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What Remains of Edith Finch and its many stories

What Remains of Edith Finch is a video game. That much I am sure of. I am also sure that What Remains of Edith Finch is a very good, maybe even great video game.

The story follows Edith Finch as she explores her ancestor’s house, and figures out what happened to each of the Finch’s through the stories they have left behind (walking simulator style). The hook here is all the stories are playable levels, and there really is incredible variety in both the stories told, and the game play featured within them. What I’m going to do here is go through three of my favourite stories, and talk about what I like so much about them and explore them both in terms of the mechanics used and the feeling they evoke. I do recommend playing through all the stories though, there’s something unique and brilliant in all of them. Obviously there will the spoilers in this piece. What I will not be doing however is talking about my favourite level. Mainly because Super Bunnyhop did a better job than I ever could.

I’ve noticed something said a few times about What Remains of Edith Finch. There seems to be a split in regards to the quality of the writing and whether it qualifies as great literature.  Rather than frame the debate like that, given that qualifying anything great is subjective anyway I’ll try to focus on what I feel What Remains of Edith Finch does really well. Whilst I do think What Remains of Edith Finch has great writing, what I would argue is that the many stories that make up Edith Finch all have within them themes and ideas that are very relatable. It further builds on this by exploring those themes with what I feel are really cool game mechanics and controller gimmicks.

The Cannery level that Super Bunnyhop describes is a perfect example. Everyone has had a dull job at some point in their life, and the Cannery perfectly captures that feeling of dreaming of a more fun time. Combine that with the player controlling both the guillotine and Lewis day-dream and it all comes together to create a wonderful level. With that said, let’s get to some of the other stories.

Molly’s Story

Molly’s story begins with the simple premise of a child being sent to bed without dinner. From there, the feeling of hunger takes us on a fantastical journey. What I like about this is how the story is told. If you’ve ever heard a child tell a story, they generally jump from point to point without much in the way of transitions. There’s no real logical progression from being an owl to a shark, and we as adults can see that. But with a child’s whimsy, that’s the sort of thing that happens, and explanations be damned. I feel Molly’s tale captures this sense very well. Also, there are not many games where you control a cat, an owl, a shark and a kraken. In sequence even. And to have them all control well is also an achievement that needs to be noted.

Gus’s Story

Everyone has been in a situation or place where they’d rather not be. Along with the slice of impotent rage that goes with it. And I’m guessing that the majority of us, for the sake of others just took the hit, and got through the event. But there’s the little part of us that would like to create a ruckus, just for the catharsis. And we have Gus’s story. Here we do get to create the ruckus. The sight of the kite dragging words and furniture across the sky is both fantastical and a release. Thanks to video games and their capacity for fantasy, we get to indulge that selfish urge of destruction. Which is nice, because doing it in real like does make you feel like a dick.

Calvin’s Story

At the beginning of this story, Calvin is informed by his brother Sam that doing the loop is impossible.  There is something about being told something is impossible. The sudden urge to say that no, it is possible and then the follow through, proving that it can be done. Seeing how far one can push oneself, to see the boundaries collapse and fall. Often there’s falls along the way, false dawns and near misses. I feel the way What Remains of Edith Finch tells this story with the swing is very well done. The build up of each arc, the build up of speed that convinces you this is the one before Calvin loses momentum and has to regain it. The sound of each arc and the rope swing creaking under each revolution just adds to the build up. And then finally after all the build up comes the release, that flying into the firmament.

And that release in and of itself is something worth talking about. It’s an incredible sense of freedom, and presumably something that everyone has dreamed of at some point in their lives. It would be nice to take off, and just for some time, leave this world behind, to feel the wind on one’s face high above clouds. Whether that is an uncomfortable social situation, or an unhappy time that feeling of just flying away seems so nice. Just hopefully not into an ocean though. Poor Calvin.

For those keeping score here so far we have controlled a cat, an owl, a shark, a kraken, a kite and a swing. That is not counting the rest of the game. I feel necessary in saying this just to illustrate the depth and breadth of imagination in this game. Like I said before, all the stories have something to them, and are worth experiencing. And if you want to wait for a sale before you try it, that’s cool but I would at least recommend a play through at some point. I’m sure you will find that you enjoy, and something that you can relate to.

