(Trying) to compare Enlightenment and Sekiro, Corrupted Monk becomes a Helicopter and a look at the Riven Cave

Enlightenment and Sekiro and Deflecting: Sekiro is a game with some overt Buddhist themes and imagery, so let’s try applying a Buddhist quote to the game play. I’m going to use footage of the Corrupted Monk – in part because it’s one of my favourite boss fights, and she’s a Monk. She fits right in with this topic. A quick tangent – why isn’t she the Corrupted Nun? There are Buddhist Nun’s. The original Japanese uses the character for Monk, so there’s no mistranslation. So, yeah,

“Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.”

Dogen Zenji.

So, how is any of that applicable to Sekiro? I guess on the surface there might not be much there. But I’ve been thinking about it more and more after I saw someone mention it in a comment section for a fighting game video. I think it can be applied in a similar manner to Sekiro.

I do love Sajam’s videos.

“Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters;

When I first played Sekiro, a weapon swung towards to me was a weapon swung towards me. It was nothing more, and nothing less. I saw it coming, I hit L1 and a block came out. If I timed it right I got a deflect. In any case I reacted all the same. I stopped a weapon headed towards me. Sometimes. Sometimes I just missed it. In which case it was just a weapon hitting me. Nothing more and nothing less.

“after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters;”

The more I played Sekiro, the more I learned about it. I learned that weapons swung towards me were different. They came at different speeds and different angles. I had to pay attention to these things. Identify which attack was being used, account for me position relating to these attacks and alter my timing for each individual attack. I had to think about these things. The game became more complex, and rather than simply reacting I was thinking and processing. Sometimes this was good, sometimes it could lead to bad results – overthinking can happen.

“after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.”

And finally, here we are. It turns out, all along, it was always a weapon being swung at me. Nothing more and nothing less. I am still engaging with the thought processes from the second part of the quote, but it has all been internalised. I don’t think about it, I just do it. An attack comes in, and without thinking I press L1 as it needs to be. The Corrupted Monk has her attacks and combos, they all have the individual properties – but it’s of no concern. They get deflected without much thought. Because all along, she’s swinging a weapon at me, and I need to deflect it. Nothing more, nothing less. 

It’s been a wonderful journey getting to this point with the game.

She did the thing: A while back I wrote a series of posts about the Corrupted Monk. One of those posts talked about all her attacks and combos. It turns out I missed one because I confused two jump attacks. She has one that is straight jump in the air and a slam down:

And she has this one:

I knew that this move existed, but I had not seen it in so long that I mistook it for the other attacks. This attack is a much more expansive move – the Monk swings her Naginata/Nagamaki (still haven’t figured it out) in a flat arc, intent on clipping everything around her. She’ll hit Sekiro somehow. It’s one of the games most spectacular attacks – she turns into a Sengoku era helicopter for a precious few seconds. There aren’t many other attacks that have same scale or expansiveness.

I’m pretty sure it’s a move that is meant to clear players out of trees. And I think sometimes, when the player is in the air near the trees the AI thinks that a person is in the trees, and then uses tree clearing moves to get them down. Very rarely, at least for me, it picks this one. I think I’ve only seen this move 2 or 3 times (including this instance) – it’s super cool when she brings it out.

A weird obsession with Riven Cave: Riven Cave is one of the rest points in Sekiro. In all honestly there’s not much too it. It’s pretty much just a cave. A stopping off point before heading off to Bodhisattva Valley. For the vast majority of folks (I’m guessing), the Riven Cave is simply a rest point before the rest of the game unfolds, and nothing more.

I sometimes get weirdly obsessed with stuff. The Riven Cave is one of those obsessions. There a few things that got me interested. The elements of human habitation – I am fond of things human beings have left behind. There are lanterns leading up to the entrance. There’s a half ruin rope ladder hanging from a ledge – I always take a little gander at it. There are ropes hanging across the ceiling and there are some Jizo sculptures. I dig all of it.

And while it is a rest stop, it is the rest stop that comes right after being hounded by a giant snake, so it’s a good chance to get one’s bearings and regain composure, after escaping the attentions of a colossus. Right outside, there is a skeleton of a monkey. A sign of things to come. It’s a neat bit of visual story telling.

In the games story, Bodhisattva Valley is where the Sculptor and King Fisher lived and practiced. It would make sense for Riven Cave to be one of their refuges. Prior to King Fishers disappearance it is pleasant to imagine the pair of them living in this cave with one another, honing their skills and sharing each other’s company. It’s nice to think about.

Notes and Asides:

Gfycat is still not playing ball. So, no gifs. Hopefully it will work soon. Hopefully. I miss making gifs.

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.

Ode to the Corrupted Monk (Part 3)

The Corrupted Monk has the duty of protecting the Wedding Cave Door – in the form of spirit and Fountainhead Palace – as herself from outsiders. The Fountainhead Palace battle takes place under a moonlit sky, on a bridge against a pole arm wielding monk.

I don’t how I did not see the parallels with Benkei. I was searching for stuff on google and I saw a search result that mentioned Benkei and I was like…of course! Of course, the fight with the Corrupted Monk is a homage to Benkei. Benkei is one of Japan’s greatest folk heros. There’s lot to talk about with Benkei, so here’s a link to the Wikipedia. What applies to the Corrupted Monk is the battle at Gojo Bridge – where Minamoto no Shitsune defeated Benkei on a moonlight night – an event that would lead to Benkei becoming Minamoto’s retainer and their adventures together. This is a woodcut painting of the battle:

Image from Wikipedia

This is the battle with the Monk:

That’s a Benkei reference. Stories about Benkei have been turned into Noh plays. And speaking of Noh, the Monk wears a mask used in Noh theatre, the Hannya Mask. It’s one of the most striking features of the Monk’s – it helps to make her a memorable character. And it tells us a few things about her.

