewed Infamous: Second Son (PS4)

If you've been following the transformative experience I've been having with Dark Souls over the past couple of months and think it's all very peculiar, well, just imagine how it must feel to be me. At the beginning of the year, I was on record naming Dark Souls the least amount of fun I've ever had playing a game, and now, just a couple of days ago, I told a colleague that it's well on its way to becoming one of my all-time favorites. And, really, that's just me being honest with myself.

In case anyone's wondering whether or not this'll inspire another rewrite, know that my newly-updated Dark Souls review stands. It's shoddy in some ways, downright broken in others, and full of design decisions that infuriate me. I think a 7/10 is more than reasonable, and I'm in no rush to recommend the game to anyone who isn't 100% committed to unearthing its many wonders. On the other hand, though, not only did I storm through the game in only four days, but as of this weekend, I've just beaten it again.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, Dark Souls II, which was mechanically superior but ultimately forgettable, left me with a thirst to revisit the entry that truly entranced me. Secondly, now that I'm fully familiar with Lordran's layout, I was eager to test out some shortcuts and see just how quickly I could clear this thing without the mega-skills of a YouTube speedrunner. Thirdly, and most importantly, I wanted to check out the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, which you can't access until you're more than halfway through the game, anyway, and if I get that far, I might as well see Dark Souls through to the end. Again.

Since I've already written a rather thorough and (to my mind) reasonably well-organized review of Dark Souls, I think I've earned the right to express further thoughts by medium of lazy bullet points. I'd like to say that the following will be the last you hear from me about Dark Souls, but then I said that last time, too.

• This time, I managed to complete the game in only 20 hours, compared to the 50 it took me on my first run. I killed all of the bosses (including Gwyndolin, which I missed the first time) and completed all of the DLC. It's amazing how much more quickly the game moves once you actually know the world and can actually anticipate what the game is going to throw at you.

• I played it on PC this time. I'd heard that it was an awful port, and my goodness was that the truth. The mouse and keyboard controls are utterly broken (though why anyone would want to play Dark Souls with anything other than a standard controller is beyond me), and even when you bump the resolution in the options menu up to 1920x1080... it just stays at its native 720p. Thankfully, there's a relatively famous mod that fixes the latter problem, and the game looks considerably crisper than its console counterparts when you use it. Still, ugh.

• I'm punching myself for missing Artorias of the Abyss the first time, because it's fantastic. The four new bosses (Sanctuary Guardian, Artorias, Kalameet and Manus) are all among the best of the series, and some of the new areas are unnervingly creepy. The fact that the DLC is set hundreds of years prior to the other events of Dark Souls had me thinking that it'd be, I don't know, a grander and more optimistic period for Lordran, but as it turns out, this world was always terrifying, lonely and miserable. The only thing I don't like about Artorias of the Abyss is that its first area is a repeat of Darkroot Garden, which is one of the base game's least memorable areas. Otherwise, terrific.

• Also, the means to actually access the DLC are annoyingly convoluted. You need to interact with a specific NPC who was already available in the base game, and then return to that area with an unremarkable item dropped by a seemingly random enemy found in the Duke's Archives, accessible only after you finish Anor Londo and obtain the Lordvessel. I realize that obtuse design choices are kind of From Software's thing, but this is content that people are paying extra for, guys.

• I was able to bypass large chunks of the game through some sequence-breaking shortcuts that I learned about in this video. Specifically, I was able to skip pretty much all of the Catacombs and the Duke's Archives, though in the latter case, I found myself a bit under-leveled when I actually had to fight the boss. Also, while this wasn't an unintended shortcut on the developers' part, I used the back door into Blighttown (the one in the Valley of Drakes) to effectively negate most of that level and essentially jump straight to Quelaag's Domain. This also would have allowed me to skip the Depths entirely, but I did that anyway because I wanted to fight the Gaping Dragon again.

