Trails of blood in Sekiro and wondering about Monster Hunter style weapon swapping in Soulsborne

Blood Splatter

There’s a lot of blood in Sekiro. For the most part it’s inside of people. But there are times it will shoot out of them as a high-pressure jet stream and leaves a nice red stain where it lands. It’s an homage to old pulpy Samurai films that Sekiro takes some of its inspiration from. This video from Polygon does an excellent job of explaining this. (I should start watching Chambara.)

One night, while fighting Genichiro for what felt like the 200th time – still an absolute banger of a boss fight – I noticed the blood on the floor. And on the doors. Sometimes there is blood on the ceiling – Sakura Dance is responsible for that. I’ve noticed the blood before, but this was the first time that I realised I could track the progress of the fight by the blood on the ground. Like a Sengoku-era police procedural. It’s a fun way of looking back at the fight just happened, and how and when parts of it transpired.

The fight in question. The fight started in the middle of the arena. That’s where Genichiro tried to rush down Sekiro. Genichiro was then pushed into a corner – hence the blood splatter on the door. The third phase started and Genichiro got pinned down just off the centre of the arena, and that is where he fell. You can see the push and pull of a fight, the give and take solely from the blood stains on the floor. That’s pretty cool.

Violent business

RPG Lite

Recently, the Bloodborne to PC rumour reared up – last year or last week, sometime – it comes up a lot. It amounted to nothing. Again. Maybe one day the PC dream will happen. Regarding a possible Bloodborne port, DangitJM made a video about how a simple port for Bloodborne would not be enough. It’s a long video but it’s worth a watch.

Of all the video, the bit that interested me the most was the discussion regarding Bloodborne’s RPG systems and would the game benefit from those not being in the game, ala Sekiro. It’s an interesting idea, and it made me remember an old idea had about From Software games and weapons and builds – what if it was more like Monster Hunter?

Some people did get cranky about this – if you rip out the RPG mechanics the variety would go with it is what was said. Which in Sekiro’s case is true – but you can do away with stats and still have different builds.

Using weapons in From Software games – Sekiro aside – is governed by stats. Weapons have statistical requirements that have to be met. As an example, the Cross Naginata in Elden Ring requires 16 Strength and 20 Dexterity to use. If those stats aren’t met, the weapon cannot be used effectively. If you were to stumble upon this weapon and not have those stats, to use it there would have be a re-spec.

Better have the stats for that

At least there is the option of that – Dark Souls and Bloodborne don’t have re-spec options – if you found a new weapon and the build was finished, make a new character or grind for new stats in a NG plus play through. Bloodborne was particularly rough for this – Dark Souls 3 and Elden Ring at least let you use the weapon to see how it feels. You can’t even hold weapons you don’t have the stats for in Bloodborne. It’s a little annoying. You could hold them in Dark Souls but you could not use them – they would bounce off enemies. Also a little annoying.

In Monster Hunter, while you need parts to make weapons you are free to switch between weapon types freely. There’s always a basic model which takes no effort to make. If your character is a Switch Axe user, and they suddenly want to run with Longsword they can. They can pick up a Longsword and use it – combos and everything. It probably won’t be the strongest model – all the parts would have been diverted to Switch Axes – but there’s no need to re-spec or start a new play through. Might need to shift around a few charms though.

Having fun.

As to how it would work in a Souls context – (at least in my head) – there would still be stats, only three of them – health, stamina and a magic meter. All of the weapons would simply upgrade as per usual with titanite (or game equivalent) – except weapons would be interchangeable. All the damage and damage type would come from the weapons themselves – certain weapons would do strength damage, magic damage – you get the idea. I guess staffs, staves and incantation tools could be equipped with spells – like different ammo for a bow gun.

These gifs don’t really need to be here – I’m just having fun remembering Monster Hunter combat

Aside from the how it would work, the why is a little more complicated. I did this was a half-baked idea. As far as I know (bearing in mind I’ve only played World), people don’t make multiple characters in Monster Hunter. You make one character and switch weapons as and when. In part because monsters are hunted as and when. You can hunt the same monster over and over again. Whereas in Souls titles, a boss stays dead – so switching weapons doesn’t have the same effect.

I should play Monster hunter again

That being said… I would like to see a Souls like where weapon switching wasn’t so tied to stats. As a one off at least. Just want to see how it would play out.

A Salute to the First Charcters of Soulsborne

Everyone who has played a Soulsborne game (or a Soulsborne esque game) will have various achievements they will cherish. The time they beat a troublesome boss in one try as opposed to the many. An area that was once a nightmare repeatedly navigated without concern. An entire game complete with single figure deaths (perhaps zero even). All of those achievements don’t just happen. They are built on hard work, and (more than likely), a lot of deaths. A lot of deaths shouldered by the first characters of Soulsborne (and Soulsborne esque games).

Hunter Kaneda being the first to fight Ludwig (amongst other nightmares)

The first characters of Soulsborne get it in the neck. In addition to all of those deaths belonging to them, there is – the hours upon hours spent wandering around the same area in utter befuddlement – while missing the door just to the left. The NPC they let go missing, never to be seen ever again – even though they were hiding behind the next corner. On the flip side, they are the ones who make all of the important break throughs. The first ones to beat the bosses – number of deaths of damned. The first ones to navigate that maze of a level – finally making that left turn. The first ones to get that NPC to the end – mostly in one piece. The first ones to finish the journey – no matter how they did it, it is a source of pride (for the most part – foreshadowing).

Flawless dodging – enabled by Kaneda’s many, many, many deaths

Sometimes all of this can get lost. In some cases, a player will run through a Soulsborne game once and never play it ever again. Not completely relevant for this post but included for completions sake. In the case of multiple play throughs – more characters are created and the first character slips in obscurity (or worse, deleted) as other characters go on to great and greater achievements, or more enjoyable memories – not bogged down in hundreds of deaths. The deleted one is a sad fate, particularly when they don’t get a chance to finish the journey. Not their fault a players skill level lands them in a hole. Those struggles not having the closure of a completed journey… that’s a sad fate indeed.

I’ve made it a habit of holding on to my first characters (barring save corruptions and things of that nature) – as a way of reminding myself of that first play through, and a way of reminding myself of what my current skill set is built upon. I’ve seen people in comment sections saying people should uninstall the game if they die to a certain boss – yeah, because you never struggled once.

Sometimes a first character does not get a fair shake. In my experience, it’s not uncommon for someone’s first experience with a From Software game to go south and then a restart happens. Not a deletion – more like a postponement. 6 or 7 hours in, hopelessly lost, stuck on a boss – a new character is needed. That happened with me. Bloodborne was my first From game and after 6 hours of flailing around Central Yharnam Hunte Skyraft was abandoned and Kaneda was created instead. Kaneda also flopped around but he pushed on, beat the game and birthed a love of From Software. And he made it so every first character after him had an easier time. And Skyraft returned to finish her game.

Kaneda laying the groundwork for every other hunter of mine who would fight the Orphan

First characters can lack identity. Because the first character will be the one who see’s all the armour and weapons for the first time, and because they are coming in thick and fast first characters can end up with a mish mash of armour, and a weapon that does a job. My most memorable characters are the ones that I knew in advance what I wanted them to be – the armour and the weapon choices coming together. Of course, the only reason I knew the locations of the weapons and armour was because of the efforts of the first character finding all of it. Hyuga the first Tarnished ended up being decked out in Radahn’s armour with twin katana’s so everyone else could have the good fashion and matching weapons. First characters can also lack focus in the stat department. After all, which stats are the good stats – just level all of them to be safe. Then you learn it’s incredibly simple – level health, get some stamina and then level the primary damage stat. The first character fumbles through all of that so the rest of the characters can run.

