I need to stop calling things Mentospectives. According to the spellchecker, it isn't even a real word. I'm as shocked as you are.
From Software! We've all had fun with the "software from From Software" jokes, but what's the deal with these guys? Seriously, why did you make Demon's Souls so difficult dudes. Serious. It hurts. Turns out they're responsible for a lot of pretty important franchises: Tenchu - that thing with ninjas, Otogi - that thing with Demon Ninjas and Armored Core - that thing with robots, which may or may not also be demons or ninjas.
I've also got a lot of memories of very specific From Software titles, which I had no idea were all from the same company despite their shared penchant for slightly budget-y graphics and steep learning curves. Let's go back in time, shall we? *Wayne's World-esque doolooloo-doolooloo*
Game: EverGraceThe first time I'd heard the name From Software, and the software I'd learned the name from, is this PS2 launch title. I'd recently acquired the PS2 close to launch - and in fact still own that same PS2, which still works - and figured I'd start with this fancy-shmancy next-gen JRPG. Hey, guess what? Terrible idea. This is an exceptionally poor game in which I simply could not figure out what to do for the life of me. Was it because I was a dumb kid? Sort of, as I was starting college at this time. Though I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason I didn't like it is because it's a bad game.
You get to control one of two characters, each with their separate story line: Darius, the swordsman on the cover, or "Sharlene", a homemaker. Man, tough choice. Though maybe Sharlene's story is the one that didn't suck. Maybe it was some funky JRPG Cooking Mama. As Darius, though, you're basically walking around picking fights with wandering monsters and getting instantly killed by half of them, or instantly killed by falling off the side of the planet, or instantly killed because I went the wrong way and have no idea what's going on. Hours of fun. I was lucky enough to also have Activision's Orphen in case this one sucked. That one sucked too. Then I discovered a huge number of PS1 JRPGs and I was pretty much sated in that department until FFX came out more than a year later, and all the fine PS2 JRPGs that followed.
So that was my introduction to From Software. Restrictive difficulty and sheer confusion. I wouldn't say it was a misleading first impression.
Game: Eternal RingHaving apparently not learned my lesson the first time, I picked up this interesting-looking first-person dungeon crawl from a bargain bin while looking for new games for my still sort-of new PS2. Eternal Ring isn't quite as bad as EverGrace, though it's still got that steep learning curve that From Software have pretty much cornered the market on. It also has deplorable voice-acting and a bizarre plot that kills off almost all the NPCs on the island it is set on. However, it's very much of an era lost to modern gaming: The western-style first-person RPG where you're given little direction and allowed to explore and construct the backstory from the stuff you come across. A dead person could tell you plenty about what's going on either with a note on its body, by spookily communicating its last thoughts or by trying to kill you with its skeleton powers.
As well as these Western trappings, there's very much an Eastern aspect or two also: The main quest has you find a bunch of elemental gods that have been "corrupted" by whatever grand evil took over the island and destroyed the civilization that once lived there, and the antagonists are all possessed NPCs you're ostensibly there to track down - though the initial "go to this island to spy on researchers" plot is soon forgotten when the shit hits the fan. The game moves along by focusing on its large collection of rings, each allowing certain magic spells to be cast or passive effects to enhance your combat or exploration abilities. Some are necessary for further progress in true Metroidvania style, while others are well-hidden and requires some keen observation skills because rings are pretty damn small, y'all.
While not a good game by any practical metric, it wasn't completely terrible and I enjoyed it for what it was. And this is the not-exactly-promising philosophy that I've more or less applied to every From Software game I've played since.
Game: King's Field: The Ancient City (King's Field IV)More first-person skullduggery. The King's Field series wasn't one that was well known in Europe, hence the usual practice of excluding numbers in the title so we don't get confused about where the first three went (here's a hint: NTSC only). We didn't even get a Final Fantasy game until Mystic Quest for the SNES. Yeah, imagine THAT being your introduction to the series. KF4 was, again, rather janky in appearance and design, though was beguiling enough for me to stick with it until the end.
KF4 is big on the exploration and combat, and moves a lot slower than Eternal Ring. It was also far less JRPGish, and even more reminiscent of the Eye of the Beholder/Dungeon Master type spooky atmospheric dungeon crawls of a generation where people needed to draw maps for everything. In case you thought the cartography in Etrian Odyssey was some kind of elaborate joke that old game designer people were pulling on you, the "born in the 90s" people that seem to inundate this website. Get off my vector graphics lawn.
As far as my relationship with From Software was going, I still had no idea these games were all from the same company or that that very same company was constantly putting me through the wringer with janky JRPG-posing-as-CRPG action. I think the name "From Software" confuses people. I just looked at the box and thought "well, where else would all these graphics and shit come from? Doy."
Game: Lost KingdomsAround 2006, early 2007 I started picking up a bunch of cheap GameCube games, with the shadow of the Wii arching over that once proud system of mostly shovel-ware. Finding such almost-lost gems such as Chibi Robo, Geist, the X-Men Legends duo and, uh, this thing. Well, mostly gems.
