Play Nice: A Games Journal

10/08/2018

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What up world wide web, how’s it going in the digital and analog realms. It’s nice to be back here and writing without feeling bad that you haven’t posted anything for six months. I didn’t realize until I published my last two entries that the one before that was from February, so my bad. Bloodborne is on deck for today and this will be the only time I write about it for a while. I wanted to cover it in a few different posts but because I put this off a little bit and running around Yharnam really wore me down I have finished playing for a while. I’ve moved on to Marvel’s Spider-Man which I hope to cover in a few short posts during October. Getting back (and right into) Bloodborne though, the last thing I did in that game was defeat the One Reborn and gained access to the second floor of the lecture building. That’s about two-thirds of the way through the game, a game I fully intended to finish right until I couldn’t. It was a very immediate reaction where I just didn’t want to play anymore. I think the One Reborn took me about five or six goes using a summoned ally each time, which makes it one of the bosses that I had the least amount of trouble with. The bosses and the sort of hard gating they represent aren’t what put me off this game though. I found them mostly fine with some being a lot more interesting and difficult than others. Rom the Vacuous Spider and Father Gascoigne are the two that come to mind which presented interesting move sets to be countered and a good degree of difficulty. Many of the Bloodborne bosses that I faced were large beasts that towered over my hunter (Cleric Beast, Blood Starved Beast, Vicar Amelia, The One Reborn) which means that when you’re in close hacking away you’re swinging at their legs or haunches. They generally don’t have strong or often reoccurring area of effect attacks (AoE), so you’re mostly safe if you stay in close. Rom upended this by exclusively using AoE attacks to force you to back away from him into a swarm of spiders which he summons at regular intervals and follow him around. The cohesiveness of these two obstacles force you to be really nimble and efficient while confronting him, but your path to victory is always clear. You have to get in and get away from Rom quickly, going from ranged to in close, and using that time in close effectively. It’s obvious what you have to do in order to win, but the challenge is can you stick to/ do you have the patience to stick to the plan that you know will work?

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Bloodborne FromSoftware

This idea about sticking to a plan applies to all the bosses I faced, but what divides a fun encounter from a tedious one is whether or not executing your plan is fun/challenging. Like I mentioned above there are a number of large bosses where you have to keep yourself in tight at their side or back and hack as much as your stamina will allow. The other type, but still equally frustrating, of ‘boss’ encounter occurs when you have to face other hunters. I faced 7 (?) hunters during my playthrough, all of which are optional (except two). Excluding one all of them, they all had some sort of blade/melee weapon and stay in very close quarters to you. Because they are physically smaller fast moving characters it’s tough to see when/what attack is coming in order to parry/dodge. I struggled a lot with all of these hunter fights included two that I managed to cheat pretty hard. One I found the boundary they wouldn’t go beyond, and would run to the edge attack and then go back to safety, The other you do with a companion and you’re able to hack at the enemy hunter’s back with some ease (I still died once doing that one). But in all of the hunter encounters the general pattern was attack, run, heal, attack, run, heal… This isn’t a satisfying way to play because you’re not getting better or learning something, it’s just attrition. The non-optional hunter and the exception to everything I just said is the fight against Father Gascoigne. He’s a little bit bigger than you average hunter making it easier to distinguish his attacks with both ranged and melee weapons. He has a powerful blunderbuss that will stagger you so he can get up close and use his devastating axe. The confrontation takes place in graveyard forcing you to be very deliberate as you move between the headstones, avoid Gascoigne’s bullets, and move in to attack. Because he has a strong ranged weapon he’s not always rushing towards you, although if you let him get too close or let him stagger you he will close that distance very quickly. When you are in close, because he is a larger enemy, you can distinguish his attacks in order to dodge and parry effectively. As I’m writing this the similarities between the Gascoigne and Rom fights are becoming clear, forcing player to move deliberately, having to move from range to in tight, the boss isn’t significantly larger than the player, and forces you to be efficient with your attacks. In a game where, twenty hours in, even the lowest enemy types can seriously hurt you if you’re not careful, it was disappointing when a boss fight didn’t require as much consideration to point where victory happened because you had enough healing or it felt like some aspect of luck was involved. And by luck I mean that there were encounters where it felt like if I just do this enough times eventually I will stumble into making the correct combination of moves that are necessary in order to win. The two that fall into that category for me are the Shadows of Yharnam and the Witch of Hemick. I couldn’t exactly figure out the right approach, but knew if I slashed and ran enough one time it work out.

