rambling

Walking Through Death’s Door

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about literal death. I’m talking metaphorical, figurative, pixelated death. I suppose that in the video game world of Death’s Door, death is real for the folks you defeat. You play as a bona fide reaper, after all; but I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to start again.

In the recently released Death’s Door, you take on the role of an adorable crow whose 9-5 job is to reap souls. You step off a bus and into a grayscale office complex where your murder of crows performs all the duties relevant to reaping, storing, and harnessing the souls of the dead. One of your colleagues handles soul requisitions; another types up the paperwork that officiates your handlings of said requisitions; a third crow guards the soul vault, and allows you to upgrade your abilities with the souls you gather. That’s because you’re the “muscle,” if you will: you walk off the aforementioned bus with a sword on your back. You’re here to chew bubblegum and claim souls, and you’re all out of bubblegum.

The upgrade system is a very video-gamified way of displaying the progression one expects to undergo on a job; the more you work, the better you get at working, usually. So the more you reap souls, the better you get at kicking ass. Your fellow crows serve as mouthpieces for the drudgery of streamlined office bureaucracy; your handler is always stressed out by their workload, the typist is legitimately obsessed with typing and knows nothing else, and one of your fellow reapers frequently mentions a staggering workload and calls the job a gig. It’s not meaningful work, necessarily; it’s the status quo, and there are some reasons why the drudgery has increased in recent years.

I won’t go into those reasons as they’re definitely spoilers, but I will take this time to pivot to just how fantastic Death’s Door is as not just a video game, but as a work of art. I will go that far in describing it: the game is art, and every aspect of it is meticulously planned out and designed to produce the maximum amount of joy, satisfaction, and fun. The artistic direction is cartoonishly charming and gorgeous – I was excited to just stop moving our crow every now and then so I could absorb the beauty of the game’s world. The level design is also top-notch, with every room and area integral to progression; I would argue that there are almost no frills in the game, and this makes for a very quick and satisfying pace. The leanness of the world design may be a double-edged sword, however, since the game is so good that I just want to experience more of it … but overall, I prefer a short and sweet experience to a long and rotting one.

The writing is great as well, and I found myself smiling at the various personalities you meet throughout the game, and laughing during particular conversations. Finally, the gameplay is fantastic. Combat is tough but fair, and every time I experienced the harrowing DEATH screen, I quickly analyzed my output to realize that I’d made some mistakes. When I die in Death’s Door, it’s no one’s fault but my own. The game gives you everything you need to succeed, and it’s up to you to use your skills to cleave through challenges and reap as many souls as you can.

All in all, the game has everything one could want: beautiful art, stellar music, sharp writing, and satisfying gameplay. The cherry on top of this video game masterpiece is trust, and just like in real life, trust is a two-way street. The game’s creators, an awesome group called Acid Nerve, trust players to persevere and continue fighting and exploring to uncover every last secret in the game. This is where the other way of the street comes into play: while the creators trust players to be patient and explore everything, players must trust the creators and their vision. There are plenty of places in the game where a particular path is blocked, but only temporarily; if players trust the developers, they leave that blockage for later, when they’ve earned a new ability that opens the path. As of this write-up, a decent number of players are impatient and tend to ask “How do I get past [insert obstacle here]?,” when all they need to do is keep playing the game. They will acquire the abilities they need to progress; it just takes some time.

I don’t mean to bash these players. I happen to be a big fan of these “Metroidvania-esque” games, wherein backtracking with new abilities is standard fare. I was prepared to come across walls I couldn’t open, only to blast them with a bomb later. I know the subgenre, and in a funny way, Death’s Door is a Metroidvania despite its relatively tight design.

I love this game so much that I’ve actively participated in various Reddit threads about the game. I tend to be introverted and stuck in my own little bubble, but sometimes I like something so much that I have to gush about it. So I’m on Reddit, and now I’m on my blog, gushing about Death’s Door. It’s one of the most immaculately crafted games I’ve experienced in recent years, and I hope that it sells super well so Acid Nerve can make a sequel, or an expansion, or even just a spiritual successor. Speaking of Acid Nerve, I highly recommend that folks try Titan Souls; it was made before Death’s Door, and a lot of the gameplay in the latter was influenced by the former.

