I wrapped up The Ringed City expansion for Dark Souls III a couple of days ago, but I wanted to think on it a bit before writing a post about it.
So, the good, because that’s a great place to start: It’s a beautiful piece of fan service, with some throwbacks to earlier games in the series and some of the best environments from any of the Souls games, and the new enemies are wonderfully nasty and fun to fight. One of my deaths was to a big nasty who swings at you multiple times with a giant machete-cleaver thing (I dodged all of these), then jumps into the air and lands hindquarters-first on the poor player who is just patting themselves on the back for dodging all of the sharp-edged nastiness being thrown their way.
Yes, I got killed by a butt. I’m not even mad.
It also sets up the series beautifully for a you-don’t-need-to-call-it-a-sequel followup. To keep this vague for anyone who hasn’t played it yet, when you kill the last boss you get an <item> and you give the <item> to an <NPC> who you have met and <NPC> tells you that they will use it to make a new world… and unless that new world is actually the Hunter’s Dream (this is a fairly popular fan theory), it is very likely that From is foreshadowing something there.
So, setting that aside, there were a couple of reasons I did not immediately rush to my keyboard and start raving about the expansion as soon as the end boss ate sand:
One: In the very first section of the expansion, there are flying angel dudes that fire orbital laser cannons of doom at you the instant you step out of cover, and they do this until you find the secret way to kill them. This got old very quickly, and it’s one of the very first experiences you are likely to have in the expansion so it sets something of a bad tone.
Two: I really disliked two of the mandatory bosses. The “Spear of the Church” boss was amazing, and I did not mind the four or five times I died in that room. That was the middle boss. The first and third bosses, on the other hand… well, the first was a fun throwback to Ornstein and Smough, in that you fight two guys, and then based on which one you kill first you fight a super powered up guy.
The difference is, when you fight O&S, there is very clear feedback as to the result of killing one of the other first, and it’s obvious that it makes a difference. With this boss, I never got the hint and it wasn’t until I summoned another player who killed the RIGHT guy first that I understood that there was a right order and a wrong order to kill them in… and now I really want to go back and do the fight over knowing the trick, but of course this is a Souls game and bosses don’t respawn.
The final boss was just, well, he made it really obvious that From did not want you playing pure casters in Dark Souls III. I had struggled with several of the bosses in the first game – notably Aldrich, who was massively magic-resistant and who I only beat by grinding up enough levels of Faith that I could equip a low-level fire pyromancy – just because I had terrible trouble finding openings to get a spell off in between dodging, but fighting the final DLC boss made those fights look ever so fair and balanced. I could not get a cast in without being skewered and thrown across the arena, and that made for some very nasty brutish and short fights.
So, a couple of sour points that really took away from the rest of my experience with the game, though to be fair I really should have respecced away from an all-in-on-INT character ages ago so I don’t know if I should really be blaming the game or just blaming my own stubbornness.
For the record, AFTER finishing the DLC, I decided to play around with a “Quality” build (STR/DEX based, with very little in casting stats), and that was… easier? Sort of, anyway. I bonfired to Anor Londo and tried a few different weapons (straight swords, greatswords, a couple of spears) against the first couple of knights, and I killed them a few times and they killed me a few times. It was not going great.
Then I had a bit of an epiphany and started looking at axes, considering I’d just played WAY too many hours of Bloodborne using almost nothing but the Hunter’s Axe. It turns out that the Millwood Battle Axe, from the first DLC, has a move set that is beautifully similar to the 1-hand Hunter’s Axe, and when I took THAT to Anor Londo and slapped the knights around, it was a much more one-sided affair in my favor. It turns out that being ridiculously familiar with the timing and reach of a weapon is the biggest advantage you can have.
So, if you’re coming from Bloodborne, I strongly recommend that bad boy make its way into your arsenal.
Oh, and The Ringed City was pretty good with a couple of low points. I probably could have left this post at that, but I like to put more words in.
Started the second and final Dark Souls III DLC, “The Ringed City” and it’s pretty amazing so far. If this is really the final series outing, it’s my opinion that it’s going out on a high note, especially once you reach the titular city. It is massive and gorgeous and teases you with all kinds of just-out-of-reach vistas, and it cheerfully and repeatedly kills you for just walking down its streets.
Let’s talk about one of the ways it kills you, because it was a lot of fun.
If you’ve never played any of the Souls games, they have a mechanic where you can consume an item that gives you a higher maximum health, but also opens you up to invasion by other players. Even if you never do this, the game will occasionally throw an NPC invader at you. They’re not typically too hard to beat but they’re definitely a cut above the rest of the non-boss enemies.