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Bloodborne, FromSoftware

The bosses though, while not the best part of this game, probably weren’t the thing that tripped the moment where I didn’t want to play this game anymore. I know what did it, but I need to qualify this first. I think Bloodborne is a really good game, with (mostly) good combat mechanics, an interesting and detailed aesthetic, and it’s always presenting you with something new and unexpected. It’s just not the game for me right, not with where I’m at mentally. After beating The One Reborn you gain access to the second floor of the lecture building and from there you enter the Nightmare of Mensis. The name of that place, nightmare, was too much. Bloodborne’s a physically and narratively dark game. The world isn’t on fire, but might be beyond saving. Packs of violent men, who are as scared of you as you are of them, roam the streets, werewolves prowl in dark corners, afflicted persons control entire ares of the city, huge trolls and men of the church wait silently in courtyards, rabid dogs protect narrow alleys, crows inhabit tight corners, witches scream in the woods, corpses burn in the streets, and coffins are everywhere (and the further in the game you go worse beings are revealed). It is impossible not to notice any of this. Maybe you find one of those things more horrible than the rest, or maybe none of them in particular feel that bad, but the images, the grimness accumulates. Yharnam, a place you are told was once a great learned city, has fallen into shadow and nightmare by the time you arrive, and the game challenges you to go deeper into the night. I’ve listened to a lot of talk about this game with some people loving the combat and the big fights and others who really fell into the snatches of lore that can be found in the city or attached to collectable items. Part of my challenge in playing this game was fortifying myself, whenever I picked up that controller, to go back into the dark with little hope that there was any light to be found. I’ve written a lot about Horizon and Zelda previously, and a thing I rarely did when playing those games was listen to podcasts, but I always had to have one on when playing Bloodborne. I needed something that held be back from going too deep into the darkness, but that wasn’t enough.

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Bloodborne, FromSoftware

I do plan on finishing it one day, I don’t know when but someday. When I’m feeling better mentally and can handle what’s going on in that world. But this brings me back to my qualifier and to something I’ve been think about a bit lately. Games are a very unique medium. If you listen to podcasts or interviews with people who review games they usually mention the difficulty of trying to review something that is 20, 30, 40+ hours long. With a movie, two or three hours and your done. An episode of TV is 30 or 60 minutes once a week. Even with Netflix your getting a max of thirteen, 50 minute episodes. With comic books you get 30 pages once or twice a month. Books are maybe the closest, as far as time commitment, with a ten to 15 hour investment but they’re are a different type of immersion than a video game. None of those other mediums give you agency in the worlds they create. You are a passive watcher, listener, interpreter who can’t change how the story ends. There is an argument that the idea of agency in video games is fake because in games with even the loosest of narratives the endings are definite non-changing things. To that I would say go play Breath of the Wild (or Horizon Zero Dawn to a lesser degree) and tell me you don’t have (or feel that you don’t have) agency in that world. But even if creating the feeling reduces down to some fancy technological tricks, it doesn’t mean the feeling you get from playing those games and creating your story in that world isn’t real. The way we (I) talk about our experience playing a game also communicates how much they can suck us in. I would never write, and you don’t really see this from people from people who write about games professionally, that I spent some time watching my player character run around Yharnam. I ran around Yharnam. This goes right back to the idea of agency, who is doing the actions, with the point being that video games are very good at pulling you in for 30 or 40 hours to inhabit a new space. And I, in this case, found it really difficult to keep coming back to this dark world and continuing on. That says more about me than it says anything about Bloodborne. I brought something with me to the playing of that game, but that doesn’t diminish it’s quality in any way, It just makes it a thing that I found it difficult to enjoy at this point in my life.

All right that will do it for Bloodborne talk for a while. I’ll finish that game at some point, but I have Spider-Man, Horizon, and Wolfenstein in front of me before then. The next couple of post here before the end of the month will be Spider-Man related and might be a bit more gushing, because that game is pretty fun. Anyways, thank for reading, catch y’all later and be good internet.


 

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