Image from Wikipedia

The Hannya Mask is used to represent a woman, due to jealousy and/or obsession becoming a demon. Hannya mask’s come in different colours – white (the colour of the Monk’s mask) is used to portray a character of a refined nature, someone from a higher social class. This would seem to imply the Monk is someone who is perhaps from the aristocracy or a similar social standing. The Hannya mask can also represent different emotions by simply tilting it. From one angle it can appear snarling, angry, menacing but tilted it can appear sad, mournful, melancholic. The Corrupted Monk has a few emotions as well. Based on her combat style is a little cranky (graceful but cranky) but she is also clearly getting something out of the contest. Lots of bosses in Sekiro speak, more so than in any other From title. While the Monk doesn’t talk, she does laugh, a lot. It’s a sinister laugh. Particularly when it comes after she clatters Sekiro with her weapon. And in the last phase she lets loose a primal scream whenever launching cursed centipedes out of her now open neck. All in all, without speaking she is an incredibly vocal boss – one of those things that make her such a fun boss fight.

The Corrupted Monk, in her non-weapon hand carries a set of Buddhist Prayer Beads. I was going to (try and) talk about prayer beads in Japanese Buddhism, until I was doing research and stumbled upon this article. I did not expect to discover that much information – everything from naming the parts of the prayer beads to prayer beads from different sects of Japanese Buddhism and their complete history. So, I’m going to step back and let the article speak for itself. I feel comfortable doing a summary of the Hannya mask – this is something else entirely. This is one of the best things about doing a post like this – I get to learn so much. And video games are pretty great at opening up avenues into cultures. Thanks for everything Corrupted Monk.

Something similar happened when I wanted to look at what the Monk wears. She is wearing a collection of monastic articles of clothing – in large part because she’s a monk. I wanted to look and see if I could identify any of it. I learned there’s a whole lot that goes into a Japanese Buddhist Monk’s attire – more than I am capable of identifying. Once again, thanks to research and discovering an article shows how little I know. I would love to return to this once I have acquired more knowledge and to try and do a full breakdown of the Monk’s monastic robes. That being said, I think there are two things I have some confidence in identifying – the Monk wears a Kesa and on her feet she wears a pair of Waraji and Tabi. The Kesa is a robe composed of numerous pieces of ochre cloth sewed together and is a symbol of being part of a monastic order. The Waraji are straw rope sandals often worn by monks (they used to be worn by most Japanese people) and the Tabi are split toe ankle socks, with the Waraji wrapped around them. The Kesa has an in-depth run down and pictures in the linked article – it’s worth a read to learn a whole bunch of stuff about Monastic attire and life – more than I can sum up in about 200 or so words. The Kesa, as well as being symbolic has a whole order in how it is worn and the wearing of it is in-of-itself a meditative process.

I think the cloth on her right arm is the Kesa. You can see her shoes during the death blow.

From memories and remnants, we learn the Corrupted Monk’s name was once Yao – Priestess Yao. This is a clear reference to the Japanese tale of Yao Bikuni. It has a few variations but the general gist of it is a girl is offered a piece of meat from a creature called a Ningyo (a half woman half fish creature – unbeknownst to the girl) which causes her to become immortal, leading to her wandering the land as a nun named Yao Bikuni. In the Corrupted Monk’s case, she is also immortal, named Yao, is a Monk (similar to a nun) and in the Fountain Head Palace there are giant fish with human teeth. Only the Monk has a cursed centipede living inside of her. There is a giant fish skeleton at the bottom of the the Fountainhead Palace awash with parasites. Can’t be sure if the Monk partook in it’s flesh though. Admittedly, this bit is common knowledge by now. Vaati did a video on it, and numerous people have mentioned it. I’m just putting it here for completions sake.

Between her outfit, the Benkei references and the Yao Bikuni story she is a character steeped in Japanese folklore and culture. I mean, everyone in Sekiro is but the Monk is practically swimming in it.

Notes and Asides

I do really want to revisit the Monastic Robes question. I don’t have enough time now to do it, but that full down is something I am interested in.

Ode to the Corrupted Monk (Part 2)

Both of the Corrupted Monk’s boss arenas are some of my favourites. The Monk is first fought as a spirit just before the Wedding Cave Door deep within Mibu Village. She is then fought in her true form on the Vermillion Bridge, before entering the Fountainhead Palace.

There is more going on in the Vermillion Bridge arena, so I’ll be talking about that more. It’s the vibe from the former arena that excites me. After working his way through Mibu Village (an area I am fond of) Sekiro finds a series of Torii gates that lead to a stone door blocked shut. Many lanterns provide something resembling light in hanging fog. Out of this fog strides the ghostly figure of the Monk. It’s pure Japanese ghost story vibes and I will always be there for that. Hell, the whole of Mibu is pure Japanese ghost story vibes. I dig it.

The Vermillion Bridge is simply gorgeous. There are also a few bits of environmental story telling. The tumbling maple leaves, the moon hanging in the azure sky, the old yet still proud bridge – and without a cranky monk trying to decapitate Sekiro, it’s a beautiful to walk around and admire. A place I am fond of returning to, to take it all in. After a few boss fights, the perfect place to let my guard down. The falling leaves are nice touch – in terms of aesthetics and volume. Falling leaves are always pretty – even more so with maple leaves. And there is just enough of them for it to not be overdone. Just enough to elicit the right atmosphere. And something I recently realised, during the fight there is a mist caused by the Monk. When the Monk dies, the mist clears showing the moon, the stars and the azure sky.


