It's Sunday once again, and the last one of February. As we approach the end of the month, I'm in a mild panic (really mild) about the fact that I've done nothing but play Bloodborne this month. I mean, I've done plenty of other non-video game stuff too, but I started this year with a sizeable PS4 backlog courtesy of an ill-advised spending spree and some generous relatives, and I half suspected it would run out by March or April and I could start focusing on this year's releases. That's what the typically slow January and February months are for, after all: catching up on all the previous year's GOTY nominations and winners while the industry slowly shrugs itself awake and starts putting out the new year's GOTY-worthy games. Let me tell ya: I've barely scratched the pile. Fallout 4, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate and Bloodborne are complete, with another six (actually seven: I may have bought Final Fantasy Type-0 HD recently) to go.
Obviously, this is the firstest of first-world problems. Perhaps problem was the wrong word to use. Either way, I'll still be chipping away at this pile for probably the first half of 2016 at least and there are definitely worse fates. Next up is Tearaway Unfolded, followed by either The Witcher 3 or MGSV. Both of those are going to take an immense amount of time to complete with my oft remarked-upon compulsive infirmity, so I'll have to choose very carefully and judiciously. Good thing I have a coin I can flip.
In other happenings this week, I've perhaps unwisely spent the time after beating Bloodborne either revisiting it briefly for its last trophy - more on that in the game-specific section to follow - and watching an LP of same. I dunno what it is about wanting to immediately consume a well-regarded piece of media again so soon albeit in a slightly different format, but Bloodborne and Souls games in general are perfect for LPs because so much of the game is down to personal preference in terms of equipment loadouts, character progression and combat strategies, and so much of its lore and plotting is up to interpretation. I could watch another Bloodborne LP right now - our own Bradley Shoemaker's quest for the Platinum trophy is particularly tempting - and see a completely different take on the game. I've no immediate desire to play through the game again myself, especially with Dark Souls III so close on the horizon, but I like it enough to subject myself to it a few more times in a more passive context. I sometimes wonder if LPers are so popular because their core audiences of teenagers and children are rarely able to afford new games and plumb for the next best thing, but that's probably a little reductive: there's too many odd little situations like the above where a game could feasibly be more fun to watch than to play, if only after playing through it fully yourself.
Enough whining about the backlog; let's see what we can add to it this week.The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD makes its debut this Friday, following in the likes of Wind Waker HD, Ocarina of Time 3D and Majora's Mask 3D. Which is essentially the same as saying, "we ran out of the good ones to HD-ify, so here's Twilight Princess". Twilight Princess has its own colorful and bizarre distinctive style, perhaps taking a page from how well-received the darker and weirder Majora's Mask and Link's Awakening games were received, but it's more unsettling (in a bad way) than anything. The character designs are really off-putting, the wolf combat and traversal is less satisfying than the suspiciously similar Okami from earlier the same year and there's not a whole lot of additions to the game that really set it apart from the other, better Zelda games. It's worth playing if you haven't before - that's a blanket statement that applies to all single-player Zeldas - but I wonder if Nintendo couldn't get around to HD-ifying some other legacy first-party games if they're that set on prettying up their back catalog. Luigi's Mansion HD, perhaps, or up-rezzing the first two Pikmin games to look as good as Pikmin 3 and the upcoming (hopefully soon) Pikmin 4. Man, a version of series peak Pikmin 2 that looked as fantastic as the gorgeous but otherwise disappointing Pikmin 3? That'd be the perfect "best of both worlds" combo.
In other release news this week, we have the 3DS JRPG Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale. PoPoLoCrois is either a fantasy universe based on the manga series by Yohsuke Tamori, or a French-Canadian rap song about double-crossing the cops. I played one of the earlier PoPoLoCrois games on PSP, but I think I dropped out after a while. Maybe it was too generic, and given that I can't remember much about it I'm sure that was the case. It sounds like this new one might have tweaked the formula a little, adding some Harvest Moon elements to the usual RPGing, which means it might qualify as one of my beloved Hybrid Dungeoncrawlers: the sort of game that ably combines RPG dungeon-crawling with some other game mode as a cooldown buffer that feeds back into the dungeoneering in some way, as was the case with PS2 bangers Persona 4 and Dark Cloud 2. There's also PS4 releases for one-joke action game Broforce and the French murder mystery and hand-mangling adventure game Heavy Rain. I'm particularly excited about one specific game coming out one week from today that I'll cover in the next Sunday Summaries: let's just say it features farmyard animals, platforming and a whole lot of antagonization.