Ashen One Thora at the end of a colossal slog against Midir…

Just to wrap this up, let me give a few examples of how my first characters let the rest of my characters have an easy(ier) ride. Hunter Kaneda died to Ebrietas for 2 hours – an absolute ass kicking. Every other hunter? Once, between like 10 of them across another 10 or so runs of the regular game. Hunter Kaneda also made numerous DLC sacrifices as well. Ashen One Thora took a battering from almost every DLC boss, so that ever other Ashen one had a better shot at it. And Hyuga walked through hell in Elden Ring god knows how many times – she let everyone else handle Radagon with ease.

…which let folks like Kaga do it like this.

So, here’s to the first characters of Soulsborne games. Those unsung heroes who march headlong into some incredibly hostile situations and encounter some of the most dangerous enemies with no prep time. They do all of this with the knowledge with might be forgotten and deleted to make space for other characters.

Thank you first characters of Soulsborne. Your efforts are recognised and acknowledged.

Finally reconciling a whole bunch of feelings about Bloodborne – I should have never gone home

At one-point Bloodborne was the driving force behind this blog. The very first thing I wrote was about Bloodborne. Bloodborne carried this blog through its formative years. Bloodborne was the first game which made me realise that games could indeed be valid works of art, easily competing with writing, film and various forms of illustration.

Rest after a long stuggle.

And then my appreciation fell off a cliff. Watching other people did not give me the urge to replay the game. New lore theories and videos went unread and unwatched. For the longest time I wondered why this was. It has taken some time, but I have figured it out.

Sekiro showed up. The start of all of this. It was not long after completing my first run of Sekiro that I decided that I had new favourite game. Sekiro’s combat blew the doors off a whole bunch of games, and as some who likes Japanese settings it did not take too long to fall in love with Ashina. The characters and story (combined with the world) lead me to a whole bunch of personal research and learning regarding Japanese history and Buddhism. Also grapple hooks make everything better. At some point in the midst of this I decided I needed to go back to Bloodborne – I figured the game needed a fair shot at a rebuttal.  There was a part of me that wondered is this was the right thing to do. I should have listened to that part of me.

Currently enjoying a long run as my favourite game.

This was a mistake. You can’t go home again.

I did everything I wanted to do in the game. Returning to Bloodborne came after I thought I was finished with the game. Because I had achieved all the things I had set out to do – well, most things. I always thought about doing proper runs with the Holy Moonlight Sword and the Logarious Wheel but I intensely dislike the Chalice Dungeons so neither of those were ever going to happen. But over the course of playing Bloodborne two desires emerged – one was to defeat every boss on the first try on one run or another and to do a deathless NG+ run. I managed the first one and eventually the second one. Some clarification on that though – the run was Cleric Beast + all mandatory boss fights. In the grand scheme of Soulsborne challenges that ain’t much but it was something I wanted to do and something I had failed to do before. Got close, but never managed it. Small mistakes here and there. Then I did it. And then I did it again – back-to-back deathless. I felt super happy, and considered that, at the time my Bloodborne swansong.

My favourite gif I made of Bloodborne.

Then I came back after playing Sekiro. It was not a long run – I cleared Central Yharnam, killing both the Cleric Beast and Gascoigne and getting to Cathedral Ward. And standing there, gazing out across the Church Yard I felt incredibly bored. Not burned out – I had felt that before but this time I did not want to be here, I felt no stimulation being here and I just wanted to turn the game off. Getting though the DLC bosses was not going to happen, never mind fighting them again. I had played the game a lot, got out at the right moment and then came back undoing my perfect timing. Which means my final memory of Bloodborne was not the joy and wonderment of a deathless run and all my goals accomplished, but that of me wandering around Cathedral Ward feeling bored and sad. A second attempt went much the same way because clearly do not adhere to lessons learned.

It felt like watching a great band from the 80’s going on a tour after a long time of not doing anything. The dawning, horrible realisation that “oh god, they don’t have it anymore”. I guess that makes me the 80’s band – the game is still good but my time with it was done.

I should not have come back. A corpse should be left well alone.

Clashing blades with Maria.

Dodgy metaphors and forced Bloodborne quotes aside, I cannot overstate just how much the second memory of Bloodborne impacted my viewing of the game. I do dislike how much as humans we can tend to focus on a final memory, even if everything before it was good. Because I had a lot of fun with Bloodborne. Like heaps of fun. But now that fun is behind a barrier of feeling tired and sad and wondering why I ever came back to it when I could have been playing Sekiro again. In time, the good feelings and memories will come back. I know that.

Still, I should never have gone back home. It’s never the same. It can never be the same.

Fare thee well Bloodborne.

Imaging the Snake Eyes In Bloodborne (Sekiro Cosplay free to good home)

It has been a hot minute since I have even considered replaying Bloodborne, never mind actually playing it. Bloodborne has all but disappeared from this blog despite being the very foundation it was built on. After Sekiro, I went cold on Bloodborne, and I never quite got my groove back. I did not stop loving the game, but I definitely lost the vibes I had before. But I have been watching both Saint_Riot and Lobosjr stream the game recently, and there has been something stirring within me. But I keep talking myself out it. There are bosses I don’t want to fight again (most of them mandatory) and I do feel I have seen too much of the game to enjoy it again (Nightmare Frontier again…argh).

Let’s say, for the sake of argument that I get over this hump and I do give Bloodborne one more run. How do I do it? Deep within Ashina is the Sunken Valley rests the Gun Fort, a formidable construct manned by the Sunken Valley Clan, a collective of sharp shooters. The head of this clan are the two Snake Eyes, warriors of superior aim and fierce in melee with a weapon that is both a firearm and a polearm. There are no means by which to use this weapon in Sekiro. I can think of few games I have played with a weapon like it.

Bloodborne aside. Bloodborne has an almost equivalent weapon. Within the ruins of Old Yharnam, in a burned-out house rests the Rifle Spear which as the name suggests is a spear with a firearm component. Although it is less a rifle and more a shotgun. It functions a lot like the Snake Eyes weapon though. Unusually for a spear in a From Software game the weapon has a horizontal move set in addition to the expected thrusts which makes it rather fun to use. It does not share the visual appearance of the Snake Eyes weapon, but we got to work with what we have. But the weapon functioning in a similar way is what counts the most.

The Snake Eyes have a powerful grab attack – a brutal shot straight to the dome. We can simulate that with strong visceral attacks. Another attack the Snake Eyes have is a charged shot with a piercing effect. That can be copied with the Piercing Rifle from the DLC. Ashina is home to a giant Snake and the Snake Eyes are positioned to protect each end of the beast. This provides a good excuse to use the Madaras Whistle – a hunter tool that summons a giant snake.

That is the weaponry taken care of. But just weaponry is not enough. I would have to look like the Snake Eyes. This is a little tricky. Partially because of the different games and different settings and partially because I have lapses in my Fashionborne knowledge. I’ll give it a go though. The Snake Eyes heads are covered in bandages, and I do remember there being bandages that cover faves in Bloodborne so that’s taken care of. The chest piece consists of what looks like white wraps and a cape of reeds or something similar. Off hand, the closest thing I can think of is Bradours chest piece with the cape of fur somewhat replicating the cape of reeds (I think there are reeds). The gloves should be a simple deal. The Snake Eyes have wrapped hands and there are a bunch of hand wraps in Bloodborne. Defeating Gascoigne gets a pair of hand wraps on sale. Finally the legs of the Snake Eyes are covered in wraps (or bandages) and there should be some leg wraps in Bloodborne somewhere. Either by pick up or by force.

Bring all of that together (as much as possible) and it should be enough to bring a facsimile of the Snake Eyes from the depths of Ashina to the broken Metropolis of Yharnam. My motivation to do this rises and dives on a regular basis as mentioned in the intro so I may not go ahead with this. Or I might do. Current evidence suggests not but who knows. But there is nothing stopping anyone who stumbles upon this post and wants to be a Snakes Eyes in Bloodborne from giving this a shot.