Horizon Zero Dawn, and the Joy of Video Games

To anyone reading this, I’m going to assume at some point in your life you were 5 years old. That seems to be a reasonable assumption. And like many 5 year olds you had a great love for dinosaurs. Why not? They were huge, and had very loud roars. There’s a lot to like there.

Which segues into Horizon Zero Dawn, and things video games can do which other mediums can’t do. Horizon Zero Dawn has dinosaurs. Well, things that resemble dinosaurs. These things are also robots, which makes them more awesome than actual dinosaurs. One of Horizon Zero Dawn’s acquirable skills is the ability to override machines, making them friendly to the player. They will attack other machines at this point, and they will just wander around, allowing players to get up close to them. The first skill unlock only overrides machines for a limited time. The final unlock is an infinite override. There are spots on the map called Cauldrons, and once you complete these you can override more machines, beyond the basic ones.

This brings us to this tame thunderjaw.

I remember marvelling at Jurassic Park at the cinema when I was a child. But I could only see the dinosaurs; I couldn’t in anyway interact with them. The same went for any dinosaur books. I could see the pictures, but that was it.

Now fast forward to being 30 years old, somewhat jaded and messing around in Horizon’s post game. I was just riding around, looking for stuff to make fast travel items, when I happened upon the thunderjaw. Given I was doing nothing in particular I figured why not override it. So I hid in the tall grass, bided my time and when the thunderjaw was in range, launched the override.

What I assumed would be merely video game fun turned into twenty minutes of wild unregulated smiling as I ran with, dove under and generally messed around with a robot dinosaur. All those times I imagined around actual dinosaurs as a child were suddenly happening. And it reminded me of all the things video games are capable of. The very interactivity they possess gives us all the chance to experience things in a wholly unique way compared to books and film.

If I’m being hyper critical right now the thunderjaws AI doesn’t change. It still follows the same path it did pre-override and pretty much interacts with the environment in the same way. Yet, for that moment, none of that mattered.

There was just me, a charger and a massive thunderjaw, playing around under the setting sun.

God I love video games.

~~~

Gifs and pictures made/taken by me.

This isn’t a brilliant piece of writing, but I just enjoyed this moment alot.

Bloodborne’s Combat, A Love Affair

This won’t be a critique. This will be a celebration about Bloodborne and some of my favourite elements of the combat. I’m too far gone to criticise Bloodborne in any real way. I am on record as saying Bloodborne is “one of the finest works of art I’ve ever engaged with”. I really can’t remember falling for a video game like this. The closest thing would be when Shovel Knight reignited my love of gaming. Right now I’m in the midst of a fifth play through, and there will probably be a sixth one in NG+ when this NG run is done.

Well, let’s get to it shall we. My love affair with Bloodborne’s combat.

There’s just something about the visceral attack. Something primal. Honestly, at some point it should get old. The animation doesn’t change, and you really only see different reactions to it when it’s done to bosses or larger foes. Even then, each enemy set has its standard reaction. And yet I’ve never had such a brilliantly cathartic game mechanic at my disposal.

Depending on the foe the set up differs. For the vast majority of enemies, timing a gunshot right when they bring their weapon down will result in a stagger. For bigger enemies, breaking body parts will bring about a stagger. That will trigger a noise, which at this point produces a pavlovian response in me and I automatically slam down the R1 trigger.

It’s glorious. The hunter just slams a fist through bone and sinew, burying their hand deep within the foes chest. And then there’s the ripping and tearing and then, the sweet release. Blood flies everywhere as the victim hurtles backward, slamming into the ground. And if it’s the final blow (normally is) there’s the knowledge their last view of this world was a hunter, bathed in their blood.

I can’t get enough of it. I must parry and visceral. I think it has a lot to do with the fact it took me ages to acquire the skill to do it. I’m just making up for lost time.

~~~

This is a small detail, but one I feel works wonders. Before we embark on a hunt our clothes are clean, beautifully so. As an aside, all of Bloodborne’s outfits are beautiful. Just wear what takes your fancy.

