Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bloodborne and The Failure of FromSoft Storytelling  


As a long-time fan of FromSoft, I'm quite familiar with their work and had been looking forward to Bloodborne, which released to widespread critical acclaim a little less than a month ago. I completed the game last night, and after rolling credits, I felt incredibly unsatisfied with the story and ending… Probably more unsatisfied than with any other game in the Souls series.

(And yes, I realize that Bloodborne is technically a new IP, but for the sake of this post, I'm going to lump it in with its predecessors.)

For those who haven't played Bloodborne, it's built on the core of the Souls series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 1 & 2) but instead of slow, methodical dark fantasy, it offers significantly sped-up action with a Victorian edge and lots of Lovecraft. However, what hasn't changed is the cryptic, piecemeal storytelling that has become synonymous with Souls. This obfuscated narrative has many admirers -- I’ve enjoyed it myself to various degrees in the previous games -- but in Bloodborne, it’s at an all-time minimum and tougher to parse than ever.

At the beginning of the game, the player’s character (the hunter) wakes up in a clinic and receives a blood transfusion. From that point, they’re set loose in a dark city to hunt. There's no backstory given and it's not explained who the hunter is, what the player is supposed to hunt, or why. I had no problem exploring the environments and slaying the beasts that came across my path, but I never felt any motivation or logic for what I was doing.

When I bring up these concerns, the Souls faithful inevitably raise the same defense: this lack of specificity is a metagame of trying to figure out the plot with others. I can agree to a certain extent, but in this case I feel like the developers held too much back. Things start off in a haze and the lack of direction only gets worse as the game progresses. By the halfway point I had given up on hoping to figure out what the point of the adventure was, or why my hunter was doing anything. And the ending I got? An utter head-scratcher.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not asking FromSoft or Bloodborne director Hidetaka Miyazaki to abandon his mystery-laden methods and switch to typical Western-style storytelling, but in this case just a little more clarity and context would result in a more satisfying adventure overall. The gameplay is enjoyable, the level design is excellent, yet without something making it all stick together for me mentally, the experience fails to be what it should. It’s not the first time concerns of this sort have been raised, either. Both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 received DLC and patches that greatly expanded on their storytelling, and I think most would agree that the games were better for it.

…So, about piecing that story together.

While there are a few brief cutscenes which generally don’t explain much of anything, the bulk of story and lore information comes from item descriptions. Whenever a player picks up a sword, a piece of armor, a consumable, or anything else, they can go into the menu and click a button to see some flavor text. By taking these snippets, players extrapolate meanings and do their best to make sense of it. However, I've got a big problem with this.

First, I'm not a believer that a player should have to go online and do research in order to enjoy a game. Of course, it's quite possible to go through Bloodborne and get value from the kinetic, brutal gameplay, but there's clearly meant to be some kind of a story going on that frames it all. Without tracking down summaries on fan wikis, huge chunks of worldbuilding will be missed by most, and precious little is given during normal play.

image courtesy of @lcferrarezzi

As far as the item text itself goes, I have a real problem rationalizing its existence.  When my character picks up an item in the game, there's no hand-written note attached to it. When you pick up a sword, it's just a sword. So, where do these item descriptions come from? They don't appear to exist in the game outside of the menus, and there's no NPC who's telling my character about this information… So where does this information come from?

The answer is that it comes from the developers and goes straight to the player. Not the player’s character, but the player. Looking at what's actually happening in the game, my character is never privy to this info. There’s no way they could know any of it. As such, I find this method to disrupt my immersion in the game’s world, and acts as an awkward, inelegant way of communicating something that should be illustrated during the course of play.

For example, following the semi-hidden sidequests of Alfred or Eileen (both speaking NPCs) does a great job of giving the player a good sense of certain things, and encountering a speaking boss late in the game accomplishes the same. None of these instances go over the top with exposition, and they’re consistent with the world. Unfortunately, examples like this are very few and far between, and after completing the game, I felt like I’d only received an eighth of the tale that should have been there. 

The developers at FromSoft seem interested in making their work more accessible in some ways -- after all, anyone familiar with Souls can see that the design changes in Bloodborne are significant, and apparently quite successful in reaching a larger audience. However, the storytelling technique that was so notable in the past three games falls short this time around. 

There’s just not enough of it, and what’s there doesn’t say enough. 

