Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

The Soulsborne Diaries, Part 1: Starting Point

leave a comment »

Welcome to my new series, The Soulsborne Diaries.  This will be an ongoing documentation of a yearlong journey through various video games belonging to From Software’s, shall we say sub-genre, of games that currently encompasses Demon’s SoulsDark Souls I-III, and Bloodborne.  I’m going to come right out and say that this isn’t a guide by any means – I’ve not played most of these games – and this is also not a series of deep dives into the concepts, lore, or mechanics of these titles either.  If you want that may I suggest Bonfireside Chat, a fantastic series  by the main crew at Duckfeed.tv.  The purpose of these diaries is an opportunity for me to digest my experiences in an attempt to discover why people are so drawn to them and also if I’m compatible with that drive.  This series would be best suited for the uninitiated hoping to journey vicariously with me or the seasoned veterans to get a glimpse into my process, my challenges, and my (hopeful) achievements.  In this process I do hope to open up a dialogue or at least hear out comments, but I must stress that I am no expert and undoubtedly a series with this passion may draw individuals who despise what I say or my lack of knowledge on various topics.  If this is you, please let your voice be heard in the comments below or by writing an e-mail, but I do ask that you remain civil as the treatment and response you receive will be equally respectful.  That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree and that you can’t be exasperated in your response, by all means.

Introduction

I wouldn’t say I’m particularly new to Soulsborne titles.  I got on the Demon’s Souls bandwagon before the game even came to the US, nabbing a European “Black Phantom Edition” that included an art book, a soundtrack, and a strategy guide.  Admittedly my initial draw was the popularity it was garnering on the import site I frequented at the beginning of the PS3’s life – for those that didn’t live in a region-locked world, having the PS3 region free was huge for me.  When it arrived I have to admit that I was enthralled by the art book, which was filled with grotesque creatures and massive monsters all with a medieval theme.  It reminded me of the first time I flipped through the pages of the Dungeons & Dragons Monsterous Manual, wide-eyed at the horrors you could encounter in that world.  After looking over the book and making a spot on my shelf, I didn’t touch the game for several months, a trend I’m guilty of even today, but it was particularly bad at this time.  Later, when Atlus released the game here in America, a few of my friends started asking me about this game that was apparently huge in Japan and Europe.  I don’t know that it was initially successful, but the long range sales of Demon’s Souls can’t be denied and this was definitely a jumping point for From Software to do something greater, albeit without the help of Sony Japan, who funded this first game.

After all this hype, my good friend and podcast co-host at the time Heffe came over and we planned to play the game through the night.  He had brought alcohol, which was customary for our sessions, and we’d heard that co-op was possible so this was mostly a test to see if the game would be for us.  At the time we were addicted to co-op titles and barreling our way through Gears of War, countless hours of Rainbow Six: Vegas and its sequel, and who can forget Halo 3.  Demon’s Souls was nothing like these games.  Demon’s Souls was different.

We didn’t last more than a couple of hours on that first night.  Hell, getting up those opening steps in the first area was a chore that took me nearly 30 minutes.  I didn’t understand the game or the draw that apparently came with it.  The controls were horrid with delayed responses, difficult timing, and a stamina bar that seemed to be bleeding away with every breath.  I didn’t even understand what was going on because the tutorial was a clumsy trek through dungeons I didn’t know and little explanation all to die immediately at the boss.  I think it’s like this by design, but without any real explanation I was resurrected in a ghost form with half health and storming a castle I had no context for.  I sucked at the game, too, which didn’t help much.  Not only that, but we had all these stats that made no sense and weren’t explained.  XP seemed to be rewarded with each kill, but upon dying all of it was lost.  How could you improve your character if you couldn’t keep XP?  Eventually I found my old death and got my XP – which I later discovered were “souls” – but I still had no idea where or how to spend them.  I wouldn’t even solve that mystery until reading about it later.

The booze was forgotten in the corner while we banged our heads against this title since clearly it wouldn’t be helping us.  Heffe did some searching while I racked up another death and found an article that was boldly proclaiming it to be the hardest video game of all time.  In that same regard, the enthusiastic writer encouraged newcomers by saying that once you understood the complex systems and world rules Demon’s Souls was not only beatable but incredibly rewarding.  We played on.  Heffe got to a staircase and just before hitting the top a great boulder came barreling down the stairs out of nowhere and he had the choice to either die by falling off the stairs or being crushed by the boulder.  He chose the latter, but I’m not sure that was a conscious decision.  I managed to overcome that obstacle, now knowing it was coming, only to die brutally on the skilled blue knight at the top.  Heffe beat the knight but died off on the side when he found a red knight.  This process continued, on and on, until we eventually came to a clearing where a purple dragon slept while a red dragon guarded it.  This is where we got stuck.  If you approached, the red dragon would eventually trigger and burn you to death without enough time for you to run away.  If you continued on, that same dragon would attack you in the next area, a bridge, and you still couldn’t outrun it.  We died so many times on this obstacle, not even appreciating how good we were getting at all the other areas, and eventually gave up.