Anyway, I’m exploring The Ringed City, and one of these NPC invaders spawns and gets a really good set of hits in on me and sends me back to the last bonfire. Now, at this point I had been exploring for some while and had built up a lot of souls, so I snuck my way back to the bloodstain with invisibility, recovered my souls and got the message that I was being invaded again almost immediately.
Not wanting to deal with this a second time, I elected to run along and keep exploring the – rather sizable – city and its immediate surroundings. I actually wound up forgetting about the invader until I found the next bonfire, lit it, and wasn’t able to rest.
So, I turned around and started retracing my steps, figuring that I’d run into this guy at some point, get killed again probably, but have a much shorter run back to the bloodstain from the new bonfire.
One more thing about NPC invaders: they play fair. They take environmental damage just as a player would, and in fact often the best way to deal with them is to kick them off somewhere high.
So when I finally found the one that had invaded me, well, apparently he’d been walking off a lot of cliffs or through lava or something because he was beat all to hell. I almost felt shame for killing him with a couple of clicks of the Great Heavy Soul Arrow button.
I bought the Season Pass for Dark Souls III ages ago, but now that both DLC packs are out it’s time to give them a go. Naturally enough, Ashes of Ariandel came first.
So let’s do this!
YAY SNOW! So pretty. Hey, big dudes to fight. With spears. And a lot of wolves. Suddenly Tiffany, the Ashen One, Linker of the Flame and Slayer of Beasts is a sad girl in snow.
Round two. More cautious now. Dudes, wolves, no problem, this is DID THAT TREE JUST LOOK AT ME OH GOD I’M ON FIRE.
Round three! Hidden Body + Great Heavy Soul Arrow makes short work of everything including the evil trees. More dudes, some falling off things, some bigger dudes with more wolves and I Wonder What’s In That Tower?
(There was a learning experience in the tower. For the sake of brevity I will omit several more learning experiences)
OK, cool church thing. Guy outside tells me to go in and say hi. Naturally I go and spend all of my souls before coming back. Turns out it wasn’t a trap! The chick inside isn’t very friendly, though, but at least she doesn’t try to kill me.
Leave. Lots of comments right at the end of the bridge. Succumb to curiosity and look up what they mean. Ooooh, secrets!
(More learning experiences.)
OK, it’s a guy with a couple of wolves. Hey, now it’s a guy with one BIG wolf. Wait, we’re done? That was a boss? Well, dang, if that’s as hard as this is going to get this is going to be a piece of cake!
(In which I wander through most of the rest of the DLC, dying often.)
OK, we’re back in the cathedral and it’s time for the final boss fight. I die. That was expected. A couple more deaths, though, and I feel like I’m starting to get it down.
Wife wanders in and asks me what I’m doing. I explain that I’m playing something called Ashes of Ariandel. She immediately asks me if I didn’t mean Arendelle. I groan. I go back to fighting the boss. Boss kills me again. Wife tells me that I should “let it go.”
…I probably deserved that.
Finally I kill the boss, who immediately respawns as TWO bosses. This kills me a few more times.
Finally I give in and use the NPC summon near the fog gate, and this makes the two boss part super trivial. Woo! Time for loot!
…or, maybe not. Time for a third stage. Well, how hard can OW
Well, that was a learning experience for sure, and I have the first couple of phases down so how bad could this be?
A few more runs and I regret asking that question. I pull out the old white summon stone and sunbro it up a couple of times just so I can reassure myself that this boss CAN be killed.
At this point, I’m glowering at the screen, the clock has long since ticked past 3 AM, and I’m done being Ms. Nice Ember. I summon a couple of sunbros of my very own, we all trot down into the fog gate, and Elsa takes a long-earned dirt nap.
Next up – off to the Ringed City!
So, if you were ever active in trading around videotapes of obscure TV shows or anime, you’re probably familiar with the idea of generation loss – the idea that, the farther away from the original source you get, the less the image on your new copy resembles the original.
This weekend was spent clearing out my backlog of all remaining games from the Saturn/PS1 generation, and going back to early 3D titles has been a somewhat painful affair. The generation loss, in this case, is that they looked so much better in my memory and some of them ought to have stayed there.
But I digress.
At any rate, after finishing up all of my remaining Saturn mahjong games, I was left with a dozen or so PS1 and Saturn titles, and I gave all of them a spin for a few minutes to decide which I would actually put effort into and which were going to be going directly to the eBay pile with no further shame.
This left me with GunGriffon (Saturn) and Silent Hill (PS1) – so let’s talk about those games.
GunGriffon is a first-person mech shooter that features some of the best-feeling giant robot movement I’ve ever experienced, and it’s something of a miracle that the game STILL feels good 20 years after it was released. You’re piloting a big hunk of metal, and it feels at once very responsive to your controls and yet still bound by the rules of, you know, gravity and physics and all of those buzzkills.