While I did enjoy Bloodborne in large part, there's so much richness and potential left untapped. As my friend Jim Bevan said in one of his recent reviews, minimal storytelling does not mean incomplete storytelling. I agree. FromSoft needs to take a hard look at what they're doing -- while they may have reinvigorated the gameplay, their narrative techniques are overdue for a touch-up.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Review Links, Bloodborne, Airmech Arena, and all the TV I've been watching!  


Thanks for once again tuning into Coffeecola! Let's get the show rolling…


Games: First, here’s a collection of links to all the new reviews that @Gamecritics has posted in the last week.

>Dragon Ball Xenoverse also by @InsrtCoins

>Over 9000 Zombies! by @Hawk_SE

>Summon The Apgrod by @ODellHarmonJr

>Aaru’s Awakening by @RetroRedemption

>Diablo 3: Reaper Of Souls by @KayinAmoh

Now, looking at the games I’ve been playing… Well, it’s not a whole hell of a lot. Most of my free time has been taken up with Bloodborne, and a reliable source tells me I'm getting pretty close to the end. I'm probably not going to replay the game, so I want to see all of the stuff that I can do in one run, and my playtime is being a bit inflated by I making sure I’m hitting all of the optional areas and doing as much as I can.

What do I think? Although I'm not totally finished yet and a fair amount will depend on how the game wraps up, so far I’d have to say that it's been a pretty mixed experience. I like a lot of the concepts -- the trick weapons, the Lovecraft influence, the semi-Victorian flavor -- and the faster action hasn't been entirely unwelcome.

On the other hand, it feels like the game isn’t totally dialed-in for me. While I'm enjoying it, it’s definitely not the best From experience I've had. 

I was thinking about it over the last day or two, and one big thing that really sticks out for me is that I don't have any real motivation as to why my character is in this world, or what they're doing. I'm going from area to area because it's fun to play through them and that’s what you do in a game, but there's nothing that really explains to me what the point of it all is, narratively. Maybe that will change after the ending (after all, quite a bit of information was detailed at the end of Dark Souls 2) but in the recent From games, I at least had a vague notion of what was going on.

In Demon’s Souls, I was a character coming to a ravaged land in search of whatever remaining power that was left to grasp. In Dark Souls, I was a ‘chosen one’ picked to fix the problems of the land, and in Dark Souls 2, I was a character who was looking for a cure for a curse before getting wrapped up in the secrets of the kingdom. Hell, most of the King’s Field games even gave the player an initial kickoff to the story as well. I may not have understood all the intricacies of those stories at the time, but I understood enough to know who I was, and what I was doing there.

In Bloodborne I know I'm a hunter, and that's pretty much it. It's not entirely clear who I'm hunting apart from the fact that they're obviously monsters, and I'm not clear on why I came to this land in the first place. This lack of narrative impetus on even a base level combined with the visual sameness in architecture (so… many… statues…) and heavily muted color palette (so… damned… grey…) make me feel like a lot of the game is just washing right over me.

I don't want to sound too negative -- I'm very happy that From has found such great success, and I do think they’re an extremely talented studio. This might not be their best work, but their not-best work is a lot better than what many other studios can turn out on their finest day, and it says something that I actually care enough to Bloodborne all the way through, compared to the other games that I have no problems tossing aside unfinished.

Long story short? I guess the jury is still out.

In terms of other games, I haven't started in on anything else with any seriousness, although I have been playing a bit of AirMech Arena with my son. I downloaded this free-to-play game on 360 a while ago, but never got around to it. It originally grabbed attention because the developers are local to Seattle, and I had seen their game a few times at local shows… Plus, pretty much everybody knows what a sucker for mechs I am. I’m glad I finally fired it up, though. It’s been a ton of fun.

Basically, it's an updated version of Herzog Zwei with MOBA and RTS elements combined. The player picks a mech which can transform between robot and aerial modes at will, and they then proceed to set up bases and ferry troops back-and-forth across the map while engaging in combat.

I haven't spent any money on it yet (it’s F2P, remember!) but the initial offering is more than enough to play around with for a while, and it seems like there’s a good chunk of the core content available in one $20 package. There are other things to buy past that and I was just about to drop a couple dollars when I heard that it's coming to PS4 and Xbox one, so I held off on any spending to wait for those versions.