Oh yeah, forgot about the stats. This is the easy part. A standard Bloodtinge and Skill build will work. Bloodtinge covers bullet damage and skill with aid with the spear damage and the visceral attacks. Level wise, I would depend on what you want to do. For PVE only, we could go nuts and have 50 50 in Bloodtinge and Skill with health and stamina as required. Some good old fashioned overpowered fun. For PVP I honestly don’t know. It has been so long since I have participated in PVP that my knowledge is way out of whack. I would guess that somewhere between 60 and 120 would cover anyway between Forbidden Woods and Mensis. For the Blood Gems – stuff that does physical and Bloodtinge should suffice. I am not the best person to ask about Blood Gems. One of the reasons that Sekiro (and Dark Souls III even) climbed past Bloodborne was those games do not have Chalice Dungeons. My urge to run those plummeted after my first play through. I only ever went to depth three after my first playthrough and then I left them well alone.

So yeah, that would be Snake Eyes in Bloodborne. It could be fun.

Addendum – Yeah, I am not doing this. I re-installed Bloodborne to gauge how I felt, and yeah, the thrill is gone. But the idea is a good one – if anyone who reads this wants to do it, go for it.

Header image found here.

The Boss Run Back and How I Feel About It

A run back is the distance between a check point and a boss fight. It can be long or short, crowded or empty, convoluted or simple. Tis a simple thing that draws a variety of opinions ranging from “it’s part of the game, get used to it” to “bin that shit.” Run backs are commonly associated with Souls games, and since playing my first Soulslike game (Salt and Sanctuary, all those years ago), my opinions on the run back have altered and shifted. I can measure my changes in opinion on run backs on a From Software to From Software basis (in chronological order of play), since it is with those games my opinions on runs backs have formed and altered.

Bye bye Mr Gargoyle – I have to run it back

To expand on the variety of opinions the run back, those in favour of run backs say it another part of the game to master. Another challenge to overcome. Mastering the run up is part of mastering the boss fight. Those opposed will say it is an unnecessary waste of time – I have already made my way to the boss and want to get right back in there – why add an impediment to that? It is a debate that won’t go anywhere soon, so

Bloodborne: Bloodborne was my first From Software game, and my second game in the Souls mould. Bloodborne, like Salt and Sanctuary, has boss run backs. Some of these are extremely short – like right by the fog gate short to extremely long – like running from a castle courtyard through a library across castle rooftops long. Between the extremes, the majority of run backs in Bloodborne are of a medium length – sometimes with elevators to activate and send back up for the (possible) next run and I did them as I needed to. Given both Salt and Sanctuary and Bloodborne had these, I assumed these where baked into the genre and got on with it. If you died to a boss, you had to run back – seemed reasonable.

That’s for the run back Laurence

Two run backs in Bloodborne drove me batty though – Martyr Logarius and Laurence. Logarius, the boss of Castle Cainhurst has the castle long run back. Even back when I first played I thought it was silly, and now I think it is sillier still. It’s like a minute long, you have to take fall damage at one point (not a lot mind, but it’s the principle of the matter) and there is a chance of falling to ones death. And Laurence’s run back is filled with enemies and a fireball trap. And Laurence is one of the toughest bosses in the series. On that first run of Bloodborne, Laurence took me a good while and that run back did not add any benefit to the experience.

Getting back to awesome stuff like this quicker is nice

Looking back, I do not know why it did not click with me that my favourite boss, Ludwig, has a short, convenient run back. Consider this foreshadowing.

Dark Souls III: Dark Souls III also has run backs. None of them are as long as Logarius or as dense as Laurence’s. A few aren’t great – still elevators involved (the Oceirus run back is a hassle, and Midir has an elevator and a ladder) but the majority are short side. Bloodborne used to be my favourite game of all time – until Sekiro showed up and went to the top. A secondary effect of that was Dark Souls III jumping above Bloodborne.

No fuss no muss – getting back to this fight takes like 5 seconds

Part of this was the run backs. Dark Souls III worst run backs are comparable with the average Bloodborne run back. Looking at 20 seconds or less for most run backs – with many of the toughest bosses (Gael, Nameless, Friede) having bonfires right outside the fog gate, boss fights became a lot easier to learn – getting back to boss quicker means more time to see the boss and what it does. Turns out I dug that a lot. In the long run, it led to an increase appreciation of Dark Souls III. Big run backs were out, and short run backs were in.

Right back to it

Dark Souls Remastered: Long runbacks again! Not a fan then, not a fan now. As great as Dark Souls is, it did not dislodge Dark Souls III as my favourite Souls game. And the run backs were a part of that. The run backs in Dark Souls range from medium to huge. And the boss fights at the end of them are, well, they are not bad. But after playing Dark Souls III and Bloodborne, the bosses in Dark Souls showed their age. A lot of them can be circle strafed into oblivion, and if not they are slow and limited in their attacks. And the run backs do not help with that. Seath, for example is a boss I only have two deaths to in eight playthroughs, but those two deaths were not the frustration. Running back through an entire crystal cave with invisible platforms was the frustration. But the worst combination of this is the Bed of Chaos. An absolute shit show of a boss – who doesn’t love instakill death pits combined with a giant run back? Fun fun fun.

Fun fight – once I have navigated a small room chock full of enemies

The DLC boss fights bring the heat, so that’s good. But still with the long run backs, so that’s no good. Except for the Sanctuary Guardian. A fun fight, with a bonfire right outside the fog gate. Lovely stuff.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin: One thing to say here. Please, please, please do not have tough boss fights at the end of giant run backs that are behind loading screens.

I have no Dark Souls II boss gifs – so this will have to do

Just…no. Do not do that.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: We’re not doing run backs anymore. Checkpoints right outside the boss arena. Or at least 5 to 10 seconds away. Honestly less than 10 seconds because Sekiro can bolt it. And that opinion that shifted from accepting run backs of the Bloodborne type to preferring run backs of the Dark Souls III type had now fully swung. With Sculptors Idols right outside the boss room, I could get right back to the boss fight, and right back to decoding and learning the bosses. Which I find more fun than making sure I sent the elevator back up, making sure to juke enemies and other things that are not fighting the boss. The longest run back is the Corrupted Monk Shade (maybe 20 – 30 seconds) and that is a straight sprint with no enemies in the way.

Don’t take long to get back to this

That being said, there are two or three mini bosses that are surrounded by a retinue of enemies which to a new player, are an annoyance. Because practicing the mini boss is much harder because of the faff of murdering the helpers. But, the Idol is right near them, so the run back is still good. But all the main bosses have had the run back abolished or severely diminished.

Like, right outside the door

My game of the year, Nioh 2 took a similar approach to run backs. Every boss had a Shrine right outside or very near the boss fight – right back to the action. If the run back died off, I would not be upset. If I have to do them, I will (waiting on Elden Ring’s run backs) but shorter run backs – yes please. No run backs, even better.

No run back means more anime moves

Dark Souls III, back again. An Ode to Co-op.

I need to accept that me and Dark Souls III will always be together. I will always return to Lothric. Like a migratory bird, there are certain paths I will always follow. This return to Lothric is in a wonderfully chilled capacity. For I am engaging in jolly co-operation and nothing more.

It is a refrain that rears its head from time to time. Dark Souls III is a dead game. And deep down, I know that is not true. But there is something that compels me to test the theory to see if it has finally come true. That refrain keeps on swinging, and it keeps on missing. Dark Souls III will keep on living until the release of Elden Ring (providing Elden Ring has online play, and it probably will). Granted, it is not as alive as it once was but often the summon sign goes down and someone picks it up. The most plentiful areas are the DLC and later game bosses, but there are summoning opportunities at lower levels as well. I need to catch people doing NG+ and beyond runs, but it has happened.

