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

               +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

               +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

               +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

               -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.

Stop what you're doing and watch Twitch play Pokémon

Someone has hooked up an emulator running the Red Version of the original Pokémon to stream on Twitch. That same person has, rather ingeniously, set the emulator to respond to text commands issued by Twitch viewers. As I write this, there are nearly 7000 people watching the stream. Giving that many people a say in how this Pokémon adventure unfolds is a predictably uncoordinated affair, and yet it is surprising engaging to watch all of this unfold.

Watch it now.

What I find remarkable about this experiment is that progress is being made. It's not being made quickly, of course; the stream has been running for almost two consecutive days and they're still stuck in Cerulean City, trying to battle Misty for the second gym badge (of eight, if you're unfamiliar with Pokémon). That's a very slow rate of progression, obviously, but the combined efforts of thousands of people led them, however messily, to evolve Charmander, catch a couple of wild Pokémon, beat Brock and make it through Mt. Moon. While there are plenty of troublemakers on the stream deliberately entering the wrong button commands, most of the people playing actually want to see this through to the end, and that attitude overwhelms and moves Red in the right direction, however slowly.

It's basically like watching the world's most brain-damaged spectator sport, and I'll be damned if it's not entertaining. Last night, the players took down Gary after the first couple of attempts resulted in Charmeleon accidentally being told to use "Leer" over and over. There's a weird thrill in seeing a massive group of people overcome simple tasks, and that this is all unfolding on such familiar territory (is there anyone reading this who couldn't cite the Red and Blue versions Pokémon as a massive institution of his or her childhood?) makes it easy to root for. The second season of House of Cards started streaming today and I'm watching this, if that tells you anything.

Monday, February 10, 2014

There are a lot of time-consuming games being released this week

This was supposed to be the weekend that I began punching through Bravely Default. Instead, I picked up the game (from a clerk who ominously reported that they'd only received enough copies to accommodate preorders), watched the very neat AR intro... and then shelved the game to continue playing my current review assignment, Toukiden: The Age of Demons.

My plan was actually to finish the game in time for today's review embargo, but I've dumped around 20 hours into the thing since receiving the press key on Thursday night and there's still no end in sight. And you'd think that when I'm only given four days to cover a game that spans at least a couple dozen hours, the publisher is probably pretty embarrassed of the product, right? It's like when a studio doesn't screen a film for critics until the night before; it's usually because the movie is bad.

Well, Toukiden isn't bad. Not by a long shot.

It's a straight-up Monster Hunter clone, and speaking as someone who's always been simultaneously intrigued and intimidated by that franchise, Toukiden is comparatively a perfect entry point into this subgenre. That's not to say that it's better (Monster Hunter is clearly a much deeper experience), but it's better explained and offers a far greater emphasis on story as a driving point. I'll hold off on the specifics of why I'm really enjoying the game until I review it, which will hopefully happen later this week, but even amidst a busy release week, it'd be a mistake to write this one off.

That'd probably be easier said than done if I hadn't actually received a review assignment for Toukiden, since it's being released alongside at least three presumably massive games with considerably more hype. Aside from Bravely Default, my most anticipated game of 2014, we've got Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (the biggest name of the week, even if it's a sequel to basically the worst game in the world) and Danganronpa: Happy Trigger Havoc, which reportedly takes something like 25 hours to finish. I'm pretty much the only critic on my Twitter feed who hasn't played Danganronpa yet, but based on what I've heard, that one might just be my number-one priority when it's released on Friday.

Still, I'd rather have too much to play than not enough. This time last year, I was beating DmC for literally the sixth time and choking on Aliens: Colonial Marines. 2014 ain't bad so far.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (Xbox One) review

Long story short: It's prettier, but it's not sixty bucks prettier. Read my review here.

It's worth mentioning that, as Gary already noted in the comments, this isn't intended to be a standalone criticism of the core game so much an evaluation of the "definitive" reissue and whether or not it's worth paying full price for what is essentially a last-gen game with refurbished graphics and a whole one extra tomb to explore. Much of what I wound up writing is pretty much in line with what I said in my blog entry about the game a few days ago.

While I did spend the bulk of this review complaining about both the bare-bones reissue and a couple of irritating flaws in Tomb Raider that my colleagues never really covered, I want to make it clear that I still wholeheartedly recommend Tomb Raider one way or the other. I meant it when I compared it to Metroid; I think they're cut from the same cloth.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Raiding tombs definitively

This weekend, I'm playing Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. Well, "definitive." I had both versions on my GameFly queue just so I wouldn't be delayed in getting a copy, since I'm on a relatively tight schedule (what with two review assignments underway and Bravely Default finally being released in North America later this week). The PS4 version was placed higher, but they sent me an Xbox One copy even though both are listed as "available now." I think I've been trolled.

The well-broadcast problem is that the PS4 version runs at or around 60fps, while the Xbox One rendition caps at a more console-standard 30fps. I won't act like this isn't acceptable; 30fps still looks fine, and I'm kinda used to it when not gaming on my PC. Feels like a missed opportunity, though, especially since this is technically a last-gen game. Ah, but the Xbox One version has Kinect commands, which aren't used for anything that couldn't be performed with a simple button press and are astronomically less reliable and intuitive! Joy!

Also, my Kinect has a nasty habit of picking up voices from the TV itself and mistaking them for voice commands, and I had to just turn the damn sensor off after it heard one of the NPCs say something that sounded like "pause" and promptly paused without my input. But yes, Microsoft. By all means, pack one of these in with every Xbox One and charge $100 than your competitor's console, the one that can apparently run the same game at double the framerate.

Ugh. I've said a couple of times that I'd actually recommend Xbox One over PS4 at this point simply because it's got more worthwhile content, but please don't ever take that as an outright endorsement of the thing.

On that note, I think it's actually kind of funny that Square Enix goes and re-releases Tomb Raider on the new consoles and it's really far and away the best game on either of them. I think I ranked Resogun higher on my year-end list, but replaying Tomb Raider is reminding me just how rich and full an experience it is: a (mostly) successful mix of play styles that's thick on atmosphere and woven into a Metroid-like expanding environment that's a joy to explore. Definitive Edition is also, despite the underwhelming framerate on Xbox One, actually a hell of a lot prettier than many new-gen releases, too, up to and including Knack and Dead Rising 3. (I finally tried the latter this week, by the way, and I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I'm enjoying it, but good heavens is it ugly.)

I'll probably review Definitive Edition at some point, so I'll save the full analysis for that (especially since I never got around to reviewing Tomb Raider after several of my colleagues at HonestGamers did some excellent write-ups that transcribed my thoughts on the game pretty much to the letter). In the meantime, I broke out the Elgato to take some screens of the Xbox One version, so here's what the game looks like in 1080p (and what Lara looks like in her bangin' new archer outfit). Click on any of the images to view them full-size.