The Appeal of Challenge & Reward in SoulsBorne

MINOR BOSS SPOILERS FOR DARK SOULS III

It’s likely that you’ve heard of the SoulsBorne series. It’s also likely that you’ve heard about its famous, or infamous, allure of challenge. And because of this, every time a video game is termed ‘difficult’, the SoulsBorne series is there to be referenced. ‘Is it as hard as Dark Souls?’, one might say; ‘Seems like a Souls-clone to me’, another may repeat, and ‘Souls-like’ being a term amongst some when referring to similar games. But why is From Software’s ‘hard’ series lauded and applauded, consequently used as that which everything else is compared to? Well, it comes down to a few points, but what I’m talking about is the balance of challenge and reward. Want a slightly longer answer? Let me explain while you look at this dragon.

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Seriously. What am I supposed to do with this?

I remember walking into my local games store – for us New Zealanders it’s EB Games, and I think it is for Australians as well – and gazing over the original Dark Souls back in 2011. This isn’t an exaggerated memory either, this is exactly how it happened because I’m trustworthy.  I’d done a little research on great games at the time and many people recommended Dark Souls but cautioned those against it because of the difficulty. I flipped the case over and saw the slogan sprawled from side to side: ‘Prepare to Die’, it said. I was genuinely intimidated. I stood there anxiously questioning whether I should risk it because of my fantasy fetish or play it safe with a copy of Battlefield 3. I didn’t want to waste $100. And I didn’t. I chose the former and was rewarded with one of the best, if not the best, video games I would ever play.

So, I get home, slide the disk into my PlayStation 3 and begin making my way through the Undead Asylum. And then I come across the first of the many, many SoulsBorne bosses: The Asylum Demon. I was a teenager at the time, and this game certainly tickled my damn fancy. This appropriately sized, brown Treebeard-bug, with a gut kicked me all around town as if it knew that I was anxious about playing it; it knew that I was worried even when I was thinking about preparing to die, I didn’t want to die! And then I killed her – for some reason I see this particular demon as a female. I don’t know why. She or it or that died because I consistently hacked away at its feet, belly, and tail for nigh on more than I’d care to recall. It was tough. Very tough. Grueling, even – especially coming off of so many hours of Skyrim. But more than that, the encounter was rewarding.

 

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*Ejects disk*

Achieving victory over the Asylum Demon is akin to the game saying that you have what it takes to play this game. And the same can be said for Iudex Gundyr in Dark Souls III. As he aggressively swipes and lunges at you, it is a natural consequence to learn his patterns and how best to avoid them. For an initially intimidating encounter, as if I were David and Silver-man Gundyr were Goliath, I was learning to overcome the challenge he posed. The same occurred with Vordt of the Boreal Valley, Father Gascoigne in Bloodborne, even the Nameless King. What the game does is suggest that you but a lowly undead, or unkindled, or whatever, you’re just low, who doesn’t have any hope of defeating these moving mountains. But with a little effort and preparation, you do. You achieve victory and you defeat prey, time and again. But not after at the least a few deaths. Because death in the series is a core part of it just as chugging Estus juice is when healing. I mean, the game blatantly tells you this on the back of the cover, and it’s more than a simple scare tactic. There’s even a tally of the total deaths in Dark Souls II on the cliffs of Majula. Therefore, it is evident that death is an aspect that the series embraces, and the player needs to as well. Death is an opportunity for one to learn from past mistakes and capitalize on them.

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And I bet they were all cheap, nonsensical deaths too.

The player is always learning the ins and outs of an encounter in order to overcome it – all through death. Or natural skill – but who, ever, has natural skill in Dark Souls? The pattern of ‘fight, die, learn’ is absolutely core to how the series plays. However, death in video games is usually handled to present the player with the opportunity to simply attempt a set encounter again. But in SoulsBorne, the player drops the accumulated souls they’ve collected from their previous death and have the pressured opportunity to recollect them. There’s incentive to adventure back to the area or enemy that caught you off guard – a cheap shot, I bet? There’s a risk and reward mentality that tempts the player into venturing further in search of the next bonfire or lamp, further risking your accumulated souls or blood echoes. But make it to the next checkpoint and you’ve earned that which you have collected. In the case of a boss, if you can pull it off, you are handsomely rewarded with possible lost souls, a defeated boss, a huge, sprawling message that says you are victorious – or should I say Artorias? – the boss’ soul, and the great feeling of being rewarded from a challenge.

The series is designed to keep you engaged with a great challenge that you can visualize yourself overcoming; it’s a significant challenge but not an impossible challenge. However, you still need to earn your progression.