Returning to co-op has been a blast. Kaga, my character of choice for this return is a level 102 (an odd level, but it is working out) has been placing her sign down for those seeking assistance. Murakumo is hand, she has played a part in slaying Gael, the Demon Princes, Sister Friede, Pontiff Sulyvahn, Dragon Slayer Armour, Wolnir and even Vordt. Helping people is an immensely fun and rewarding activity. And on a selfish level, I want to thank these hosts because as someone who still wants to play Dark Souls III but right now, does not want to start the game over I get to live vicariously in other people’s worlds fighting fun bosses. It is win win on every level.

It is interesting that I have come to love co-op as much as I do. Accompany on a journey, dear reader. Let us go back to the heady year of 2017. That was when my From Software love affair started. It was my first proper run of Bloodborne, and I was embroiled in conflict with the Blood Starved Beast. Attempt after attempt ended in failure, until I decided to summon. That summon was an NPC, Alfred. And then I killed the BSB on the first attempt afterwards. Did not feel good about it. I felt like I did not earn that win. I felt like I took the easy way out. There was no joy in victory.

And then I became that guy. You know that guy. The one who looks down on people who summon. The one who thinks they are cowards. The one thinks he is better than someone who summons. You know, a dick. And for the longest time afterwards I did not summon, did not entertain the idea.  I was above that. I was good enough to play the game on my own. And I would judge people who did summon as inferior.

Looking back on this is most embarrassing. I can only apologise for it. I am sorry. And, honestly, it is incredibly messed up. First of all, the fact I was that high and mighty about how people play video games is, just the saddest thing. Secondly, I was mad at myself for needing and asking for help. I was stuck with something, and I thought I was weak because I asked for help. How fucked up is that? Like, that is incredibly fucked up. Like, damn that is fucked up. That is a horrible mindset.

Time passed, and on a run of Dark Souls III I felt the urge to switch things up. I wanted to make the game more exciting, and I wanted to interact with other people, beyond the messaging system. I put down a summon sign. It was the first time since the Blood Starved Beast that I have had anything to do with summoning. Someone brings me into their world. We wave to each other, head off the the Gravetender and the Greatwolf and defeat the boss. And you know what? Being summoned was exciting. Helping someone is fun. Sharing in the joy of victory is a blast.

I sought out more co-op. More and more I put down my sign. And more and more, those old, toxic attitudes gave way. People summon because it is fun. People summon for the camaraderie. Not because they are weak and not because they are cowardly. The fact I was entrenched in that mindset makes me sad. Because of how much of a dick I was, but also because of all the fun opportunities I missed out on because of some incredibly misguided notions.

Alas, there is no point in bathing in the misery of previous mistakes. And since then I have been a part of at least 300 boss co-ops. It does not get old. And because of all the play styles of Dark Souls III there can be some fun combinations. As a strictly melee dude, playing with a mage is wonderful. I can keep the boss pre-occupied up close while the mage launches the arcane artillery. And when the boss goes after the mage, I can draw attention back to me so that the barrage may begin anew. It is something I would not get to experience if I remained locked into my old, toxic attitudes.

Jolly co-operation rules y’all.

Some of my favourite From Software memories and moments, incidents and happenings

I love From Software. That is not a well-kept secret. At minimum, 50% of the posts on this blog must mention them. Might be 75% even. Gfycat says I have made 934 gifs (so far). 327 of those are From Software gifs (roughly a 1/3 or so) (so far). My top three games of all time are Sekiro, Dark Souls III and Bloodborne. Those three games alone have seen 10, 16 and 20 playthroughs or so, respectively. Dark Souls hovers around my all-time games list. Out of the 5 From games I have tried, 4 have utterly shattered whatever expectations I had for them. As for the remaining one, my mother I always said if I have not anything nice to say I should not say anything at all – let us run with that.

That is a lot of play throughs that have given me a lot of brilliant and wonderful moments and memories. Moments tinged with frustration. Moments of transcendent power. Quiet moments. Because From Software games are more than just the difficulty and the boss fights. The story and the environments are as worthy of praise and recognition. So, in no particular order here are some of my favourite moments and memories, incidents and happenings from my favourite From Software games (Sekiro, Dark Souls III and Bloodborne), ranging from the titanic boss fights to random encounters to the quiet moments. 

The Clicking Moment – Lost in Old Yharnam

Might as well start at the beginning. By the time one has made their way to Old Yharnam Father Gascoigne has been felled, and maybe the Cleric Beast as well if one did a thorough sweep of Central Yharnam. I will admit I got rather excited at both those victories but whenever I think of my From Software clicking moment, I think of a particular incident in Old Yharnam.

Old Yharnam has two abandoned churches of size. One houses the boss of the area; the Blood Starved Beast and one has a group of beasts worshipping a corpse of a Blood Starved Beast. The second of these churches is meant to be navigated by going over the rafters, setting off a fire trap and killing most of the beasts in one clean motion. The first time around I was not aware of this, as I fumbled my way through Old Yharnam. I entered the church through the lower levels and went to attack a (what I thought was) a lone beast. Upon seeing me, it screamed, I killed it, it’s all good.

It was then I heard the rumble of footsteps. Singular at first, then en-mass. That scream had altered every beast from the Blood Starved Beast corpse room. General From Software advice is to take on as many one on ones as you can – me, a wet behind the ears hunter had managed to engineer a ten or so on one. Armed with a two hand hunters axe (I couldn’t parry at this point) and panic, I rolled, dodged, swept and thrust in an haze with some moments of genuine skill until there was only me, covered in blood, surrounded by a horde of dead beasts.

That was the moment I realised how could From Software’s games could be. I was exploring on my own, I encountered a problem all my own making and had figured a way to get out of it. The whole thing felt organic, it felt proper, it felt right.

Coming Together of Boss Fights and Story – Ludwig and Isshin

These two boss fights mark a passing of the torch moment for me. Ludwig was the best boss fight I had ever encountered – until Sword Saint Isshin came into my life. As such, it feels right to pair them up here. Ludwig stood in a game with some other amazing boss fights. Part of that was the fight itself, with the game play and the spectacle. The other part was the story telling and characterization. Isshin Ashina also embodies this.

Both boss fights are some of From Software’s toughest. Ludwig is the first boss of the Old Hunter’s DLC in Bloodborne and acts like Gascoigne in the base game. Beat Gascoigne, and you can beat bloodborne. Beat Ludwig, and you can beat the Old Hunters. Isshin is Sekiro’s final test. Everything the game has taught you is put to the test. Both fights are stand up examples of just what a boss fight should be. Hard but fair. Ticky, but able to be learned. The sort of fight where 3 hours of banging one’s head against the wall is replaced by 5 minutes on the second go around.

But it is not just the technical mastery that sells these fights. Plenty of games have tough as nails bosses; none of them stick with me like From Software’s best efforts. And that is because of the story telling. Ludwig and Isshin’s memorability goes far beyond there challenge. They are culminations of arcs. Ludwig was mentioned all throughout the base game. His role as the head of the church hunters to his fall from grace. And that is reflected in boss fight, with the first phase being a wild beast to the second phase where he becomes the sword man of old. Isshin Ashina is the personification of the land of Ashina; and Sekiro has spent the much of the game in conflict with Ashina. Plus, Isshin is everything Genichiro could not be, and Genichiro’s final sacrifice to summon him is a neat way of showing the player that Genichiro was never Sekiro’s equal.

The way these two boss fights end helps to make them special. A lot of video bosses die, and well, that is it. Fights finished, onto the next part. Ludwig and Isshin do not go out like that. Ludwig head retains consciousness, and in his final moments he regains a sliver of humanity and speaks some of the games best dialogue. Isshin is beaten, but not broken. He is immortal, but he knows he has been bested. He stoically awaits the end with grace and dignity. The moment speaks volume about the man.