From what I can tell there's been no official release date announced other than ‘spring’ of this year, but when it comes to PS4, I'll be all over it.

TV: Although I wouldn't say that I watch very much television overall, I've been catching a few episodes of this and that here and there, and ironically, I just finished three series within a couple days of each other.

First, Season Eight of Face Off just wrapped up, and that's always a fun watch for the entire family.

In case you haven't seen it, it's a competition where the contestants are special effects makeup artists creating costumes for various challenges every week. This particular season’s lineup of contestants were probably the weakest that have ever been on the show, and although there were a few standout pieces here and there, I can't say that I was very impressed. Even so, it's still an incredibly entertaining show to watch, and I loved seeing the creature features each week. 100% looking forward to Season Nine in July…

I've also been watching Kroll Show for the past couple of months, and we just watched the final episode of the series tonight. 

It’d a bit tough to describe it, but it’s sort of like a sketch comedy show where the characters were all in their own TV shows. Sadly, it only ran for three seasons, but Nick Kroll, the man behind the show, came up with so many interesting characters (so quotable!) and his particular brand of meta-commentary on television and American culture seems like someone could probably create a college course out of it.

The final show we finished tonight was Daredevil on Netflix. I was pretty hesitant about it before we started watching, but now that it's all said and done, I think the creators did a fantastic job.

While the program is very clearly set in the same Marvel universe where the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy take place, the focus of the show was much smaller and more focused than those epics. It sounds bizarre, but Daredevil was mostly about a lawyer taking on a crime boss engaging in payola and really crappy tenant policy, with some ass-kicking sprinkled liberally throughout. This worm’s-eye-view of a world populated with superheroes was something we haven’t seen much of in Marvel lately, and I ate it up.

A special shout-out has to go to Vincent D’Onofrio for his portrayal of the Kingpin. I wasn't sure what to make of him at first, but he brought a real sense of broken humanity and complexity to the character, and rather than being a stereotypical super villain, he was relatable -- even sympathetic at times. He's easily the best villain in any of the Marvel properties so far, and it was fascinating to watch him -- maybe even more fascinating than Daredevil himself. That said, I think everyone in the cast did a great job, and DD has always been one of my favorite characters ever since I started reading comics way back when, so I'm thrilled that this interpretation turned out so superbly.

Speaking of superheroes, we haven't finished the season yet, but we've also been watching a lot of The Flash lately. 

Thematically, it's probably the complete opposite of Daredevil with the hero being the classic do-gooder type and most of the enemies being cartoon characters, but the show has a great energy, the special effects are excellent, the cast is wonderful, and I love having a show that’s safe and interesting enough for the whole family to watch. I thought it was going to be pure cheese when we started watching, but it turned out to be the best kind of cheese, and I’m becoming a real fan.

Also, kudos to the show for making one of the main police characters gay, and absolutely not making a big deal out of it whatsoever. It's not a plot point, it's nothing that causes drama… The guy is just gay, and nobody blinks twice as they get on with the rest of the show. It's a little detail, but one that I appreciated.


That’s it for this week. Thanks very much for reading!!


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Daredevil, Bloodborne, Jetpacks and LARPing  


It's been a while since I updated, and free time is (as ever) at a premium, so I'm just going to launch into random topics and let it roll here…

Links First off, here are some links to recent reviews that just went up at @Gamecritics. Be sure to give these a peek, and leave some feedback for our new writers if you can.

First up, new writer @HeavyM3talSushi covers indie mashup Isbarah. It has potential, but misses the mark.  

Next, @NKummert reviews Dreamfall Chapters, Ep. 1 and heaves a huge sigh of relief after an 8yr cliffhanger. 

Then, @MobilesWorking covers Woah Dave! and waxes poetically on its arcade qualities. 

Next, @GC_Danny reviews Elliot Quest, and finds it to be a too-faithful homage that lacks modern sensibility. 

Finally, @CapitalistPig21 reviews the latest Tales From TheBorderlands ep, and it features a very welcome return.  

Daredevil I've been a DD fan from way back when, and I've been pretty curious to see how this new Netflix-fueled iteration would turn out. Now that Marvel is firing on all cylinders and the platform isn’t restricted by network standards and such, my hopes were high…

As of this point, the wife and I have watched the first five episodes, and it's been fantastic. The handling of the characters is excellent, and the cast is great. The show also has a very dark, violent slant to it that’s a good fit for the character and the subject material.

