Rediscovering Dark Souls

I love Dark Souls.

I think I’ve made that pretty apparent here at the Dojo. I named Dark Souls 3 as my Game of the Year for 2016, placed BloodBorne and Dark Souls 2 within the top five of such lists for their respective years, and really haven’t stopped singing their praises. With that said, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until Bloodborne that I really got into the series. Now, it wasn’t the first one I played, but it was the first one I finished and really got sucked into.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Dark Souls games before then, because I did quite a bit. But I didn’t quite “love” them, for lack of a better word. Though that’s probably more on my part then the games, because I never got very far in them. Again, I really enjoyed what I experienced, but I didn’t properly get sucked into them. In fact, in the first Dark Souls (the most acclaimed entry in the franchise), I only reached the Gaping Dragon before I got pre-occupied with other games and, tragically, didn’t go back.

Well, I of course had to get Dark Souls Remastered now that I’m a proper nut for the franchise, and started playing through it recently. I still have a long ways to go, but seeing as I just defeated the Gaping Dragon, I figured now would be a fitting time to write about it.

Frankly, I was surprised at just how much I remembered of the game up to the point where I last left off. From shortcuts to enemy placements to secret items, it was amazing how well it’s all been coming back to me, even though I probably hadn’t played Dark Souls since 2012 (shame on me). But really, I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Part of what makes these games so special is how strongly they resonate and stick with you. They are presented and progressed in such a way that memorizing the layouts and dangers become second nature.

Not only do I remember what I traversed before to surprising detail, but with my new(ish) appreciation for the series post-Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3, I find that I have a far deeper involvement in it. I can now safely say – as I wish I could have back in 2011 – that I “love Dark Souls.

While there are some obvious elements that the sequels improved on (Bloodborne has more accessible combat, and Dark Souls 3 has fast-travel, which I now feel naked without). On the whole, Dark Souls 1 is every bit as masterful as those aforementioned successors.

It’s amazing how well it holds up, really. While many more contemporary titles can feel like standouts in the year of their release, they seem to wow less and less with return visits. But going back to Dark Souls feels like going back to a timeless SNES classic, where you still feel constantly surprised and delighted, even when you know exactly where everything is.

Simply put, even though in the past I may have “merely” respected, appreciated and enjoyed Dark Souls from an objective standpoint, I now feel a more personal level of admiration for it now that my eyes have been more widely opened to the genius of its design. Yes, I still have a ways to go, and it’s still a tough S.O.B., but I’m loving every minute of it.


Dark Souls and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Coming to Nintendo Switch!

I normally don’t like posting stuff here that feels more like news and less like my glorious opinions, but with how much I constantly gush with my love of Dark Souls and Donkey Kong Country, I just had to write on this.

Essentially, Nintendo held a “mini-Direct” earlier today, and while many Nintendo fans were predictably upset over the lack of new Metroid and Fire Emblem details, I was doing backflips of excitement and performing Captain Ginyu’s Dance of Joy. Why?

Dark Souls and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are coming to Nintendo Switch.

When I woke up this morning and saw the news, I was like…

But then I quickly went like…

And then I was like…


Good heavens, it’s like Nintendo has been reading my constant tweets about the magnificence of Dark Souls and Tropical Freeze, and my desires to see them on the Switch, and decided to pull the trigger on them just to shut me up. Thanks, Nintendo!

Okay, so Dark Souls Remastered (as the 2018 edition is called) will also be on Playstation 4 and Xbox One, which is amazing. But for the first time in forever (*Cue Frozen song*) Dark Souls is on the same console as Super Mario, which is basically the best thing to have ever happened. It seems the only caveat to this news is that Tropical Freeze will now include a new super easy mode for wimps beginners. Now, unlike many elitist “hardcore” gamers, I don’t have a problem with easier difficulty settings being available for those who want/need them, but the disappointing element is that the new mode features Funky Kong as a playable character. If they were going to add a new character, why can’t he just be in the standard game, and the easier setting could be just that, an easier setting. I want to play Tropical Freeze in all its brutal glory with Funky!

But that’s probably the only time I’ll complain about Tropical Freeze. Ever. In life. Though I suppose now that my favorite Wii U game is coming to Switch, I now have a harder time justifying the Wii U’s quality (it was a great system at the time, damn it! So misunderstood!).

Oh, and on top of all that, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is getting Donkey Kong as a playable character, and Super Mario Odyssey is getting a new quasi-multiplayer mode in which players hide magic balloons, which other players can then search for. Basically, it’s the Mario version of From Software’s offline-online features, like leaving summon signs in (you guessed it) Dark Souls. Plus, this adds a whole new layer of depth to Odyssey, now that players are essentially adding their own equivalent of Mario’s usual collectibles, the sandbox style of Odyssey will never end!

Getting back on track, Dark Souls and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are coming to Nintendo Switch this May. Praise the sun!

