Feb 15 2010

Still going strong…

I was worried that Demon’s Souls would start to loose some traction with me when I got into Star Trek Online and when BioShock 2 came out, but it didn’t.  Just last night I gathered up enough nerve to beat my way through 2-2, the second part of Stonefang Tunnel, and get to the Flamelurker boss, a ridiculously tough boss for anybody, not just magic or ranged users.  He’s like a cross between a giant and an ape and also he is on fire for some reason.

His size is deceptive, because he is wicked fast and will pounce on you at range, so there’s no real safe way to get away from him.  But he has one major advantage to the cheap and the clever: his pathing AI is dumber than a bag of hammers.  So if you position yourself right behind the proper piece of scenery, and he’s in just the right place, and you don’t move too much, and the stars align, he just stays in one place and lets you beat on him.

I died… let’s say about three times but it may have been more than that.  It took that long to get him into a position I figured he’d glitch on, and I was right.  Lucky for me he doesn’t like Soul Arrow very much.

From there the only place to go was to the end of Stonefang Tunnel, where the Dragon God sits.  This guy is so huge he takes up three quarters of the cavern he occupies.  His favorite thing to do is spot trespassing adventurers, roar at them, and then kill them in one hit.  He also has terrible short-term memory.

There are no exceptions: he will kill you.  I’m sure there’s someone online who’s amassed a defense rating that lets him take a hit and keep on living, but that’s okay, says Dragon God, because I hit you more than once several times in a row.  With a claw or a fire breath or a mean comment or two.

The reason why the Dragon God is a comparatively “easy” boss is because you don’t actually fight him directly.  Instead you move from cover to cover (usually you hide behind columns) and if he spots you, you’ve got perhaps two seconds, maybe as little as one, to get back behind cover and his short-term memory issues will kick in and he’ll forget about you.  So you work your way from one end of the map to the other, triggering giant spears at either end to pin him to the ground.

But just in case you might think that was too easy, there’s another wrinkle: several times along your path you’ll be blocked by collapsed rubble that you have to attack to clear away.  Melee hits work great for this, but you’ll be out in the open while you’re hitting them, and maybe it’s possible to get enough attack power to wipe them out in a hurry, but I didn’t have enough, so I had to manually aim my Soul Arrows at them, which is tricky, because you basically fire in the direction you’re facing, so one step wrong and you’ll end up shooting twenty degrees away from where you thought you were aiming, and that mana don’t come cheap.  So in order to save my items, I had to equip some slow regen items and sit there and wait while my mana slowly crept back up.  And the whole time this big God fucker of Dragons is breathing down my neck.

But anyway, I manage to get all the way to the last piece of rubble, and find that it is infuriatingly far away, and up an incline.  So I can’t aim Soul Arrows at it, and even if I could, it’s so far away that they fizzle out before they hit it.  In desperation I run up and start whacking on it with the most powerful weapon I had, and I immediately get turned into charcoal by Up Yours Daddy Dragon.

I came back with ammo for my bow, and dumped 45 arrows into that rubble until it was weak enough so that I could whack it a few less times with my sword and break through to that last spear.  I don’t know how I survived… I’m pretty sure my ass was on fire for a second there.

In total I think I put a new record on deaths, because I must’ve died about twenty times trying to figure that guy out.  I ended up doing the run naked so that I wouldn’t loose durability on my items.  I didn’t have any souls to worry about loosing at that point so I literally just tried any stupid idea I could come up with.  That kind of thing is actually quite liberating in a game this tough.

I’m not sure which level is next for me.  I’m still pissed about loosing 15 large in souls to the boss in 4-1 (pictured above), but now that I’ve killed an “archdemon” I can access 1-3 and rescue a witch there who will sell me spells, which I need.  So maybe I’ll give that a shot.

Feb 9 2010

I hope this doesn’t become an issue…

Continuing to nurse my Demon’s Souls addiction, I sat down today with the mind to throw myself at 3-1, The Tower of Latria.  The thing about World 3 is that there are these “mind flayer” demons walking around that can completely ruin your day if you’re not careful.  Casting a spell like Anti-Magic Field makes them effectively harmless, but I don’t have that spell yet and I won’t be getting it until so late in the game that I decided I should man up and just get in there.

Then I discovered that I could kill a Mind Flayer with three Soul Arrow hits.  Of course, I had to get the drop on the beastie, which meant that I had to either move very carefully or just memorize their patrol routes, both of which are accepted strategies in this game.

Turns out the Tower of Latria has a few difficulties to conquer.  The first is that the level designer knew that you’d be trying to get the jump on these Mind Flayers, so he positioned them in such a way to make that incredibly difficult.  You can hear them coming from a way off, because they ring a little bell they hold, but that sound penetrates walls, so you may not necessarily be hearing one that’s actually close to you.

There are other monsters in the Tower, namely these strange, half-dead people called “Prisoners,” who are incredibly easy to kill, and don’t do much more than moan and run towards you, waving their hands in the air.  They don’t even attack you.  However: again the level designer’s insidious nature shows through, because he puts them in small packs of six or eight and then gives a few of them small daggers and a malicious attitude towards wandering adventurers.  Or hides them in a cell and has them poke out of the bars at you with long spears.

And then, for the hell of it, you run into a giant ball comprised entirely of corpses that shoots laser beams at you.  What fun!

And as if that wasn’t enough, and it never is in this game, the entire level is incredibly easy to get lost in.  Pitfalls that are hard to see in the dark will completely screw up your sense of progression.  A gigantic mechanized ballista that looks like a statue of a priestess will kill you instantly if you walk in front of it.  Although there are literally dozens of bodies in its path, scattered there as though to say: “You may prefer not to walk here just now…”

Just as you’ve cleared all that, you get the privilege of fighting an unnamed Black Phantom character on the steps leading up to a Chapel where the boss waits.  Thankfully there was enough room there so that I could resort to my patented “stab and strafe like a coward” tactic.

But then at last you arrive at the boss.  A strange, floating priestess woman who duplicates herself along the length of a chapel.  Her copies have their own health so you have to take a few shots at each of them before you figure out which is the real one.  And that’s not so bad except that they’re all shooting at you the whole time, and two hits from any of their spells would kill me.  Plus the magical “mines” that are strewn around the place that freeze you when you walk on them.  And a ton of little Prisoners in the chapel that steal my auto-targeting focus so it’s hard to always keep her selected.

I died a lot.  Oh and I’d be remiss not to mention: If you don’t go through a very roundabout path late in the level and kill a Prisoner who actually begs you not to kill him, he’ll resurrect the boss over and over again until she eventually kills you.  How are you supposed to know to do this?  Read the cryptic clues on the floor while you’re fighting the boss.  Like you don’t have anything else to do at the time.

Feb 7 2010

I don’t know how this thing works

In Demon’s Souls news, after killing off the Phalanx boss I spent a lot of time wandering around and sort of trying out the first levels of the remaining four worlds, just to see how they fit me.  I got all the way through 2-1 and killed the Armored Spider but I stopped there at Stonefang Tunnel due to lack of nerves.

True to the eternal struggle in Demon’s Souls I managed to earn up enough Souls to buy my Strength up to 22, enough to equip the Purple Flame Shield for some respectable flame resistance.  And considering how much flame damage a person can run into in this game, that was a good thing.  But after I’d finished spending all those souls, I didn’t have enough left to raise my Endurance high enough so that I could still run around with the shield.  Oh sure, I could hold it up, but I couldn’t roll or dodge with it without landing flat on my ass in the attempt.  So it gets to sit on the wayside a little longer, until I can raise some other stats.

It’s funny that I’ve managed to take a magic-based class and somehow the highest stats on the character are Strength and Endurance.  At least Strength isn’t likely to need to go much higher.

And then after all that I happened to check on my World Tendency and noticed that things were looking a tad bright, so I popped back into the start of 1-1 and somehow a gate had opened, an indicator that I’d reached something called Pure White World Tendency, which would take far too long to explain.  In layman’s terms, I’ve accidentally unlocked a part of the game I didn’t expect to get to the first time around.  The reward?  A very tough fight against a named NPC that rewarded me with a lot of Souls and a very decent set of (scary looking) armor.

So it’s possible that I’ve reached the point in Demon’s Souls where the game becomes less of an unforgiving, vicious adversary and becomes merely brutal as hell.  Sort of.  I mean, after all, immediately after I grabbed my new armor reward I accidentally hit the “dodge” button and dodged right off a cliff and into a murky pool of fetid water filled with corpses, where I died instantly.  Still in the Hard Game Club.

Feb 4 2010

Welcome to the Hard Game Club

I heard about Demon’s Souls when it first showed up on Japanese shores as one of the hardest games a person could attempt to play.  It was a single-player RPG for the PS3, notable if for no other reason than the fact that the PS3 had very few games of any kind at the time.  One can understand the amount of press dedicated to any release for such an anticipated system.  But Demon’s Souls got a lot more attention than usual because it was so brutally hard.

Unlike most games, Demon’s Souls actually gets harder when you do badly.  Certain mechanics that exist almost entirely beyond the player’s view conspire to make enemies harder at a nearly exponential rate every time you die or make a bad decision.  And again, unlike most games, Demon’s Souls encourages and rewards careful, strategic planning and very cautious gameplay.  This is wildly divergent from the usual methodology in video games that creates things like “difficulty settings” and quick saves and so on.  Die in Demon’s Souls, and you loose everything, because everything is based on the same unit of value: Souls.  Souls equal experience, money, equipment upgrades, new armor, new weapons… everything.  The only way to regain your lost souls is to run back to the point where you lost them.  But all the enemies have re-spawned since you died and that pile of “money” is constantly decaying with time, so the longer you take to return to your point of expiration, the less will be waiting for you.

There are a handful of things you can do to ease the difficulty of the game, but nothing quite matches the advantage of skill combined with sheer experience and foreknowledge.  And in blatant contradiction to traditional RPG tactics (time dedicated leads to success despite any other disadvantages), you can’t just “grind out” your character until you’re so powerful that everything falls into dust with one tough glance.  Demon’s Souls is all about overcoming a constantly present adversity that does not diminish for any reason.

There are issues: Demon’s Souls lead designer has expressed regret that the game is as difficult as it is, and there are a fair collection of bugs that can be exploited to make the game shockingly easy at times.  But when the game is examined on the whole, it’s nothing but one seriously tough motherfucker.

So of course I had to play it.  I finished the first level last weekend and the sense of victory as I watched the first boss fade into nothingness was unlike anything I’ve experienced in recent memory.  But that’s the Hard Game Club for you.