Those moments are why I find so much enjoyment in From Software games. I enjoy other Soulslike games, but they are always missing something. They may have the combat and the difficulty, but then they do not have the story, the characters, and the world design. Or if they have the latter, they are deficient in the former. From’s games encompass the whole, and that is why I keep coming back to them.

Adventure Time – Finding Archdragon Peak and Senpou Temple

Archdragon Peak and Senpou Temple are my two joint favourite places in video games. My favourite place in the whole wide world is Yama-dera, in Yamagata Prefecture. I guess I have a fondness for religious constructions atop mountains.

Finding these places represents my love of adventure in From Software games. I will say that Archdragon Peak is more out of the way and harder to find than Senpou Temple but finding both places have somethings in common. Namely, the area placements and what is placed before them. These areas are blessed relief from that area that precedes them. Archdragon Peaks glorious azure skies and white block architecture stand in direct contrast to cramped, dirty and constricting Irrithyll dungeon that precedes it. Likewise, the open air and gorgeous red maples that bring so much life to Senpou differ greatly from the filthy, squalid and claustrophobic dungeon that lies before it.

One look at Yamadera is enough to say why I love Senpou Temple. I adore Japanese Temples, and while they have appeared in video games before Senpou is the one that really captures the vibe and atmosphere of these places (murderous monks and centipede monsters aside) – the buildings feel right, the iconography looks authentic and the amida butsu chanting of the monks feel serene (at least until the stabbing commences).

Archdragon Peak is far removed from Japanese architecture. It is far more reminiscent of Byzantine styles and looks amazing for it. What always draws my attention about Archdragon is just how big it is. The base is plunged deep into clouds. And seeing how tall the tops of Archdragon are, it utterly blows my mind with its size. And its construction. How do you build something this big? Always amazes me.

These two areas are also found without anything in the way of sign posting. Finding both these places was the result of organic exploration. I wandered far and wide, and ended up in amazing, sublime places by nothing but curiosity.

And I dig that.

The Black Knight Massacre

Gudrun was my first dexterity character in Dark Souls III, and she had just beaten Champion Gundyr. As such, she was able to tread foot in the burned out Firelink Shrine. This version of the shrine is stuffed to the gills with the Black Knights of Gwyn. They are formidable opponents, and my previous encounters with them had seen some struggles.

This was one of those look how far I had come moments. Sellsword Twinblades in hand, Gudrun proceeded to dance through the congregation of knights, not even taking a scratch. I distinctly recall how good I felt while doing this. Every dodge felt right and calculated. Every weapon swing felt accurate and clean. There were going to be no fuck ups here, not errors attributable to lack of focus or cockiness. There have been precious few moments where I have been in the zone, in flow during a video game like that.

This moment should get lost in all the amazing boss fights that Dark Souls III has. And yet, this moment has always stuck with me throughout my From Software adventures. Felt so damn good, to be that good at the game. Those sequences are fleeting to me, so when I am in that zone I tend to hold onto them. Gudrun’s Black Knight massacre was one of those moments.

Seven Ashina Spears Shikibu Toshikatsu Yamauchi and his many valuable lessons

Sekiro has an impressive cast of mini bosses. These bosses guard a large amount of the prayer beads that Sekiro needs to level up his health and posture. As such, there are not many other ways to level up other than learning how to beat the bosses and learn the combat. This resulted in my most fun and rewarding From Software journey so far. And the boss I think about when learning about the game is Shikibu Toshikatsu Yamauchi, one of the Seven Ashina Spears, who guards the Moon View Tower.

I remember encountering him for the first time. I did not last long. What followed was other attempts that lasted seconds, attempts to cheese him of a cliff, hiding under said cliff and various moments of panic and cowardice. At some point it occurred to me I had to either go at him and do as the game wants me to and play as a shinobi. I figured out I could use stealth to get rid of one death blow. That still left a lot of dying on the steps trying to get rid of the second.

But I endeavoured, kept on pushing and pushing and eventually, through aggression and relentlessness I took him down. And looking back, that Yamauchi and the game telling me what it wanted me to do; how they wanted me to play.

Now, he is one of my favourite bosses, mini or otherwise. I love fighting him and I have even done a few hitless runs against him. And a large part of that was the fact I had to learn him. No out levelling him, no cheesing. Just straight up being better than him.

A glorious feeling. And thank you Seven Ashina Spears Shikibu Toshikatsu Yamauchi, for teaching me a lot of valuable lessons in Sekiro’s combat and world.

Co-operation and Invasions Oh my

Co-operation is not a mechanic that is unique to the Souls series and Bloodborne. Many games let you run around and frolic with friends and randoms. And just like other games, co-operation is a lot of fun. But, as much as it is part of the game, most Dark Souls and Bloodborne bosses do not deal with co-op all that well. Many Soulsborne bosses can be manipulated in co-op. Since the boss almost always goes after the last person to hit them bouncing agro is a very manageable and exploitable strategy. You can confuse a boss and hand off between two, three, sometimes four people. Still a lot of fun, but co-op allows the system to be gamed.

But there is at least one boss who works near flawlessly in co-op. Or as close as a boss can come to that. Step forward the Demon Prince. The first phase is gank fight with two demons, so in co-op for the most part this is a fair fight. I mean, it is perfectly fair in a single player setting too but it works in co-op. The second phase of the fight is just the Demon Prince, but he attacks with wide enough arcs to catch multiple people, and area of effect attacks that can do the same thing. And he can move at speed and fly so that he can get out of groups just mashing him into oblivion. And if one stacks phantoms, the Demon Prince gets a lot of health. If you are a host, at most summon Gael and a player. Anymore and the Demon Prince is basically a flying tank made of fire. A lot of my finest Co-op memories came fighting the Demon Prince. One of my characters earned 100 sunlight medals, and the 100th came from the Demon Prince. That felt right.

Invasions on the other hand are a mechanic that is much less ubiquitous. It is just like co-op, except the person in your world is out to murder you. Invading requires a special mind set. Killing a player character does feel different to killing an NPC. NPC’s have set patterns and trends. Players can do almost anything. You go in with a strategy in mind but must be aware it can change on the fly. Unlike boss fights, you might only get one shot. Fail, and you might never see that host ever again. I have invaded plenty of times but there is one invasion that stands out. In Central Irithyll, I held out against multiple opponents, picked my battles, sensibly waited for back up and even landed an Uchigatana parry.

Invasions are fun y’all.

Don’t run off and die love

The Old Stone Humped Hag sits atop the Dreg Heap, the beginning of the Ringed City. She is the first person you will meet in this god forsaken crag. She might be spoken to this once, and that is it. But if you go back she has her own little arc well worth seeing through. But there is also a line of dialogue that is of much importance to me. One night, with thoughts swirling in my head and looking for something resembling a distraction, I went back to the Dreg Heap and spoke to the old lady.

And then I had a moment. I mean, sometimes I still get thoughts like that, but I can handle them now (therapy works y’all). This is one of those instances that shows why I love Dark Souls III as much as I do. I mean, my life is not perfect right now (not by a long shot) but at least now I can see if I keep on pushing and trying I can get somewhere. And somewhere is better than nowhere. And part of that is Dark Souls III, and that exchange with that kind old lady. There are not many games that celebrate the beauty of life like From Software games – and for that alone I will always treasure them.

Collected Thoughts/Rambles on SoulsBorne Combat in a Post Sekiro World

Throughout my writing about Sekiro on this blog, I have sometimes talked about how Sekiro has influenced my feelings on the SoulsBorne gameplay and combat that I hold so dear. These thoughts have always been in bits and pieces, strewn about my What Have I Been Playing This Week pieces and other writings here and there.



























What I’m going to do here is collect all these disparate thoughts and feelings into one cohesive piece of writing. Well, as cohesive as I can manage.

