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Found 8 results

  1. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice exists as a fundamentally different beast than what many players might expect from the developers who brought them Dark Souls and Bloodborne. FromSoftware manages to infuse the stealth-action game with a lot of the same trimmings and style as their previous action-RPGs, but take Sekiro in an almost entirely different direction. Diverging from their incredibly successful formula to try something new represented a substantial risk. However, Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team pulled off the impossible and created an experience that will surely stick with players for years to come - provided they can adapt to Sekiro's punishing gameplay mechanics. Sekiro tells the story of an honorable (or perhaps dishonorable, depending on your choices) shinobi, a ninja in service to a young boy named Lord Kuro. Of course, a FromSoftware game these days needs an element of the mystic and Lord Kuro also happens to be the Divine Heir, someone blessed with blood that prevents him from ever dying. Of course, that blood makes him the target of every power-hungry figure who yearns for immortality. The lands of Ashina in feudal Japan find themselves overrun with hostile forces and Lord Kuro captured shortly after the game begins. Our titular hero, Sekiro, must use all of his cunning and swordsmanship to rescue his master and follow the Iron Code of the shinobi. In his quest to secure Lord Kuro and follow the boy's orders, Sekiro contends with far more than human adversaries. Ghosts, gods, demons, and creatures straight out of Japanese folklore rise to stop him and spread chaos throughout the land. Learning how to deal with all of these threats, both mundane and supernatural, as just one man armed with a sword and a handful of shinobi tools would be quite the challenge under a Dark Souls-like system of death. You will die. That's an inescapable fact about Sekiro. However, Lord Kuro gave his loyal shinobi the gift of his blood, bestowing the ability to resurrect from the point of death to give another chance at emerging victorious from battle. And what battles you will have to endure and survive. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice focuses on the back and forth of clashing swords. You won't be able to dodge roll around most attacks or play it safe. Instead the highly lethal combat encourages players to stand toe to toe with adversaries, timing blocks and counters to overcome enemies in a way that would feel right at home in the life or death struggles that play such an important role in Akira Kurosawa's films. In this way, combat becomes more of a dance, blades singing through the air as they strike against flesh and steel. Players who can pick up on the pattern of attacks, the pacing of the dance, will find that Sekiro takes on an almost rhythm game-like feel. Sekiro rewards players for timing blocks and dodges right by turning them into deflections or counters, moves that help open enemies up for attacks. This makes the ability to time moves properly incredibly important. It also often means that running around and avoiding attacks while waiting for an opening is just not enough to make much progress. In fact, most of the boss encounters early on are specifically designed to crush that approach to combat out of players. Clever use of shinobi tools, knowing when to disengage, and recognizing when the time has come to stand your ground and fight head-on all prove integral to standing in triumph over foes. Always remember that Sekiro was built with more verticality in mind than Dark Souls or Bloodborne, so keep an eye out for grappling locations, especially in boss fights. They could open the door for a quick escape or a devastating counterattack. Of course, mastering the basic combat only prepares players for the unexpected challenges that are to come. The world of Sekiro is one where a human with a sharp mind and skilled with a blade can fight on equal terms with gods and demons. The mechanics introduced in the early game apply when fighting colossal beasts and otherworldly threats, though adapting to those animations and rhythms can prove to be a true challenge. Contending with magic and restless undead might seem to put Sekiro on uneven footing, but as players progress, they can use skill points to unlock new combos and techniques to help them compete against even immortal adversaries. Beyond combat, Sekiro has much to offer in terms of narrative. For the past several games, FromSoftware has told stories heavy on lore and world-building without much of a focus on the main protagonist outside of the role they fill within that detailed world. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice takes a different approach, opting to have a named protagonist with clearly articulated wants and desires, and supporting characters who all relate to him. This, more than anything else, helps Sekiro to feel more grounded than any of Hidetaka Miyazaki's other projects over the last several years. The grounded experience is further reinforced by the fact that the setting is one in which humans not only survive but thrive. Some of the most interesting enemies and encounters aren't big in scope, just two highly competent humans fighting one another in a life or death struggle. Since the narrative frames those human struggles in a more intimate and personal way, the player gets pulled into that fight, too. It simply feels more "real." We are continually reminded throughout the game that dragons, gods, demons, and ghosts are all aberrations; creatures and creations that pervert the natural cycle of the world - or exist outside of it. That brings us to one of the more interesting elements of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: Religion. Whereas Dark Souls had bonfires and Bloodborne had lanterns, Sekiro has carvings of Buddha. In fact, Buddha and Buddhist imagery appear numerous times throughout Sekiro and understanding Buddhist philosophy can deepen the understanding of the narrative. For example, a major part of the central conflict raging at the heart of most FromSoftware games has been that holding onto something that will inevitably be lost can only cause suffering; it cannot actually satisfy. In Dark Souls, that something is Gwyn's Age of Fire and the curse placed upon humanity to force them into continuing the cycle over and over again. In Sekiro, the human pursuit of immortality represents a complete abandonment of the natural cycle of death and reincarnation. Sekiro's ability to die and resurrect is shown as useful but also something that spreads disease and suffering onto others. Those who have allowed themselves to become infested with immortal worms become undying and monstrous. The mission to create a god who could bestow eternal life sacrifices untold numbers of children to form one imperfect idol. In Buddhist terms, the dissatisfaction that these characters feel with their impending deaths are part of what is known as dukkha, the suffering and unsatisfying nature of a temporary existence. The way that they deal with that, however, is to wander far in search of an escape, a