The Sweetest Song

Life is busy. More often than not it feels like I’m rushing against a tide of tasks and chores, the biggest of which is work.

The thing about the tide is that it never disappears completely.

So perpetual movement becomes the norm. Even in the still moments where I try to catch some peace, my mind is moving, planning out my next moves so I stay one step ahead of the tide.

The thing about my mind is that it lacks focus. I started this entry with the intention of waxing philosophical and poetical about another video game series I love, and now I’ve started rambling about my seeming lack of free time. Yet I am here, sitting at my computer, typing a blog entry for all of you (anyone?) to read. So I must have more free time than I anticipated.

Around seven to eight years ago, I worked a very short stint at a GameStop. In fact, I only worked one shift at this GameStop, and I happened to work at the midnight release for a game called Dark Souls. I think the first Rage game had just come out as well, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, I had heard small pieces of information about a different game called Demon’s Souls, and didn’t know jack-shit about it. I would have gone home that night, happy that I survived a shift at my new job, without thinking twice about Dark Souls. Only thing is, as soon as I entered my room, I saw my brother and one of our friends sitting on my couch. Playing a game.

I’ll give you a few guesses as to which game it was.

So they’d managed to get to one of the early-game bosses in Dark Souls, and damn if it didn’t look like a good time. A rough time, yes, but still a good time. A mysterious, intriguing, challenging time. I wanted to feel the gameplay for myself, to hold the controller in my hands and figure out just how to move my fingers in ways that would yield the best results. I just wanted to get into the game. It just looked good.

I didn’t have the same understanding of the game then as I do now, but hindsight can be a beautifully illuminating lens. The weirdly rewarding challenge of Dark Souls stems, I would argue, from the impact of your decisions during combat. I mean this literally and figuratively. Each hit, whether it comes from you or your foe(s), has heft that may leave targets reeling. And each press of the control stick and/or the buttons has a similar heft that may leave your mind reeling. This is because every decision you make in the split seconds of combat is, more often than not, a in-game-life-or-death decision. You may want to run up to a retching lizard and smack it in the face with your greatsword, but running and attacking both deplete your stamina supply. So you’ve got to watch that little green bar move toward the zero mark, and make decisions in the midst of taking actions, and it becomes this weird dance that is equal parts mental and physical. Your hands make moves, your brain interprets the results and choreographs the next moves, all so your hands and your character can keep dancing.

It can be frustrating. It can be taxing. But man, it’s exhilarating when the dance is executed successfully.

I might be misrepresenting the Souls-style combat, just slightly. It sounds frenetic and action packed. And sometimes, it is. But really, it’s a more measured, calculated sort of battle. A bit like chess, perhaps. The cycle of waiting, watching your opponent, and responding is there. It’s still a mix of mental and physical prowess, and that makes it a nerve-wracking fucking blast to play. If you’re a crazy glutton for punishment like I am, that is.

It may suffice to say that I love Dark Souls. I love Dark Souls so much that I eagerly anticipated the sequel. Dark Souls II is not a perfect game. In fact, it’s far from perfect. I could go on at length about my relative disappointment in Dark Souls II after enjoying the challenge of the high bar set by Dark Souls, but I’ll try to sum up my thoughts instead. The way I look at it, Dark Souls II is a good video game, but it’s not a good Souls game. Compared to other games that were out around the same time, it’s fucking great, because, despite its shortcomings, it is a Souls game, and that means it’s made by some talented people. It just lacks the clarity of Dark Souls.

I keep saying “Souls game” like that encompasses From Software’s genius. The funny thing is, I’m also adding in layers as I go, expanding from a mysterious midnight release to Dark Souls to the sequel and now, finally mentioning the company that’s responsible for all of it. From Software does some dope shit. I wish I’d followed them since their early days, but Dark Souls was my first taste of their game design prowess. I bring up the phrase “Souls game” because I should alter it slightly.

I didn’t buy a PS4 when the system released, but thanks to some weird stroke of luck, my brother won a free PS4 from GameStop back when he worked there. He already had a PS4, so he gave me the one that he won. Which was awesome, because a few months before I had my own PS4, I used my brother’s PS4 to play what has become, quite possibly, my favorite video game of all time. At the very least, it’s my favorite game of the past decade.

I’m referring, perhaps a little obliquely, to Bloodborne. Oh, the sweet blood, it sings to me … Bloodborne dropped from the minds of From Software like some twisted cosmic egg and hatched all kinds of badass ways to pack action into a game.

It has all the shit I love. It’s a Lovecraftian horror story. It’s set in a Victorian London analogue. It’s got madness, violence, obsession, and GUNS. It also speeds up the combat of the Dark Souls games so it takes on a healthy sheen that only comes from quick gusts of wind passing over you. That’s just my non-sensical way of saying that Bloodborne feels fast, compared to Dark Souls. And that’s a great feeling.

It also does away with the dozens of samey weapons featured in Dark Souls in favor of unique weapons called “trick weapons,” and boy, are they fucking awesome. Each weapon has two forms, a “base” form and a “trick” form, so, in essence, they’re the BOGO of video game weapons. Bust one out, get one free. Each trick weapon tends to define the way you play the game. There are some that you can pair together, of course, depending on your build. But each one has a distinct feel, and that’s a testament to the fantastic design chops of From Software. They lovingly crafted each of those weapons and made them all a joy to wield.

I also played Dark Souls III when it came out, as you may remember if you’ve been following my blog for any reason, and it was a damn good time. It took me over a year of playing it, off and on, to finish it, and that was pretty much it. I started new game plus, but I didn’t finish it. I played through Dark Souls and even Dark Souls II multiple times, and I’ve played Bloodborne at least ten times. I guess I just got tired of all the Soulsborne action, after shoving so much of it into my hands and brain.

All that said, I’d play Bloodborne again in a heartbeat. I don’t think I can ever get tired of that game. This whole Soulsborne-themed rant-tinged love letter to From Software is my way of saying that I am really fucking excited for Sekiro, and I’ll be heading to GameStop tomorrow to pay off my pre-order in preparation for Friday. Sekiro looks different from all the fancy Soulsborne stuff I’m used to, but in a cool and compelling way.

Even though I’ve got a good handful of other games I’m trudging through, I get the feeling that Sekiro will devour my free time as soon as I get it. Bring on the late nights among the cherry blossoms and blood-soaked pagodas.

I’ll be cutting my way through all manner of bad dudes and demons.


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