Mind you, I don’t imagine there’s any particularly sophisticated math behind it. This predates “physics engines” by quite some while. It also doesn’t do very much with collisions. Really, what stands out is the way your mech accelerates and decelerates, and how frustrating it can make it to go up against swarms of small and fast-moving enemies – they’re no threat to you, you can blow them away with little-to-no-effort… if they’d just, you know, hold still.
I’m not selling this, I can tell.
Anyway, it made it through the “let’s give it 10 minutes and see if I’ll put some real effort into it” culling phase, and then I started trying to actually beat the thing.
There are eight story missions. It doesn’t have a ton of content. In theory, if you know what you’re doing, it is a terribly quick play-through.
I wound up bouncing off mission four like a coyote mistaking a painted-on train tunnel for the real thing. It wasn’t because the enemies were particularly difficult to kill, or that they were doing all that good of a job at killing ME, but I couldn’t tell precisely what the objective of the whole thing was supposed to be and I kept dying to a 10 minute time limit on the mission. Furthermore, it’s an old enough game – and was never particularly popular in the first place – that there are no walkthroughs online. I did find a recording of a streamer playing through the game, and he played up until the fourth mission and then failed due to running out of time.
Five attempts at mission four, with five GAME OVER due to running out of time, and it wound its way to the goodbye pile.
So then there was one, and the ONE in this case was Silent Hill, a game with a fantastic pedigree and a lot of anticipation to live up to. I’ve played five other games in the series, and (with the exception of one or two puzzles and the escort-mission second half of Silent Hill 4) enjoyed all of them.
The original, though… well, there’s brilliance there, and it made a tremendous foundation for the sequels, but actually getting through the granddaddy of them all was a bit of a slog. I had to resort to a spoiler-free walkthrough from a very early point, and I don’t feel at all bad about it considering how obtuse some of the puzzle solutions were and how easy it is to get lost when you’re wandering around the terribly low-polygon version of the world’s worst resort getaway destination.
It’s done, anyway, and that wraps up the Silent Hill games for me AND clears out my console backlog of everything published during the 1990s and before. I have a handful of PS2 games and one last GBA game still sitting there from THAT generation, but that’s a challenge for another time.
Another day, another decades-old strip mahjong game off the backlog.
So a bit of a historical note here – there was not a lot of software available when the Saturn launched in North America. It never did terribly well, but that first summer was an absolute game drought. It turns out that launching a system five months earlier than everyone is expecting is an awful idea.
Anyway, lacking domestic software, I turned to imports, and the first imported Saturn game I owned was a mahjong game from the Suchie-Pai series. Not that I understood the RULES of mahjong, mind you, but it was something that I could play on my new $400 videogame console and there were cute girls in it.
So I have a soft spot for the series and have accumulated a fair bit of the associated merch – of which there’s been quite a bit, from artbooks and drama CDs to a 2-episode OVA series that was kind of painful to watch.
Anyway. Getting back to the actual topic of today, I’d never actually played through the entire story mode of Suchie-Pai II, so that’s the task I set myself.
Anyone who was a fan of Bubblegum Crisis or Gall Force will pretty much instantly recognize Kenichi Sonoda character designs, especially as Suchie-Pai herself (front and center, above) is pretty much the same Main Heroine Character design he used in quite a few versions of the Gall Force series. Lemon-Pai (did I mention they mostly have pie-themed pun names?) down in the bottom right is basically a Xerox copy of Lufy as well.
The plot – and there IS a plot! – is that one of the gang gets kidnapped…
…and Suchie-Pai heads off to rescue her. Along the way, you need to recruit other characters to join your cause, which naturally is done through the aggressive application of mahjong. They join you on the mahjong table as a cute little SD cheering section.
And they also provide power ups. The pink-haired magical girl in the middle, for example, can occasionally expose additional tiles in the dora pile and really boost your score at the end of a hand…
…trust me, that dora 9 was NOT earned honestly.
Anyway, while you first recruit your companions by playing mahjong, you need to then unlock their powered-up forms, which is done both through getting good hands and through the traditional Suchie-Pai panel match game. Get all of your buddies fully charged up and you get a better ending:
Anyway, eventually you meet Shiho, the girl whose unceremonious abduction was the casus belli for this whole adventure, and she’s… well, she’s not doing so well. Nobody in their right minds has eyes like this:
Turns out she’s been brainwashed into marrying someone against her will, and the only way to get her back to normal is to mahjong that wedding dress right off.
I have played a fair bit of mahjong against other humans, as an aside, and I have never had it blow the clothes off anyone. I suspect that the developers are taking some liberties with regards to the physics of the game.