way to make their temporary state permanent rather than to pursue the eight-fold path and exit the cycle of reincarnation. Sekiro depicts the folly of such a wrong-headed approach to dealing with dukkha and the pain that can be inflicted on others by such an attempt. What interests me the most about Sekiro's depiction of Buddhism comes down to how its included so boldly in the game itself. Not many games are willing to show anything more than a fictional religion for fear that it might alienate some of the consumer base. In Sekiro, however, players pray at Buddha statues to fast-travel, level up, and more. The imagery is carved into the environments. Characters talk about Buddha, too. In fact, one of the main characters can't seem to stop carving Buddhas. One of the most important items players collect over their time spent in Sekiro are Buddhist prayer beads. There are even several cutscenes depicting the earnest prayers of our protagonist. That's bold and fascinating. How often have you seen a Muslim in prayer in a video game? Or a Christian? I honestly don't know that I have ever seen a protagonist in a video game pray in relation to a religion that exists in the real world. Video games are art and religion seems to be one of those areas that video games haven't yet gone in-depth, so this could be a sign of things to come. Conclusion: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice stands apart from the Soulsborne games. The highly lethal approach to combat seems suited for the mechanics and message the developers were going for. Encounters with enemies feel fair, with tight controls responding well to the rhythm of battle; even normal enemies sometimes achieve the satisfying back-and-forth trading of blows often reserved for mini-bosses. The world doesn't stop surprising right up until the end, especially if you aren't familiar with Japanese folklore. The main complaint about Sekiro's gameplay would be the functional but shoddy stealth system. A sequel seems almost inevitable at this point and further refinements to sneaking and related abilities would go a long way toward making it feel more robust. Perhaps sneaking through an enemy city and avoiding the non-violent civilians? Experiencing Sekiro's visuals feels like a treat for the eyes. The lighting and level design often lead to moments that feel cinematic and the day-night cycle that progresses as main story objectives are achieved lends each location a new experience when you begin backtracking looking for secrets (something you should definitely do). The music in Sekiro failed to live up to the standards of the visuals, but it doesn't actively detract from the game in any major way. It just doesn't stand out. However, the sound design almost completely makes up for the lackluster score. Blades clashing, otherworldly howls, the melancholy notes of ethereal instruments floating through the air, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice knows how to characterize its enemies and struggles by sound alone. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice should absolutely be on your gaming wishlist if you have any love for FromSoftware titles or action games in general. It doesn't get much better than this. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was reviewed on PC and is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  2. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice exists as a fundamentally different beast than what many players might expect from the developers who brought them Dark Souls and Bloodborne. FromSoftware manages to infuse the stealth-action game with a lot of the same trimmings and style as their previous action-RPGs, but take Sekiro in an almost entirely different direction. Diverging from their incredibly successful formula to try something new represented a substantial risk. However, Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team pulled off the impossible and created an experience that will surely stick with players for years to come - provided they can adapt to Sekiro's punishing gameplay mechanics. Sekiro tells the story of an honorable (or perhaps dishonorable, depending on your choices) shinobi, a ninja in service to a young boy named Lord Kuro. Of course, a FromSoftware game these days needs an element of the mystic and Lord Kuro also happens to be the Divine Heir, someone blessed with blood that prevents him from ever dying. Of course, that blood makes him the target of every power-hungry figure who yearns for immortality. The lands of Ashina in feudal Japan find themselves overrun with hostile forces and Lord Kuro captured shortly after the game begins. Our titular hero, Sekiro, must use all of his cunning and swordsmanship to rescue his master and follow the Iron Code of the shinobi. In his quest to secure Lord Kuro and follow the boy's orders, Sekiro contends with far more than human adversaries. Ghosts, gods, demons, and creatures straight out of Japanese folklore rise to stop him and spread chaos throughout the land. Learning how to deal with all of these threats, both mundane and supernatural, as just one man armed with a sword and a handful of shinobi tools would be quite the challenge under a Dark Souls-like system of death. You will die. That's an inescapable fact about Sekiro. However, Lord Kuro gave his loyal shinobi the gift of his blood, bestowing the ability to resurrect from the point of death to give another chance at emerging victorious from battle. And what battles you will have to endure and survive. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice focuses on the back and forth of clashing swords. You won't be able to dodge roll around most attacks or play it safe. Instead the highly lethal combat encourages players to stand toe to toe with adversaries, timing blocks and counters to overcome enemies in a way that would feel right at home in the life or death struggles that play such an important role in Akira Kurosawa's films. In this way, combat becomes more of a dance, blades singing through the air as they strike against flesh and steel. Players who can pick up on the pattern of attacks, the pacing of the dance, will find that Sekiro takes on an almost rhythm game-like feel. Sekiro rewards players for timing blocks and dodges right by turning them into deflections or counters, moves that help open enemies up for attacks. This makes the ability to time moves properly incredibly important. It also often means that running around and avoiding attacks while waiting for an opening is just not enough to make much progress. In fact, most of the boss encounters early on are specifically designed to crush that approach to combat out of players. Clever use of shinobi tools, knowing when to disengage, and recognizing when the time has come to stand your ground and fight head-on all prove integral to standing in triumph over foes. Always remember that Sekiro was built with more verticality in mind than Dark Souls or Bloodborne, so keep an eye out for grappling locations, especially in boss fights. They could open the door for a quick escape or a devastating counterattack. Of course, mastering the basic combat only prepares players for the unexpected challenges that are to come. The world of Sekiro is one where a human with a sharp mind and skilled with a blade can fight on equal terms with gods and demons. The mechanics introduced in the early game apply when fighting colossal beasts and otherworldly threats, though adapting to those animations and rhythms can prove to be a true challenge. Contending with magic and restless undead might seem to put Sekiro on uneven footing, but as players progress, they can use skill points to unlock new combos and techniques to help them compete against even immortal adversaries. Beyond combat, Sekiro has much to offer in terms of narrative. For the past several games, FromSoftware has told stories heavy on lore and world-building without much of a focus on the main protagonist outside of the role they fill within that detailed world. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice takes a different approach, opting to have a named protagonist with clearly articulated wants and desires, and supporting characters who all relate to him. This, more than anything else, helps Sekiro to feel more grounded than any of Hidetaka Miyazaki's other projects over the last several years. The grounded experience is further reinforced by the fact that the setting is one in which humans not only survive but thrive. Some of the most interesting enemies and encounters aren't big in scope, just two highly competent humans fighting one another in a life or death struggle. Since the narrative frames those human struggles in a more intimate and personal way, the player gets pulled into that fight, too. It simply feels more "real." We are continually reminded throughout the game that dragons, gods, demons, and ghosts are all aberrations; creatures and creations that pervert the natural cycle of the world - or exist outside of it. That brings us to one of the more interesting elements of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: Religion. Whereas Dark Souls had bonfires and Bloodborne had lanterns, Sekiro has carvings of Buddha. In fact, Buddha and Buddhist imagery appear numerous times throughout Sekiro and understanding Buddhist philosophy can deepen the understanding of the narrative. For example, a major part of the central conflict raging at the heart of most FromSoftware games has been that holding onto something that will inevitably be lost can only cause suffering; it cannot actually satisfy. In Dark Souls, that something is Gwyn's Age of Fire and the curse placed upon humanity to force them into continuing the cycle over and over again. In Sekiro, the human pursuit of immortality represents a complete abandonment of the natural cycle of death and reincarnation. Sekiro's ability to die and resurrect is shown as useful but also something that spreads disease and suffering onto others. Those who have allowed themselves to become infested with immortal worms become undying and monstrous. The mission to create a god who could bestow eternal life sacrifices untold numbers of children to form one imperfect idol. In Buddhist terms, the dissatisfaction that these characters feel with their impending deaths are part of what is known as dukkha, the suffering and unsatisfying nature of a temporary existence. The way that they deal with that, however, is to wander far in search of an escape, a way to make their temporary state permanent rather than to pursue the eight-fold path and exit the cycle of reincarnation. Sekiro depicts the folly of such a wrong-headed approach to dealing with dukkha and the pain that can be inflicted on others by such an attempt. What interests me the most about Sekiro's depiction of Buddhism comes down to how its included so boldly in the game itself. Not many games are willing to show anything more than a fictional religion for fear that it might alienate some of the consumer base. In Sekiro, however, players pray at Buddha statues to fast-travel, level up, and more. The imagery is carved into the environments. Characters talk about Buddha, too. In fact, one of the main characters can't seem to stop carving Buddhas. One of the most important items players collect over their time spent in Sekiro are Buddhist prayer beads. There are even several cutscenes depicting the earnest prayers of our protagonist. That's bold and fascinating. How often have you seen a Muslim in prayer in a video game? Or a Christian? I honestly don't know that I have ever seen a protagonist in a video game pray in relation to a religion that exists in the real world. Video games are art and religion seems to be one of those areas that video games haven't yet gone in-depth, so this could be a sign of things to come. Conclusion: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice stands apart from the Soulsborne games. The highly lethal approach to combat seems suited for the mechanics and message the developers were going for. Encounters with enemies feel fair, with tight controls responding well to the rhythm of battle; even normal enemies sometimes achieve the satisfying back-and-forth trading of blows often reserved for mini-bosses. The world doesn't stop surprising right up until the end, especially if you aren't familiar with Japanese folklore. The main complaint about Sekiro's gameplay would be the functional but shoddy stealth system. A sequel seems almost inevitable at this point and further refinements to sneaking and related abilities would go a long way toward making it feel more robust. Perhaps sneaking through an enemy city and avoiding the non-violent civilians? Experiencing Sekiro's visuals feels like a treat for the eyes. The lighting and level design often lead to moments that feel cinematic and the day-night cycle that progresses as main story objectives are achieved lends each location a new experience when you begin backtracking looking for secrets (something you should definitely do). The music in Sekiro failed to live up to the standards of the visuals, but it doesn't actively detract from the game in any major way. It just doesn't stand out. However, the sound design almost completely makes up for the lackluster score. Blades clashing, otherworldly howls, the melancholy notes of ethereal instruments floating through the air, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice knows how to characterize its enemies and struggles by sound alone. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice should absolutely be on your gaming wishlist if you have any love for FromSoftware titles or action games in general. It doesn't get much better than this. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was reviewed on PC and is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  3. The Dark Souls series has defined itself as a fight around the idea of entropy. Should we embrace that all things must come to an end or rage against the dying of the light? Or perhaps find another way entirely? This conflict forms the central theme that permeates every nook and cranny of the game world, clarifying itself with each new enemy and boss. That struggle makes up the Dark Soul itself. The kingdoms of men in the Age of Fire, for all their strength, are doomed to fade and succumb to a curse brought on by time and the gods themselves. When the curse awakens, it makes men immortal, living on in a state of undeath, but once undead, humans begin to lose bits of themselves as time passes. Time eventually wears them away into hollows, mindless monsters who hunger for purpose. There is only one way to lift the curse: A hero must arise and brave the dangers of a world deteriorating into chaos to rekindle the First Flame, a bastion of power that preserves the world. After braving horrors and madness, players are given the option of rekindling the First Flame with their life or snuffing it out to usher in the Age of Dark, a new world order that embraces a fireless world - but there may be other choices hidden to all but a few. Players entered the world of the first Dark Souls shortly after the curse had begun afflicting humans for the first time. No matter how that great cataclysm is resolved, the events of Dark Souls II take place far into the future, in the middle of the Age of Fire. The second game has players fighting to ascend to the Throne of Want, a throne that looks strikingly like a kiln. Again, no matter how players decide to end the story, Dark Souls III happens. This time, the Age of Fire has begun to literally choke on its own ash. The First Flame is dying. It has been linked so many times that one powerful soul can no longer relight it. Now several are needed. In an effort to avert almost certain death, powerful beings from history have revived as Lords of Cinder to become sacrifices, however all but one refuse their duty to continue the world. One more bit of unkindled ash arises from the graves of heroes and receives the task of uniting those Lords and relighting the flame – the player. From the beginning, the world of Dark Souls III feels tired and broken. Ash litters the ground. Violent religious cults abound, each with their own ways of coping with their hopeless plight. The player isn’t even a lowly undead as in previous titles, but the dregs of ashen souls randomly reforged. Even immortal dragons have begun to succumb to decay of mind and body. This is the Dark Souls that players have known and loved since the beginning of the series, but all around the edges of that Dark Souls identity threads come unraveled. Of course, when I say “this is the same Dark Souls,” I mean thematically and visually. The mechanics of Dark Souls III have undergone a revision that incorporates lessons learned from the development of Bloodborne. When Bloodborne released, people compared its fast, aggressive combat favorably against the more deliberate, measured pace of the Dark Souls series. You can see that quickened sensibility translated into Dark Souls III in a number of little ways. For example, the player gets locked into fewer animations, something that in previous Souls games could mean death by accidental button press. More weapons feature transformations between distinct move sets, something that Bloodborne certainly popularized. Combat occurs with a desperate finality. The enemies players encounter act as if they know they are living in a world with a mortal wound, a fatal injury that affects them as well. And as the saying goes, “nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal.” Enemies throw themselves into combat ferociously, adopting frenzied patterns of attack. Sometimes these patterns can seem unfair, but the core fun of Dark Souls has always been in learning those patterns and overcoming obstacles either alone or in jolly cooperation with other players. Dark Souls III feels rigorously balanced to avoid luring players into cheap deaths. Often it feels like if you’re just vigilant enough, you could deal with anything the game might throw at you. Though that confidence is often immediately undercut by a blistering encounter - if nothing else, Dark Souls III keeps players humble. Developer From Software describes their artistic approach to Dark Souls III as “withered beauty.” I wasn’t sure at first if the style of a dying world in all its dilapidated grandeur stemmed from a conscious choice or if the aesthetic was an extension of series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki’s reluctance to return to the series. He had made some statements in the past that indicated he wanted to be done with Dark Souls and that too many sequels would muddy his original intent. After spending almost 100 hours in its intricate, crumbling world, I feel comfortable saying that, yes, Dark Souls III is an entirely intentional work of art that brings the series full circle. While the core game does conclude on a definitive note regardless of player choice, the DLC ultimately brings things to a climactic final coda at the end of all things: A clash between the old world and the possibilities of the future. Ashes of Ariandel invites players into a world of rot and ice, a refuge from the apocalypse in the outside world. However, the shelter from ending possesses its own dangers and stands out as providing one of the most unique encounters in Dark Souls III. It also introduces a largely disposable multiplayer Vs. Mode, though I am sure many will derive some joy from fighting friends and strangers. Ashes of Ariandel ultimately exists to set the stage for The Ringed City DLC. This lore-heavy expansion has players delving into the legendary home of the Pygmies, an obscure, but important race of beings in the Souls universe. However, some characters and creatures have persisted within the city’s walls for countless years, standing firm to ward off intruders who come hoping to lay claim to the titular Dark Soul. Strangely, the final encounter in this DLC doesn’t end with an explosive cutscene or much exposition, just an intimate battle to the death and a subtle revelation hidden within the Ashes of Ariandel. It’s quiet, and that muted finale subverts expectations in a game that goes big so often. But that ending gets at the heart of what Dark Souls III and, indeed, what the larger Dark Souls series was about from the beginning. Conclusion: Dark Souls has been about the continuation of a toxic cycle, a cycle that offers diminishing returns with each renewal. Miyazaki purposefully left that cycle open to interpretation as an artistic statement. Does it represent addiction? Depression? Existentialism? One can interpret the cycle of spiraling rebirth and death to mean quite a number of things on a personal level – that, along with the near perfect "firm but fair" mechanics, is part of what allowed so many people to identify so strongly with the series. Dark Souls III sees that cycle finally spiral down toward its ultimate conclusion. The world can continue to struggle on, locked in an endless twilight, take the plunge into darkness where hope might one day be born anew, or the cycle can be broken into something else entirely. Even in this ending, Miyazaki leaves what the series could mean up to each player’s interpretation. There are some who see nothing in it, a pointless exercise in rehashing the Dark Souls adventure for a third time. There are some who see some truth in that portrayal of the world. Personally, Dark Souls III seems to be a meta commentary on the creative process – it is an adventure that seems limitless until limits are imposed upon it by solidifying an idea and making it real, and then creativity dies or stagnates or, very rarely, soldiers on toward something new and unknown. Indeed, while Miyazaki might not have initially desired a Dark Souls III, he and his team made the most of it while operating within the constraints of the franchise. Now From Software is working on something new, a new world on a new canvas. Dark Souls III is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