The bridge itself – a once brilliant red, now a little faded tells a story of previous battles and time passed. Parts of the bridge are broken – seemingly snapped by someone wielding a heavy weapon. Folk have tried to cross the bridge before Sekiro makes his attempt. The bridge is also suffering from neglect – some of the beams are rotted, some are rotting – this bridge has endured for some time and over that time, maintenance has fallen away. It’s still a beautiful piece of architecture but its best days are behind it. One nice little detail are the decorative plates on the rails of the bridge. They have intricate floral patterns adorning them. Prior to this I had never taken a close look at them. It’s nice discovering new things.

There is a nice little detail with the trees. Both the Monk and Sekiro can break the smaller branches of the maple trees. It’s not unusual for the Monk to bring down branches with a great swing of her weapon. It’s a little detail but it works wonders for making a dynamic environment.

Speaking of the Monk’s weapon, let’s try and figure out what it is. Is it a Nagamaki, or is it a Naginata? First of all, before getting into that let’s just admire it. I’ve been digging polearms lately. And the Monk has a mighty fine polearm (or it’s a colossal sword). It’s almost (or is) half handle half blade. It is a weapon that aligns perfectly with the Monk’s fluid fighting style. It’s a colossal weapon. The Monk has to, like, 9 to 10ft tall and the weapon is pretty much the length of her. That thing must be incredibly heavy, and she swings it around like it weighs nothing at all. Sometimes with only one hand.

However, back to the problem I’m putting off. What is the weapon? I have a blog post where I called it a Nagamaki, on the back of the excellent sources of Wikipedia and TV Tropes. I did couch that opinion with a note about how I thought it was a Naginata before some more reading. Google searches for both Corrupted Monk Naginata and Corrupted Monk Nagamaki both bring up results in favour of both. From the official artwork it looks like a heavily stylised Naginata. But in game, when the Monk is using the weapon it looks way more like a Nagamaki. Also, in the most recent Samurai Shodown game (a completely legitimate historical resource) Yashamaru Kurama is a character that uses a Nagamaki. His combat stance and the Monks combat stances aren’t too dissimilar. If it turns out a Naginata can be used in a similar manner, well…

So, I don’t really know and with my limited knowledge (but lots of fondness) of Japanese weapons – I’m punting this one. If someone happens to pass by this blog who is either a From Software developer, a Japanese weapon’s expert or by sheer luck, both – please don’t hesitate to tell me what the Monk’s weapon is called. I’d love to hear it. Right now, I’m just going to admire that weapon, because it’s beautiful. And massive. Like, I don’t think I can overstate how big it is.

It would be fun to wield it.

Wish I could wield it. 

Notes and Asides

On the subject of falling leaves and volume of said leaves – on the final fight on Ghost of Tsushima with Jin’s Grandad or Uncle (I’ve forgotten who it was) there was a tree behind them. On what should have been a moment of immense tension and emotion (I was a little checked out at this point) all I could think about was “Kin’ell, that tree has a lot of leaves”. Falling by the bucket load. Much more measured in Sekiro.

An ode to the Corrupted Monk (Part 1)

I can still write about Sekiro. Wonder when I’m going to run out of material.

I’m still keeping up my regular boss rush appointments. Still having fun. I love fighting a lot of the bosses in Sekiro – this is one of the best boss fight rosters in any video game ever. The best boss is Sword Saint Isshin, but I have a massive soft spot for the Corrupted Monk – both as the True Monk and the Shade. She was the first boss where I realised Sekiro was on its way to becoming my favourite game, and that its bosses were heading the same way.

Beyond the sentimentality, the Monk has a lot going for her. She is visually striking, and one of the most fun bosses to fight – her fighting style and deflecting patterns have a unique rhythm to them. And even after god knows how many times I have rematched her she still has the capacity to surprise – something not many bosses can say. (This post will focus on the boss fight itself – I’ll try to do another post focusing on lore and stuff down the line).

Like most video game boss fight, the boss fights in Sekiro eventually exhaust what they are capable of. Patterns, attacks and timings will be figured out – even more so in a game where bosses can be fought whenever one pleases. While the same applies to the Monk, she does have a few attacks she rarely does (extremely rarely even) that catch me by surprise. As good as Isshin is, his capacity to surprise has been diminished (not his fun factor though). The Monk still has this with three moves. Two that are meant to clear out folk who hide in the trees of her arena, and one move she only uses in phase three.

I don’t know what sets off the tree orientated attacks when she’s on the ground. I cannot get her to do them consistently. One of them see’s the Monk launch herself in the air like someone going up for a dunk. It’s clearly meant to attack an enemy in a high position. But when I’m not up in a tree, and the Monk jumps up that high it’s always amazing. She has hops – far beyond anyone else in Ashina. For the record, I don’t know what sets this off when I’m on the ground with her. She brings it out at such random intervals that I never remember what position me and her are in when it happens. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out.

I think that (maybe) being in the air near the trees might do it. Maybe.

Another attack the Monk does that targets the player in trees is a skyward thrust. Again, I think this is meant to happen when the player is in the tree but sometimes she will do it when Sekiro is on the ground. It looks super weird in that circumstance. First time I saw it (this year – 3 years after Sekiro came out) I didn’t know what she was doing.  I forgot for the moment that Sekiro is a single player game – is there someone else in the trees? Nope, just the Monk breaking out some weird new tech.

Again, I’m in the air near the trees.