Freed from her trance, you are confronted by an EVIL NUN:
But, of course, after you beat said nun, you have to go one-on-one with her again, this time in her TRUE FORM:
…it strikes me that the Japanese have some very interesting ideas about Catholicism.
Anyway, this final boss cheats like mad. I’m not just being salty here, either – one of the benefits about playing Saturn games through SSF is that I can take save states and play the exact same hand of tiles several times in a row and I guarantee you that the final boss will quite frequently just get given hands that straight-up win within the first three tiles and there is not a thing you can do about it.
Oh, and she can also re-cover the panel match game, undoing all of your progress there. She’s a nasty piece of work, is the point here, but one that eventually fell to the might of unlimited continues. I may have, in the spirit of complete disclosure, pointed a finger at the screen and said “BAM” when I finally got the winning hand I needed to complete the game.
So, final summation, I think that Idol Mahjong Final Romance 4 is probably the best of the mahjong games I’ve played on the Saturn, but this one wasn’t far behind. It has really good production values, with lots of animation and a chipper opening song to get you really pumped to start flipping tiles. It also has one of the best song NAMES in recent memory so it gets some extra credit there:
Sung by Kanai Mika, who I will always think of as the little witch girl Yadamon but who you may remember more for her work on Sailor Moon S where she played the main villain. Also she was in some show about “catching them all” or some such nonsense.
I am coming near the end of my mahjong game collection, but there’s a few in there yet that need to be played and lightly made fun of. Please look forward to it. 🙂
It turned out that, when I stopped playing Bloodborne last night, I was literally at the last lamp before Orphan of Kos and had unlocked the elevator shortcut to get to him. He was also one of the two bosses in the expansion that I killed on the first go, so let’s hear it for being over-leveled.
Laurence, the First Vicar – the optional boss – was a) less of a pushover and b) had a really annoying run back to his room, so I was getting a little more frustrated than usual by the time he ate floor. He was super easy to get down to, mmm, about 25% of his life – and I managed that on the very first try, and was prematurely patting myself on the back – which is about the point where he goes into full-on beast mode.
After that, though, there was just a little running around to do to pick up the few weapons I’d missed along the way and I was done.
The sorta-sad thing about the trophies (both in the base game and its expansion) that centered around collecting weapons was that I was collecting them, yes, but hardly ever using any of them. I had upgraded the Hunter’s Axe – the very first weapon I was handed upon starting the game – up to the limit of what it could be upgraded to, and I was just so used to its move set and general punchiness that I never really felt like switching to anything else.
I understand that what I’m SUPPOSED to do now is turn around and restart the game and choose an entirely different build and do it all over again as, oh, maybe a skill-and-bloodtinge-based gunslinger. I also would like to stay married, so I think it’s best to put Bloodborne on the shelf and wistfully think about sequels.
As I may have mentioned from time to time, I am terrible at playing things in a timely fashion – I’m generally waiting for sales, I get distracted easily by shiny objects, sometimes the brain squirrels just tell me to go run back and forth on power lines.
I finally DID start The Old Hunters tonight. And, unsurprisingly, it’s really good. After all of the running around in crowded chalice dungeons as I worked on the last few trophies from the base game, it feels SO nice to be back out under the open (if nightmarish) sky again.
Also I killed a couple of things.
I understand that the last boss of the DLC is a right bastard, and that there’s an optional boss as well, so that will probably represent another night or two of learning when to dodge. Then I’ll be done with Bloodborne, which would be a much more sad thought if there wasn’t a Dark Souls III expansion coming out this week.
Of course, THAT is going to be the end for Souls unless From decides to keep milking the cow. With games selling 3+ million copies, you kind of have to assume they’re going to go back to it sooner or later.
The funny thing about the chalice dungeons – specifically, the “Defiled Chalice” dungeon, which is three levels of sheer frustration – is that they are actually straight-up HARD, in a way that the Souls games generally aren’t. They have this vastly overblown reputation for being Real Man’s Gaming For Manly Men, but there’s nothing preventing you from getting co-op help from other people online or just leveling up and shoving points into vitality until you can soak boss hits. They are pretty much the fairest games I’ve played in my memory.
The Defiled Chalice is not fair. It is here to kill you. You don’t need to go there to finish the game, you don’t need to go there to get any items, there is no reason in the world you need to go in there unless you are trying to be a trophy hound, and it treats trophy hounds like meat. Before I’d played any of the Souls games, it is what I thought the entire series was going to be like.
And, even after 50+ deaths to the very first boss in the Defiled Chalice, I would STILL say it’s worth doing. Maybe not if you have a habit of throwing or snapping controllers, though.