  4. The Dark Souls series has defined itself as a fight around the idea of entropy. Should we embrace that all things must come to an end or rage against the dying of the light? Or perhaps find another way entirely? This conflict forms the central theme that permeates every nook and cranny of the game world, clarifying itself with each new enemy and boss. That struggle makes up the Dark Soul itself. The kingdoms of men in the Age of Fire, for all their strength, are doomed to fade and succumb to a curse brought on by time and the gods themselves. When the curse awakens, it makes men immortal, living on in a state of undeath, but once undead, humans begin to lose bits of themselves as time passes. Time eventually wears them away into hollows, mindless monsters who hunger for purpose. There is only one way to lift the curse: A hero must arise and brave the dangers of a world deteriorating into chaos to rekindle the First Flame, a bastion of power that preserves the world. After braving horrors and madness, players are given the option of rekindling the First Flame with their life or snuffing it out to usher in the Age of Dark, a new world order that embraces a fireless world - but there may be other choices hidden to all but a few. Players entered the world of the first Dark Souls shortly after the curse had begun afflicting humans for the first time. No matter how that great cataclysm is resolved, the events of Dark Souls II take place far into the future, in the middle of the Age of Fire. The second game has players fighting to ascend to the Throne of Want, a throne that looks strikingly like a kiln. Again, no matter how players decide to end the story, Dark Souls III happens. This time, the Age of Fire has begun to literally choke on its own ash. The First Flame is dying. It has been linked so many times that one powerful soul can no longer relight it. Now several are needed. In an effort to avert almost certain death, powerful beings from history have revived as Lords of Cinder to become sacrifices, however all but one refuse their duty to continue the world. One more bit of unkindled ash arises from the graves of heroes and receives the task of uniting those Lords and relighting the flame – the player. From the beginning, the world of Dark Souls III feels tired and broken. Ash litters the ground. Violent religious cults abound, each with their own ways of coping with their hopeless plight. The player isn’t even a lowly undead as in previous titles, but the dregs of ashen souls randomly reforged. Even immortal dragons have begun to succumb to decay of mind and body. This is the Dark Souls that players have known and loved since the beginning of the series, but all around the edges of that Dark Souls identity threads come unraveled. Of course, when I say “this is the same Dark Souls,” I mean thematically and visually. The mechanics of Dark Souls III have undergone a revision that incorporates lessons learned from the development of Bloodborne. When Bloodborne released, people compared its fast, aggressive combat favorably against the more deliberate, measured pace of the Dark Souls series. You can see that quickened sensibility translated into Dark Souls III in a number of little ways. For example, the player gets locked into fewer animations, something that in previous Souls games could mean death by accidental button press. More weapons feature transformations between distinct move sets, something that Bloodborne certainly popularized. Combat occurs with a desperate finality. The enemies players encounter act as if they know they are living in a world with a mortal wound, a fatal injury that affects them as well. And as the saying goes, “nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal.” Enemies throw themselves into combat ferociously, adopting frenzied patterns of attack. Sometimes these patterns can seem unfair, but the core fun of Dark Souls has always been in learning those patterns and overcoming obstacles either alone or in jolly cooperation with other players. Dark Souls III feels rigorously balanced to avoid luring players into cheap deaths. Often it feels like if you’re just vigilant enough, you could deal with anything the game might throw at you. Though that confidence is often immediately undercut by a blistering encounter - if nothing else, Dark Souls III keeps players humble. Developer From Software describes their artistic approach to Dark Souls III as “withered beauty.” I wasn’t sure at first if the style of a dying world in all its dilapidated grandeur stemmed from a conscious choice or if the aesthetic was an extension of series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki’s reluctance to return to the series. He had made some statements in the past that indicated he wanted to be done with Dark Souls and that too many sequels would muddy his original intent. After spending almost 100 hours in its intricate, crumbling world, I feel comfortable saying that, yes, Dark Souls III is an entirely intentional work of art that brings the series full circle. While the core game does conclude on a definitive note regardless of player choice, the DLC ultimately brings things to a climactic final coda at the end of all things: A clash between the old world and the possibilities of the future. Ashes of Ariandel invites players into a world of rot and ice, a refuge from the apocalypse in the outside world. However, the shelter from ending possesses its own dangers and stands out as providing one of the most unique encounters in Dark Souls III. It also introduces a largely disposable multiplayer Vs. Mode, though I am sure many will derive some joy from fighting friends and strangers. Ashes of Ariandel ultimately exists to set the stage for The Ringed City DLC. This lore-heavy expansion has players delving into the legendary home of the Pygmies, an obscure, but important race of beings in the Souls universe. However, some characters and creatures have persisted within the city’s walls for countless years, standing firm to ward off intruders who come hoping to lay claim to the titular Dark Soul. Strangely, the final encounter in this DLC doesn’t end with an explosive cutscene or much exposition, just an intimate battle to the death and a subtle revelation hidden within the Ashes of Ariandel. It’s quiet, and that muted finale subverts expectations in a game that goes big so often. But that ending gets at the heart of what Dark Souls III and, indeed, what the larger Dark Souls series was about from the beginning. Conclusion: Dark Souls has been about the continuation of a toxic cycle, a cycle that offers diminishing returns with each renewal. Miyazaki purposefully left that cycle open to interpretation as an artistic statement. Does it represent addiction? Depression? Existentialism? One can interpret the cycle of spiraling rebirth and death to mean quite a number of things on a personal level – that, along with the near perfect "firm but fair" mechanics, is part of what allowed so many people to identify so strongly with the series. Dark Souls III sees that cycle finally spiral down toward its ultimate conclusion. The world can continue to struggle on, locked in an endless twilight, take the plunge into darkness where hope might one day be born anew, or the cycle can be broken into something else entirely. Even in this ending, Miyazaki leaves what the series could mean up to each player’s interpretation. There are some who see nothing in it, a pointless exercise in rehashing the Dark Souls adventure for a third time. There are some who see some truth in that portrayal of the world. Personally, Dark Souls III seems to be a meta commentary on the creative process – it is an adventure that seems limitless until limits are imposed upon it by solidifying an idea and making it real, and then creativity dies or stagnates or, very rarely, soldiers on toward something new and unknown. Indeed, while Miyazaki might not have initially desired a Dark Souls III, he and his team made the most of it while operating within the constraints of the franchise. Now From Software is working on something new, a new world on a new canvas. Dark Souls III is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC View full article
  5. This week we return to From Software and Hidetaka Miyazaki to cover the beginnings of the Soul series. The 2009 release of Demon's Souls became the sleeper hit of the year, racking up awards for its gameplay innovations and solid, challenging mechanics. Despite a mixed to positive critical reception, Demon's Souls remained mostly overlooked until From Software's spiritual successor, Dark Souls. The popularity of Dark Souls had the effect of more than doubling Demon's Souls' sales. Can Demon's Souls stand on its own as one of the best games period or is it doomed to remain in the shadow of its sequel for all time? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod Outro music: Demon's Souls 'Abandoned by God' by RoeTaKa (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03238) New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  6. This week we return to From Software and Hidetaka Miyazaki to cover the beginnings of the Soul series. The 2009 release of Demon's Souls became the sleeper hit of the year, racking up awards for its gameplay innovations and solid, challenging mechanics. Despite a mixed to positive critical reception, Demon's Souls remained mostly overlooked until From Software's spiritual successor, Dark Souls. The popularity of Dark Souls had the effect of more than doubling Demon's Souls' sales. Can Demon's Souls stand on its own as one of the best games period or is it doomed to remain in the shadow of its sequel for all time? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod Outro music: Demon's Souls 'Abandoned by God' by RoeTaKa (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03238) New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  7. Since the release of Demon’s Souls in 2009, From Software has made a name for itself creating dense worlds of macabre horror and adventure. Bloodborne follows in the footsteps of Dark Souls and Dark Souls II in tone and difficulty, while the gameplay has evolved considerably along with a slight departure from what has become From Software’s signature medieval aesthetic. It is a hard journey that opposes insane gods, raving demons, and everything in between. Bloodborne was reviewed on PlayStation 4. For those who can properly gird themselves for the difficulties that lie ahead, Bloodborne will prove to be a satisfying gameplay experience. From Software decided to almost entirely remove blocking from their combat formula, retooling encounters to revolve around precise dodging and regenerating health by attacking. This system works very well and encourages a more aggressive attitude toward fighting that many who were shield-reliant in previous From Software titles might find difficult to embrace. Firearms replace shields as the dominant off-hand piece of equipment. While the implementation of guns might seem like it would break combat, it does just the opposite. A limited quantity of ammo means that players need to use their shots carefully. Timing shots perfectly can stun enemies and open them up to powerful visceral attacks, which both look cool and do immense amounts of damage. Each main weapon can be altered on the fly to become a two-handed tool of destruction. On top of that, players can equip an additional weapon on each hand to switch to in the midst of combat. All of this contributes to a very fluid experience that scales depending on the player’s skill. At its worst fighting feels like ineffectual flailing, but at its best it can feel like a surgical dance, floating just outside of enemy’s reach before going in for the kill at the perfect moment. Tied in with combat is the leveling system, which uses blood echoes collected from killing enemies to advance a player’s stats. In a major shift for the series, all of these stats are actually understandable and it is easy to see how they affect combat. This avoids problems from previous From Software games where players had to puzzle over what Poise, Attunement, or Resistance actually meant within the context of gameplay. That isn’t to say that the combat system is perfect. There are times when hit detection can be confusing, why can my two-handed weapon go through some parts of walls, but not others? Why did that attack hit me, despite not visually touching me? I could rarely use my gun effectively, though I’m pretty sure that was due to my lack of skill rather than any problem with Bloodborne. Additionally, most enemies that are appropriate to the player’s level can easily kill in two to four hits, which can make it tricky to navigate through areas with a large number of enemies. The reliance on timing works against players during these long stretches as one poorly timed move can mean death or serious injury. In Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, players would receive a certain amount of health-regenerating Estus Flasks each time they revived. Bloodborne takes a different approach. As players kill enemies, they obtain blood vials which can be used to heal injuries. Players can only carry twenty at any one time, though excess blood vials will be stored for use when the player next revives. This works rather well during the early stages of Bloodborne, when blood vials are given out by almost every enemy. However, later on, blood vials become scarce, which can be particularly bothersome when attempting to take on a particularly ferocious boss. I’m a bit torn on blood vials. On the one hand, I like that the design encourages players who have been defeated so many times that they’ve run out of blood vials to grind for more, which also allows players to build up more blood echoes and level up. I think that’s some pretty solid, subtle game design. On the other hand, grinding blood vials seems to be the most efficient in earlier areas. So, if you become stuck on a late-game boss, backtracking to those