The gaming continued with the booze back in tow, Guitar Hero or Rock Band being a major player, and I’m sure we switched to Modern Warfare or Bad Company multiplayer once our skills for plastic instruments waned from the alcohol.  Demon’s Souls was forgotten, a big rare beautiful package on a shelf that I never intended to touch again.  Dark Souls came out and with it a slew of blogs, game coverage, and popularity.  I learned of From Software’s previous incarnation of this series, King’s Field, which if you’ve never touched is actually more obtuse and far more frustrating than Demon’s Souls could ever hope to be.  People started making guides, the online aspect of both titles came to the forefront, and friends of mine were conquering this brutal title with and without help.  My copy of Demon’s Souls remained on the shelf, unplayed.  At some point months after the release of Dark Souls I saw that my “Black Phantom Edition” was worth quite a bit of money, which prompted me to hunt down and purchase the Dark Souls limited edition that came in a big tin case with another art book as well as digital versions of the soundtrack and strategy guide.  Like Demon’s Souls before it, I looked through the art book, redeemed the digital content, and then shelved the game.  To this day I’ve not opened that PS3 copy of Dark Souls in the tin, although I obviously opened the main packaging.  One night I tried to read the included strategy guide for Demon’s Souls hoping that it would offer a walkthrough and insight, but that proved to be more confusing.  The book wasn’t in any sort of order and instead tackled all of the intense mechanics by putting them on the page in tons of charts with no strong context as to how they all connected.  This strategy guide was like 200 pages as well, so even though you didn’t read it like a book, there was no “here’s how to get started” section.  I gave up.  For whatever stupid reason I still continued to purchase the special editions of these games.  Yes, I bought the ridiculous version of Dark Souls II with the statue that is of questionable quality and I even imported the European only “Apocalypse Edition” of Dark Souls III.  This version had the steelbook, the soundtrack, the art book, and the guide but didn’t include the statue.  In the US you had to spend like $150 for the version with the statue whereas this UK Apocalypse Edition was only $20 more than the base game and had everything but the statue.  It wasn’t until I pre-ordered and later picked up the limited edition of Bloodborne that I decided it was time to stop buying/collecting/reading about these games and start playing them.

Bloodborne

I was scared going into Bloodborne.  Hype for that game in particular and the genre as a whole has psyched me out worse than if I had known nothing about the game.  Some kind members of the GH101 community gave me pointers and one faithful night I embarked on my “watch me die” stream that was possible thanks to the PS4’s new capabilities.  It was an odd experience.  People were telling me where to find hidden objects, pointing out important items I would need collect but make sure not to use, and explaining bits and pieces of the extremely complex system.  This all was counter to my then views of games as a whole, where people telling you about things was basically a spoiler.  I didn’t stop them in this instance, even though I was internally against the idea, because I wanted to be decent at the game.  While I wouldn’t say I was a natural, I was able to get quite far in my first night thanks to the help of those people and the fact that unlike the other Souls games Bloodborne was dodge/attack instead of block/attack.  Having not played anything other than Demon’s Souls, I have been led to believe those other games are best first played with a shield raised and responding to enemy attacks.  In Bloodborne it was much more of a dodge mechanic where you would counter attack an enemy (beyond the traditional counter attacks).  With this came the fact that although movement was stifled by a stamina meter, your character was much lighter on their feet and everything was more action-oriented.  Whether this was true or not, I can’t say, but I kept fighting my way through countless nights and areas of Bloodborne, eventually facing and beating a boss.  That was very rewarding and the game does a great job at making you feel victorious at that major moment.  It wasn’t until I conquered the first boss I was stuck on, Father Gascoigne, that I truly felt that rewarding rush.  38 deaths.  38 rushes through the level.  38 crushing failures.  Finally…I…beat…him!  That was the rush.  I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.

I got pretty far into Bloodborne, beating Rom was the last thing I did.  Haven’t touched the game in probably a year.  I was proud of my work in that game, though.  I beat the blood-starved beast with only a handful of deaths, killed the cleric beast first try, and after plenty of frustration overcame Amygdala – all of these are optional bosses.  I played the game on and off, but at some point I just couldn’t find the drive to keep playing.  It wasn’t too hard, I was usually making progress, but it was having trouble holding my attention.  Eventually, someday, I may return.

Demon’s Souls

So here I am, full circle, ready to start anew the game that I hated so much a decade ago.  I am going to try to find some beginner information, make mild sense of that strategy guide now that I understand some aspects of Soulsborne titles, and give it a go.  Next week I will report my progress, but I don’t plan on playing the game full time nor even every week, so these entries will vary based on my current workload and mood.  For now, wish me luck, I’m going all the way back to the clunky beginning with Dark Souls.  Finally, the dusty special edition on the shelf will see some play.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 1, 2018 at 5:04 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: