Saturday Summaries 2018-05-26: Prepare to Die Edition

The release of Dark Souls Remastered this week has me thinking about that series again, as well as its many imitators. It's one of those franchises where its appeal is difficult to communicate to the uninitiated; after all, the game industry has been slowly moving beyond the idea of harsh fail states or the repetition of content you've already seen before you can make further progress. Even graphically the series can be fairly drab at times with its muted colors and recurring textures, though it can sure produce a stunning vista on occasion. The way Demon's Souls and later Dark Souls took off in such a major way probably still confounds those who have stayed well enough away after hearing their fearsome reputations, or bounced off them relatively early in once they realized the grind they were in for.

Anyone know if the remaster still has the secret pizza mode?
Anyone know if the remaster still has the secret pizza mode?

I'm not going to proselytize the series and try to convert people into Warriors of Sunlight today. However, I will say that the first Dark Souls remains my favorite game in the series (with the sorta related Bloodborne in close second) because it has the best world design, in terms of the way everything is connected, and a memorable selection of bosses and challenging sequences, as well perhaps the best balance of harsh difficulty that you can nonetheless learn from with an open enough mind and a certain degree of tenacity. Whether it's because they left an impression or because I had to repeat them about a dozen times each, I still remember the entire game's progression and world map like the back of my hand, as well as all the tricks and hidden areas and best weapons. It's a game that means a lot to me, and no doubt spurred me on to complete its two (slightly) inferior sequels.

However, I've yet to really explore the world of Souls beyond the Souls games themselves. Dark Souls inspired a lot of developers to add its particular variant of perma-death where the opportunity to recover what you lost exists, provided you can make it to where you last perished. Or they incorporate the sort of non-linear world design that might have you wandering into areas far too high level - a world design conceit that has existed in RPGs for a very long time, at least as far back as Ultima and Might & Magic. There's no doubt been several games to adopt the idea of having a certain precious commodity, lost upon death, as the sole means to level up or purchase new items. Yet, there's been a small few that have not only copied the Souls formula almost verbatim but have also done their darndest to recreate the oppressive atmosphere of exploring a harsh world of death and decay: the true "Souls-likes" of the world.

The examples I can recall off the top of my head include: Salt and Sanctuary, Lords of the Fallen, The Surge, and Nioh. There's a few edge cases like Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight (which definitely has a similar atmosphere), Hyper Light Drifter (whose top-down battle system adopts a lot of similar real-time tactical considerations), and Necropolis (which is sort of a "roguelite" take on the concept), which have more of a passing familiarity but are also aiming for slightly different things. Of that original list of four, I've only had the opportunity to play the first, though I've been sitting on a copy of Nioh for a few months now and I've been curious about The Surge for a while as a sci-fi variant of the concept. Souls fever hasn't really abated since 2011, when the first Dark Souls was originally released, and it's only picked up recently again with the remaster and the way everyone is all aquiver about incoming information on the new FromSoftware game teased last E3. It's certainly inspiring me to finally pick up Nioh over the Summer, but I wonder how much more life that particular construct has in it - though it's fair to say that every time I thought I figured I'd be done with that formula, a subsequent entry offers something exciting and new to draw me back in like a lamb to the slaughter.

Talking of exciting and new, and also killing things, it's time to check out the week's blogging:

  • The Indie Game of the Week this time was Kathy Rain, a traditional point and click adventure game with a few notable inspirations and a few tricks of its own. Following the titular self-reliant, crime-solving student in a personal adventure that involves the family on her father's side, the game keeps things simple by giving the player an unseen number of objectives to complete in each day of the game's chronology, but still has time for a lot of set-dressing and levity. The puzzles aren't too challenging, and the voice acting and writing are generally excellent. It's a short game, but definitely one of the better titles to come out of this recent Indie adventure resurgence.
  • Garflink has finally finished his quest and can enjoy a peaceful catnap in the Altered Hyrule produced by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past randomizer. Episode X: Old Hazing Poll: Taste The Naked Feet sees the crabby tabby tie up all the loose ends for a full item set before taking down Ganon and completing the game. I also tossed in a bonus episode of the ALTTP randomizer, Episode Ys: Fleshpot Glitz: Needed a Tenth Koala, which took a hard side glance at the randomizer's terrifying "Key-sanity" mode with Ys Origin's Yunica Tovah in the lead. Dunno if I want to fully chronicle that one in blog form, but it's sure provided its own assortment of challenges so far.
  • We also had three more entries in May Maturity this week. Starting with the Ultima Underworld II Outro last weekend, which extols the various merits of II's alternative worlds and the franchise-wide character progression system's versatility, we then moved onto an Intro and an Outro for The Feeble Files: an adventure game from the late 90s that suffers from the same strain that the whole genre was going through at the time, losing sight of the appeal of adventure games for the sake of bigger and emptier settings and more experimental features. The Intro blog for what will no doubt be the final game of May Maturity should be going up shortly after this edition of Saturday Summaries.

Addenda

Movie: Drive Angry (2011)

Amber Heard seen here with a wiry, strung-out looking dude who treats her like trash the whole time they're together.
Amber Heard seen here with a wiry, strung-out looking dude who treats her like trash the whole time they're together.

I've been following the Nic Cage season of "Film & 40s" as best as I've been able with the current streaming services (and a substantial DVD collection built during a certain period in my life that feels like eons ago) available to me, but Drive Angry - which won Alex Navarro's Twitter poll tournament for the sole "audience selection" choice - was one that I hadn't had access to until recently, and was also one I hadn't seen before. Wisely, and correctly, ascertaining that I wouldn't get lost by watching it with subtitles and the Beasters' commentary, I'm glad to have patched another gap in my Cage filmography. Of course, there's still Vampire's Kiss and The Wicker Man left to go, but all in good time.

A movie about a guy who escapes Hell to enact vengeance on the cult leader that killed and mutilated his daughter resembles something from the late 90s and early 00s, back when we had Satanist-heavy B-movies like End of Days and Constantine and Blade and Vinny favorite Doomsday to contend with every other month. The movie also looks and sounds like it was made ten years earlier, with its metal soundtrack, copious nudity, really bad facial hair, and dollar store 3D special effects. However, there's something about the way Cage fully embraces his ridiculous role as an angry dad coming back from the Abyss to wreak havoc on Earth in a muscle car, as well as William Fichtner's equally entertaining turn as a poised, supernatural "accountant" of Hell, who is clearly having a whale of a time causing chaos and bloodshed wherever his "Hell fugitive" investigation takes him. Superfluous details like a "godkiller" pistol that negates souls completely like something out of Spawn, or calling the main character "John Milton" which isn't so much on the nose but up the nose along with all the rest of the cocaine in the writers' room, just adds to the film's half-assed approach to a mythos it could potentially build on in subsequent entries of the "Drive Angry" franchise, each of which would presumably involve Nic Cage deciding to take yet another sabbatical from endless torment because something Earthside got his dander up.

It's a really stupid but marginally entertaining movie; not the thing I usually have any patience for these days, but certainly watchable in the context of having a few friends (or, in this case, a few knuckleheads from the internet) there beside you mocking the figurative Hell out of its strange decisions. Had it been released five years earlier, closer to the era in which it probably belongs, I'd almost certainly still have a £3 DVD of it lying around somewhere with the hundreds of others I've impulsively purchased.

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