early areas won’t help you level. It’ll just feel like a chore with the only payoff being another attempt at the ‘roided up monstrosity that has already utterly wrecked you a dozen times. A bit more consistency with the doling out of blood vials might have smoothed the overall gameplay experience. The lack of a decent way to obtain blood vials later on in the game just seems like a way to artificially inflate the difficulty (rest assured, I can already hear the chorus of you all saying “git gud, son”). Bloodborne is a blast, one of the few truly “next-gen” feeling exclusives on the PlayStation 4. Completing it gave me a genuine sense of accomplishment. That being said, I think it is time to have a discussion about the philosophy behind Bloodborne, something that comes out in both the gameplay and story. While I thoroughly enjoyed Bloodborne, I developed a growing feeling of unease about my actions and the underlying themes of what I was playing. Bloodborne is, at heart, a game of Darwinian Nihilism. There are no moral questions regarding the inhabitants of Bloodborne’s world, almost everything is out to kill the player and the player fights back in order to survive. This plays into the core gameplay loop of killing and becoming more powerful. Through a cosmic loophole, the player is able to bypass the natural law of “survival of the fittest” in order to accumulate enough power to become the fittest in any given scenario. Ultimately, this escalation of power topples even entities that humans revere as gods. There is no real triumph here, only the momentary relief that comes with the knowledge that you have killed something that posed a considerable threat. The ending, whichever one you get, makes it clear that this has all happened before and it will happen again because that is the way this particular universe functions. The core struggle in Bloodborne is just trying to get by in a world your character is unwillingly thrust into; a world that neither knows who you are nor cares; a world where there is always a bigger fish. Rest is an illusion that lowers your guard, there is only the struggle to continue on for as long as possible. One might be tricked into thinking that the gods in Bloodborne serve as some kind of metaphor for religion in the real world, but I think it is less a commentary about that than it is an extension of the broader nihilistic concepts at play in the rest of the game. The deities are completely self-interested and their interest seems wholly detrimental to humans, but they are also not truly divine. Though hard to kill, they are wholly mortal creatures that simply exist either entirely or in part on different planes of existence. Given Hidetaka Miyazaki’s role as the director of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne (he oversaw the development of Dark Souls II, but did not direct), perhaps Miyazaki has taken on the role of an auteur at the company where he is currently president. Maybe the games he has directed have been his message to the world, a cry that all of our ideologies, morality, and beliefs are all just noise, the ravings of madmen behind closed doors. We’re each the protagonist in our own Bloodborne story, just trying to survive, but constantly encountering new challenges and problems. And those problems, like the enemies in Bloodborne, can sometimes be seen from a long way off, both other times they leap out from the unseen darkness with murderous intent. Bloodborne is a power fantasy. Lately that term seems to have taken on a not-so-great meaning, but against the background of From Software’s larger point, that fantasy shines. It stands out because Yahrnam operates on that power fantasy. The “power” is simply that of survival and it is the only thing a character trapped in a world such as Bloodborne’s can do, even though everything in Bloodborne implies that survival is ultimately pointless. While I disagree with its outlook on life and the grand scheme of the universe, Bloodborne still manages to resonate with me. Art imitates life, and the world of Bloodborne imitates our own. Life can be unfair, beautiful, insane. Living means that travesty occurs unexpectedly and misjudged moments can mean the difference between success and failure. Of course, in life there are all kinds of different problems that we all have to deal with: broken bones, taxes, familial squabbles; but Bloodborne simplifies life into a gothic fantasy where those problems can be solved through combat and catastrophe only postpones victory. Conclusion: Arguably the finest From Software game to date, I like Bloodborne quite a bit. The world it holds is beautiful and ugly and weird. The gameplay is almost flawless in its execution. However, if one looks under the surface, I think the underlying message of Bloodborne is sad and, to me, rings hollow. However, I think the conveyance of that message and the way it is worked into every aspect of design makes Bloodborne a very thematically resonant piece of art. That’s something I can respect, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. Bloodborne is now available exclusively for PlayStation 4
  8. Since the release of Demon’s Souls in 2009, From Software has made a name for itself creating dense worlds of macabre horror and adventure. Bloodborne follows in the footsteps of Dark Souls and Dark Souls II in tone and difficulty, while the gameplay has evolved considerably along with a slight departure from what has become From Software’s signature medieval aesthetic. It is a hard journey that opposes insane gods, raving demons, and everything in between. Bloodborne was reviewed on PlayStation 4. For those who can properly gird themselves for the difficulties that lie ahead, Bloodborne will prove to be a satisfying gameplay experience. From Software decided to almost entirely remove blocking from their combat formula, retooling encounters to revolve around precise dodging and regenerating health by attacking. This system works very well and encourages a more aggressive attitude toward fighting that many who were shield-reliant in previous From Software titles might find difficult to embrace. Firearms replace shields as the dominant off-hand piece of equipment. While the implementation of guns might seem like it would break combat, it does just the opposite. A limited quantity of ammo means that players need to use their shots carefully. Timing shots perfectly can stun enemies and open them up to powerful visceral attacks, which both look cool and do immense amounts of damage. Each main weapon can be altered on the fly to become a two-handed tool of destruction. On top of that, players can equip an additional weapon on each hand to switch to in the midst of combat. All of this contributes to a very fluid experience that scales depending on the player’s skill. At its worst fighting feels like ineffectual flailing, but at its best it can feel like a surgical dance, floating just outside of enemy’s reach before going in for the kill at the perfect moment. Tied in with combat is the leveling system, which uses blood echoes collected from killing enemies to advance a player’s stats. In a major shift for the series, all of these stats are actually understandable and it