• I didn't summon any NPCs for assistance on my first run, but I did so for the Bell Gargoyle and Quelaag fights this time, because screw it.

• My greatest accomplishment on this run was defeating Ornstein and Smough on my first attempt without summoning help. Like I said, it's amazing how much more smoothly this game flows when you already know its dirty tricks.

• My absolute least-favorite parts of the game are as follows: the long trek back to Seath's lair every time you want to fight him; having to wade through poisonous water in order to fight Quelaag; the Bed of Chaos battle, which isn't "difficult" so much as it's just poorly-constructed and completely out of place; important bonfires in Sen's Fortress and Lost Izalith being tucked away in places you'd basically never find without help; the camera flipouts during the Centipede Demon battle.

• Some random joys that were new to me on this playthrough: actually knowing where to get Havel's armor set before the endgame; jumping over and killing the giant at the top of Sen's Fortress who's dropping the boulders through the ceiling; provoking Gwydolin into casting night upon Anor Londo and removing all of the enemies from the area; figuring out that the shortcut out of Blighttown can be used to get into Blighttown; shooting the Hellkite's tail and getting the Drake Sword immediately; noticing that ceiling of Lost Izalith is the same structure that can be seen from the entrance to Demon Ruins; fighting Kalameet.

One more thing...

I reviewed Infamous: Second Son this week. I really, really thought that this would be PlayStation 4's killer app, but instead it's just the shadow of a once-mighty giant, a superhero sandbox game that feels underwhelmingly ordinary now that superhero sandbox games are kind of a regular thing. It's also not a very interesting game to talk about, so I'm going to stop now.

I've been playing two games recently. The first is Luftrausers, which has a unique control scheme and not much else going for it. It applies Asteroids-style pivot-and-propel movement physics to an environment with actual gravity, which gives the game a unique feel, but as an arena-based bullet hell frenzy, it's both bland and entirely too hectic for a control scheme that demands a great deal of effort from players. The other game is Strider, which I'm kind of loving. It's basically a Metroid clone that clones Metroid well, and I'd recommend it if that sort of thing is an easy sell for you (as it is for me). Review hopefully incoming.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Three new reviews and a brief summary of a game that made me physically ill

Let's just do this in chronological order, then, yeah?

You know how the passersby are always getting their heads in a whirl about review scores while the critics themselves argue that the scores are beside the point? Here's why: Cloudbuilt. I impulsively bought it last weekend based on a colleague's praises and this video, wherein TotalBiscuit dismisses his ability to critique the game fairly due to the fact that he's embarrassingly crap at it. I kind of had the same experience - I eventually hit a wall wherein I was physically incapable of performing the feats that the game was asking me to perform. I wound up giving it a 6/10. What does that mean? Nothing. I don't like Cloudbuilt because it's beyond me, but it's also kind of spectacular if you happen to hit within its target audience (that being the speedrunners).

My review is here. And since I don't want you to see the score and immediately dismiss Cloudbuilt outright, I'll also point you toward Joe's more official review, which went up at precisely the same time and complements mine nicely. Different sides of the same coin, these are.

Even if you decide that Cloudbuilt isn't for you, though, I'd still urge you to check the game's soundtrack, which is absolutely extraordinary, as some presumably savvy and sophisticated individual is quoted saying right on that page. Seriously: If you know me, then you're well aware of my adoration for music, so when I say that I literally cannot recall the last time that I purchase a video game soundtrack for casual, anytime-anywhere listens, that should clue you in on just how special Jacob Lincke's work here is. In particular, the track "Aerial Walkways" is perhaps the sole reason I was able to stomach one especially nasty segment of the game.

