Howdy everyone. Februaries always seem to move by fast, for obvious reasons, but I can scarcely believe we're almost at March already. I guess I've been a little too fixated on Bloodborne in recent weeks. Even though this is the eighth one of these weekly appraisals I've written, it still feels like we're at the starting line of 2016 and have the entire year left to experience.
All the same, I'm looking forward to March. The game releases have been as busy as ever, even in these traditionally quiet months, but there's going to be even more on their way soon. In addition, the new season of Archer is set to air at the end of March, and soon to follow will be the next season of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Game of Thrones. (I do find it strange that each new season of Game of Thrones seems to arrive just as Winter is ending.)
Anyway, for as much as I liked Bloodborne, I'm stoked that it's finally complete and I can move onto some other projects and games I want to focus on. Next week should see the second part of the Bloodborne Bosswatch feature as well as the Comic Commish game for February, which I'm definitely looking forward to playing. Next on the PS4 backlog, however, will be Tearaway: Unfolded, which I'm hoping will be a cute palette cleanser after the eldritch horrors of Bloodborne. But then, there's a case to be made that a papercraft universe is even scarier, in its own way.
I suppose it's time for another Far Cry. What's it been, fifteen months since Far Cry 4? Good work, Ubisoft. I wonder what the tribal hero of Far Cry Primal will be climbing for all the map-icon-revealing vantage points. Trees, right? Or maybe giant mammoth skeletons. They always seemed to die at strategically important high altitude areas equidistant from one another, if I recall my paleontology.
Surprisingly little else this month. We have the PS4 launch of that Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 online shooter sequel. Presumably they reached maximum occupancy for the microtransaction storefront of the first one and had to start over. By which I mean, lots of new plants and zombies for players to try out! (Briefly. But then they gotta pay.)
Besides that, we just have the original Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow games heading to 3DS eShop presumably with some kind of wi-fi support for trading and a bunch of recent Indies making their way to PS4's PSN, including Toki Tori 2+ which I rather liked. Oh, and some kind of iOS Assassin's Creed game, which makes it the third Assassin's Creed game of 2016 so far. Remember when Ubisoft said they weren't going to release one this year because of franchise fatigue? Maybe I just dreamed that.
Still taking it easy (read: procrastinating) before I launch into SNES 1995. I'm actually a little torn on that, even: when checking up on the rest of the PC Engine's HuCard library, I noticed that I'd greatly underestimated how much that system jumped on board its CD format in its later years. As such, there's actually only some ~75 Japan-exclusive HuCard games left to work on to finish the set. It's an enticing prospect: Giant Bomb could become the biggest resource for HuCard-based games on the English-speaking internet, along with already being the best resource for TurboGrafx-16 and the Famicom Disk System. I'll give it some serious thought after this next mini-project.
This mini-project? Well, that would be going back and checking up on the pages for NES games released in 1986. I've already been through the lot once before while on a Chrontendo kick, but that was before I acquired header image privileges. As well as that, I'll be checking releases and screenshots and other information to ensure we're all set and ship-shape. The Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom combined saw 121 releases in 1986 - the first full year of the North American NES, which debuted on October of 1985 - though when subtracted from the Famicom Disk System releases (which I've already taken care of), it's a more manageable 87 games. 87 games that won't require new pages, new overviews or anything else too work-intensive either. Hey, gotta have something productive to do when listening to podcasts.
Naturally, I'll be expounding on Bloodborne in far more detail with the next episode of Bosswatch, a feature wherein I focus on a Souls game's bosses and environments and use those to build a greater case for the game itself. I published the first half last week, and I conveniently ended up with another ten bosses to discuss in the week to follow. That first part was one of the longest blogs I've written in a while, and it didn't help that I forgot to find images for all the bosses in question, so I'm going to be revising my approach a little next time.
What I will do with this Sunday's Bloodborne summary is to provide a spoiler-free (mostly - there's some mild non-specific story progress stuff if you've been trying to avoid that) mini-review of the game. No point doing a full one with the amount I've already written on the subject, but it'd help to coalesce - or coagulate, I suppose - my thoughts for a conclusive take on the game for those who have yet to take the transfusion of Old Blood and experience the endless night of the hunt for themselves.
Bloodborne's actually magnificent. I discussed last Sunday about how it hadn't quite grabbed me yet; either due to its new and unfamiliar mechanics that seemed to point towards a singular combat strategy, its dour gray world or the fact that this is now the fourth Souls game I'd played with the same increasingly well-worn beats. It began to click for me towards the mid-game after finding a weapon I liked, however, and as I approached the end I started to appreciate the story it was telling (obliquely, in true Souls fashion), paradoxically understanding more about what the game's lore was trying to tell me even as it got deliberately more obtuse and otherworldly. I guess a story based on the Cthulhu mythos just feels more familiar to me than one based on a lycanthrope-infested Gothic city on the edge of nowhere. I'm more of a Lovecraft mark than a Stoker mark, I guess. (Except Bram Stoker never wrote about werewolves, technically speaking. Apparently the history of werewolf fiction is a little more involved than I expected, dating back to an Ancient Greek myth from which we got the word "Lycan".)