The final phase attack is a four-hit combo. The Monk’s attacks are normally graceful – characterised by beautiful, clean swings. Brutal grace, but still graceful. The four hitter is devoid of grace, full of brutality. Prior to this the Monk has always been in control of her actions – here it’s all anger and flailing limbs. This combo reeks of desperation. It’s four flailing hits that’s just lashing out. This is her regular combo:

This is the lashing out combo:

I don’t see this attack a lot. Most times. I can go 10 to 15 fights without her doing it. Then she will do it in back-to-back fights. It can be hard to pick up on first glance because it’s so different to her regular attacks.

Speaking of her regular attacks – the Monk is one of the most beautiful boss fights of all time. In Sekiro she stands alone in terms of grace. She wields a unique weapon – either a Nagamaki or Naginata (it’s one of the two – I previously called it a Nagamaki – now I go back and forward). The way she swings the weapon is mesmeric – incredibly clean arcs chained together. The way she holds it is different – she has an open stance, switching the weapon between one and two hands. Aesthetically, her appearance plays into this. Her robes flowing whenever she swings her weapon and every swing of her weapon dragging up a wave of maple leaves – just beautiful.

I love that if you keep deflecting the Monk’s hits the combo will get longer. She still works with the Sekiro rule set (clear defined attacks to be deflected, mikiri’d or jumped over) but she plays with those rules differently. Genichiro, Isshin and others all have combos – attacks that go for three to seven hits (give or take) hits. But those combos are set – Genichiro and his floating cloud passage for example – that is set. Same with Isshin. Same with Guardian Ape. Same with Owl. They have attack chains that are set – before another attack comes out there is break – the sort of break that would represent a combo ending in a fighting game.

(I had footage of the Monk going for like 10 – 12 hits – that I accidently overwrote when clipping another bit of footage – so well done me. Idiot. Imagine this clip below but without the mikiri – that what she does. She skips the mikiri opportunity and goes into another combo.)

The Monk on the other hand can just keep going. She can chain regular swings together. She can go for eight, nine maybe more hits if deflects are kept up. I do wonder if she had an infinite posture bar how long she could go for. She can also stop these combos – normally she will turn it into a mikiri opportunity. But sometimes she will turn the final hit into a big sweep to push Sekiro away. She plays Sekiro, but she’s playing Sekiro in her own way.
I love her.
Notes and Asides:
I mentioned another post will be on the way about lore and stuff. It will also include my thoughts on her boss fight arena amongst other things because I want to talk about that as well.
One of my impossible dreams is to see the Corrupted Monk but animated by Arc System Works. Her colours, her movements, her attacks in that Arc Systems style. That would be something.    

Hunting Mages in Salt and Sacrifice

I finally got around to playing Salt and Sacrifice, the follow up to Salt and Sanctuary (about damn time). The first run is in the books, the second run has begun (going very well) and there is the possibility of runs beyond this (this game has a lot of ways to play). Which to say I am incredibly fond of it. I put off buying this game more than I should have in part because I overloaded on Elden Ring and because compared to Salt and Sanctuary the reviews were mixed. While the core of the game is the same as Salt and Sanctuary, there are enough differences to split opinion. The Salt series now has its own Dark Souls II debate. Neat. This time I’m on the other side of that debate.

One of the biggest differences is the Mage Hunts – I love them. I’m going to talk about them. A lot. To set up the story (briefly), the story or Salt and Sacrifice is that the player has been convicted of a crime, and rather than face death they become spell marked – a hunter of mages. Eventually it is revealed what hunting mages truly entails, and what the player’s ultimate intended purpose is.

Mages here there and everywhere: As mentioned above, the core framework of the two games isn’t that different – both are Metroidvania’s with areas to explore, bosses to defeat and movement abilities to unlock. The Mage hunts are the big difference.

As a brief primer, in each area of Salt and Sacrifice (five in total – technically six but one is an optional platforming challenge area) there are between two and four corpses that died in a particular way. When interacted with, a Mage will be spawned nearby, and the Mage hunt begins. Each Mage has a unique element and unique attacks – a mixture of melee and range. The mages start of pretty simple – fire, ice, water and electric leading to outlandish mages – dragons, time lords and force itself. I have a lot of fun fighting all of the mages – each mage has attacks to fit the element and appearance wise they all fit the bill. Dragon Mage looks particularly cool.

Unlike regular boss fights which are confined to particular arena mage hunts take place throughout the area. After being chased and taking enough damage a final confrontation happens – like a standard boss fight. This is heralded by the music ramping up and the sky assuming the colour of the mage. Overcoming the mage sets up a Sekiro style deathblow where you take the mages heart. I dig all of this.

That’s the basics of a mage hunt set up. Let’s get to the details.

A standard mage fight

Everyone get in here: Mages are never alone. Mages have an entourage. They summon minions to assist them. Each mage has minions that fit with their theme. The mage and its entourage in addition to being hostile to the player are also hostile to the native inhabitants. This leads to some chaotic situations. It gets even more chaotic when more than one mage is active because mages will fight each other as well as everyone else. Bloody fucking carnage. It does make for a super fun time though. A bit of a blender but fun. All these mages mangling each other results in a whole lot of dropped materials. Which brings us to…

Sometimes it gets a little spicy

Monster Souls: After the deathblow has been delivered, a mage will drop crafting materials allowing the player to make a variety of weapons, armours and talismans. Mages are spawned as Named Mages. A mage can be respawned for another hunt as a nameless mage – higher difficult, better rewards. Tougher hunts are Fated Mages – even higher difficulty, even better rewards. Mages will also return in the world and can be hunted freely. The one annoying thing is that a mage cannot be hunted on cue like on Monster Hunter – you have to wait for it to wander around. Not the best, but the do at least respawn. Mages can be farmed in order to get the items a player needs. The minions also drop parts.