Nioh Review

The way of the Samurai is glorious…

The trials and tribulation of the Souls’ series is a rather novel experience for myself, as I originally dipped my toes into this amalgamation of impeccable construct and design with 2015’s Bloodborne. Its exquisite Gothic, Victorian setting was unquestionably appealing and its faster, visceral combat improved on Dark Souls’ meticulous combat design. Dark Souls III continued to expand on this concept by notably increasing the speed of the series’ combat design, while maintaining the inert core of the beloved franchise. However, Team Ninja’s conspicuous take on the established Souls formula is arguably the best iteration yet. Nioh’s dynamic combat is practically flawless, with its innovative stance and Ki (stamina) recovery system acting as the glorious cherry on top. Its level of difficulty is relatively on par with From Software’s repertoire, but enemies rely on the same defined rules and mechanics as the player, incorporating an additional layer of fairness. In regards to level design, Nioh follows the immaculate steps laid out by Dark Souls developer, From Software; Nioh is beautifully atmospheric and chock full of impeccably designed shortcuts, secrets, and other hidden goodies, imploring that key sense of exploration and back-tracking. Its fictitious take on the late Sengoku Period is exquisitely beguiling; from the charismatic encounters with historian legends such as Oda Nobunaga or Tokugawa Ieyasu, to the exhilarating key moments in history such as the Battle of Sekigahara, Nioh is an intriguing period piece that is surprisingly informative as it is entertaining. As an action RPG, Nioh is an absolute triumph in game design and player accessibility, as its level of flexibility and gratification is beyond dynamic, catering to an abundance of different preferences. Nioh takes the basic foundation of the Souls formula and expands it exponentially, incorporating dynamic systems to create a novel gameplay experience that surpasses anything that came before it. Continue reading “Nioh Review”

How Super Mario Odyssey is Kind of/Sort of Like Dark Souls

Okay, so perhaps part of this is wishful thinking on my part – seeing as Super Mario is my favorite Nintendo series, and the “Soulsborne” series has probably become my favorite non-Nintendo franchise in gaming – but I can’t help but notice that Super Mario Odyssey seems to have at least a slight influence taken from the Dark Souls games.

It was announced last week that Super Mario Odyssey will be the first Mario platformer to not feature extra lives or game overs. The penalty for dying in Super Mario Odyssey is the loss of coins, which are more important now than they’ve ever been, as Mario actually purchases outfits and hats which aid him in his adventure by means of gold coins.

This all sounds closer to Dark Souls than it does the traditional Mario game. In Dark Souls/Bloodborne, the player loses their hard-earned souls/blood echoes whenever they die, which is troublesome, as those are needed to level up and to purchase weapons and items. Granted, there is a big difference here in that, in the Souls games, the player loses all of their souls when defeated, but can potentially gain them back, should they make it back to the place of their death and retrieve their lost souls. Meanwhile, in Odyssey, Mario merely loses a handful of coins at a time. Though considering that the Mario series is obviously more aimed at younger players than the Souls games, it makes sense than its penalties are a little less extreme. Nevertheless, it does seem that Mario has done away with 1-Up mushrooms in place of something a little more “Souls-esque.”

The funny thing though, is that I found another similarity to the Souls games in Super Mario Odyssey back when I played the E3 demo. Though Odyssey returns to the more open-ended format of Super Mario 64, it also notably contains the checkpoint flags found in many of the 2D Mario titles. But these checkpoints don’t simply serve as places to respawn when defeated, but can also be used for fast-traveling across the rather large stages found in Odyssey.

In Super Mario Odyssey, the player can open up a menu, and select any previously discovered checkpoint flag, and immediately send Mario to said checkpoints, similar to how you can fast-travel between lit bonfires in Dark Souls or the lanterns in Bloodborne. Granted, you could also compare this to other games (including the shrines and towers of Breath of the Wild), but when combined with the aforementioned coin-loss penalty system, I can’t help but think that Nintendo has taken a few notes from Hidetaka Miyazaki’s works when designing Super Mario Odyssey.

Once again, I could easily be overthinking things, due to my love of both series and my longing to see the Souls games (or a new “Souls-like” game by FromSoftware) make their way onto Nintendo platforms, but hey, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time a game borrowed elements from the Souls franchise. I might even say that Dark Souls has proven more influential to subsequent games than any other modern video game franchise. And I can’t help but think there’s a little something “Souls-like” about Mario’s highly-anticipated, upcoming adventure in Super Mario Odyssey.

If my suspicions turn out to be true, well then, it would be something of a dream come true.

Bloodborne Review


Bloodborne is quite the video game experience. The Playstation 4 exclusive works as a kind of spiritual continuation to the Dark Souls games, and it does indeed share much of the DNA of its sister series. But once one delves deeper into Bloodborne, it becomes clear that it is also a machine of its own.