The hint of the Lovecraftian is common knowledge to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Bloodborne. I believe it was brought up even during its early promotion. All the same, I'll reiterate a mild spoiler warning in case you've really avoided everything about the game so far - though if so, why would you be reading this review? In spite of all this, I think the game's greatest narrative strength is in how it presents one story and then slowly but surely segues that story into something more alien and bizarre. Take, for instance, the movie From Dusk till Dawn: you could go into that movie knowing nothing about it and assume for all the world that it's an "escaped convicts in Mexico" crime movie. That George Clooney's and Quentin Taratino's characters would soon leave that Mexican stripper dive bar and continue terrorizing Harvey Kietel's family and the rest of Central America. Nope, vampires.
Similarly, Bloodborne presents a tale of a city swathed in corruption both literal and figurative: a lycanthropic curse has afflicted the population, as well as many of the hunters hired to quell the same curse, and the all-powerful Church is losing the battle to keep it contained and the rest of the uninfected population alive. They're also implicitly involved in how the curse came to exist, in some way, and the player continues to discover high-ranking members of this Church transforming into terrible beasts in front of their very eyes as they seek answers. It takes a while, but slowly the player begins to understand that the curse and all the Church's dogma and teachings - what they collectively refer to as "The Truth" - originated with a scholarly sect that began to investigate the ancient ruins under the city and came into contact with the remains of "Great Ones" - eldritch beings of unknown origin with significant powers over the mind and reality. Each generation of the Church has been trying to tap into their power, performing blood transfusions with the "old blood" found in those ruins and inadvertently driving themselves and those they've recruited irrevocably insane and/or into monsters. More of this side of the plot reveals itself the further you get into the game, including the various sects and heretical offshoots of the Church with their own takes on the Great Ones, though I'll leave the specifics for the reader to explore (or peruse on YouTube lore videos, since they really don't make a whole lot of it crystal clear in-game without some digging).
I only bring this up because effective storytelling is often the last thing you'd praise in a Souls game. Yet, Lovecraftian fiction is by design meant to be elusive and abstruse, and so it fits perfectly with the Soulsian approach. There's even a stat that measures your understanding of the Great Ones and - by extension - the story and mythos of the game. As this stat increases, more about the world is revealed: you might not understand the significance of seeing one of the suddenly visible colossal Amygdala creatures watching you closely from the sides of buildings, or the distant crying of an infant, but they become explicable in due time. Yet the player may well gain the insight to witness them before they become relevant to the plot: you'd have to be very free with your insight-boosting items, but you could catch a glimpse of this otherworldly stuff while still in the "lycanthrope curse" part of the game's plot and be thoroughly perplexed. It's by far my favorite thing about Bloodborne.
My second favorite would be the complexity and variance of the game's bosses and regions, which I'll obviously leave for the Bosswatch series. The next favorite? How the new weapon system works. The trick weapons are designed to be versatile: they were created for multiple purposes, after all, with each having a quick and finesse-focused "standard" version for skilled humanoid opponents and a brutal and slow "large" version for any giant lumbering creatures the hunters might face. When equipped with a weapon in its standard form, the player can mix up their strategies with a firearm that does very little damage but effectively stuns opponents and leaves them vulnerable for the melee attacks that follow. Most hunter NPCs you meet are secretly weapon tutorials in disguise: you'll probably see one for every weapon type in the game, whether they're an actual boss or just a particularly difficult one-and-done adversary while exploring, and they all fight as if they were "black phantom" human players invading your game. By carefully watching the way they run rings around you, you understand the strengths of their particular trick weapon/firearm loadout. It's a clever system that offers a depth of strategic options with a single weapon alone, and the weapons and armor of the game are designed to be of value on a contextual basis rather than the RPG standard series of giving the player increasingly more powerful gear: each weapon has the potential to be the deadliest in the right hands, and every set of armor offers a different mix of strengths and weaknesses that aren't so far apart stats-wise that the player is free to wear whatever pleases them most aesthetically.
Heck, I even appreciate how the game's primary strategic combat option is a reckless assault. Due to the regain system, in which the player can recover lost health by repeatedly attacking enemies before the health bar drains, they're usually better off lunging at opponents in a retaliatory fashion than taking the hit and backing off to lick their wounds. It's a significant departure to the cautious playstyle that is so often the key to winning difficult boss battles in prior games, and as a disciple of the Jeff Gerstmann School of Blocking is Boring I like that Bloodborne seems to prefer those who play on its, and my own, specific wavelength. It ties into the game's whole bestial curse angle quite nicely too: that in order to survive in this world, you have to be as vicious and bloodthirsty as the monsters you're exterminating. That for all the extraterrestrial wisdom and sinister machinations of the Great Ones, none are able to withstand a particularly pissed-off hunter with a giant axe forever, no matter how many balls of energy or psychic projections they throw at them. Makes you proud to be a violent, barely-evolved ape in the cosmic scheme of things.
That's going to do it for this week's Sunday Summaries. Thanks for reading, and I hope to spread out the net a little next week and give you all more to read about besides thousand-word Bloodborne rants.