So there they are: my thoughts regarding Death’s Door. As scary as it may sound, I strongly suggest that you go and wander through Death’s Door – it’s a valuable experience, and a rewarding one.

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Poetry

Where Do All the Bones Go?

And how do foundations work,
when there’s nothing but rocks
and probably dirt, I assume,
but I’m no expert
so let’s not presume what’s exhumed –
excuse me.
I got ahead of myself.
I saw a picture
of a beautiful museum
built on rocks by the sea,
like, RIGHT BY the sea,
and one of the comments said
“It’ll be really sad when it falls in.”
I don’t want that future.
So what kind of sutures
are sewn into cut-open land
to hold that structure there,
as sure
as a closed hand?
My words aren’t technical enough,
and some aren’t technically right,
but, well,
I just
wonder about these things.

I dream of a world
where all the buildings stand forever
and all the bones stay together.

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Poetry

Rewilding

I recall my cultivation.
The gardeners: former lovers,
friends, moving lecturers
for a semester or two.

My soil the life through which I walk,
roots taking and not taking,
light and water passing to me
from books and songs and
and movies sometimes,
poetry stirring petals,
blooming and resting
as seasons require.

The growth is ongoing,
the process on-growing.
Keep it up, seedling.

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Poetry

Coming Soon: whyPhone

My god, the lights in the valley
coulda been anything:
a cluster of advanced science centers,
a web of self-sustaining cabin homes,
an invitation to a party
with thousands of entrances,
a peaceful civilization that’s accepted
the encroachment of the dark.

Instead, we have
traps of all sizes, mostly
in square shapes;
the stuck people
are too tired to think,
too busy to clean,
too sad to entertain,
and too mad
to accept the dark.
We shall all
light the night with our
tiny computers
and hope that wi-fi
is the only connection we need.

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Poetry

Rumination on Settling

They stole
all this land
and cut it into
disgusting chunks
that we buy
from a big plate
called “real estate”
but it’s all fake,
these deeds
should be worthless,
and every slice
from this giant
thieves’ pie
draws money from us
while they swarm
like flies
to eat our
putrid offal,
and I’m disgusting
’cause I wait,
and watch the knife
come down,
one more serving
from settler chef
to settler customer;
close the store,
this was never ours.

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Poetry

My Head Aches

I imagine sex a lot.

Lot a sex, imagine I.

A lot sex, I imagine.

Imagine: I sex a lot.

Imagine sex, I a lot.

I lot imagine a sex.

Sex lot, I imagine a.

Sex imagine I a lot.

Imagine, imagine,

sex sex sex

sex sex

………………

sex.

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rambling

The Demons Gotta Go

Hey folks, thanks for stopping by. I’d like to ramble a bit about a particular video game I’ve been playing. Oh hell, there’s no point in drawing this out. I’ve been playing GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon.

If you’re scratching your head at this point and wondering what the heck that is, don’t worry – I went through a similar query almost ten years ago, when I first stumbled upon Getsu Fuma. For the quick answer: GetsuFumaDen was an action/hack and slash game made by Konami in 1987. It never released stateside, which mostly explains why I and my fellow Americans scratch their heads when they hear about it.

But wait – if GetsuFumaDen never released stateside, how the heck do I know what it is? Well, I love Castlevania. Konami, despite their recent slip-ups, will forever be thanked by me for bestowing the awesomeness of Castlevania on the world. While Castlevania took off like a leaping flea-man, er, a rocket, GetsuFumaDen stood alone, as though it was waiting for hell to be unleashed upon the world, ready to swing a sword at monstrous demons with deadly precision … but first things first.

For what was to be his final official Castlevania game developed for Konami, Koji Igarashi pulled out all the stops and delivered a multi-generational, time-bending tour-de-force that featured protagonists from almost every Castlevania game. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair freaked me out at first, but only because I didn’t understand how the game worked, or how fun cooperative games could be. I’d spent most of my life getting lost in solitary endeavors, traipsing through huge worlds and downing the forces of evil on my own. So when a co-op Castlevania game came out, I was real confused.

Until my friend invited me to play the game with him over Xbox Live, that is. I soon got the hang of cutting monsters to ribbons with my friend, and my brother, and any random folks who joined our sessions. It turns out that teamwork can be fun, and rewarding.

