Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Dark Souls 2 Problem

I stuck like fifteen images I was making of Lothric together in a panorama and this is what I got. It felt too right to mess with afterwards.

Listening to people air their grievances with Dark Souls 2 has always been an exercise in patience for me. They tend to speak in an odd marriage of vague and personal terms (which is quite impressive when they manage it even on the more technically specific things in the game) or describe aspects/concepts that exist in droves across the entire series (i.e. tacky object clipping, axis-spinning enemies, etc.) as if it's exclusive to this single game. The way The Souls franchise fans have all individually internalized their love for one game and let it stringently govern how they receive the others is probably one of the most defining and irritating things about the entire series.




In many ways that’s actually a good thing. People thinking more critically (and subjectively) in how they take a game in and all that---but the way it’s presenting here reminds me of watching my niece learn how to fucking walk. It’s just kind of lame to watch after a while (and it's been over two years now!).
That governing game of course is the original Dark Souls. There’s plenty of reasons why the DS2’s predecessor was galvanized as the fan favorite (e.g. Demon’s Souls’s word-of-mouth bleeding into Bandai-Namco’s heavy-handed marketing), but fans took it one step further and ironically wound up as an sad-ass extended advertisement department for the game. It ended up on a pedestal for some of the tackiest reasons imaginable.



Admittedly, part of my annoyance on this matter stems from the fact that the original Dark Souls was probably my least favorite in the entire franchise. The most unique thing about it was also something I didn’t really value at the end of the day (and I’m surprised so many people came out as such fervent admirers of it to be honest). I’m speaking about the game’s interconnected world here---which to me was a nice novelty to roll through as a Castlevania fan but nothing else beyond that. Anor Londo is the game’s climax and most of what I did enjoy about it kind of crumbles into dust after that (and for clarity’s sake, Anor Londo is only about halfway through the game). Almost every encounter, area, and boss were forgettable for me and although the Artorias of the Abyss DLC raised my overall opinion of the game, it couldn’t completely fix what I already found lacking at the end of the day.
The most interesting thing to me are those that against all logic and reason are planting their flags in a crusade against the second game and this has been going on for over two years now. On paper, Dark Souls 2 is everything people say they want a sequel to be, yet every time it comes up you get the same arguments that range from “good game, bad souls game” to “THIS IS OFFENSIVE TO ME, 3 IS THE TRUE SEQUEL TO DS1, MIYAZAKI4LYFE B-TEAM SUCK IT” (this is without fail always accompanied by some jackass linking that poorly-constructed and bloated hour-long YouTube video whining about everything Dark Souls 2 does wrong[1]).
It’s also a bit strange to watch the Dark Souls III backlash play out because while it’s going as I expected, people are also revealing some weird ass investments with this series. The vocal community is splintering even more because of it (and apparently nobody even cares about Demon’s Souls anymore). The reception of most of the Bloodborne genes that made it into III have been all over the place, but the group of evangelists for the first game is as healthy and determined as ever. Watching people negatively react to third game as if they wanted it to be anything other than what it is though—what? It's not like you people would tolerate anything else better than a bunch of three-year olds.[2]

It wasn’t until around Bloodborne’s heyday that I noticed everyone trying to find some half-assed formula to how the series to should be approached or why favoritism is the way it is regarding the franchise (as if it fucking exists). 

I haven’t written here since well over a year before the second game originally released, so I never got a chance to put my own impressions together, which I think is even more solidified now that the “Souls” series has reached its conclusion of sorts with 3[3].
Dark Souls 2 was easily the one I enjoyed the most. There was no “your first is your favorite” bullshit or some nebulous grasp of various technical meta, it simply appealed to me the most.
Why?
  1. It’s probably the most consistent in terms of tone, originality and narrative (with Bloodborne being a close second). 
  2. PVP and various build flexibility outstrips any other game in the series almost effortlessly. 
  3. There are some EXTREMELY bizarre NPC invasions in Dark Souls 2. Some were purposefully made to appear as human and react accordingly[4].
  4. Its bizarre presentation and unusual way of subverting and undermining what the series is known for is nothing short of fascinating. Whether this is intentional or the by-product of troubled development is irrelevant to me (though it's very likely both). 
  5. There’s also the matter of how its narrative plays out and as such---it highlights that the story itself in the Souls series is not very interesting, but rather is told in a very interesting manner. Dark Souls 2 almost derisively admits to this where 3 and 1 try to do everything in their power to hide behind and default to some pretense of subtlety regarding it[5]. 
  6. Time and space are structured very oddly in the series and Dark Souls 2 almost puts that at the forefront. 
  7. It has the most actual “game” there in terms of sheer quantity. Even those who hold this game in the worst light will go to bat regarding this and often admit to having put the most time into it (while continuing to go back). 
  8. It’s been released twice over, with a huge overhaul that reworked the game and three seperate DLC packs that essentially double the length of the game, all of which were fantastic and unique for the most part. 
  9. It was the most technically proficient released---at least out of the gate. Amongst the three Souls games on PC, that isn’t saying much—but DS2′s only significant failing right off the bat was a weird frame rate thing that took them over a year to fix. 
  10. It changed the structure and layout from hub and Castlevania-lite to an expansive hybrid of both Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. This extended to things like health items as well, combining consumables along with the Estus Flask. Along with the build variety, the game simply has the most options out all five titles, period. 
  11. It was the most removed from the first game (in the trilogy anyway), which as I said---wasn’t very compelling to me. 
  12. It forcibly made everyone genuinely consider why they come to the series, for better or worse. 
  13. Its world feels the most aggressively isolated and forlorn. In a series about dead worlds, nihilistic consequence, and loneliness, Dark Souls 2 tended to embody this the most. It came through in how distant most NPCs, mechanics, and monsters react to you as a player. A good parallel for that point is comparing Solaire's questline to Lucatiel's.

Yet it continues to be held in the worst regard for weird and oblique reasons. Things like “uninspiring vistas” and spatial logistics that don’t make sense for some reason in a series where very little of that shit makes sense anyway[6].
It sure as hell isn’t perfect. It tends to play the petty difficulty card way more often than it should (in a series defined by a "firm but fair" mentality) and the changes from the original game to Scholar of the First Sin highlight that the structure/flow of the game was inherently flawed in certain areas. I could rant for hours on how things like the game’s AI works or how poor the feedback feels on various animations. There’s certainly merit to some of the common criticisms I’ve seen of the game, but the problem has always been that that they are as incoherent as the game they’re trying so desperately to tear down.



1. I really dislike this video, but it’s a fantastic example overall for how misguided and troubling the reception for the title has always been.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UScsme8didI

2. People have been dancing around this constantly, voicing how much of a direct and overt sequel it is to the first game. I’ve seen a lot of “too much nostalgia”, “souls-ass souls game”, “heavily leans on references” etc…

3. Despite how heavily it leans on the world of the first game, I enjoyed 3 quite a bit. Not as much as 2 or Bloodborne, but easily more than the original Dark Souls.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcoF82XZhBY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGWMt3Quivc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g669RPWl8AM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5godDyWoB0s

4. Not recorded: Jester Thomas, because Jester Thomas is a fucking asshole.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJo8c1Hhq7U
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNbhcBHBsso

5. An example off the top of my head.
http://snakelinksonic.tumblr.com/post/143435076443/easily-the-most-interesting-final-boss-of-the

6. Watch this video and marvel at how Yharnam is structured.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH2-texH34o