Mage appears

This is Monster Souls (a hat tip to FightinCowboy for pointing this out). This is Monster Hunter in a Soulslike. For real this time. People have compared Souls and Monster Hunter – I guess because you can dodge roll and carry big swords in both of them. But that structure of hunting monster – getting parts – hunting monster – getting parts has never been in a Souls like. Until now. And it really works. Well, I dig it. Have you ever had to farm an enemy in Elden Ring for armour? It’s not fun killing the same enemy over and over again when it’s a regular enemy. There is nothing fun about killing a Clean Rot Knight over and over again. But fighting bosses is fun – there is a grandiosity and excitement that isn’t there with regular enemies. Plus, the boss is guaranteed to drop something – a Clean Rot Knight might drop nothing for 20+ attempts. In fact when initiating a mage hunt there is a details screen that lists all the drops and the odds of getting them – it’s nice when that’s all stated up front. It’s the loop Monster Hunter is built upon. With Salt and Sacrifice Soulslikes finally have that – I’m digging it.

Mage is hunted – also, forgot to metion that mages can be staggered and critical hit. A grapple hook critical hit. I do love things that involve grapple hooks.

Plus, there is the satisfaction of the hunt. There is a thrill to hunting something down. Knowing the mage is bolting it because its health is dropping and dropping is thrilling. And the final deathblow coming after a chase – always sweeter when its earned. And the deathblow has its own wonders.

Know Thine Enemy: Ever since I was introduced to the deathblow by Sekiro I have wanted it in more games. I like that the death of a boss is magnified. It’s a big moment, it deserves being highlighted. In Salt and Sacrifice the deathblow happens, a shower of parts comes down and everything goes quiet. Then there is a dialogue prompt.

Every named mage has its own death dialogue, based on who they were, their powers and what they wanted to do with those powers, along with their final words. This is one of the coolest parts of the mage hunts to me.

Some mages rage against the dying of the light. Others lament their current predicament. One mage swore up and down that I would be sacrificed by his god – followed by him repeating his God’s name in increasingly hushed tones realising his god wasn’t there. Another mage poses a question with the correct answer receiving a free levelling up point. Some mages have extended dialogue depending on the options chosen – the Ice mage has this, and I was rather excited when I found this out.

Guess I do.

I like when enemies speak to us – it’s nice to see the world from their point of view, and we get to learn more about the world around.

Also, it’s nice to offer a dismissive retort to a boss that was a bit of pain. That’s neat.

Mementos: If you have an excess of mage parts, you can make trophies. Not really needed, but a neat thing the game lets you do.

Did I mention I am fond of this game?

Notes and asides:

The point about farming mages guaranteeing items came from this YouTube comment. A point well made.

I am aware I have jumped the gun a little bit going with that ahead of the combat and stuff but I just love the Mage Hunts that much. I’ll get around to everything else I like about Salt and Sacrifice a little later.

Sekiro then and Sekiro now – Improvement feels nice

I’m writing about Sekiro again. This post is a happy coming together of other games I am playing not progressing to the point I feel comfortable writing about them and me still having things I want to write about regarding Sekiro, still my favourite game. This time around, I thought it would be fun to talk about and reflect on the progress I have made with Sekiro – comparing boss fights from my first play through to some of my more recent attempts and seeing what changed. This post is going to focus on the boss fights – but this progress applies to the whole game – the boss fights are the easiest way to demonstrate progress.

The most obvious takeaway is that I got better at the game. I have spent a lot of time with Sekiro – anytime you spend time doing something you are going to see improvement. That improvement could be a little, could be a lot but it will be there. In my case, I’d argue I’ve gotten pretty good at the game. Part of that comes from my mind set which I talked about last week (being relaxed is nice), part of that comes from gaining knowledge about the game and part of that comes from loving the game and wanting to play it.

Early days
Later Days – healing no more, lots more agression
Early days
Later Days – Only concerned with building posture
Early Days
Later days – Little bit quicker
Early Days
Later Days – A whole lot more fun

Toto I don’t think we are in Lothric anymore: Early in my Sekiro journey I relied on the experience I gained in Dark Souls and Bloodborne – this was a terrible idea. The stamina bar looms over From Software games – not in Sekiro though. Sekiro is not burdened by stamina. There is no need to hang back and wait for a bar to come back. That means way, way, way more aggression. As the Sculptor says to Sekiro “don’t be afraid to go all out.”

Look at all of those early fights. So much dead time. So much caution. It’s understandable on a first run. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I did not have the bosses move set downloaded. It’s fun watching all of these attempts back and seeing the difference in approach as I got more and more comfortable with Sekiro – the time’s drops alone speak volumes. Taking a boss fight from seven minutes to less than 3 is pretty great. It’s also a lot of fun. It’s also very rewarding.

However, to go all out I had to learn about the game.

Trusting myself more and more (along with the posture bar): I get hit in Sekiro. It happens from time to time. On my first play through getting hit was a source of panic – bolt it and get off a heal. Got me killed in more than a few instances. Whenever my posture bar was almost full I back off to let it come back. Invited unnecessary pressure in more than a few instances.

