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Bloodborne and Dark Souls: how I grew to love one, and learn the right criticisms to make of the other.

Gamingtodaynews1g - Bloodborne and Dark Souls: how I grew to love one, and learn the right criticisms to make of the other.
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While it's not a super broad topic, I want to post somewhere a write-up of my feelings about a topic that's been on my mind a while, and I think it has the potential to lead to some good discussion. Light spoilers for the first few hours of Bloodborne and the first ten or so hours of Dark Souls.

I first played Dark Souls in late 2012, not knowing what I was getting into. Booting it up for the first time when most of my gaming experience at age 13 had been Nintendo and Call of Duty, it felt almost surreal, like it was a game I was never destined to understand. Stats and icons were shown on the screen with no explanation as to their meaning, a cutscene dumped exposition on me without the details I needed to understand what was going on, and it took me a solid few hours just to make it to Firelink Shrine, from which point I foolishly attacked the Crestfallen Warrior, who proceeded to annihilate me again and again and again until I put the game down in frustration, unwilling to return to it for years to come.

Fast-forward five-and-change years, and a Nintendo Direct Mini presentation in January of 2018 announced a remaster of the original Dark Souls, coming to all current-gen platforms. I'd grown up, played a lot more games, and wondered if maybe it was worth another go, this time taking care not to attack the Crestfallen Warrior and effectively ruin my game before it even began. I got it on my PS4, and made it a bit farther. Got to the Taurus Demon and called it quits when it gave me trouble. I played it on and off from that point, eventually getting hard-stuck at the Bell Gargoyles and putting it down once more, presumably for good.

For nearly two years I had it in my head that these Soulsborne games just were fundamentally bad. That no game should be designed to make noobs feel bad about themselves for not understanding mechanics that, frankly, aren't very well explained. This feeling even perpetuated after I first bought Bloodborne on Christmas Day of 2019, getting stuck on the Cleric Beast and later decidedly hard-stuck on Father Gascoigne, who singlehandedly broke not one but two PS4 controllers.

In my head, these games were just bad, and anyone who liked them was part of a toxic "git gud" culture circlejerking about games that, in my eyes, were objectively terrible. I was ready to finally put them down for good…

…until I wasn't.

Something compelled me to install Bloodborne a second time, a little more than two months ago today. I knew perfectly well what I was getting myself into. I would run the same little gauntlet of enemies leading up to Father Gascoigne, go into the boss fight, get him to his final phase, and die to his deus-ex-machina beast form when he hit 1/3 health. And I did that. A lot. So much, in fact, that it led me to make this despairing post on
bloodborne - Bloodborne and Dark Souls: how I grew to love one, and learn the right criticisms to make of the other.


r/bloodborne for lack of pretty much anywhere else besides the fragile, expensive PS4 controller in my hands to vent my frustrations.

And that post, I believe, led to Bloodborne becoming one of my favorite games of all time.

When I'd expected to be met with endless downvotes and comments saying "just git gud lol" or something to that effect, instead I was met with constructive criticism, offers to help in co-op, and actual genuine advice and sympathy for my struggling. I think my reading those comments and the positivity I was met with in the face of my overwhelming negativity made me realize something I'd been refusing to admit to myself: I wasn't engaging with the game on its terms.

I hadn't learned how to parry. I hadn't learned how to dodge attacks the right way to have openings to attack myself. I hadn't even learned how to throw a molotov properly! It was no wonder I was losing to the first required boss of the game so much, when he was very clearly a test of everything the game had tried to teach me up to that point. I had been playing the game how I wanted to play it, not the way that would make it most rewarding and fun.

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Mere hours after making that Reddit post, and after taking a break to go and do something that made me happy, I beat Father Gascoigne. It didn't even feel good, I remember just thinking to myself "Thank God I never have to fight that guy again" (which is very ironic, considering I beat him for the third time yesterday). But that realization that I was playing the game wrong made me approach the game differently. I got to each boss and started wondering: "what's my game plan for killing this thing with the tools I have?" If it meant summoning an NPC ally to distract the boss while I wailed on it from the side or behind, I'd do it. If it meant spamming molotovs because I'd read online that it was weak to fire, I'd do that too. If I found a video online recommending I use a specific weapon, I'd go and find that weapon. I stopped being too proud to accept help, both from my fellow players and from the game itself. The only length I stopped at was summoning other players to help me in co-op, because I wanted it to be my accomplishment when I finally reached the end.

As Bloodborne's credits rolled I was immediately installing Dark Souls Remastered on my Switch (portability is always worth a second purchase!) because I was hooked. I was certain that now that I adored Bloodborne I'd come back to Dark Souls with a refreshed palette, skills that could be transferred between the two, and knowing by and large exactly what to expect.

And…well, I was kind of right and kind of wrong. I certainly have skills that have carried over from my three Bloodborne playthroughs–boss fights are generally much easier and take me more like three or four tries than the dozens they took before–and I have a new appreciation for aspects of both games that I consider hard-but-fair. The boss fights in Dark Souls are much more enjoyable now that I know how to approach them the right way instead of just banging my head against the wall.

That said…I just can't love Dark Souls like I love Bloodborne, particularly not Dark Souls Remastered. I've just rung the second Bell of Awakening and cheesed my way through Ceaseless Discharge, and I just have so many problems with the game that extend beyond "hard game bad." The Curse mechanic is terrible. Enemy scaling makes me constantly feel way too weak, and no enemies yield nearly as many souls as they should. No fast travel of any kind makes backtracking a slog, even having unlocked shortcuts. Blighttown is one of the worst-designed areas of any game I've ever played. Even playing the game on its terms, it's clear that Dark Souls has little to no respect for the player's time. And I could forgive all these things considering the game was the second of its kind and came out almost a decade ago, but I'm playing a remastered version. Say what you will about staying faithful to the original, in my opinion good remasters should make strides to hammer out flaws in their source material–I certainly think the Demon's Souls remake is going to fix a lot of the issues with that game to make it more palatable to a 2021 PS5 audience.

But, overly-long tirade about the issues with Dark Souls Remastered aside, the main thing I've noticed in this whole process is the shifting of my criticisms from being how hard the games are to actual, genuine criticisms of their design. Despite having beaten him multiple times, I still think Father Gascoigne is a low point of Bloodborne's game design, and in general the game can tend to run like trash in particularly demanding sections. Likewise, see the above paragraph for similar criticisms of Dark Souls. These are, in my opinion, much more meaningful and useful criticisms and can never be meaningfully explored if the games are dismissed out of hand as "hard game bad."

Overall I'm glad that I grew to love Bloodborne, and…well, am experiencing Dark Souls, for better or worse. Because on one hand, I gained a new favorite game and was able to finally scratch the surface of a genre of industry-defining experiences, while using that newfound perspective to offer more meaningful criticisms of a game I still hope to grow to love someday like I did Bloodborne. And at the end of the day, that makes the broken controllers worth it.

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