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I really wish the series had a boss-only mode.

For another example, take The Nameless King. The Nameless King is arguably the hardest boss in the base game of Dark Souls III – including the DLC, many now consider that mantle to be stolen by the great black dragon, Midir. The Nameless King presents such a difficult challenge and yet, once you’ve died enough times to learn the encounter, the initial section with the Storm Drake becomes relatively simple. You beat the bird and the King himself absorbs its power – reminiscent of Ornstein and Smough. And this is where many would have the most trouble. However, once you defeat him, what ensues is something so akin to delicious and fantastically edible satisfaction and happiness. And following even your achievement of victory, the game clears the skies, commends you, and finally allows you to breathe.

What the SoulsBorne series does is boast itself as a difficult series of games, but not impossible ones. The series is always pushing the player to do better, to learn, to conquer, and this is, what I believe, to be the fundamental reason for its success. By learning and succeeding, the player is seeing result from their own actions.

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Furi Review | The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Wondering whether Furi is worth your time? Let me answer that for you.

If you’re looking for a game, play Furi; if you’re looking for a challenge; play Furi; if you’re looking for a quiet narrative, play Furi; if you’re looking to be frustrated and rewarded, play Furi; if you’re looking to be a badass Keanu Reeves swordsman, play Furi. However, if any of these put you off, then still play Furi

Now, SPOILERS.

I knew nothing about Furi before playing it, so I watched the games’ opening cutscene with cautious optimism. But there was this line, this one line, that locked my eyes and ears to the screen, my hands to the controller and said, hold on tight. That line was, ‘I hear thunder… pitter patter’. As soon as heard that line, I ­­was engrossed; I loved what this did for me in setting up the mysterious and tense experience to come. But there’s just so much that I want to talk about with Furi that I have zero clues as to how long this analysis will be.

Furi is a bloody hard game, and if you aren’t prepared to exert a little frustration and patience, then this probably isn’t the experience for you – but it definitely is. Now I feel like I throw the term experience around a little in analyzing video games, and that’s because lately, I’ve felt that that’s what they are. There’s always an argument as to whether video games are art – which is a whole other topic – but in the case of Furi, I feel as though it isn’t simply a video game, it’s also a kind of learning experience. So, with that being said, I’m going to talk about the tip tops and the tip nots of Furi that aided in its establishment as one of the most polished and tactically-sound video games that I’ve ever played. Continue reading “Furi Review | The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful”

Firewatch and the Problem with Player Choice

*SPOILERS*

Well, Firewatch. I did indeed watch the fires, completing the game nigh on a week past, however, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it. But having said that, I know that I did enjoy the game, for the most part. It’s beautiful, the narrative is rich and realistic, the ending was well-illustrated – and is one that has gotten more satisfying the more I think about it, even if I didn’t like the overall story. In addition to the story, what I didn’t exactly enjoy, or what I’m struggling to come to terms with, is the games’ handling of player choice. And as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that what I’m confused about is overshadowing the rest of the game and what it has left me with. And that probably isn’t a good thing.

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Dialogue choices are unique and intriguing.

So as you know, or you don’t mind knowing because I texted spoilers, the game allows you to shape relationships – those being between Henry and Delilah and Henry and Julia – through dialogue and interactivity. The player is given the freedom to establish a unique prologue for Henry’s history with Julia and playfully converse with Delilah over a walkie-talkie. However, regardless of the choices you make, Henry is still going to end up taking his job as a Firewatch lookout and he’s still going to up end up at certain plot points throughout the game. Continue reading “Firewatch and the Problem with Player Choice”

The Importance of Influence in Hyper Light Drifter | Analysis

Length and mere opinion ahead.

For me, Indie games evoke a unique and personal kind of experience. They offer a separate experience from the AAA games that have their advertisements and marketing campaigns. In the past, I haven’t had the pleasure of playing too many indie titles but they nonetheless hold a place in video games for when I’m looking for a specific experience. Bastion is one of my favourite games ever, and Hyper Light Drifter, although not up in the heights of my top five, it’s proven itself to be an excellent and memorable game. If you’re unaware of the game in question and were to commit to a little research, I’m confident that the two terms that’d pop up most frequently in others’ attempts to define the game would be Zelda and Dark Souls. Therefore, I’m going to be talking about both series and games, all in an attempt to persuade you to play this game.

Continue reading “The Importance of Influence in Hyper Light Drifter | Analysis”

The Last Guardian | A Review

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD – Just a few situational images.