Bloodborne™_20170519215530

Expeditions outside of the Hunter’s Dream vary in length. Sometimes it’s just a short cut opening run, or maybe a quick item gathering trip. But there is no mistaking a hunter who has been on the hunt. We are bathed in blood. It covers our face. It’s seeping into our clothes. The weapons we carry are just caked in the stuff.

Bloodborne™_20170519215417

Like I said, it’s a small detail, but it goes along way. There’s a sense of weight and consequence to the combat in Bloodborne’s world that would not be there if the hunters clothes remained clean even after eviscerating the streets of Yharnam.

~~~

Bloodborne has a lot of great weapons, far too many to write about here. So I would like to highlight three of my favourite weapons from my time in Yharnam. As for the basics, every weapon in Bloodborne is a trick weapon. They can transform into different forms, and can switch between forms in an offensive capacity (a transition attack if you will). This gives each weapon depth as well, and it can take a while to see everything a weapon can offer. There are sixteen weapons in total (Main game + DLC) and at least in PVE, every one of them is viable. It’s very possible to finish the game with any of the starting weapons. But with each weapon being so much fun to use it’s easy to feel compelled to use them.

Ludwig’s Holy Blade will always be special to me. While not the most exciting weapon in the game, it is the one with which I learned to play the game. It took me some time to settle on a weapon during my first few forays into Yharnam, but I eventually decided on the Holy Blade. It went on to assist me in killing every boss. The Blade has nice clean wide arcs, and is rather versatile being able to deliver both blunt and thrust damage. The Blade also scales well both in strength and skill and can also run an arcane set, doing either bolt or fire damage. There’s very little it doesn’t do well. It may lack the flair of other weapons, but it makes up for that in function. And it functions so very well.

It also has the distinction of being a sword that goes into a bigger sword. It’s a single handed short sword (that means parries and glorious viscerals) that uses its sheath to form a two handed great blade. And that’s pretty great right there.

My second character went the Bloodtinge route and thus came to wield the Chikage. Its base form is that of a sabre which is thoroughly okay. But it is one handed, which does allow for parrying. The two handed version of this weapon is where it truly blossoms. By placing the blade into its sheath, the Chikage becomes a blade of blood, capable of immense, graceful damage. The downside of this is the blood drains your health. But, it leads to beautiful fights of rhythm, where one gets used to the ebb and flow of switching between states.

Also, the transition attack, a quick swing of the sheathed blade is quite possibly my favourite attack in the entire game. It’s just beautiful to execute, beautiful to look at.

Last but not to be the least is the Beast Hunter Saif. It appears to be a simple construction at first, a nice sharp blade that transforms from a long blade to a short one. But in the short form, the basic attack is lovely little dashing slice which covers ground alarmingly quickly. When I found out you could combine it with the transformation to back dodge with damage, and then transform again to nip back in, I discovered the sheer joy of the in and out combo. So good against so many enemies.

And the long form staggers winter lanterns. That alone gives it something special. I’m not going to spoil winter lanterns here, but if you find a weapon that staggers them without launching a charge attack, it’s something special.

Speaking of the charge attack, it pancakes things. Much fun.

~~~

As of completing this piece, I have finished the fifth play through, and I have started NG+. I’m thinking about a seventh play through. Bloodborne’s good. Too damn good.

May the good blood guide your way.

All gifs made by me from my own gameplay footage.

All images taken by me from my own gameplay.

Hotline Miami, Death and Quiet Time Coming Together

Quiet time, and for lacks of a better term, killing time are two things that don’t often come together in video games. Often killing time normally transitions into quiet time and then the two trade places once again.

But with the Hotline Miami, that transition is a little different. In most cases finishing a mission means an extraction or a warp away leaving all the carnage one has cause left behind, consigned only to memory.

But In Hotline Miami’s alternative Cold War universe there is no warp away. No helicopter to extract you from the mission area. High octane music cuts out, to be replaced be an electronic dirge and the player character must wander back through everything they left behind. The broken bodies, the pools of blood and the separated limbs.