Learning to work around the posture bar went a long way. As long as perfect deflects are maintained it is an infinite resource – Sekiro cannot be posture broken. Combine that with a few passive skills which provide posture relief and healing on death blow, and I realised over time the best thing to do is to maintain rhythm. If I am hit, try as much as possible to get back on the offensive. That health can be healed back on a deathblow rather than ruining my flow. I mean, there are situations that will call for an emergency heal but I try to minimize those as much as possible. The same still applies to a full posture bar – sometimes an emergency bail out will happen but more often than not I’ll roll with it. Trust the bar, trust the flow and good things will happen. That led to no heal attempts and then it led to no hit attempts. It makes for a much more rewarding and exciting playing of the game. I could never go back to playing like those early attempts.

Just keep deflecting. Keep deflecting and all will be well.

Recognising and reacting: In order to trust the bar though, it does help to know what a boss is going to do at any given moment. On a first time play through this was tricky – boss fights have to be learned. This one takes time.

Or it used to. Well, it still takes a little bit of time but thanks to the gift of boss rush fights can be done over and over again without fuss. It was a big reason I got better. Fighting Isshin again and again without playing through the whole game to do it is bliss in terms of improvement. And it makes learning his move set a much smoother process than any other From game. Gone are the days of trekking through 20 hours of game just to get to boss you want to fight again. I mean, playing these games is fun but sometimes I just want to practice a boss. And only getting one shot at that boss has its downsides.

Basically, in video form it helped me to go from blocking Isshin’s five hit combo culminating in a thrust to…

That’s a lot of blocking

Deflecting the entire thing and building up a load of posture in the process. Improvement is nice.

Still some run for cleaning up – there’s some sword waggles there but on the whole, way cleaner – all deflects too.

What boss rush also does is allow for stress free experimentation. It was in boss rush I stumbled upon using the umbrella to shut down Genichiro’s arrows and hit back. Using the prosthetics use up spirit emblems. In boss rush all used sources come back once returning to the main game. There is no cost to experimenting. This is not the case in the main game. Or any other From Software game – nothing like the umming and ahhing over burning up embers or rune arcs.

Sekiro offering a space to not worry about resources and mess ups and just fight – that’s pretty nice. I wish every game with bosses had a boss rush.

For the love of the game: I think Sekiro is the first game I have gotten this good at. And I’m not great – watch Ongbal for the truly good stuff. But I think I’m pretty good at Sekiro. I’m happy with where I am at. I don’t think I loved a game like Sekiro. I wanted to get better at the boss fights for the sake of it. From Software games don’t have extra achievements for doing boss fights without damage – the only achievement comes from defeating boss. I’m doing this because I want to. I never had this happen much before. I wonder when it’s going to happen again.

Still might be my favourite gif of mine regarding Sekiro

Casually better at Sekiro and sticking with practicing in Xrd (I managed a combo)

Suddenly better at Sekiro: I still insist on playing Sekiro. It still beings me joy so why not. Boss Rush works wonders. I start the game up, head to Boss Rush and do sets of 3 or 4 fights. It’s pretty damn casual. I mean, I still try to be as good as I can (no hit fights are pretty good) but if I mess up it’s fine. I’m past getting worked up about stuff. I’ll simply go again and try to do better. Me and the game are in a wonderful space.

Maybe that goes someway to explaining one of my recent fights against Owl Father. I’m decent against Owl Father – I have not died to him in a while but all of my fights against him last around 5 to 4 minutes. I think my previous best was 4 minutes 30 seconds. One day, while editing some footage for gifs I had a spare 10 minutes so I figured I’d have a little go on Sekiro. Fought Owl Father. It went well. It went surprisingly well. I wondered how well. I clipped the footage of the fight and went to cut the clip down to size and get the time.

2 minutes 30 seconds. What? Wait, what? I’ve never done Sword Saint Isshin in less than 3 minutes and I have way more experience in that fight. I have not been practicing Owl Father. I have not been grinding the fight in search of all of his tells and tricks. But for this fight I was on it. I was playing well. I was way more aggressive than I normally am – particularly in the second phase. I gave him far less chances to turn into his Owl form with constant chase downs. Not much of this was conscious – I got into a flow and ran with it. Thinking less and being relaxed has its benefits. This is by far my best Owl Father fight. None of the previous attempts come close. 

I also have managed to defeat Owl Shinobi without taking damage. That’s never happened before – been close but never happened. And again, without any major practice I rolled into the fight, kept up the aggression – don’t care about those anti-healing balls, Owl, don’t care – and then the death blow presented itself. I remember getting slightly stressed on the last portion of the second posture bar until the voice in my head reminded myself what I was doing was working, and just keep doing what I’m doing – it’s succeeding. Being able to silence those jitters is nice.

In addition, I now have my fastest Genichiro kill. 1 minute 54 seconds. I should try and get Isshin below 3 minutes. That should be doable. Just going to take a little work is all. Speaking of taking a little work…

Still sticking with Xrd: I have not bought Guilty Gear Strive yet. It is in the PSN basket though, so progress. I am still playing Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator. I have been sticking with practice mode and basic AI. It’s not much – but I haven’t bailed yet. So, progress. I’ve done the basic inputs for a whole bunch of characters – over ten of them. That’s good for solving over 200 problems – which is good for a trophy that has an achievement rate of around 10%. Again, I’m learning just how niche fighting games are.

While I’ve been doing this I have learn a few things. One, I can sit down and lab things. I am capable and willing to go to training mode and practice. That process doesn’t put me off. It’s pleasant – running though button presses and seeing what happened and what doesn’t in a relaxed environment is fun. In addition, there is tangible progress – I can do the thing I couldn’t do before – hooray! Two, even some of the simplest things are more complex to execute than what other games would consider a ceiling.