The second review of mine posted this week was for a game called The Castle Doctrine over at GameCritics (in what I certainly hope will not be the last thing I write for those guys). Gonna be honest, here - the reviews I've done for GameCritics tend to be written long before they actually go live, which means, in this case, that I barely even remember anything about the game in question. It's an intriguing but ultimately kind of disastrous idea, a game that, and I quote, "asks too much of the player and offers too little in return." To do anything in The Castle Doctrine means putting all of your hard work thus far on the line, and for what? To push your way up the leaderboards and make yourself a bigger target, thus putting all of your hard work thus far on the line? It's a game in which the only possible outcome is to lose, unfairly and with nothing gained.

On the other hand, though, I can at least respect the fact that it's original. I believe that video games are art, and as such, the games historically most apt to offend me are the ones most artistically empty, cynical nonsense like Too Human and Knack that could very well have been made by machines for all of the inspiration that they house. The Castle Doctrine at least attempts something new, and while it fails, I admire the risk. Although the creator is reportedly kind of a buffoon, so maybe I should stay my tongue there.

Finally, I've at long last gotten around to reviewing Titanfall, after Dark Souls II devoured all of my time during that particular release week. I absolutely love the game, as expected from the considerable amount of time I spent with a beta a month or so back. You can read my thoughts here, and I do very much hope that I'm not overselling it. I know some people are upset about Titanfall's lack of a single-player campaign, but I've already gotten a couple dozens hours out of this thing and I can already tell you that it'll be my multiplayer title of choice for the foreseeable future. It's a big toy box full of awesome things, to heavily simplify the message.

I should have a review for Infamous: Second Son done by the end of the weekend. I have a weird compulsion in superhero sandbox games to do everything, even when the game in question is on PS4 and I couldn't care less about trophies. Since there's actual purpose behind the side quests in Infamous games (clearing out the city), catching spies, spraying stencil art and basically doing anything other than the standard story missions has been the order of business so far. My save file tells me that I'm at 75% completion, and that's without even having found the third set of powers yet. I don't know what it is with me and these games.

It's not even that great, honestly. Especially coming after Titanfall, the controls feel sluggish, and 30 frames per second is kind of the pits these days, eh? Superhero sandbox games are an easy sell for me, but they're also open to some potential pitfalls that Second Son embraces with big, beefy arms. I loved the first Infamous, but now, following titles like Just Cause 2 and Saints Row IV, the series just isn't tight or exciting enough to propel itself beyond the status of being typical genre fare: passable, sufficient, diverting, fine. I'm glad that my PS4 is finally getting use, but a killer app this ain't.

By the way, I also checked out TxK on Vita over the weekend, as per the recommendation of... someone. I don't know. I keep a list of 2014 releases I still need to check out - because I'm serious about pursuing this as an active line of work and that means being an expert - and TxK made it on there. It's unique because, with no history of epilepsy or motion sickness, this is the first game that I am physically unable to play. Some combination of the tunneled perspective, rapidly changing colors and techno-trance music is just too much for my body to handle, because picked up nausea and a raging headache after maybe 30 seconds with the game.

TxK seems cool, and I don't hold the developers responsible for this; like I said, this is unusual for me. Unfortunately, this means that I'll have to permanently cross TxK off my list. It's gotten good reception otherwise, but if you're interested, be warned about that. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Two new reviews, for Dark Souls II (Xbox 360) and Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita)

I've been playing some video games lately, if you can believe that.

A couple of weeks ago saw the release of my two most anticipated games of the year, Dark Souls II and Titanfall. Still on my Dark Souls high, I managed to complete the former in less than a week, with 38 hours logged and about 300 deaths on record. Then my modem decided to die (it was very old), which left me without the ability to post new reviews or play Titanfall for over a week. So that was a hindrance.

Anyway, the review is finally live and can be read here. If you follow me on Twitter, you've heard me talk about Dark Souls II incessantly over the last couple of weeks and probably already know what I think of it. Kinda weird that I've come to regard the first Dark Souls in such high esteem considering how I once felt about it, and yet here I am, expressing my disappointment with the sequel relative to its predecessor. Dark Souls II is a mechanical improvement, but it just doesn't have the grace and flow of the first. You could even say it doesn't have the... soul.