Lost Kingdoms is the tale of a princess trying to reclaim her kingdom with magical cards. Like its " deck of many things" contemporary Baten Kaitos, the gameplay was entirely focused on the collection and application of cards with stuff on them. You throw a card like Gambit and shit happens. Lost Kingdoms, though, is no Baten Kaitos. For one thing, it doesn't have a dude who hits things with paddles. But another, more important difference, was that this game kind of blew.
It still had its charms though, with a real-time strategy monster-summoning approach to battles. You could send wave after wave of attackers at hostiles, though not another wave after that. Two waves was about it. Maybe three after you'd leveled up a bit. If you run out, you get kicked back to the world map and forced to restart. IIRC, it's not something I have many memories of, fond or otherwise. I never beat it but I did get a considerable way in before giving up because I had better shit to play, including those listed above. And that isn't nothing; that's something. That is something, you guys.
Game: Enchanted ArmsIn 2009 I began in earnest my achievement-whoring empire. As someone who has always taken every measure to get 100% for a game, regardless of endless grinding or farming for rare drops, shifting to the achievement-hunter mindset wasn't a huge leap. I'm the sort of dude that achievements were invented for. So send all hate-mail this way if you're sick of the things. All the way to Sick S-Rank Town, USA, where I'm at. Part of this achievement process was buying up a bunch of cheap 360 games I felt could want to play to that level of completion that weren't just complete junk, which turned out to be harder than I thought given all the online shooters and [Sports] [Year] types that make up the usual Xbox user library.
Enchanted Arms is a rare beast: Like everything else on this list, it's clearly been smacked several times by the Janky Fairy's wand. It's ugly, the animation's terrible, the voicework even more so and the game takes forever to start earnestly (though not quite as long as FFXIII does, to put it in perspective). All the while during this elongated tutorial section you had to deal with an asshole and an uncomfortably flamboyant gay best friend. In the "holy shit, there are still people out there who think gay people act like this?" sense of the word "uncomfortable". It's when the first big cutscene goes down, things go crazy-go-nuts and you're left to your own devices that the game starts to improve. You get full control over the monster-summoning aspect, and you can start employing the types of strategy this game got really good with: You're given a grid (enemies on one side, allies on the other - think Mega Man Battle Network or Radiant Historia) and most encounters can be easily defeated by deploying the correct monsters that are able to attack in specific patterns - if there's enemies standing in a three point triangle, you'll have dudes with powers that can hit all three and end the battle quickly. You still need to think about what to do and who to bring out, but these basic battles move so quickly that it's not a huge time-sink if you're besieged by random encounters or grinding for whatever. When it comes to bosses, the battle is constantly shifting - you need to be alert for changes and adapt as necessary. It was a lot more enjoyable than the crappy first impression indicated, though that's hardly a good defense for a game (according to FFXIII detractors at least).
This blurb ended up being a little longer than the rest, but that's only because it was the only legitimately gratifying From Software game I had yet played. Until now.
Game: Demon's SoulsDemon's Souls, now notorious among JRPG fans and the PS3-affiliated Blue Dudes on Giant Bomb alike for its difficulty - well, not so much curve than a vertical drop. This is the first From Software title I actively sought out, because I hate myself apparently. So far, it's been a giddy rush of highs and lows. Many lows. Few highs. It's not a perfect balance but I'm satisfied that the highs are coming. They have to be. I have a badass longbow now, so it's going to get easier and more fun, right?
Demon's Souls, like the King's Field and Eternal Ring entries further up the list, all but much throws you into the deep end with very little plot: Some ancient demon called "The Old One" has escaped his extra-dimensional prison and is causing a ruckus planetside. Mostly everyone is dead, or a soul (which is apparently " mostly dead") or is corrupted by the demons under the Old One's control. That's it. You get more backstory by visiting the five main locations in the game and thoroughly exploring them, and from talking to NPCs hanging out in the sanctuary of the Nexus, which is where you'll end up to recuperate from the horror, the horror. That's about it. You slay all the demons, through a mixture of masochism, luck and sheer stubbornness, and defeat the darkness. Then do it all again, only now every enemy is even tougher and kills you far quicker. Honestly, though, there's been plenty said about this game already from everyone's favorite video game associated Italian (oh wait, I forgot Mario), everyone's favorite pirate radio announcer (oh wait, I forgot "Howling Mad" Murphy) and the many Giant Bomb users still discovering the game, myself among them.
Okay, we're back in the present day. Besides my clothes being on fire and Nazi Germany having taken over (odd, since we only went 10 years back), it's been a relatively painless trip through the annals of From Software history. Maybe I'll do this with another game company, and probably with fewer stops. Because this was a lot of words. But there's pictures now too! So I'm definitely learning. Now to work on that mascot idea...