In order to frame this piece better, I’m going to list the major things I was worried about heading into Sekiro from the SoulsBorne series. These where, in no particular order:

  • A lack of stats/builds combined with no weapon variety
  • A lack of Fashionsouls/a lack of player made characters


























These where the main reasons I thought that I loved Souls and Bloodborne for. I didn’t list world design, story and NPC’s because I knew that From Software would deliver those elements in Sekiro. Did a bang-up job with those by the by. In a far back piece of writing I did mention that I would miss PVP and Co-op, but it wouldn’t be a deal breaker. I’ve played both Dark Souls and Bloodborne as single player games so going back to that wasn’t too bad. That proved to be the case.

























And yet, despite my worries and fretting Sekiro, after the initial adjustment period came out as my new favourite and greatest From Software game and by extension became the best game I have ever player because the previous best was Bloodborne, all of this while lacking in those areas where previous From Software game where strong.

Conversely, going back to Dark Souls after Sekiro hasn’t been as fun as it once was. And I haven’t felt the urge (even the smallest inkling) to return to Yharnam, even after watching others play Bloodborne. What has changed in Sekiro’s wake? Let’s head back to those reasons and explore them in some detail.























A lack of stats/builds and a lack of weapons

Stats and builds bring to a game diversity and options. Sekiro forsakes this for a more definitive play style. This could lead to a game becoming stale overtime, because the variety wouldn’t be there. Yet, seven play throughs into Sekiro (and the eighth is coming) this hasn’t gotten old. Not even close. This despite there only being one main weapon with supplementary weapons which can’t be used ad infinitum.

This got me to think about my SoulsBorne experiences and the builds I ran. Something gradually dawned on me. For all the talk of variety and diversity that the game provides, my builds didn’t really provide that. Almost exclusively I ran straight dexterity or straight strength builds. One time on Dark Souls III I tried a pyromancy build and one time on Bloodborne I tried an arcane build. Both those builds failed to see the end game. Sure, each weapon has its own rhythms and hyper armours, consuming different amounts of stamina per swing and in theory this would bring about a varied play style. Even in Bloodborne, with the trick weapons fights often had the same rhythms.  Yet upon watching some of my boss fights across the Souls games, with different weapons has made me realise they never where that different. Yes, I had to account for the stamina usage of each weapon and swing speed but on every occasion the fights all boil down to roll out of the way of an attack and then hit on cool down. Repeat until the boss keels over. In some cases, I would trust hyper armour to hit through enemies and bosses but for a lot of them it’s the same pattern. Just as a few examples, here are some fights against Darkeater Midir with different weapons and some fights with the Orphan of Kos with different weapons. Whole lotta dodging.



































































































To the counterpoint of Sekiro being the same but with deflecting instead of dodge rolling/side stepping well, I’ll concede the point. What helps it that deflecting is also way more involved and way more fun to execute than getting out of the way. It requires timing. Yes, you can just hold down block but that increases your risk of being posture broken, and correct timing will see the block become a deflection and become an offensive move, filling up the enemies’ posture so that you may break them. In combination with the posture system it gives the fight a rhythm and element of back and forth struggle that try as it might SoulsBorne simply cannot do. Its more than just game play as well. There’s the sound design and the visual effect. The sparks when blades connect, the sounds of steel colliding. It’s so much more exciting to witness and to play than rolling out of the way. In their respective games, Pontiff Sulyvahn and Genichiro Ashina fulfil a similar purpose – a mid-game skill check. Both become a lot easier with time and repetition. And by far, it’s Genichiro who is the most fun to fight. Simply because the deflecting mechanic of Sekiro is far more exciting than anything in Soulsborne.


























Everything here has set up quite the conflict inside of me. Was I ever playing SoulsBorne for the freedom that stats and builds give? Or did I merely use the builds that required the least amount of statistical admin work so that I could get to the non-stat game play quicker? Because like I said, my builds are incredibly simple. There are easy to replicate by pretty much anyone. Level up strength or dexterity, along with health and stamina and whatever carry weight I required. Simple stuff. I was doing builds that got to their end games quicker. Sekiro merely cut out whatever middleman I had previously dealt with. Perhaps I never needed the stats in the first place. Maybe I just liked hitting things with dangerous bits of metal, and Sekiro removed the illusion of builds and stats.










Actually, thinking about it Sekiro does has some stats. Posture and Health and Attack Power. The first two update in a pair, so I guess you could say there’s two stats. The way Sekiro approaches this is to have the upgrade materials locked behind mini-bosses (Prayer Beads for Posture and Health) and bosses (Memories for Attack Power.) I didn’t realise how much I would love this approach. It asks me to learn the game, show that I grasp its mechanics and rewards accordingly. Plus, it removes the boredom of killing the same thing over and over again for extra levels.

Going back to the single weapon point, my memory is hazy, but I think it was some point after the Owl Shinobi fight that it dawned on me I wasn’t missing having another weapon, and different play styles that come with those weapons (in theory). There’s a quote by Robert Baratheon, regarding which number is bigger five or one.









When Robert Baratheon holds up five fingers and then a single fist that for me is how I think of SoulsBorne and Sekiro. With SoulsBorne, with all the weapons and builds (melee, magic, faith, bow builds and so on) mean encounters must account for a lot of stuff. And some builds and weapons will make certain encounters incredibly easy, certain encounters very hard and some middle of the road. It can make for uneven experiences. While Sekiro has everything working towards the one and its far easier to get everything working for the one thing (posture/deflecting) than the many things. Also, I really do dig the prosthetics. Switching between them give me more fluidity than being locked into a build. I can switch from ranged attack to defence to fire attacks in an instant. That’s pretty great.

The downside here is if the one thing doesn’t work, then the whole thing comes down. Thankfully Sekiro’s works a treat. Although I do sympathise with people who don’t appreciate that focus on one thing. I’ve had a blast though.

There’s another thing I don’t miss about multiple weapons, and that’s farming for weapons. Sekiro has very limited farming, and there’s a couple of routes where farming is easy street (like, it takes ten minutes or so, if that). There are weapons in Dark Souls I’ve never seen. And the annoying thing is all these weapons are carried by enemies. Serious question, why doesn’t my character just pick up the weapon from an enemy’s corpse? Its right there. Just lift it. And in Bloodborne, I loathe blood gem farming. Utterly so. Its the biggest reason I don’t want to go back. I don’t have the time, or patience to kill the same thing over, and over, and over again for the slim hope I get a gem that isn’t burdened with a stupid curse.

The Lack of Fashionsouls

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Okay, this does still sting but only a little. Mainly because Sekiro’s outfit is a rather fetching. And given that Sekiro’s gameplay is so good I often found myself not caring about the outfits. Still, I would love a Tengu mask. And one of those capes woven from straw, the kind the Snake Eyes wear. Those are cool. But that aside, Fashionsouls wasn’t an issue. And regarding player made characters. Again, not so much an issue. The Wolf’s design voice acting, dialogue and development where more than enough to keep me engaged. There will always be a place for the player made character though. I can freely move between dedicated characters and player made characters.

The Unexpected Love: The Movement







This is one thing where I think the cat is out of the bag and From Software can’t go back. Bouncing around with the grappling hook is far more fun than anything that has come before it. Even the simple addition of a jump button has been mind blowing. No longer am I foiled by a chest high fence. Even if the grapple hook goes away with future games, From have to maintain a jump button. Not just for getting around but for the combat as well. Being able to attack from the air adds much more both in terms of angles of attack and methods of attack. Sekiro has airborne skills and airborne prosthetic use. SoulsBorne has plunging attacks and nothing else. Going back to that would be hard to stomach.