I don't want to say too much because the show just came out, and despite the fact that it seems like half of my Twitter feed has already seen all 13 episodes, I'm sure that there are probably quite a few of you out there who don't want to be spoiled on anything. Check it out for yourself, but so far it's been a huge thumbs up. Can’t wait to see the rest.

The Quest Looking towards a more family-oriented show, we've been watching The Quest on iTunes, which is basically a reality competition show where the contestants pretend to be paladins in a fantasy world. So a Fantasy-Reality? I dunno.

Of course the show is cheesy and ridiculous, and some of the drama I could have certainly lived without, but the central premise was actually pretty fun and my son really got into it – the swords and medieval-style challenges really got him hooked.

If nothing else, I can say that I haven't seen anything else quite like it, and if you're looking for something that's a bit offbeat and accessible for the whole family, it's not a bad choice.

Bloodborne Games-wise, 2015 has been hectic as all get-out and I've had an unusually small amount of time to just sit and play. However, when I have had time to sit down, it's mostly been going into Bloodborne… 

 I'm still working my way through it and it's probably going to take me a good long while yet before I see credits, but I've definitely got some thoughts on it.


-The level design is quite good in most places. I haven't seen it all, but it feels like a good mix between the linearity of Demon’s Souls and and the overlappy shortcutting of Dark Souls. I don't get an erection over shortcuts or just the way that some do, but they work well here and I like that their use is balanced out by having some stretches which are pretty straightforward.

-Trick weapons are pretty cool, and I like that they give the player a number of tactical options in each situation.

-The setting is great. The quasi-Victorian stuff is nice, the semi-steampunkish twist to some of the gear is neat, and the horror slant is also appreciated.

-The ‘regain system of restoring health by rapidly counter-attacking is great, and a clever way of encouraging the aggressive style that the developers are clearly after.


-Although I like the setting, the environmental design is entirely too grey and there's too much clutter in the environments. This combo makes the game hard to read in some areas, and I find it visually boring. A little more color and less clutter would go a long way here.

-Not being able to warp between areas is a drag, and sometimes I can't remember which area is which -- having to go back to the dream after picking the wrong destination is groanworthy.

-Speaking of which… those load times. Do I even need to say anything about this? Not only are they long enough to go check Twitter and make a sandwich, they absolutely kill the pace when you're throwing yourself up against one of the bosses.

-Farming for health vials. Buying them with spare cash helps, and of course not getting hit preserves them as well, but having to go back to previous areas to grind them out when you’re in need is a terrible decision.

-The opening area is pretty atrocious, and comes off to me like a bit of a dick-measuring contest put forward by the developers. With basically no information, no ability to change weapons, hordes of enemies to deal with, overpowering bosses, and no ability to level up until the first boss is reached, it seems like it's working overtime to get people to quit the game before they have a chance to get into it. Ironically, I think the game gets much easier as the player goes on, so starting brutally is kinda wretched.

-I get that Bloodborne is its own IP and that the name of the game is fast action, but I can't help but feel like it’s a stripped-down, sped-up Souls-lite, and some parts of it feel too similar where they should be different. 

For example, in an action-oriented game with relatively few weapon choices, requiring players to level weapons discourages experimentation. Maybe required resources become plentiful later (?) but so far I have to be choosy with what I increase, and as a result, I tend to use what I've already increased because I don't have mats to risk on a weapon that I may not end up using much. Seems like the devs should be encouraging players to use/try all the weapons, not hampering them like this.

With all that being said, I'm still enjoying the game and playing as much as I can, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about this later.

EDF 2025 With all due apologies to @BRKeogh, EDF 2025 is a pretty crappy game, but it does have one thing going for it -- the flying jetpack characters are awesome, and as a sucker for a good jetpack, it’s made the game a hell of a lot more interesting than it would've been otherwise. 

Although I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wasn’t a jetpack nut, I've been playing a few levels a day with my youngest son, and we've been having fun flying all over the maps and shooting billions of bugs.

MH4U Finally, a big, big shout out to @J_Monster and @Discobeaver for their help in getting my wife and I to G-Rank in MH4U. These guys are absolutely killer players, and we've been leaning on them to get through the tough spots… My wife and I are a great duo, but sometimes you just need extra help, and these guys have had our backs repeatedly. 