Remember last week when I talked about how this next NES mini-project would just come and go without a fuss? Maybe you didn't. I mean, it's kind of a stretch to assume anyone's following one guy's wiki editing adventures. But that's why we're here, so let's talk about going back to the Nintendo Entertainment System (and its Japanese equivalent the Famicom) and ensuring its 1986 library is entirely accounted for.
The inspiration for working on the wiki came from one Dr. Sparkle and his Chrontendo series of chronological NES/Famicom game retrospectives. I've talked about that series often enough, so I probably don't need to elucidate further beyond once again telling everyone to check it out if they have a few hours free. However, that means the early years of the NES was where I first started out, and because of my neophyte status I was fairly sloppy in my execution. Actually, it wasn't so much sloppy as half-assed: I avoided doing anything particularly challenging or time-consuming because I wasn't as fully (maybe even scarily) invested in the wiki as I am today.
Which means I didn't anticipate that i'd need to create six new pages for missing games I'd chosen to ignore the first time around, nor that I'd have so many skeleton "stub" pages to fill in because they seemed like too much effort at the time. After this first week of ticking off what I thought was a meager list of eighty or so mostly-complete NES game pages that just needed a few header images and screenshot tags, I'm barely through half of them because of the extra work I'd left myself to do. Still, at least it makes me glad that I thought to go back and check. I'm also relieved about that GameCenter CX project I took on a year ago too: many of the NES games from 1986 also appeared on that show, which meant that I could skip past them.
SNES '95 is definitely the next project. I'm running out of excuses to put it off, and I prefer working with the SNES over the PC Engine for various reasons anyway. These '86 NES games might take another week at least, though...
Having exhausted almost everything else about the game, and given their focus when trying to acquire the last time-consuming trophy of the game, let's discuss Bloodborne's Chalice Dungeons in more detail. Specifically, the mechanics, their role and perhaps a little "Bosswatch Extra" for the Chalice-exclusive bosses that can be encountered down here.
First, let's talk about what a Chalice Dungeon actually is. In Bloodborne, you'll occasionally earn "Chalice" items and Chalice resource items from defeating optional bosses and exploration. When one of these Chalices is placed on one of six special gravestones in the Hunter's Dream - the player's hub location for upgrades and fast-travel - with the right amount of special resources to activate them a Chalice dungeon appears. This gravestone then acts as the others do: a warp that sends you to a new area. Each Chalice dungeon is created from composite parts: these might involve generic corridors and treasure rooms to slightly more elaborate sewer structures and multi-layer halls. There's also four specific "templates": the catacomb-esque Pthumeru, implied to be the ruins directly under the game's setting of Yharnam and the source of most of Byrgenwerth and the Healing Church's "discoveries"; the Hintertombs, a similar location far north of Yharnam; Loran, which is a region older than Yharnam that nonetheless was destroyed by the same beast curse; and Isz, which resembles Pthumeru but with a much stronger link to the Great Ones and their alien flora and fauna.
Each Chalice creates a dungeon of a certain Depth and layer count. Both are actually separate considerations: layers simply refer to how many floors that specific dungeon has, while Depth refers to how far beneath the Earth the dungeon is and corresponds to its level of challenge. A depth 4 dungeon with three layers, then, is a dungeon with three boss cycles that is of a high (four out of five) difficulty. Another important point is the difference between a standard Chalice Dungeon and a Root Chalice Dungeon: the former have fixed environments, bosses and boss fight rewards, while the latter randomizes both the dungeons and the bosses you'll encounter. Most of the items you'll earn will be other Chalices and Chalice Dungeon materials, which often means that the reward for completing one Chalice Dungeon is the means to reach the next one. So why bother?
Well, there's at least two good reasons. The first is to reach the very last Chalice Dungeon of the Pthumeru line, which contains the game's toughest optional boss (which is, of course, somewhat subjective; at least the toughest in terms of stats, let's say) and one who has some importance to Bloodborne's lore as well as the game's most hard-fought trophy. The second reason is that these dungeons provide a lot of valuable consumables, weapon upgrade materials and the game's soul echo currency. In this regard, Chalice Dungeons are generally considered to be worthwhile alternatives to grinding/farming blood echoes and blood vials in previously explored locations when you find yourself in desperate need, usually as a result of a particularly difficult story boss becoming a roadblock.
Chalice Dungeons themselves can be a bit samey too, though, which is why just as many Bloodborne players ignore them. Each floor of every Chalice Dungeon requires that you explore the environment to find a lever which opens the route to the boss. In the hallways just before and after this "core" part of the dungeon, you can also find doors that lead to optional areas that end with treasure. You're most likely to find Chalice materials this way, though you might also find an alternative model of a weapon: these alternatives don't have better stats, but do let you use different buffing "blood gems" which could give you the edge depending on your character development. If you have an Arcane-focused build, for example, there's a specific shape of blood gem (triangle) that usually offers better Arcane buffs - some weapons won't have blood gem slots of this shape, but a Chalice Dungeon alternative might.