All of that Being Said





I know I sound negative here, but I want to state that while Souls combat isn’t as fun for me, I still do enjoy it. I’ve been co-oping on Dark Souls III recently and that’s still fun. Helping people with boss fights is an amazing experience. It’s also the one thing Sekiro cannot replicate, so it’s something I can return to. And I intend to do that. Well, at least until Elden Ring confirms online play. Then the old Souls games will drop off in online activity. And if Elden Ring doesn’t have online play, well, Dark Souls III rides again.





Regarding other Soulslikes in the aftermath of Sekiro. In Nioh’s case I deleted it. It’s a good game, but I already don’t like loot mechanics (I pushed past that) and the level design and the story isn’t the best so my motivations for carrying on weren’t there. I played the Surge, enjoyed it but halfway through NG+ I walked away. Same with Death’s Gambit. Salt and Sanctuary though is an exception. I play it the same way I play Souls and Bloodborne for the most part (strength and dexterity all the way) but Salt and Sanctuary has a Soulslike combat niche. That being you can flip enemies skyward and do juggle combo’s, as well as more combos on the ground. It plays a part in keeping the game fresh and exciting and why I’m still up for a run or two.

But what I have found is that in the case of the Dark Souls titles and Bloodborne (at least right now) I’m not willing to start new characters and play the game over. This applies to all the Souls games. I feel that Sekiro has shown me a combat style that I have a hard time moving past. It feels like the first time I played Bloodborne and I kept on chasing that high. There isn’t another game like Sekiro. I’ll have to accept that and move on. Or just play Sekiro again. Sounds like a plan.

As for From Software and their plans for future combat systems, I’d like them to stick with and improve the Sekiro system even further but ultimately its Miyazaki’s decision. And since he’s yet to disappoint, I’ll follow him in that direction. Still hoping it’s like Sekiro though, or something brand new. The man’s best work always comes from him going in a new direction.

The Last Guardian: Trico, The World Around and Storytelling – Why the game stands out to me

I finished The Last Guardian this week. Well, last week. I’m just writing about it this week. I didn’t write about it on my What I’ve Been Playing This Week section because the more I think about my time with it, the more I feel I wanted to explore it in more than just a few paragraphs.

This isn’t going to be a review. It’s going to be thoughts, reflections and meanderings through my favourite things about a game whose play time was horrendously broken up yet still retained its memorability throughout. Hell let’s start here.

I Bought This Game In 2017, and I finished it last week. There are a few reasons for that. Okay, there’s one reason and that was Dark Souls III. I was in the process of disentangling from Bloodborne, and despite wanting to play the original Dark Souls first, I couldn’t hold off the urges any longer and set off for Lothric (very recommended). Now, when I start a new From Software title every other game must back the fuck off. At least the big ones. And the Last Guardian was banished to the back log. The same thing will apply to any games caught up with Sekiro. And then there’s the 2, 3, 4, 5 plus runs that results when one gets invested in a From Software game. And with that the Last Guardian was consigned to the back log.

But lately, I’ve been making a real push (and saving money) by revisiting games I’ve already played but abandoned. Turns out Hyper Light Drifter is amazing. And Nioh is worth seeing through to the end. And the Last Guardian is wholly unique. In quite a few ways.

See, the thing was prior to the break I was enjoying the Last Guardian. It wasn’t like other games. I’d wager there are very few games like it. It gave the game a memorability factor. Upon my return I was surprised at just how much I remembered. The story came back to me rather quickly, I knew where I was in the game world and I had no problem readjusting to the mechanics of the game. That’s incredible because normally after a year away me and a game can feel very distant and sometimes a complete restart is in order. Even more so in game like this. But nope, came back and got right on with that. That was a good start.

As for what gives the game that memorability? Well, there’s three things that stand out to me, firstly Trico is a brilliant creation. It’s very rare for a video game character to feel as alive as Trico does. Not only in his active moments (jumping, moving etc) but in his idle moments. Trico gets fascinated by lights, he scratches himself. He takes baths if water is present, yawns and paws at the ground when something catches his eye. Sometimes this spills over into his active moments, and it will take a while before Trico catches up with instructions he has been given. This may be annoying to some people, and I get that. Buttons get pressed, actions happen. People like that. For me though, I loved it. It further confirmed the fact that Trico is a living, breathing creature with his own quirks and habits.

Speaking of the mechanical side of Trico, I never really had a problem with Trico doing what I told him to do. There were a few moments of confusion but on the whole Trico moved where I needed him to, jumped where I wanted him to and activated switches and lifts as I needed him to. The only thing I’ve noted is that I petted Trico often, cleaned up his spear wounds as quickly as I could and reassured him before and after big jumps. I also didn’t spam commands at Trico. I did one at a time and let it sink in for him. Often Trico would execute commands as instructed. And that felt great. I felt as if me and him were building a relationship based on mutual understanding, and this only got stronger as the game went on.

When lost, or not quite knowing where to go next it would help to look at what Trico was looking at. Sometimes it would be nothing, but other times he would be looking at a hole or a passage which would lead the way forward. In other cases, I had to call Trico over because he didn’t know the way forward. It all lead to the relationship growing stronger and more meaningful throughout the game. And by the end when me and Trico where picking up on each other’s ques and actions felt pretty damn great.

Another facet to Trico is his different personalities from the quiet moments to the combat moments. During quiet times Trico was loving and affectionate, curious and intrigued. The noises he made where soft and adorable. During combat though, he reminds you that animals do possess a primal side. He growls, bellows and screeches has he tears through the enemy soldiers. Whereas before he would gently paw at things, now he would swing his talons with force and vigour in his attempts to quell the threats around him. It all comes together to make Trico into a living, breathing animal as opposed to a simple press button do thing companion. And that makes me love him even more.

The other thing that stands out is the architecture of the city we explore. The city, with large parts of it abandoned is a bizarre, surreal coming together of towers, scaffolds and what seem to be a mixture of temples and dwellings. It a marvel of exploration and verticality. The whole thing is navigated in an ever-ascending pattern and everything that you can see you will be able to get there at some point. It’s annoying having a pretty sky box full of things you will never go to, and games like the Last Guardian where everywhere open to exploration is just wonderful.

The environment helps to tell the games story as well. The broken-down structures, the abandoned rail lines and tipped over mine carts speak to a traumatic event. And the ramshackle wooden walkways and platforms indicate a hasty reconstruction to keep this place functioning as best as possible. And some parts of this city are clearly not intended for human traversal, due to the size and scale of the distances involved. They are meant for Trico. Does this mean there’s more than one Trico? Maybe, perhaps, you’ll find out more later.

Hidetaka Miyzaki has said that Ico was a huge influence on him, and while playing the Last Guardian I could see how Fumito Ueda’s work bled into From Software’s world design. That sense of where you can see you can go, the focus on verticality and the environment itself telling a story instantly reminded me of the Souls series and Bloodborne. It has become my favourite type of video game world, and seeing it executed well always gives me a sense of joy and happiness.

In addition to the technical details, there’s something else that excites me about the city in the Last Guardian and that’s the literary reminders it brings up in my mind. There are two authors who in their descriptions of cities I can see the Last Guardians abandoned masterpiece. Those two are HP Lovecraft and Italo Calvino.

Now, there’s nothing Lovecraftian about this game. But the way that Lovecraft describes the ancient cities of the great ones matches up with the Last Guardians perfectly. There are the towers, the abandoned buildings and the impossible architecture that confront the protagonists in their quest. The Last Guardians cityscape could easily be one of Lovecraft’s ancient civilizations. I’m thinking of the city described in the “Shadow Out of Time” or one of the ones dreamed up in “The Call of The Cthulhu” or perhaps the dreamscapes of Unknown Kadath.