Anyway. The other game that I reviewed is Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. I was in the middle of a playthrough of this when Dark Souls II released and only just got around to finishing it. It'll almost certainly wind up making my top ten list for 2014 and is this year's "game I love that's not really a game." Visual novel, interactive manga, reading material... whatever you want to call it, it's a gripping character-driven murder mystery that you should experience for yourself. Read why here.

As for current gaming progress, I'm currently divided between Titanfall, which is awesome, and Infamous: Second Son, which is fine, I guess. I finally sent Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII back to GameFly after over a month of the disc never leaving its sleeve, and now I'm renting Thief, which I'll admit I'm not going into with a terribly positive attitude. (I played the introductory level and then went right back to Titanfall.)

For some reason, I've also downloaded Final Fantasy VI on my Vita with the intention of perhaps giving that game a long-overdue revisit at some point. I was having a discussion with a few people on Twitter the other day about Kefka being a better villain than Sephiroth and that got me in the mood.

Next on my list is Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. On PS4, because if I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do it right. And, y'know, with all of these long-ass games coming out all at once, a two-hour campaign is sounding pretty good to me right about now.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Life update: I've been solving murders and buying a car

See, I figure that if I'm not updating this blog regularly enough, then that kind of beats the whole point of creating it in the first place, which was to keep my writerly muscles flexed even when I'm not under obligation. In my defense, I've been busy lately. Ha. That segues me rather succinctly into my discussion topics, wouldn't you say?

The first thing that's been sucking up my time is that I've had to buy a new car, but that'll actually be the second thing, since this is primarily a gaming-centric blog and thus probably not what anyone reading this would want to hear about.

Games, then. Just last weekend, I decided to punch through Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the first time in quite a while as a continuation of my recently fixation on Metroidvania games, following Guacamelee!, Dark Souls and two actual Metroid games. (Also to be blamed: the talk surrounding the recent Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, which I have not played and which is still relatively low on my to-do list despite getting some surprising praise from people I trust.)

It's still good. Great, even. Though I will express some confusion over every 2D Castlevania to follow this one being regarded as so second-tier. While I do respect that Symphony was the game to shape the modern formula for this series and co-inspired the "Metroidvania" designation, I'd say that several of the Game Boy Advance and DS follow-ups easily match it for quality in design and layout, in addition to adding their own flourishes - the Sorrow games had one of the coolest collection-and-reward systems I've ever seen, and Circle of the Moon had the decency to be challenging (as well as getting better with time, since the game's notoriously dark visuals are a non-factor on any even remotely modern hardware).

Still, playing Symphony on Vita was a delight - it looks great, and I've developed a preference for playing Castlevania on handhelds, anyway, since pretty much every worthwhile game in the series to follow Symphony was on a handheld. I actually did try playing the game on my Xbox 360 a while back, which was an absolute nightmare with that d-pad, what with Alucard constantly ducking when I didn't want him to. Returning to this one was a smart detour in a crowded release season.

Speaking of which, I've been playing Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

Ha! No. It's still collecting dust on my coffee table, because I've been preoccupied sinking my teeth into DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc at the suggestion of what feels like two-thirds of the video game critics on my Twitter feed. I just completed the third murder moments ago, and so far, the game (if you choose to call it that) is unquestionably living up to the hype.

I'll try to limit what I say since I plan to review this one when I'm done, but it should be said that DanganRonpa is the latest in a series of cracks in my long-standing argument that video games must serve as an interactive medium first and foremost. The game is basically a straightforward murder mystery in which your only real input, aside from walking from one scene to the next, is to participate in painfully out-of-place mini-games during the trial process, lending some actual stake to what is really a linear narrative. These interactive bits are dumb, and truth be told, I'd kind of rather have experienced DanganRonpa as a simple manga than as a "visual novel" as Wikipedia calls it, and yet the whole thing is so darned well-written that I'm fully invested nonetheless.