Doing this combo took around half an hour. Initially I could not get anywhere near it. Then I got a little closer. I decided at some point I had to stop looking at the controller and get the button presses down as a matter of course. Had to work for it but it got done. Felt pretty damn good. Getting the timing down and switching between the buttons – it’s a lot more than most games I have played.

Most inputs haven’t been too hard to pull off (in training – more on that later). I can do down back and down forward, I can chain different attacks together and I can (sometimes) time inputs in sequence (catching an enemy in the air for example). Neat. Some inputs though I’m not great at. Holding back and going forwards catches me out – I don’t know how long to hold back for. Making a square with a cross across the middle on the corner of the D-pad – I mean, I can do it but it’s not consistent. It’s pretty terrible honestly. I’ve not got the dexterity right now to manage it. The good news is that this can be remedied by practicing over and over again. I can dig that. But I am bad at it. It’s something I’ve never really done before. Directional inputs like that I have very little familiarity with.

I also suck at blocking. To block I have to hold back. What gets me is that in my head, I think there is going to be a point where the character assumes a block pose. That never happens. The block just happens. I guess I’ve played so many games where there is a block button and a block animation that follows. Something else that is new and I need to get used to.

Fighting the basic AI isn’t everything, but it is something. And I’ve made a little progress. What I used to struggle with (still do, but I used to) is doing stuff in practice mode, feeling good about doing stuff in practice mode and then going into a fight and oh god I’ve never practiced just press buttons – any buttons – just press them. This can be fixed. And by fixed I mean a long arduous (but rewarding) process of learning. I will have to fight real people, adjust based off what they are doing and slowly but surely, put all of those moves and combos together over time.

Sounds fun.

But this fight with Ramlethal (vs basic AI Sol), I actually did some of the stuff I did in practice. I got the swords working. I think I even combined a few kicks and punches. It felt good. It felt like I accomplished something. A small accomplishment, but an accomplishment still. Something to build upon. Got to start somewhere.

Playing Bad, Playing Worse and then Brilliance – the Weird Rhythms of a From Soft game (featuring Elden Ring)

I have dealt with…I deal with anxiety. And depression – those two wonderful companions. Occasionally this can bleed over into hobbies. There are times that I get anxious over boss fights. Sometimes it’s boss fights I’m bad at. Sometimes I’ll get anxious if I have a big win streak against a boss – what if it ends? None of this makes any sense. At worse, I die in a video game. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of anything of consequence will be lost. Yet I still can feel incredibly nervous. Maybe I should go back to therapy.

I’ve mentioned before how I like to at one point or another, I like to beat a boss on the first try. The longer I don’t do that, the more nervous I get. More than I need to. I put far too much on that.

Maliketh the Black Blade gets me feeling this way lately. Not his first phase – I can deal with the first phase. I can still die in the first phase but it’s a rare happening these days. Second phases – seven play throughs and still bad. I try to get better; I try to improve but something or another catches me. I mess up a dodge here and there. I die two or three times and then I’m in my own head. Not the most pleasant place.

On this play through it took about 6 – 8 tries. It could have been worse, but on a seventh play through I really want to be doing it first try. I feel like I should be better at this point. I want to be better at this point. Honestly, second phase Maliketh worries me more than Malenia. If Maliketh got a second full health bar – I’d be in trouble.

When I get this way it tends to linger for a while. The bad stuff carries over to the next fight. That’s how I died two times to Gideon. That’s… not great. Not the end of the world. I mean, I died in a video game. I fucked up, made some mistakes. That happens. Bad days happen. But, I’m not really thinking about it that way, I’m in a hole and I’m about to face Godfrey/Hoarah Loux. Another boss I’ve never beat first try. I’m about to get bodied. It’s going to be Maliketh all over again. On a seventh play through. This mage play through that has been so much fun is going to end anticlimactically. And going to be in my own head about it.

Then that happens. First time I’ve beaten Godfrey/Hoarah Loux first try. Not beating him by a bit – not one of those one flask left scrappy wins. A pretty complete victory. I went in with 13 flasks, left with 11 (I did use the physick as well). I got a few good dodges early on. I stopped thinking about what I was doing and just, did it. When I did get caught I calmly held on and took the heal opportunity when it came. I fit in charge attacks when I could – even managed to get the stance break and riposte. Looking at the fight, that’s a good first phase Godfrey. No qualifying statements, no “it was good but…”. Just me playing well.

Second phase wasn’t too bad either. One messed up dodge on a grab was about the worst of it. I think it’s because I got caught by the stones on the stomp – that got me panic rolling. Hoarah Loux loves panic rolling. Even that was fine though. Took the calm heal when I could and got on with it. That aside though – I rolled a grab perfectly, I maintained good spacing, allowing for safe launching of moon beams with regularity – even managing the second stagger and riposte. That allowed for the easy finish. I was incredibly happy with this. So much so I gave Hatsuyuki the Frozen Spell Blade a little round of applause (I treat my characters far too much like regular people).

It’s weird, and it’s beautiful. I’m in my own head, I’m feeling pretty crappy and then two or three things go right and I’m out of my own head, I’m calmly reacting to problems, and I ease through what once seemed a colossal obstacle. I guess a little self-belief, and not putting too much pressure on stuff that doesn’t need it isn’t a bad thing. I’ll get Maliketh first try one day – I just need to put less importance on it. It’s not going to make or break my existence. Maybe then I’ll get in my head less.

After all, I approached Godfrey pretty much carefree after the first couple of dodges, and that went great. I should do more of that.