Those who are familiar with Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Dark Souls games should know the basics. It’s still a brutally difficult, 3D action-RPG with a Metroidvania setup. By defeating enemies, the player gains a number of Blood Echoes which, like the souls of the Souls titles, work as both experience points and currency. Players can use Blood Echoes to level up, buy weapons, items and gear, upgrade weapons, and so forth, all within a realm called the Hunter’s Dream, which acts as a kind of hub world.

The immediate difference players will notice between the Souls series and Bloodborne is the setting. Bloodborne abandons the high fantasy of the Souls series in favor of horror-based inspirations. The game takes place in the city of Yharnam, a place famous for its medical advancements in “Blood Healing” (expect to hear the word “blood” quite frequently throughout). The player character, referred to as a “Hunter,” arrives in Yharnam in search of something called Pale Blood for reasons that are largely unexplained. The player picked the wrong night to arrive in Yharnam, however, as it is the night of “The Hunt,” in which monsters roam the streets and the denizens begin to go mad. The player must traverse Yharnam and the surrounding areas in order to survive the Hunt, and bring an end to the “Nightmare” at its source.

Before you think Bloodborne merely swapped out goblins and dragons for vampires and werewolves, there is more to Bloodborne’s plot than the change in setting. Primarily, the game has quite a distinct and rich lore going for it, with a story that at first seems like gothic horror slowly growing to incorporate all kinds of horror genres, from cosmic to mystery. Perhaps the most interesting part of Bloodborne’s narrative is that it’s largely optional. Aside from a few short cutscenes, the player mainly finds out more about the story, world and characters by reading item descriptions, side quests and optional text scattered around. You can play the game with strong storytelling or go at it like a retro game and simply slash a bunch of monsters.

The core gameplay is largely reminiscent of Dark Souls, with melee combat that is tight and intricate. But Bloodborne does make some meaningful changes to the formula, with a stronger emphasis on faster, smoother combat.

BloodborneThe player’s stats have more or less been streamlined, with a smaller list of more defined attributes to worry about. More prominently, the weapons are weirder and more creative than those in the Souls titles. Melee weapons can switch between two different modes at the press of a button, making every weapon feel like two different ones. Players can even have secondary weapons (primarily guns), which can be used to stun enemies and cancel out some of their attacks.

What’s great about the weapons (and armor) is that, unlike many other RPGs, you don’t simply replace older weapons with newer, better ones. The game allows for some flexible character customization, so some weapons are more tailor-made for specific attributes (like Skill, Strength, Arcane or Bloodtinge), but no weapon is substantially “better” than the others, and each one is pretty unique in play style among the rest, leaving players to simply choose which play style they find the most fun, and upgrade their weapons based on personal preference.

Perhaps the best part of Bloodborne’s gameplay is how it continuously grows deeper the further you delve into the game. As it stands, the core gameplay is already immensely fun (if sometimes infuriatingly difficult), but as the game progresses you’ll learn magic spells, find runes that give you various bonuses, and gems to add new strengths to your weapons.

There’s no shortage of depth or variety in gameplay, and this is reflected in the game’s world design. The different areas found in Bloodborne are a vast array of dark, dreary and atmospheric zones that house impeccable staging in enemy placement and hazards. And the way they all connect is a wonderful testament to the detail that went into the game. There are optional zones that are as extravagant as anything in the main story!

For those who may want to take a detour from the main game, secret chalice dungeons can be unlocked in the Hunter’s Dream. The chalice dungeons may be a bit of a hassle to unlock, as each one not only requires their titular chalice, but a host of other crafting materials that are often hard to come by, making the process feel like a chore. But once you unlock said dungeons, they provide some of the game’s toughest challenges, and add a dash of Zelda-style fun to the equation.

BloodborneThere’s really not a whole lot to complain about in Bloodborne. It’s an exceptionally well-crafted, deeply rich gaming experience. Though it should be said that if you’re not a fan of the sheer difficulty of the Souls games, then Bloodborne, even with its appreciated tweaks, probably won’t win you over. Though the game is a tremendous achievement in so many ways, Hidetaka Miyazaki definitely has a niche that he’s mastered, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. Though if you have too much trouble, you can always summon another player (or two) for backup, and the game is arguably at its best when played with a friend.

Those who love Hidetaka Miyazaki’s work may even find the gameplay a little overly familiar, now that Dark Souls has become a franchise with multiple entries.

Still, it’s hard to be too critical on Bloodborne, as it’s a terrific game that gets so much right. Great gameplay, wonderful world design and atmosphere, stunning visuals and a brilliant score come together to make a near masterful game. It’s the best entry yet in the Souls-style of games, even if it doesn’t bear the same name.

Familiar as it may be to some, and alienating it may be for those who don’t do well with really difficult games, Bloodborne is nonetheless one of the best exclusives to be released on any Playstation console. For those with the patience for it, it’s well worth it.