Today we had an absolutely stellar run, killing an Akantor, a Kushala Daora, a Teostra, two Dalamadurs and two Ukanlos without a single loss, capping it all off with double ascension into G-Rank. It would've been a much harder, much tougher slog without them, so guys, if you're reading this… Thanks!!  = D


Mild-mannered independent developer Acid Nerve and raucous game label Devolver Digital have unleashed a unique demo for the forthcoming action-adventure game Titan Souls. Born from a game jam experiment, the Titan Souls demo is a scene-for-scene remake of the original prototype infused with the visual, audio, and gameplay enhancements the game underwent on it’s way to the full release of Titan Souls ( Pre-orders for Titan Souls and the demo can be found on Steam, Humble, GOG, and for 10 percent off with the game hitting PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, and Mac on April 14.
Titan Souls and the Titan Souls: Digital Special Edition can be pre-ordered via Steam, Humble, and GOG for 10 percent off prior to launch on April 14. The Titan Souls: Digital Special Edition includes the full original soundtrack, a digital artbook and world map, and a collection of high-resolution desktop backgrounds.
Titan Souls will release on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, and Mac on April 14. For more information and updates on Titan Souls follow @AcidNerve and @DevolverDigital on Twitter.


Atlus U.S.A., Inc. will publish the Spike Chunsoft-developed title, Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains, for the Nintendo 3DS™ system in North America and Europe. Based on the hit "Attack on Titan" anime and manga, players will defend the three Walls from invading Titans as a member of the elite Scout Regiment with their omni-directional mobility gear and blades. Based on the upcoming Japanese remake of an earlier  Attack on Titan game, Humanity in Chains will be the first Attack on Titan game to reach North American shores, and will release exclusively on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS in May 2015 with the original Japanese audio and English subtitles.

The features for Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains include:
·  Story Mode: As a member of the elite Scout Regiment, defending the outer walls from the Titans will push players to their very limits to save humanity. Enhanced Titan AI behavior will sap every ounce of ability from players as they make a last stand for the human race.
·  Familiar Characters, New  Customizations: Eren Jaeger, Mikasa Ackermann and others will be familiar faces for players as they pick their favorite Scout member to defend the Walls. Several new additions will join the Scout Regiment, customizable with costumes, weapons and voices.
·  Online Co-op Mode: Defend the outer walls with up to three friends in the all-new online co-op mode with ranking and leaderboards.
·  Fresh Look: Updates to the UI, improvements in gameplay balance and support for the Circle Pad Pro and the New Nintendo 3DS XL system's C-Stick take Humanity in Chains to the next level.
Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains will be available in North America and Europe exclusively on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS this May. Release timing, pricing, and additional details will be made available at a later date. 


Video: Finger Derpy, from Mommy’s Best Games


XSEED Games, the independent-minded console publishing brand of Marvelous USA, Inc., today announced the exciting, long-awaited launch of STORY OF SEASONS for Nintendo 3DS™ family. This series, known as Bokujo Monogatari in Japan, has featureddozens of entries and sold nearly ten million units worldwide. STORY OF SEASONS catapults the cherished franchise into a new era, mixing series staples beloved by fans since its inception with new features such as online connectivity with other players and trade with visiting merchants from foreign lands.

The theme of “Connectivity” expands the world and presents possibilities to players both in and out of the game. In STORY OF SEASONS, the new StreetPass™ connectivity feature grants players the ability to tour one another’s farms, cultivate crops together, and even exchange gifts. The new Safari mode allows players to visit new lands and interact with a wide variety of flora and fauna. Players can also trade with other countries in-game to help grow their crop variety and pad out their coffers, while also aiding the local economy and contributing positively to the prosperity of the entire town.

Familiar friends of a different sort are also present within Oak Tree Town, as STORY OF SEASONS has numerous decorative items available from the Super Mario Bros. franchise, including the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Super Star.

Developed in Japan by Marvelous Inc., STORY OF SEASONS is published in North America by XSEED Games, exclusively for Nintendo 3DS. The game is available in physical format at participating retailers and digitally in the Nintendo eShop for $39.99. This game has been rated "E10+" for Everyone ages 10 and up by the ESRB with the descriptors Alcohol Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes and Violent References.

More information on the game can be found at For more information on XSEED Games products, please visit Fans can also follow XSEED Games on Facebook at and on Twitter at