We played the shit out of the game. We harmonized our despairs perfectly, and soon Dracula himself was weeping tears of blood on the floors of Hell.

Grisly melodrama aside, we did commit to the grind, and soon enough we agreed that we wanted more content. Thankfully, Koji Igarashi and his awesome team were working on more stuff, and by the time the game was “complete,” there were 11 stages and even more characters!

The final DLC pack included a mysterious character named Getsu Fuma. The artwork for him depicted a samurai wielding a katana. Yet when I picked this demon-slaying warrior, he entered the stage as an 8-bit sprite. He was shorter than other characters (great for evasion!), and he didn’t have too many bells and whistles – he always used his katana, so I didn’t need to farm for different weapons. What I did have to do was level up his magic attacks, which, when strengthened, also strengthened his katana.

At least, that’s how I remember him. My interest in Getsu Fuma was piqued, and I looked into him … only to discover that GetsuFumaDen came out in 1987, had still not made it to the states, and stood alone as the only game in its “series.” It technically wasn’t even a series. But damn, it sounded cool – a samurai who fights the demonic forces of Hell? It’s everything I enjoy!

So all those years ago, I learned that Belmonts aren’t the only ones who take up arms against the hellish night. Vampire killers and monster hunters come from all sorts of different cultures, and I appreciate all of them.

Which is why, when I saw that a “sequel” to GetsuFumaDen was in the works, I was over the moon. Little did I know that I’d be over an undying moon. The name of the new game, 34 years later, is GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, and it’s fucking rad.

“So what is it, Chris?,” I hear my imagined audience asking in my head, “Is it an action game? A platformer? A hack and slash bloodfest?!”

Yes to all of the above questions. The game combines all the things I’ve loved over my gaming life, as well as some things I’ve grown to love over the past few years. I know I haven’t written about a lot of my recent gaming experiences here, but I’ll use this sentence to proclaim my love for roguelike games.

Whoa, what? Yeah, I’ve become a glutton for punishment. When I finally got a decent gaming pc in the winter of 2019, I downloaded Steam, which has been a window into an ever-widening world of awesome indie games. While looking for something that fits my interests (2D, platforming, action-packed, challenging), I came across some Reddit posts gushing about Dead Cells. So I bought it, and sweet lord, I was hooked. I’ve hopped into Risk of Rain 2 as well, and Enter the Gungeon, and oh my gods how could I forget Hades? My point is, I’ve played a lot of randomized games lately, and uh … they’re strangely compelling and fun.

And GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is a roguelike. Or maybe it’s a roguelite? I don’t really make this distinction too often, but I’m sure there are diehard roguelike fans who would mince these terms … I don’t worry too much. The game features randomized elements, mostly in the form of weapon and material drops, with level layouts changing a little bit each time as well.

The randomness makes the grind extra important; if I’m going to get stuck with a weapon I don’t usually use, it’s ideal for me if I’ve upgraded it at least a little bit. I definitely have favorites: the katana is my favorite primary weapon, and the bombs and guns are my favorite secondary weapons (oh my, I’m bringing modern weaponry to bear on the demons). A lot of the challenge comes down to moveset memorization: if I know what an enemy can do, I can react to it accordingly. If I see three enemies arranged just so, I need to know what they can do so I don’t get clawed to ribbons by a hungry oni and their friends.

I love games like this; the ones that push me to play over and over until I’m almost perfect, slicing and dicing and dodging and living until the end. That’s what Undying Moon feels like right now. It’s got the challenges I love with the aesthetics I crave. I’m gonna play it right friggin’ now.

P.S. The original GetsuFumaDen is finally available in the U.S., for folks who buy the new game in early access; I forgot to mention that the game is still being developed, but I was so stoked to experience it that I bought it anyway. I was gifted with the original game. I’ll be killing 34-year-old demons soon enough.

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Poetry

Elements of Being

Heart of fire,
mind like water,
seeping into everything,
fitting most containers
and remaining itself.

My brain douses my heart.
More often than not,
I overthink
my life into oblivion,
so action becomes tiresome
and I stay inert.

I may need to jump into something –
to leap from a mountaintop
and let inertia carry me.
My thoughts can’t
tarry me,
and it’s time I
let my heart be a lantern.

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