Notes and Asides

By the by, this doesn’t mean Maliketh is bad or unfair in any way. It’s a good fight, I’m bad at it. There is a difference there. This is a quirk From games. Some bosses give people fits, some don’t. As an example, I’ve never had a bad time with the Nameless King. First attempt 6 or 7 tries, second attempt 6 or 7. Third attempt when down to 2. Fourth attempt went up to 3 but I was under levelled and finally in 1 try. Yet, say Nameless King to some people and its cold sweats. We all have our own From Software Nemesis’s.

I’ve never said this before – Godfrey is wonderful boss fight. Just magnificent. The controlled aggression of the first phase, the Macho Man Randy Savage/Toshiaki Kawada combination of the second phase – it’s all so good. 

Summoned Swords, Moonbeams and Frozen Swords Oh My – Life as an Elden Ring Mage

Right now, in Britain, there is a heat wave. It’s hotter than it’s ever been (as of the week of writing this). How to cool down? Playing Elden Ring. As a mage. With a focus on frost and frostbite, with sword magic. And it’s one of the few times I will be going all in on magic. Aside from getting weapon requirement stats, everything is being funnelled into intelligence. (Well, some mind and endurance, and vigor – I’ll always level vigor – there’s a reason it keeps levelling up to 60).

Hatsuyuki the frozen spell blade. Why the name Hatsuyuki? Hatsuyuki means first snow (of the season). I wanted to wear Ranni’s hat, I wanted to use frost (and Carian Sword) sorceries and this is my first dedicated mage build that is going to see the end game. A brief history on my mage builds in From Software games. Dark Souls III – 30 Intelligence to use Friede’s Great Scythe, no spells. Dark Souls – a magic build that made it two hours into the game before I got bored of pew pewing things from miles away.

I’m having a lot of fun being a mage in Elden Ring – both from a spells point of view and intelligence scaling weapons point of view. And a fashion point of view – always good when I get to wear a big hat. As much fun as ranged spells are – there is something special summoning giant swords. This play through is worth it alone for Carian Piercer. I have ranged options – I’d be a fool not to use them. Weakening a target from range or finishing off one from range is always nice. Back to Carian Piecer. A massive thrusting sword made of glint stone, created with the express purpose of running folks through. It hits hard – it can even be charged up to knock folks down. It also has range – thrust this thing in Limgrave it’s going to hit some in Leyndell.

Carian Piercer complements a whole lot of weapons – there a bunch of weapons that have fun move sets but lack a thrust attack. With Carian Piecer in the other hand, that’s suddenly not a problem. It might be the best thrusting weapon in Elden Ring. Not many thrust weapons can boast its range and knock down ability. Throw out two quick slashes with a sword, enemy backs off – catch them with the piercer. Horseback target getting away for another loop – catch them with the piercer before that happens. And because it is magic it will go through shields – chip damage is nice. More amazingly, it cannot be parried. The piercer can be launched without consequence. That’s nice.

Sticking with summoned swords, Carian Grandeur is an Ash of War, built into the Carian Knight Sword. I can be applied to other weapons, but I choose to use the Carian Knight Sword because I’ve never used it before. It has some neat R2’s but it’s a thoroughly okay sword. The Ash of War is the reason to use it. Carian Grandeur is its saving grace. It’s like the vertical equivalent to Carian Piercer, slamming down on opponents. It can be charged three times – it’s tricky to pull off a fully powered up slam – worth it if managed. Even on a sub-optimal set up it takes chunks out of health bars. It might be the best dragon slaying weapon – Carian Grandeur hits a dragon’s head with regularity. 

Lately I’ve been watching Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Well, watching bits of it on YouTube. I’m not great at watching TV series. The Carian Sword Sorceries feel a bit like a Medieval Jojo, except stands are giant summoned swords. I’m digging it.

The Carian Knight Sword, as much fun as it was has since been replaced with the Moonlight Greatsword. Well, the Dark Moon Greatsword – Elden Ring’s Moonlight Greatsword. This weapon choice has been a while in the making. Despite my history of playing multiple From Software titles multiple times I have never done a proper Moonlight Greatsword run. In both Bloodborne and Dark Souls III I had Moonlight Greatsword but it was used near the end or in the postgame, and I never fought a boss with the weapon in either game. I had fun with the weapons, but never fully committed to them. I had wanted to use them, but I either never did the build for it (Dark Souls III) or really, really, really did not want to get the gems necessary to make weapon sing (Bloodborne).

That leaves the Dark Moon Greatsword. Many bosses remained/remain alive when I got it, so there have been a lot of chance to use the weapon against meaningful opponents. Worth the wait. Hurtling around moonbeams is somehow more fun than I imagined it being. Somehow more damaging too. Between the raw damage, the frost infliction and the staggers it’s not just a pretty sword. But it is a pretty sword. Particularly when infused with Moonlight. Then it’s downright gorgeous.

Pretty great at slaying dragons too. Moonbeams to the head and frost infliction works wonders.

It’s fun being a mage.

Notes and Asides

I’ll probably return to this character at some point. There are more weapons and spells to talk about – for part of this run I used the Wing of Astel and that was a lot of fun to wield. Also, Adula’s Moon Blade is a neat spell. And I want to talk about Hatsuyuki’s fashion as well. Always nice to wear a big hat.

This character was inspired in part by two of my favourite Souls folk – Saint_Riot and Oroboro. Every From game they both do a Moonlight Greatsword character and over the years both have convinced me to eventually give it a go. Providing this run continues as is, the Dark Moon Greatsword is going to be one of favourite weapons in a From game. Thanks guys. Also a hat tip to Saint for the Carian Knight Sword. He used it a lot in his first Elden Ring run, and that led to me choosing it for the first portion of this run.