is easy to see how they affect combat. This avoids problems from previous From Software games where players had to puzzle over what Poise, Attunement, or Resistance actually meant within the context of gameplay. That isn’t to say that the combat system is perfect. There are times when hit detection can be confusing, why can my two-handed weapon go through some parts of walls, but not others? Why did that attack hit me, despite not visually touching me? I could rarely use my gun effectively, though I’m pretty sure that was due to my lack of skill rather than any problem with Bloodborne. Additionally, most enemies that are appropriate to the player’s level can easily kill in two to four hits, which can make it tricky to navigate through areas with a large number of enemies. The reliance on timing works against players during these long stretches as one poorly timed move can mean death or serious injury. In Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, players would receive a certain amount of health-regenerating Estus Flasks each time they revived. Bloodborne takes a different approach. As players kill enemies, they obtain blood vials which can be used to heal injuries. Players can only carry twenty at any one time, though excess blood vials will be stored for use when the player next revives. This works rather well during the early stages of Bloodborne, when blood vials are given out by almost every enemy. However, later on, blood vials become scarce, which can be particularly bothersome when attempting to take on a particularly ferocious boss. I’m a bit torn on blood vials. On the one hand, I like that the design encourages players who have been defeated so many times that they’ve run out of blood vials to grind for more, which also allows players to build up more blood echoes and level up. I think that’s some pretty solid, subtle game design. On the other hand, grinding blood vials seems to be the most efficient in earlier areas. So, if you become stuck on a late-game boss, backtracking to those early areas won’t help you level. It’ll just feel like a chore with the only payoff being another attempt at the ‘roided up monstrosity that has already utterly wrecked you a dozen times. A bit more consistency with the doling out of blood vials might have smoothed the overall gameplay experience. The lack of a decent way to obtain blood vials later on in the game just seems like a way to artificially inflate the difficulty (rest assured, I can already hear the chorus of you all saying “git gud, son”). Bloodborne is a blast, one of the few truly “next-gen” feeling exclusives on the PlayStation 4. Completing it gave me a genuine sense of accomplishment. That being said, I think it is time to have a discussion about the philosophy behind Bloodborne, something that comes out in both the gameplay and story. While I thoroughly enjoyed Bloodborne, I developed a growing feeling of unease about my actions and the underlying themes of what I was playing. Bloodborne is, at heart, a game of Darwinian Nihilism. There are no moral questions regarding the inhabitants of Bloodborne’s world, almost everything is out to kill the player and the player fights back in order to survive. This plays into the core gameplay loop of killing and becoming more powerful. Through a cosmic loophole, the player is able to bypass the natural law of “survival of the fittest” in order to accumulate enough power to become the fittest in any given scenario. Ultimately, this escalation of power topples even entities that humans revere as gods. There is no real triumph here, only the momentary relief that comes with the knowledge that you have killed something that posed a considerable threat. The ending, whichever one you get, makes it clear that this has all happened before and it will happen again because that is the way this particular universe functions. The core struggle in Bloodborne is just trying to get by in a world your character is unwillingly thrust into; a world that neither knows who you are nor cares; a world where there is always a bigger fish. Rest is an illusion that lowers your guard, there is only the struggle to continue on for as long as possible. One might be tricked into thinking that the gods in Bloodborne serve as some kind of metaphor for religion in the real world, but I think it is less a commentary about that than it is an extension of the broader nihilistic concepts at play in the rest of the game. The deities are completely self-interested and their interest seems wholly detrimental to humans, but they are also not truly divine. Though hard to kill, they are wholly mortal creatures that simply exist either entirely or in part on different planes of existence. Given Hidetaka Miyazaki’s role as the director of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne (he oversaw the development of Dark Souls II, but did not direct), perhaps Miyazaki has taken on the role of an auteur at the company where he is currently president. Maybe the games he has directed have been his message to the world, a cry that all of our ideologies, morality, and beliefs are all just noise, the ravings of madmen behind closed doors. We’re each the protagonist in our own Bloodborne story, just trying to survive, but constantly encountering new challenges and problems. And those problems, like the enemies in Bloodborne, can sometimes be seen from a long way off, both other times they leap out from the unseen darkness with murderous intent. Bloodborne is a power fantasy. Lately that term seems to have taken on a not-so-great meaning, but against the background of From Software’s larger point, that fantasy shines. It stands out because Yahrnam operates on that power fantasy. The “power” is simply that of survival and it is the only thing a character trapped in a world such as Bloodborne’s can do, even though everything in Bloodborne implies that survival is ultimately pointless. While I disagree with its outlook on life and the grand scheme of the universe, Bloodborne still manages to resonate with me. Art imitates life, and the world of Bloodborne imitates our own. Life can be unfair, beautiful, insane. Living means that travesty occurs unexpectedly and misjudged moments can mean the difference between success and failure. Of course, in life there are all kinds of different problems that we all have to deal with: broken bones, taxes, familial squabbles; but Bloodborne simplifies life into a gothic fantasy where those problems can be solved through combat and catastrophe only postpones victory. Conclusion: Arguably the finest From Software game to date, I like Bloodborne quite a bit. The world it holds is beautiful and ugly and weird. The gameplay is almost flawless in its execution. However, if one looks under the surface, I think the underlying message of Bloodborne is sad and, to me, rings hollow. However, I think the conveyance of that message and the way it is worked into every aspect of design makes Bloodborne a very thematically resonant piece of art. That’s something I can respect, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. Bloodborne is now available exclusively for PlayStation 4 View full article
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