Many of a Chalice Dungeon's bosses are repeats too, either story bosses in a new arena with better stats or Chalice Dungeon rematches, but here's a selection of bosses that stand out a little:
- I covered the Undead Giant, Merciless Watchers and Watchdog of the Old Lords in the first episode of Bosswatch.
- Keepers of the Old Lord are regular enemies that also appear as bosses: they're essentially fire-based hunters, though are fortunately not quite as fast as other NPC hunters. In fact, there's one in the Defiled Pthumeru dungeon - a Depth 4 that's the hardest non-Root dungeon in the game because it permanently sticks you at half health - that was super challenging for a very long time until I realized the limitations of its AI. The Keeper will stroll towards you and then swipe, or use a close combustion fire attacks that does insane damage: however, you can exploit this small walk into range by charging up a devastating R2 attack and hitting them as soon as they're in range before they can pull off their own. Keepers are probably a bigger problem in the dungeons as regular enemies, if only because they're flanked by two difficult werewolf enemies at all times.
- The singular Isz Chalice Dungeon offers rematches against three Great Ones: a slightly tougher version of the regular mindflayer enemy, the Celestial Emissary (now without his minions) and a stronger version of Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos. Despite being a lot stronger, the first two are simple bosses to figure out and Ebrietas still has all the same tricks to watch out for. It takes a little longer to hack her apart this time, but there's nothing new about the fight to surprise you. Rom the Vacuous Spider and Amygdala also make reappearances in other dungeons, and have a similar disadvantage in that you've defeated them before and know how to do it again.
- The Bloodletting Beast is a variant on the Cleric Beast. It's not quite so noisy, but it's a large foe that you should maneuver around when it's slashing the air for a critical back attack. The bigger problem is the Abhorrent Beast, who is a much stronger version of a specific "wolf in Grandma's clothing" NPC who tries to trick you into directing him towards other survivors so that he may eat them. The player can choose to ignore this NPC or send them to a grisly fate in the "fake" sanctuary, or they can try to murder him then and there and deal with the beast form it transforms into. If you happened to miss that battle, he reappears as the first Loran dungeon's strongest boss. It's definitely not an easy fight though: he has the speed and cunning of a hunter as well as the strength and size of a beast, making him both difficult to evade and to overpower.
- The Pthumerian Descendant (and his pyromancer caster variant, the Pthumerian Elder) is a large humanoid foe that doesn't quite fight like a NPC hunter, but has a similar focus on speed and skill. He uses a pair of short blades that can be thrown like boomerangs, making his range unpredictable, and will often make huge jumps or unexpectedly quick forward lunges that recalls something like Ornstein (a.k.a. Old Dragonslayer) of the Dark Souls games. Bloodborne deliberately makes its more human opponents, like the NPC hunters and bosses like Father Gascoigne, act the same devious way a human invader might, but at the same time the game clearly still wanted to find a place for a few humanoid opponents that displayed superhuman abilities, like Martyr Logarius and the Pthumerians here.
- Yharnam, Pthumerian Queen is the big important optional boss at the end of the last Chalice Dungeon, and the legendary former Queen of the ancient civilization that once inhabited the same region that Yharnam now resides. Yharnam was even named after her, as might be apparent. She's also the mysterious figure in the bridal dress that the player spots at several key moments of the game's story, such as the advent of the blood moon and before the boss fight with Mergo's Wet Nurse. It's implied that she was pregnant with a Great One during Pthumeru's own apocalyptic version of the blood moon event, and has some link with Mergo and the other Great Ones threatening Yharnam. She apparently refuses to stay dead, in a similar vein to Final Fantasy X's various undead superbosses, and fights you like a powered-up version of the female ghosts from Castle Cainhurst. Specifically, her attacks all revolve around her venomous blood and a vicious looking dagger. There's a few stages to this fight, including the old Souls favorite of fake clones to distract you, and she gets progressively dirtier (literally: her white dress with the single bloodstain becomes more and more bedraggled) and more dangerous as her health drops. It's a great and challenging boss fight worth seeing through, though given the amount of work that is required to get there I can see why it wouldn't be for everyone.
That's going to do it for this edition of Sunday Summaries. Be sure to check in next week for February's Comic Commish, released at the very last possible hour most likely, a new list and some thoughts on Ys Origin and Tearaway Unfolded. Until then, folks.