Hotline Miami is the kind of game where you will burst into a room. The same room. Three times in the same minute. One time it’s the uzi guy that gets you. Then it’s the shotgun guy. After both the uzi guy and shotgun guy are taken out, you miss the berserker sprinting from another room with a bike chain. And then on the fourth time you nail it. It’s a satisfying feeling.

In Hotline Miami’s quiet time I feel this theme of player death (of which there is a lot of) is reinforced. As mentioned previously quiet time is the leaving behind of carnage and viscera. But Hotline Miami uses quiet time to show the player the result of violence. It is a constant reminder of the games brutality, that violence is never far away, inescapable even. A fate the player can never escape. You will end up like all these corpses at some point. Whether it is during game play or in the story you are going to end up covered in blood, lying face up gasping for life after a shotgun shell slams into your chest, or a base ball bat leaves half of your skull in a great many bits. Just don’t fear that. Embrace it. It is how the game is meant to be played.

Toukiden Kiwami and the summer of love.

People foster connections with video games. Sometimes it’s because of excellent game play mechanics. Perhaps it’s an engaging story line. Seeing characters go through trials and tribulations, finding closure at the end of vast story arcs. But sometimes, a video games impact can be felt by just how fun it is. Sure, they have their faults. A story that’s showered in tropes, game play that’s a little rough around the edges and characters that can be stereotypical. But, all of this can be looked past when the fun part of the equation is somewhere in the stratosphere.

2016 was coming around to summer time and I was checking the PSN store. Not really having much in mind, I was having a gander at a sale. Perhaps it was the fact I was heading off to Japan in August but Toukiden Kiwami caught my attention. It did not take long for me to realise this was a monster hunting game, set in feudal Japan. There are some differences to Monster Hunter though. Given its setting, the monsters are classed as Oni (coming in both small and large varieties), and some of them contain Mitama, the lost souls of Japanese heroes. There are many Mitama scattered about the world. These can be used to give the player various skills and buffs, so there are many different possible builds. They also come with little biographies, so it’s a fun chance to learn something. However, like Monster Hunter you get a pet cat that can help you in battle. You can also feed and pet it, which is nice thing to do after a long hard fight.

My previous experience with this genre was Monster Hunter III Ultimate. That lasted somewhere between 4 and 5 hours. I seem to remember lots of tutorial stuff, with some monsters thrown in. But mainly, an abundance of tutorial stuff. And there was a big monster in the ocean. I moved on to other things. This probably puts me in the small group of people who find some solace in Yahtzee Croshaws view of the game. But one thing going wrong doesn’t mean another one will, so I decided, for reasons, to try out the Toukiden demo.

It wasn’t long before I was fighting a giant monster. The game embraced learning by doing (how to target body parts, how to separate said body parts from said body and so on).  I was rather enthralled by this and upon consulting reviews which gave a favourable impression of the game I decided to put down the £15.99 (down from $34.99) figuring why not? If I enjoyed it, it would have been good value for about 90 hours of content. If not, it wasn’t a crippling amount of money.

I finished with 572 hours in the game. That was with the addition of two DLC mission backs. The base game turned out not to be enough. That summer really was Toukiden’s summer. There was one day when the in game counter went from 211 hours to 222 hours. There’s only 24 hours in the day. I was just having so much fun, I kept playing the game. Sure, the game has its faults. The story is very predictable with lots of very obvious foreshadowing. And that’s fine, because the story meshed with the fun game play and got me invested regardless.  The characters have arcs that have all been seen before (lost confidence, searching for vengeance and so on) but they are well voiced (Japanese voices with English subtitles. Because Mid-West American accents would sound very odd in this context), endearing and make for a very nice cast to be around. You can share a bath with them as well, a way of increasing friendship and gaining various buffs. I had my favourites. Particularly Nagi. So many vital heals. They are also incredibly handy in a fight meaning us non-multiplayer people can still have some fun. And towards the mid to late game, enemy palate swaps come up very frequently. It’s almost like a monster hunting version of the Mortal Kombat ninja’s. Actually forget the almost. And forget the like as well. It is Mortal Kombat levels of palate swapping. But the fights were always fun to do, so I could live with that as well.