It's kind of a cruel experience in a very Game of Thrones-esque way in which the writers aren't afraid to punish characters who don't deserve it or make you hate some of the people who will likely drive the story to important places. But it's also devilishly crafted, to the point that I was in awe of the complexity of the third murder care even when I saw the verdict coming a mile away. It's also both too stylized and too funny to ever become oppressively bleak despite dealing with some very dark subject matter. This is usually not my sort of game at all, but it's so good at what it does that I can't help but recommend it. Hopefully the rest of the game isn't a disappointment.

Finally, let's talk about the thing that has really been sucking up my time recently.

A little over a week ago, I lost my Saturn SL-2, which I've owned since before I even got my license (about seven years ago), in an accident. It was, unfortunately, my fault. I was rushed and rear-ended someone while driving down Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia. The damage wasn't terrible, all things considered - I was still technically able to drive the car with no performance problems - but one of the headlights was destroyed, the hood was contorted and some addition damage was dealt internally. The car wasn't worth much, and since Saturn is out of business, parts were becoming increasingly hard to find (an issue that I'd encountered before). My insurance decried that it was time to say goodbye to this very important staple in my life.

This meant buying a new car, which was a very new experience for me. Since my Saturn was bought when I was still learning to drive and still a child, my parents essentially handled the process for me. This time, while my dad did come to town to shop around with me and offer plenty of passive advice, the hunt was entirely mine. I tracked down all of the cars that I was interested in, I tested them out, and I ultimately decided on what I'll be driving for the foreseeable future: a silver 2002 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Honestly, for my price range, I thought I'd be settling for something functional but (for lack of a better word) lame. Most of the cars in my search that matched my criteria (which basically just consisted of a price ceiling, several select Asian manufacturers and a manual transmission) fit that description, and yet I now have a sporty roadster sitting in my garage. The thing is twelve years old, but the thing only has 62,000 miles and is in beautiful condition. It's also a convertible, so I kinda can't wait for the weather to get warmer now.

My decision ultimately came down to either this or a 2010 Hyundai Accent. Both were literally five dollars apart in price and had roughly equal mileage, so it really just came down to personal preference, after which it was obvious: the best-selling roadster of all time, or a dorky hatchback. The Miata is significantly less practical than I'm used to; the trunk is smaller, there's no back seat and soft top lends much less visibility out of the back. But it's a damn cool car, one that was bought from a very reputable dealer at a more than reasonable price. I never thought that at the meager age of 23 (or 24, starting a couple of hours ago), I'd actually own a vehicle that makes me giddy to drive, yet here we are. It's been a thrilling experience, and hopefully it'll remain thrilling for years to come.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Dark Souls boss battle scorecard

Because I had nothing else to do tonight and because Dark Souls is nothing if not fun to talk about, I decided to put together an informal grading system for the game's bosses. You'll probably only get anything out of this if you've played the game as well and actually remember these battles, but hey, write for yourself, eh? (Pictured above: Iron Golem.)

Asylum Demon
               -2 for being unbeatable the first time you meet him
               +4 for that not being the case on New Game +
               +2 for being a relatively easy first boss
               -4 for lack of color
               +1 pity point for being overweight
                              total: 1

Taurus Demon
               +5 for gorgeous scenery
               -8 for sneaky snipers in the tower behind you
               +5 for being slow and easy to read
               -3 for knocking you off the wall
               -3 for fooling you into thinking you'd be safe at the top of the tower
               -5 for no nearby checkpoints
               +12 for being an engaging common enemy later in the game
                              total: 3

Bell Gargoyle
               +5 for gorgeous scenery
               -6 because you'll be too angry to care
               +5 for a relatively fair first half
               -10 for calling in a second gargoyle
               -10 for second gargoyle cheaply spewing fire everywhere
               -5 for no nearby checkpoints
               +8 because you can technically save this battle for later
               -7 because most new players won't figure that out
                              total: -20