The other author that comes to mind is Italo Calvino. He wrote a novel in the 70’s named “Invisible Cities”, about Marco Polo telling Kublai Khan about all the cities he has visited. None of these cities are real, they are in fact metaphors and representations of things. In addition, they are utterly fantastical places that couldn’t exist in real life. The city in the Last Guardian could easily be one of these cities. With its towers that pierce the heavens and the network of massive scaffolding it’s a city that could only exist in the realm of fantasy. There’s one city in Invisible Cities that is constantly under construction, forever surrounded in scaffolding. I could easily see that being this city in the Last Guardian.

Lastly, the story both grabbed me and surprised me as it developed. Again, here you can see the Ueda influence on the From Software games. Very little it told explicitly and its up to the player to notice the little details and cues in order to decipher some of it. There’re three prongs to this story: how did we get to this place, what is this place for and how do we get out of this place. And I’d say I got suitable explanations for all of those. Throughout the course of the game I find out what brought the boy here, why the boy was brought was here and how he leaves this place.

What I didn’t expect was the boy and Trico breaking up a human trafficking organisation but that’s what happened. Trico was sent out to look for and bring back chosen children, not of his own accord though. On the way back chance brings him down from the sky and restores Trico to a more aware state thus allowing the relationship with the boy and that leads to the escape from this bizarre city. That’s a simple story that was told through game play and environmental ques with sparse cut scenes. Again, that influence is seen in the Soulsborne games. It’s no real wonder that after playing Dark Souls and Bloodborne that I got on well with the Team Ico games.

Also, thank god (big spoiler) Trico doesn’t die. That would have been the easy out. But Team Ico didn’t take that, and the game is all the better for it.

For all the jank and flaws this game has, when it’s on song it’s a top 5 gaming experience. That alone makes my time spent with this game all worth it. There’s nothing else akin to the Last Guardian in video games.

Bloodborne returns to slumber, Sad news spurs on a completion and Games that need finishing

Bloodborne returns to slumber: That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die. It’s about that time when burnout rears its head and Bloodborne returns to dormancy. Inevitably it will wake again at some point, as do all great ones from great slumbers. But for now, I’m enjoying other games, and I fulfilled many of the things I wanted to do on my return to the game. I only intended to do one run through, and I managed to do four more (eight if we factor NG+ in).

This time around was a whole ton of fun. Not only did the game maintain its brilliance which excited me to no end, it showed me a new side with the online play. Now, that comes with the caveat of when I could find online play. It’s not like Dark Souls III where invasions and summons are on tap (according to level and placement). Getting invasions in Bloodborne (sometimes including Nightmare of Mensis) sometimes took a very long time. On one occasion it took between 20 – 25 minutes. And the dude died right as I got there.

But when there were players to be found good god that combat is exhilarating. It’s not better than Dark Souls III PVP, it’s different to Dark Souls III PVP. Mainly in the speed department. The combat is lightening. Thanks to quick steps instead of rolls and an overall increase in weapon speeds (even the ultra greatsword in this game is fast) moving and hitting here is far quicker than most things in Dark Souls III, barring the Sellsword Twinblades and similar weapons. And even they pale in speed compared to the Blades of Mercy. In addition, there’s the whizzing of bullets which brings about the danger of being parried. And from experience, that hurts. A lot. But it just increases the fun factor. That risk and reward of jumping in and out of attacks, hoping to catch one another off guard. Also, with the gem system in Bloodborne you can deal truckloads of damage, with can make fights even more exhilarating, as it can come down to a single mistake deciding the whole thing.

I even took down some ganks in Bloodborne, which I mostly struggle with in Dark Souls III. That feeling of excelling against superior numbers is one that is hard to beat. There’s a cool moment in a gank. It’s when you take down the summon, and the host starts to back track and then full-blown retreat. At that point you know, you know you’re better them than at the game, and you walk towards them full of confidence. And then prey slaughtered flashes up, and you give a quick bow before heading back to your world. Feels good.

The lesson of patience is learned in invasions as well. You don’t have to kill them right away. If necessary drag the fight out. Tease people of their hiding places, gradually bring enemy NPC’s into the frame if need be and don’t feel like you have to rush. Yes, sometimes adrenaline takes over but if need be take your chances when they come. And don’t worry about dying or failing. Tis only a video game, the deaths have no real world consequences. Just have fun with the whole thing.

And before I finish this up, there’s some time for invasion story time. I invaded this dude/dudette right as they were summoning a friend, and that lead frantic combat as they tried to stay alive long enough for the friend to provide back up. Timing is a rare gift that reveals itself on precise occasions, and here was one of those moments as the host is slain exactly as the friend is summoned. Nice.

Serving as confirmation as to how few people I could find playing this game is the fact that not long afterwards I found them again, this time progressing through Mensis as a twosome. It got hairy at first, and I very nearly got blended on one occasion but thanks to a measured retreat, and a rather helpful pig I get back on track, hunt down the summon and get the host one on one. Que the same result. Invasions are great fun.

Sad news leads to a Platinum Gained: AER Memories of Old is a game that I really enjoyed that came out last year. It featured lots of things that excite me such as great movement mechanics, that story telling style where you emerge into a broken world and try to figure what has gone on and lots of places to explore that have been abandoned and are now run down. Unfortunately, news came this year that the developer, Forgotten Key studios has unfortunately had to shut down.

I hadn’t played the game for a good while but once I saw that news on reddit a great many memoires came back to me, one of which was that I was only one achievement away from the platinum. So, in an attempt to honour the developers of a game that gave me a lot of fun I set out to secure the achievement a little ways into the game, sure enough the achievement was sorted and the platinum notification flashed up. It felt good to get it, but it was tinged with sadness because Forgotten Key won’t get the chance to try and make more games. I loved exploring the world they created in AER, and navigating this world was such a joy due to the quite brilliant flight mechanics. The flying is outstanding here, and I never tire of it. So very responsive, and so very satisfying. I could talk incessantly about the flying here. God I do love it.

God speed employees of Forgotten Key, and thanks for making AER. You gave me a whole lot of fun, and just a really good game. I hope your future endeavours work out well for you all.

Settling Unfinished Business: There’s always new games coming out, and there’s a lot of them ranging from AAA to indie’s and the stuff that’s in between. And yeah, there’s some things I want to play but there’s also a lot of games on my PS4 that I haven’t finished, or barely made a start in. So, rather than being seduced by the new I’m going back to cleaning some games up, and I will be exploring something I didn’t give the due attention to.

One thing I needed to do was to return to feudal Japan, and finally finish Nioh. I abandoned the game right as I fought the giant skeleton Yokai. I’d tried a few times, got frustrated and walked away from the game. For a little while I told myself. The gap turned to days, then transitioned into weeks and finally morphed into months. I had also written about the game in my end of year list thing, and that helped to bring the game back into focus.

Turns out that skeleton boss really wasn’t all that, and after a few attempts the remaining bosses and missions where done. There’s some post game stuff left to do, but what I assume to be the main ending has been done, and that was the main goal. I can clean up the post-game things at my leisure, and there’s also lots of DLC as well, so that’s nice.

I’m glad I returned to Nioh. While I will never love the game like I do Bloodborne and Dark Souls III (I just love all that lore) the quality of the games combat and boss fights are more than enough reason to play, even for a scrub like me who spent the game using the Udachi and Axe in predominately mid stance. Also, the ending sequence of boss fights is mental. Absolutely so. A fight against a resurrected Samurai Lord, a magician and then a giant 8 headed dragon. Fun stuff.

What is also means with Nioh more or less cleaned up, there’s more time to finish other games. I never did see through the Nergigante fight in Monster Hunter World, and I didn’t see Ruiner through to the end and I’ve still got to complete Aragami. Amongst others. In fact I’ve just picked up Hyper Light Drifter again. I only gave it an hour and half on first glance, so it’ll be good to give the game more time to express itself.

Sekiro aside (when From Software shows up back the fuck up), a few other games will just have to wait. I’ve got more than enough good games to get through.