The combat really was something special though. With only the occasional camera freak out. And learning how weapons worked was a thoroughly joyful process. My first was the bow (there are 9 in total) because I based my character off Kaga from Kantai Collection and for once used to character creator beyond selecting a base model and clicking okay. At some point I switched to rifles and they carried me to the end of the first story arc and for a little while beyond. Then I returned to the bow to see out the second story arc. In the middle of all this was a rather terrible experiment with dual knives, but we’ll return to that in due time.

I felt the urge to use melee weapons. There’s something more cathartic about fighting up close than far away. And so I returned to the knives, essentially starting over. I went back to the beginning bosses in an effort to nail down fundamental skills and once I felt ready, progressed to the middle tier bosses up until the point I mained with the knives. The knives, to echo the theme of this piece, are very fun to use. They can be wielded in such a way that allows climbing of monsters and with enough skill and the right Mitama build (confession: I borrowed one from Game FAQ’s) one can spend the entire fight climbing all over Oni and essentially fighting in mid air. Which is a great deal of fun. And really, the whole thing was just fun. I completed every mission (main story + DLC + phases), killed every enemy, finished every side quest and even collected every Mitama and at least did one of every infinite battle (a boss rush mode essentially). In fact, the basic infinite battle once you are levelled up high enough is a great thing to listen podcasts to.

The summer was coming to an end, and almost inevitably, so was my time with Toukiden. Not out of boredom, not out of dislike. This felt like a natural end. Almost like a relationship with an exchange person. The two of you come together, there’s an instant connection but you are both aware at the end of summer this will end, but peace is made with this fact and the time spent together just becomes that much more special. I knew after the last DLC mission was completed I would be finished with the game, bringing this joyful dalliance to an end. It just felt right. With that completed, I made sure to talk to every NPC in the game. I shared a final bath with my favourite character (Nagi-sama!) before returning to my home and feeding the cat for one last time. And with that, I turned the game off. It has never been turned on since. That was almost a year ago, but I still haven’t deleted the game. There’s a lot of good memories there and I simply can’t bring myself to do it.

Thank you Toukiden, thank you for one great summer.

Horizon Zero Dawn, and the joy of Robot Horses

If one were only an Indian, instantly alert, and on a racing horse, leaning against the wind, kept on quivering jerkily over the quivering ground, until one shed one’s spurs, for there needed no spurs, threw away the reins, for there needed no reins, and hardly saw that the land before one was smoothly shorn heath when horse’s neck and head would be already gone.

The Wish To Be a Red Indian, Franz Kafka

Horizon Zero Dawn is my first proper open world game. The closest thing I would have played to it would have been Gravity Rush on the Vita, but it had nowhere near the scale that Horizon Zero Dawn. What they both have though is fun methods of traversal. Gravity Rush has Kat suspending gravity to hurtle around in the manner of an ever so slightly clumsy superhero and Horizon Zero Dawn has the riding of robot horses. And robot buffaloes. And robot mountain goats. Although why I’m not allowed to ride the robot sabre tooth tiger is anyone’s guess.

One of Horizon Zero Dawn’s unlockable skills is the ability to override machines. Located around the game’s world are places called cauldrons where the robots are made. Players can override these, allowing Aloy to commandeer more machines. Initially the override lasts for a limited time, but subsequent skill upgrades increase that time until it becomes an infinite override. When you are at the appropriate level, for your own sense of fun, override a Thunderjaw. It is a jolly bit of fun. But the main joy of these overrides is the access to mounts. These are Striders (robot horses), Broadheads (robot buffaloes) and Chargers (robot rams/goats/sheeps).

Once the mechanical fauna has been subjugated, it’s now available as a mount. Preferably it’s somewhat away from the rest of the herd ensuring a clean get away. Now Aloy is free to ride her new pack animal around Horizon’s vast and beautiful world. First things first, the animals are really responsive and nice to control. The steering, if I can call it that is really smooth and a nice simple turn of the analogue stick will send your mount nicely in the intended direction. You can speed up said mount with a quick tap of the X button and speeding past a pack of startled Sawtooths (said robot sabre tooth tigers) is a great amount of fun. And the varying riding speeds work nicely. It is a great little feeling to slowly trot along to a setting sun, or to idly clop along under the vast star fields that the night brings.

The little things add a lot to the experience of galloping across the world. How the mount turns its head when riding past machines or people. Or in some cases, over people, like a bandit who doesn’t see Aloy coming. Little shakes and ticks as it dutifully waits for Aloy to fill up her medicine pouch or scrape some resources together. The sound of metal hoofs pounding the earth. How it kicks out when under threat, and when it bounds over when called upon. Almost like a metallic puppy. It all comes together to make this beast of burden an actual companion, a friend on long journeys across and through forests, deserts and mountain ranges.

 

Clarence was a Broadhead I found early into the game. I had found some Striders before him, but I either lost them or they succumbed to the local wildlife. Clarence was different though. He survived a tough battle, kicking some Striders and Watchers (surveillance raptors) to death. I loved him after that, and did my best to keep him safe. I hid him behind tall rocks when I went out fighting. Clarence scaled some of the tallest cliffs. He ran through a bandit camp trampling a good few of them, before kicking the rest as I threw in some arrows for good measure. He alone killed 3 watchers on a mountain side. I loved Clarence. Some of my first Horizon Zero Dawn photo’s where of Clarence and Aloy.

And then I happened upon a side quest, which involved getting jumped by a Longleg (robot Emu). I immediately thought of Clarence, but it was too late. He never had a chance. I stood over his corpse for a good while. It was heart rending. If I could I would have buried him. Other mounts followed, but they weren’t Clarence. Although there as a Charger who did some sterling work.

But, there has to be a bright side. And there is. Every new mount leads to a new adventure, and a new companionship. Each one will have its own story to tell. Some will be more memorable than others, but that’s the peaks and the troughs, and what makes all of this so special. So, sometime just ignore the fast travel, grab a mount and go for a ride. Re-enact that montage from Django Unchained where Django and King Schultz ride off into the mountains. Sprint from the Meridian badlands to Mother’s Embrace. Idly trot through a ruined city, taking the whole thing in.