Capra Demon
               +2 for doggies!
               -2 because the doggies are kind of assholes
               -5 for small arena with potential camera issues
               +8 for being able to toy with him from the top ledge
               -1 for the jump attack
               +1 for the jump attack being easy to dodge
               -3 for being guarded by sneaky ninja bastards
               -5 for no nearby checkpoints
               +7 for being an engaging common enemy later in the game
                              total: 2

Moonlight Butterfly
               +4 for being pretty
               +4 for accompanying pretty music
               -5 for ridiculous magic spam attacks
               +10 for thoughtfully resting its head on the ledge so you can attack it
               -11 for that shockwave attack it uses when you do
               +7 for being visible atop the tower shortly before you fight it
               +5 for being optional
                              total: 14

Gaping Dragon
               +15 for being the best creature design in the game
               +5 for fighting in a big, open arena
               -3 for that gobble attack
               -4 for spewing weapon-destroying goo all over the place
               +8 for that introductory scene
               -5 for not doing a solid job of keeping players the hell out of Blighttown
                              total: 24

Quelaag
               +5 for boobs
               -6 for boobs with no nipples
               +10 for spewing lava
               -11 because the lava stays there and is actually really dangerous
               -5 for no nearby checkpoints
               -10 for making you wade through poisonous water every time you want to fight her
               +4 for having a cool-looking lair
               -5 because said lair is guarded by giant bastards throwing boulders
               -1 for the shockwave attack
                              total: -19

Stray Demon
               -10 for pulling you into the fight via sneaky collapsing floor
               -5 because you'll also take damage from the fall
               +3 for being large and relatively slow
               -5 for that shockwave attack with the pink particle effects
               +8 for the satisfaction of just staying behind him for the whole fight
               +5 for being optional
                              total: -4

Great Grey Wolf Sif
               +25 for being a giant wolf carrying a sword in his mouth
               +10 for continuing to protect his master even after said master dies
               +5 for fighting in a big, open arena
               -8 for that double spin attack
               +5 for his attacks being fair
               -5 for no nearby checkpoints
               -6 for being guarded by that spinning weasel thing
               +15 for making me feel sad when he started limping around at the end
               +5 bonus points for being the best fight of the game
                              total: 46

Iron Golem
               +20 for absolutely spectacular scenery
               +5 for relatively nearby checkpoint
               -6 because it's really hard to find
               -10 for the giant throwing firebombs on you
               +12 for being able to permakill said giant before battle
               -5 for knocking you off the edge of the arena
               +6 because that's really the only danger of the fight
               +4 for opening for the old "running between the boss's legs" trick
                              total: 25

Gwyndolin
               +5 for being optional
               -5 for neutrality's sake, because I missed this one and can't comment on it
                              score: 0

Ornstein and Smough
               +10 for sounding like a wacky comedy duo
               -10 for actually being a dragon slayer and an executioner
               +5 because at least they're both drastically different adversaries
               -12 because when you kill one, the other regains all of his health
               -5 for no nearby checkpoints
               +8 for the pillars making great cover
               +1 for Smough's ridiculously huge hammer
                              total: -3

Crossbreed Priscilla
               +5 for being optional
               +10 for explicitly giving players the option of leaving
               +2 for having a tail
               -12 for turning invisible
               +13 for the invisibility thing turning out to not be terribly cheap
               +5 for not having much health, all things considered
                              total: 23

Four Kings
               -5 for making you fight four of them
               +4 for at least having the courtesy of showing up one at a time
               -6 for the battle being set in a featureless abyss
               -7 for the contrived means of actually traversing said abyss
               -8 for making me kill Sif, you bastards
               -10 for basically forcing you to go on the complete offensive
               -15 for the nearest checkpoint literally being in another level
               -3 for the grapple attack
               -5 for the shockwave attack
               +5 because at least their armor looks cool
                              total: -50

