The games of FromSoftware have a well earned reputation for their merciless-but-fair difficulty. At first, this is what drove me away from them. Dark Souls put me through its trial by fire and I graciously bowed to its challenge by giving the game away to a friend. Since then I have watched the Souls community grow with great interest. The lore excited me and the challenge, though daunting, seemed always to be a stepping stone that I felt I needed to get past as a gamer.
I have never been a gamer who feels the need for self-flagellation. Give me a good story and an open world and I will be happy for weeks if not months on end. Recently The Witcher III kept me glued to a TV for the better part of two weeks before I got to the end of its ambitious and amazing story. But when I think of gaming in my youth, I think of the moments when I triumphed over a difficult boss fight or the moments I got my hands on an extra-special item or weapon that took me days to put the effort in to find. One of my more vivid memories of my youth as a videogamer is the moment I finally triumphed over a particular boss fight in Kingdom Hearts. Namely, these assholes:
You thought I was going to say Sephiroth didn’t you? Nope. The Stealth Sneak and Clayton kept me occupied for the better part of two days. In videogaming time, that is an eternity. Especially since the boss fight was preceded by a particularly annoying unskippable cutscene:
But when I finally did triumph over this boss fight, I was so embarrassingly proud of myself. I felt like I had accomplished something. Like I had overcome some sort of insurmountable odd. Yes, I was aware that the Stealth Sneak/Clayton boss fight was a story-related boss fight that I had to get through to get anywhere in the game at all, yet there was something about the first Kingdom Hearts game that kept me amazed in the face of such seemingly impossible odds. I hit this same wall of difficulty several more times in the game, most egregiously with the second boss fight with Riku at Hollow Bastion and with the final boss fights against Ansem, Seeker of Darkness at the end of the game. When I finally pushed through to the end of the game, I felt like something amazing had transpired. Kingdom Hearts remains in my mind, regardless of the later complaints people level against the game for its ever-expanding lore, one of my favorite games of all time. I loved it for its usage of the films I was raised with and the Final Fantasy characters it seamlessly integrated with. And I adored its challenges.
Having grown and matured as a gamer since then, I have sampled games from across various genres. I have become particularly enamored of story-driven RPGs like Mass Effect and pretty much everything Bethesda Softworks has ever put out. Kingdom Hearts though always stayed with me. So naturally I got my hands on the HD ReMixes for the PS3. I expected to get through the game at roughly the same pace of my previous playthroughs, to hit a wall when I got to the same bosses I got to the last time. But somehow that didn’t happen. I breezed through Deep Jungle, slaughtered the Stealth Sneak and didn’t hit many walls after that. I managed to clear the entire game in the time it had originally taken me to clear the first 3 levels. This isn’t a difficult problem to work out. I knew the game by then. I expected it. It moved quicker for me and I knew all the bosses quirks and strategies. But even with that knowledge there was something missing from the game for me. The challenge was for the most part gone and even when I was given a challenge, I was able to get past it soon after. That strange magic was gone.
Since tackling my Kingdom Hearts HD playthrough I became interested in finding a game that had a bit of challenge to it. As much as I may regret it for the various rage-quits that invariably lay ahead, I immediately became interested in Bloodborne. More specifically I became interested in the online presence of Bloodborne. As someone who by-and-large selects “Easy,” “Beginner,” or “Just the Story” difficulty on every game it plays for at least the first playthrough, I had long accepted the fact that Bloodborne (and Dark Souls for that fact) is a game that requires some research before you should play it.
I’m used to researching a game before I buy it. I have made it a point of my interactions with the increasingly greedy DLC obsessed gaming industry to make sure I feel comfortable spending $60 on a new game unless I am 100% sure I will enjoy it. This is one of the many reasons I don’t feel bad about being spoiled for games. So watching Bloodborne videos online have really helped me get over my inherent fear of difficult games, or at the very least FromSoftware games. I hunger for that challenge, for that rush of toppling a boss like Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts. And I feel like I can recapture some of that joy with Bloodborne. I want to be scared of the creatures that lay in wait just around the corner and to be filled with bile at the very mention of the name Father Gascoigne.
Bloodborne also made me realize something about the ways gaming culture has shifted over time. Here watch this video by the wonderful VaatiVidya about some hidden secrets in the first part of the game:
You know what that reminds me of? This:
Remember G4TV? Back before it showed nothing but American Ninja Warrior back to back with Cops and Cheaters re-runs? Back when Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb still hosted X-Play, careening through the desert on a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas style adventure to find the E.T. Atari cartridges in the desert? When Cheat! seemed like just the thing to help me through a tough part of the game I was currently playing. Back then, we as a community used to be one people. We used to be able to get along and share our experiences in healthy ways. Now when I log into lobbies for Destiny I am confronted with high-leveled players who are clearly having more fun than me simply because they invested more cash in the game than I did. I see games churned out by cynical developers who know that games just aren’t what they used to be anymore as they pack their products with hollow fetch-quests and meaningless DLC.
But Bloodborne shows us something different. That there is still an audience for difficult games, even among the people who do not classify themselves as “hardcore.” I can do just as well against the Cleric Beast or Vicar Amelia as you can. I can uncover the secrets of Yharnam alongside you and we can die beside each other all the way, your corpse leaving tombstones for me to find and wonder at your beautiful deaths. Bloodborne, and all FromSoftware games, give us a vision of gaming culture as we always wanted it to be. A community of people with a shared experience, even if that experience is getting stomped on by a giant Lovecraftian eldritch horror, willing to help and guide newer players.
Bloodborne makes me hopeful that I can get past this mental block of mine and be allowed to delve into the madness and crushing (but fair) difficulty of the Souls games. I hope to recapture the feeling I got when I finally conquered Ansem-Possessed Riku in Hollow Bastion, that unrelenting sense of victory. I have yet to actually play Bloodborne for myself, and I may end up rage-quitting more times than I anticipate. But I will be glad for the challenge. Because it will be a fair challenge, one that understands me as a player. It won’t be like that one mission in Watch_Dogs I kept failing because cars literally weren’t working the way they were supposed to. I need the challenge, the sense of community among the dead of Yharnam, and the feeling of dread in traversing the Cathedral Ward and confronting the Blood-Starved Beast.
I need to recapture the fun of videogaming, and not just the fun I can have on my own, but the fun we as a group can have together. Even if it means we die over, and over, and over, and over.