Riding across the map to a quest goal can feel really dramatic when one is speeding across the ground, galloping at full speed, the land melting away leaving just you and your mount, galloping under the shrinking sun. So go grab a mount, and embrace the wide open space.

~~~

All video game footage recorded by me. All gifs made by me from my own video footage.

Pokemon, a story of a divorce

Various parts of my gaming life has been occupied by Pokémon. I remember my first game, Pokémon Yellow emulated on a PC (naughty naughty) in which I raised a level hundred Scyther. That made safari zone (barely) worth it. And I remember playing Pokémon Stadium on friends Nintendo 64. After that came a break. I think levelling that Scyther was my goal, and once I got that I moved onto other things. Namely Playstation One and PC games that weren’t emulations. Still, a love Pokémon was instilled at that point and my time with it was fondly remembered.

Skip forward a few years. Me and my sister’s then boyfriend now husband bought game boy colours for a bit of fun, complete with Pokémon Yellow. That lasted for 169 hours and featured a level 80 something Butterfree that had 7 or 8 Elite Four victories under its belt (I got attached to the little guy and never had the heart to dump him). He also had both Psychic and Confusion in his move set. I didn’t know much about move sets at this point. Zapdos came along for the ride as well, along with an Alakazam. I was back in the game. And it felt great. Like reconnecting with an old friend, or rediscovering a lost love. Pokemon Gold followed not long after (were upon I cheated the Elite Four and traded all my strong guys from Yellow), then Ruby and Emerald before heading off to Platinum. This might be my favourite in the series, just due to the epic run up to the Spear Pillar and the surreal space of the Distortion Zone. As is the natural order of things Black 2 followed up and I still loved the series. And then along came Y.

It was in 3D! Pokémon, on a hand held in full 3D! This was also the first Pokemon game that opened up breeding and EV training to the masses. A change which I took full advantage of. After a somewhat rocky start on line (winning the first 2, then getting hammered through the next 9) I figured out where I was at, got a handle on move sets and gradually became good at the game. Not “good, considering” even, but actually good. It felt great.

I had my favourite Pokémon of course. A Scarfmence, a Gavantula called Thor. Two different Mega Blastoise’s (one with focus blast and one with ice beam). An Infenape wearing a choice band, a Pistol Shrimp called Django. There was a Roserade unleashing Leaf Storm every other turn or so, a Confagrius who walled for days and a Renuclious who saved one match all by his lonesome. And an Mega Mawile called Loki. There are others I am missing but all of them came together to make my time online so very special. I got to 100 wins with a winning percentage of 67.4. Life was good.

I was watching Pokémon none stop on YouTube as well. When I was walking around outside I was thinking about move sets. I was enraptured. But, something happened upon reaching 100 wins. It felt like I had climbed the mountain and to climb anymore seemed like a struggle more than anything else. So in an effort to keep the magic going, I set about breeding a new team. I could breed pretty well (3 hours per Pokémon if I remember correctly). But then I had to do the EV training, then level them and then test them as a team. And if one bit didn’t work I would have to breed another one and start the process again. This started to stack after a while.

What compounded all of this, and started the downward spiral was the fact I didn’t have an outlet. All I played was Pokémon. No other video games. I had tried some others but I always came back to Pokémon. And so when frustration set in, it had nowhere to go. It built, and built. The snapping point was a Treecko. I never got it right and after hours and hours of bike riding to hatch eggs at the exclusion of the rest of them game, I had to leave. I couldn’t stay.

The closest I can to describe the closing months of Pokémon and me being together, it was like being in a loveless marriage, or a failing relationship. It doesn’t work, no one’s happy but no one involved knows anything else and so it’s a case with staying with what you know even if it’s a place devoid of happiness, joy and soul. That’s why I clung on so long. It was the only real video game I had known for 2 to 3 years.

Omega Ruby came out not long after the break up. With Mega Salamence, my favourite Pokémon. I played it for 46 minutes. It was the last game I pre-ordered.

I bought Shovel Knight soon after. Chrono Trigger followed. I loved video games again. Now I’m on Bloodborne (the greatest game), Horizon Zero Dawn and Journey. There will be more. I love the hobby again.

Looking back, I have my regrets. I should have put the game down when it was becoming a chore. I shouldn’t have focused on getting everything so perfect. I should have focused on having fun. But, I don’t know if I could have fun without that perfectionism. Learning about breeding and training was like opening Pandora’s Box. The base game is too formulaic and boring yet the effort to be good just stopped being worth it. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I just wish it hadn’t gotten that far.

Yet, I don’t regret the time I spent with the majority of the game though. The online play was great and I had some great battles. Scarfmence’s first sweep, Confagrius holding a Mega Pinsir to deliver a Will O’ the Wisp that sealed the game and Thor just thundering anything moved. The one time I switched in Infernape on Mega Blastoise predicating an Ice Beam and getting it right. The fact I got frozen was just unlucky. There were other moments as well. So many good ones. It’s just a shame through my own failings it all ended so badly. And I can’t go back. Sun and Moon hasn’t interested me, and after things like Bloodborne, it’s hard to go back to Pokémon. Farewell sweet prince.

Passing Through Yharnam