Seath the Scaleless
               +20 for an awesome lair, and the slow-burning reveal of said lair
               -15 for the nearest checkpoint literally being in another level
               +15 because at least the scenery on the way is pretty phenomenal
               +10 for canonically being the reason I don't have to fight any other dragons
               -5 for having a curse attack
               +6 because the attack is avoidable enough that I never actually got cursed
               -1 for initially throwing you into a prison with a bunch of jellyfish monsters
               +3 for the ambition of seeking the secret to immortality
               -4 for said secret just being a crystal that can be smashed in one hit
               +5 because he can be lured into smashing it himself, which is hilarious
                              total: 34

Pinwheel
               +5 because I beat him on my first try
               -5 because that actually makes him kind of forgettable
               +6 for making a bunch of clones
               -6 because he himself has barely any health
               +2 for the masks
               +2 for dropping one of them at the end of the battle
                              score: 4

Gravelord Nito
               +8 for having the title "Gravelord"
               -8 for his actual name sounding like "neat-o"
               +10 for being made of skeletons
               -6 for the massive enemies in the back of the arena
               +6 because those enemies won't attack you if you stay away from them
               -3 because that underground attack is pretty cheap
               +7 for being a massive boss with attacks that are easy to read
               -5 because you'll automatically take damage from the fall into the arena
                              total: 15

Ceaseless Discharge
               +10 for being called "Ceaseless Discharge"
               +3 for having a giant fiery octopus sprouting out of his back
               +10 for being able to instakill him by luring him to the entrance of the area
               -9 for the trick bugging out if you die and return
               -7 for the borderline-unavoidable fire breath attack
               +5 because he doesn't actually attack you until you steal his stuff
                              total: 12

Demon Firesage
               -10 for just being the Stray Demon with some orange paint
               +10 because you'll actually be ready for his attacks this time
               +5 for not using any dirty tricks to pull you into the battle like Stray Demon did
               +3 for fighting in a relatively large arena
               -3 for said large arena being full of spindly tree branches
                              total: 5

Centipede Demon
               +12 for fantastic creature design
               -10 for most of the arena floor being covered with lava
               -15 for the tiny strips of land sending the camera absolutely haywire
               +3 for the player who left me a note warning me about that
               +20 for there being a checkpoint immediately before this battle
               -7 for the shockwave attack
               -8 for throwing fireballs when I tried to lure him out of the lava
               -10 for this battle being insanely unfair to melee-centric builds
                              total: -15

Bed of Chaos
               -10 for the closest checkpoint being hidden behind an illusory wall
               -20 for basically doing the Gradius-style "glowing weak points" routine
               +30 for your progress actually not being reset when you die
               -25 for mandatory platforming
               +12 for an exploit wherein she can't hit you during one of the phases
               -100 for canonically being the source of every demon in this game
                              total: -113

Gwyn
               -20 for basically having no stamina limit
               +20 because you can just shield yourself with one of the stalagmites
               +10 because no one else seemed to figure that strategy out
               +10 which underlines the open-endedness of the combat in Dark Souls
               -8 for being guarded by a bunch of respawning black knights
               +5 for marking the triumphant end of your playthrough
                              total: 17

And here they are, ranked:

22. Bed of Chaos (-113)
21. Four Kings (-50)
20. Bell Gargoyle (-20)
19. Quelaag (-19)
18. Centipede Demon (-15)
17. Stray Demon (-4)
16. Ornstein and Smough (-3)
15. Gwyndolin (0)
14. Asylum Demon (1)
13. Capra Demon (2)
12. Taurus Demon (3)
11. Pinwheel (4)
10. Demon Firesage (5)
9. Ceaseless Discharge (12)
8. Moonlight Butterfly (14)
7. Gravelord Nito (15)
6. Gwyn (17)
5. Crossbreed Priscilla (23)
4. Gaping Dragon (24)
3. Iron Golem (25)
2. Seath the Scaleless (34)
1. Great Grey Wolf Sif (46)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