Now, this game is… emotional, to say the least. It is also frustrating, beautiful, masterful, brilliant, stupid, confusing, and flawed. The Last Guardian is a tiring way to experience a magnificent story.

It’s a little difficult to pin down what The Last Guardian exactly is. It’s a video game – yes I get that – but it is also more, and it’s also less. Therefore, I’m going to break this down into two parts. Firstly, how The Last Guardian enables itself to be more than a video game, and, secondly, why it’s a severely lacking video game – and this is as much for you, as the reader, as it is for me because this game has just dragged me on an emotional trip of ecstasy and frustration, and I’d like to get this out and share it with anyone who’s interested. Hopefully, it resonates with some.

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The Last Guardian follows the experience that is the relationship between an unnamed boy and a griffin – Trico. They work together to solve puzzles, defeat mindless and haunting foes, and traverse crumbling towers to escape the prison they’ve both been abandoned in. It’s so much more than this, but let’s just start here anyway.

Continue reading “The Last Guardian | A Review”

The Importance of Timing the Games You Play

Shifting further down the line of launched apps on my PS4 sits The Witcher 3. The heading at the top of its icon reads ‘Game of the Year Edition’ and yet it keeps moving down the list.

I say this because I haven’t yet had the probable pleasure of experiencing the game’s final expansion: Blood and Wine. And this is because I’m perfectly happy to let it sit there and gather its digital dust on an imaginative bookshelf. This is because of timing.

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One of the best games ever made.

Have you ever played a game, watched a movie, read a book, or had an experience that was so damned amazing or thrilling that you wanted to recreate the experience as soon as it was over? This is something that I’ve had quite a few times. Dark Souls, for example, is one such game where I wanted to continually experience the game for the first time. Therefore, I went in search of a similar experience, one that would allow me to continue on my high of challenge and minimalist storytelling. Following a brief search, I found Demon’s Souls.

Continue reading “The Importance of Timing the Games You Play”

A Review of Horizon: Zero Dawn

Given that I’m a little late in boarding the Horizon: Zero Dawn praise train, I wanted to play through the game as fast as possible without losing any of what it has to offer. I climbed every Tallneck, accomplished every hunting trial, and completed each quest to earn its platinum trophy. And after experiencing every aspect of the game, including some leisurely exploration, I can see why there’s significant acclaim surrounding Guerrilla Games’ latest and finest, yet I cannot seem to remain on the praise train. I need to get off at the next station, criticize, and jump back on.

Before I begin, these points of criticism are the ones in which I feel deserve attention. Other, smaller, issues would be the lack of a consistent mount until the end-game, or the state of Aloy’s spear – it’s useless outside of stealth take-downs and toppling Grazer dummies for a trophy.  However, it wouldn’t be a reasonably sized read if every point was elaborated on. Forgive me if I’ve missed anything. Because I have.

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Gripes and Understanding in Uncharted 4

After recently completing my late play-through of Uncharted 4, there were two aspects that left me a little frustrated yet amazed at what I had just experienced. Game developer Naughty Dog is known for their emotional depth regarding narrative, and their ability to create an experience that blends cinema and video games. And this is exactly what Uncharted 4 evoked, to an extent.

Following the promising conclusion of Uncharted 3, Nathan and Elena set out to pursue the life that excludes the dangers and thrills of treasure hunting – a conclusion that the series could have embraced. However, fans of the series –  and by fans, I mean myself – would have been left wondering what became of our daring and witty protagonist. We know from other series, ones that I cannot recall at this moment, that sometimes to know what became of a beloved character is tiring; to send them on one more adventure is just more of the same; it’s unnecessary and undermines the characters and their story. Prior to beginning the game, this worried me, and I’m reluctant to say that it still does, a little.

Continue reading “Gripes and Understanding in Uncharted 4”

Why do I still play Destiny?

With Destiny’s latest update – Age of Triumph – releasing in a few days, I thought about my time in the Destiny universe, and asked myself: ‘Why am I still playing this game?’ Over the course of the two and a half years since release, Destiny has arguably been a beta for its sequel, Destiny 2; to be released later this year. However, with that being said, it still has the ability to hold my attention; to induce emotions akin to that which one gets from the release of a new, and, to an extent, better game. Developed by Bungie, Destiny has its own, and everyone else’s, shortcomings in gameplay, narrative – especially narrative – and development. So, why do I continue to play a video game that frustrates me to the point where I tell my partner that the direction of the game just outright baffles, even saddens me? Hopefully, I’ll have an answer by the end.

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Continue reading “Why do I still play Destiny?”