It was 3.00 in the morning. I had spent the better part of 20 minutes rolling around the hunters dream. Now, the controller was resting on the carpet and there I was, in the fetal position simply muttering “I can’t do this” over and over…and over again.

From Software games can be difficult. They can be more difficult when coming from two dimensions. I didn’t arrive in Yharnam from the distant realms of Lordran, Drangleic and Boletaria. My last port of call was the pale island (I can’t find an official name) from Salt and Sanctuary. And Bloodborne’s extra plane did take some getting used to. It was disconcerting to find myself swinging a weapon with glee only to see the boss had not been hit, and then proceeded to smear me across Yharnam’s fabulous gothic architecture.

I came back the next day. That same attack whiffed as I rolled through it, the beast claiming nothing but a handful of Yharnam’s blood choked air. And if that boss got locked into a combo well I snuck in a few free hits. Even broke a leg if I remember correctly. Then the next boss had new attack patterns and I figured those out as well. And as I went out I found more of those glorious moments. Moments of overcoming challenge, moments of self improvement however incremental they were. And looking back, I think of one weapon that helped me more than any other. One weapon that mirrored my journey through Bloodborne’s looping, labyrinthine pathways.

I formed an early attachment to the Hunter’s Axe. Its immense range when wielded with two hands was a great help when coming from Salt and Sanctuary’s two dimensions. With it equipped both Cleric Beast and Father Gascoigne fell before me. The latter without parrying so little did I trust my skills outside of the two handed mode. In retrospect that encounter could have been easier. Later on the Blood Starved Beast was slain as well but with the help of a summon (I was very green back then). But I grew to depend on those wide arcs of the axe so much so they became a crutch. I was attacking from too far away passing up so many chances for damage.

Two times. Two times I had run away from Vicar Amelia. She was an intimidating. Once human, she was now an angry mass of claws and fur. Panic and fear make for a powerful but unfortunate combination.  The battle takes place in the Grand Cathedral, which looks down on the sprawl that is Yharnam. And in turn I felt Vicar Amelia looking down on me.

After climbing to the top of the Church Workshop and locating the Radiant Hunter Badge Ludwig’s Holy Blade is available for purchase from the messengers. 20,000 echoes allowed me to purchase it. In its tricked form the sword is placed within its sheath to form a two handed great blade. It has good range, but below that of the axe. Otherwise it is a whippy little long sword. I retired the axe. My main for the foreseeable future would be Ludwig’s.

It is a brave new world when exploring Yharnam with a different weapon. New combo’s to learn, new stamina usage to get acquainted with. It was not too dissimilar to starting over again, and becoming familiar with the “you died” screen all over again was a frustrating experience. But I elected to stick with it, and eventually, enemies began to fall once more with consistency.

Very clearly I recall the final blow. Wrapped in fire paper, Ludwig’s Holy Blade burned brightly. Amelia was carrying a broken leg. The great blade slammed into her side. She let out a solitary, lonely howl before lowering her head, and dissipating into a shower of blood. Silence descended on the cathedral punctuated by the cackle of the fire paper. The great blade had claimed its first boss.

The Shadows of Yharnham stood before Byrgenworth. After five or six attempts, still they stood.

One shadow had been slain. A second was now hemmed in against two grave stones. Two great swings of Ludwig’s Holy Blade had left their mark. A third, over arcing swing was coming down and escape was impossible owing to the stun lock of the first two blows. Gazing upon the shadow I remembered how it had pushed me around; put me in corners like this and heaped feelings of helpless upon me. The reversal felt good. That is how it feels Shadow of Yharnam. That is how it feels to live in fear. It wasn’t long before I advanced on Byrgenworth.

My confidence in Ludwig’s had clearly risen. I was now acutely aware of endurance consumption; being able to gauge how many swings I could manage before backing off with consistency, as opposed to hoping. Knowing which enemy needed a two handed approach, which a one handed approach. Who gets fire paper, gets bolt paper. When I needed to go full bore, and when I needed to show patience. Boss battles were no longer feared, but sought out. And short cuts found with equal relish, so upon death I could throw myself into the breach once more. It is a nice shift from when just surviving was my priority.

It is impossible now for me to separate my main character from the Holy Blade. It is him. He is the Holy Blade Hunter. It is the weapon where I learned to play the game properly, the weapon that allowed to me to see how great Bloodborne truly is.

NG+ has just come to an end. After finding the Cleric Beast on NG++ Ludwig’s Holy Blade is now stained with the blood of every boss in the main game, and countless Chalice Dungeon bosses. And there are moments that stand out from the sound and the fury. A final swing that crippled Ludwig the Accursed front leg, leaving him opened up to a final, immolating visceral attack. With almost no health and no vials, Lady Maria’s guard breaking, condemning her to defeat.  The Watchdog of the Old Lord’s in the defiled chalice receiving a great gash on its neck, before Ludwig’s Holy Blade broke its leg and its spirit. The overhead arc that went through Dark Beast Paarl’s face and then ripped along its under carriage. There will be plenty more of those moments. All of those have one thing in common.

I’d say there is not much more for the Holy Blade Hunter to do now but he has rolled on into Cathedral Ward and slain Vicar Amelia. Again.

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