At long last, I've made peace with Dark Souls

If you follow me on Twitter, then you likely at least caught a glimpse of the marathon Dark Souls playthrough that I did over the course of four days, from late Wednesday night to early Sunday evening. If you missed the impassioned updates on my progress throughout the game, please come feast your eyes on all of the juicy highlights. The idea of storming through a 50-hour game over a period of four days would probably sound pathetic to anyone who isn't a gamer, but it took a hard toll on me: I spent most of my weekend feeling malnourished, my car battery died from inactivity, and I went into work yesterday with a sore left index finger. (That last bit probably sounds like an exaggeration, but it's true. I was holding the block button so fervently through my Dark Souls run that my finger is literally still in pain as I type this.)

Was it worth it? I'd say so, if only to finally shrug aside the long-standing contempt I'd held for Dark Souls since not really giving the game a fair chance in 2011. I wrote a new review, and I'd very much appreciate it if you'd read it.

It's the most conflicted review that I've written in quite some time, and also the most personal; I avoided detailing the boring stuff that you're usually supposed to cover in an informative piece, instead largely recounting my own personal journey with Dark Souls, both in-game and out of it. To my delight, I've already received some positive feedback on the review - some from those who love Dark Souls and are glad to see that I've finally come around, and some from those who gave up on the game early and were shocked that I've been "converted," so to speak. It was a fascinating and transformative experience, and I hope I was able to convey that in great detail here.

A couple of notes. Firstly, I had trouble settling on an accompanying image for the review, since most of the Dark Souls screenshots I've seen are closeups of various player characters battling with demons. I understand that the combat is the draw of the game for many people, but for me, it's the scale of the world it portrays, and I was very careful to find a screenshot that conveys the scope of Dark Souls well. The one I chose is a gorgeous view of Anor Londo, and if you think it looks lovely in screen captures, imagine how it feels to actually walk through it.

Secondly, it needs to be stated that circumstance played a major role in getting me to the end of Dark Souls. It's a game that requires you to be fully invested and "in the zone" in order to get the most out of it, and that's not going to happen if you simply pick it up for an hour or two every once in a while. As extreme as it sounds to plow through the whole thing in the span of four days, it really is the ideal way to experience Dark Souls. That's why I may just wait to hit up Dark Souls II until another such opportunity arises.

Finally, while I obviously now hold a tremendous admiration for Dark Souls, I'm still extremely critical of the game and believe it to be fundamentally flawed on certain levels. More importantly, the game just flat-out isn't for everyone, a fact that its often overly smug fanbase doesn't seem to understand at times. The game is inaccessible to a fault, and while I did grow more forgiving of Dark Souls as I pushed forward, I would never encourage someone to force that level of dedication if they weren't already 100% committed to getting the most out of the title. It's a hell of a wall to break through, but the more I think about Dark Souls, the more I understand why it's got such a rabid following.

And there it is. A long, exhausting journey comes to a close. Thanks for accompanying me!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Toukiden: The Age of Demons (Vita) review

You probably haven't heard much about this one, unless you follow my Twitter account closely (and even then, I haven't really said all that much about Toukiden because I've been too busy playing it). We got our review key only four days before the game's release, and that simply wasn't enough time for me to cover it in time for launch, a problem that I'd reckon every other outlet was faced with given how slowly reviews are trickling out. Since this has been such a busy release week, I imagine Toukiden will be slipping under most people's radars. That's a shame, because it's actually quite good. Read why I think so here.

I figured I'd be faced with the difficult choice between Bravely Default and Danganronpa now, but Amazon actually still hasn't even shipped my order for Danganronpa yet, so that makes things easy, I guess. I'm a couple of hours into Bravely Default, and so far it's sunk its teeth into me like no JRPG has done in years... which is admittedly what I'd expected from the demo, so thanks, game, for not being a disappointment.

Anyway, play Toukiden.