Decadent

Decadent: Games Played In Inches

Games Played In Inches: The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Dark Souls

Are you winning yet?

By Steve Heisler • April 30, 2012

In Decadent, we explore two games united by a common theme and separated by time—specifically, by a decade or so.

“Win.”

I could play video games for the rest of my life, and I’m confident every single one of them will have the exact same goal—beat the final boss, figure out that last puzzle, topple that ultimate tower with your meager supply of emotionally unstable canaries. Beat the game. Win. And no matter the game, whether it’s Super Mario Bros. or Tetris, I can count on there being levels to measure my progress toward that goal, so I know I’m doing things right. This is what’s known in the business as a “given.”

And then there are games like 2000’s The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and 2011’s Dark Souls, which take a counterintuitive approach: In order to win, you have to lose. Majora’s Mask forces repetition through time travel as you inevitably fail to stop a doomsday scenario, and Dark Souls kills you until you’re foolhardy enough to succeed.

In both titles, you’re asked to play levels over and over until you get them right, dying and failing multiple times in the process. And how will you know when you’re getting them right? In short, you don’t. There is only minimal indication that you’re making progress at all, and often it requires doing things completely out of order for seemingly no logical reason. And just when you think you’ve figured things out, you have to start over—only this time, you pray, you’re closer to winning.

These are games played in inches. They’re confusing, sure, like trying to map a route through an M.C. Escher painting. But there’s hope, every time you make a sliver of progress, that the game’s end will retroactively justify the hair pulling and controller throwing.

The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Majora’s Mask is a Zelda game with an infuriating twist. The world is ending in 72 hours, and if you’re unable to save it in time, you must reset the clock by playing the Song Of Time on your ocarina, rewinding three days. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, you keep your experiences and memories (and lust for Andie MacDowell), but with the exception of a few key items, you lose everything else—money, bombs, even the freakin’ sticks you carry around for the rare chance that you will have to light a torch. Going back in time is also pretty much the only way to save your game.

Plus, 72 hours in Majora’s Mask-land (a parallel Zelda-verse called Termina) isn’t very long. It’s tough to gauge exactly how much real-world time passes, but given that the clock occasionally pauses during dialogue and load screens, it seems to translate to roughly a minute per hour. That gives you 72 minutes to accomplish something substantial enough to justify losing everything else when you reset the clock.

There are only a few things powerful enough to survive the trip. There are four bosses before the final one, and killing one of them counts as a major coup. Plus, as if you didn’t already know, there are plenty of masks to collect, and each one remains in your inventory after time travel. There are also a couple of songs Link can learn on his ocarina that he won’t forget. That’s it.

The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask

The structure of Majora’s Mask isn’t immediately apparent in the first few hours of play. Taking place after the events of Ocarina Of Time—when, like every Zelda game, Link slayed the evil thief Ganon and saved the kingdom of Hyrule—Link is ambushed in the woods by a country-boy hooligan in a garish mask, like a scarecrow at Mardi Gras. This is the Skull Kid, and he immediately steals Link’s ocarina and uses evil magic to turn him into a spritely little tree-beast. Link chases the Skull Kid deep into what appears to be a forest cave, but soon finds himself, actually, inside the bowels of a giant clock tower in a place called Clock Town.

Link will later learn the transformation occurred because of a mask placed on his face. But for now, he’s trapped as this little forest dweller—called a Deku Scrub—until he can recover his ocarina. This requires about 45 “hours” of play, followed by a bunch of standing around and waiting. The Skull Kid has set up shop on the roof of the clock tower, and the door only opens once a year—midnight on the eve of the Carnival Of Time—leaving Link with a precious six minutes to recover his ocarina and go back in time, or furiously shit himself.

Until then, though, there is plenty of people-watching to be done around the town. Over to one side of town square, a construction crew builds a yet-to-be-identified structure. The postman runs by swiftly, while a kid with purple hair, wearing a yellow fox mask, drags his feet past. In another part of town, a burglar snatches an old lady’s purse, but as a Deku Scrub you’re powerless to stop him.

Later, as normal Link who can transform at will, you can thwart the thief and, theoretically, collect a reward—but it would involve burning almost an entire day waiting for him to show up. Now you have to decide whether or not it’s worth the reward to risk waiting, only to reset and potentially lose what you’d gain. Or, worse, what if you fail? Then you have to relive your mistake until you get it right, or come to terms with the fact that you might never get it right.

The longer you play Majora’s Mask, the more these side characters become important. Because time repeats itself, it’s possible to be everything to everyone. During one pass-through, you can defend the farm outside town from alien attack; during another, you can bring two star-crossed lovers together—two different masks are added to your inventory when you finish, as relics of your accomplishments. But you can’t do both at once. Majora’s Mask asks that you choose a singular path and follow it through to completion. Try to do too much and you’ll run out of time, reset the clock, and lose most if not all of your progress.

The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Proceeding through Majora’s Mask demands perfection and relentlessness. Even heading to the dungeons, the way to truly progress in the game, is a harrowing experience, simply because it takes time. As you travel through each of the four terrains (swamp, mountain, ocean, and canyon), solving puzzles to find each lair’s entrance, the sky darkens. Each failed attempt at, say, sneaking through the Deku Palace means a wasted hour, maybe more. Wolves come out, hunting only at night, and their howls indicate you should get your ass in gear. In the morning it rains—it always rains on the second day—and if you haven’t found the dungeon by then, you’re likely screwed. The best you can do is hope the milestones you’ve achieved are permanent, head back in time, and cross your fingers.

You can tweak the flow of time using your ocarina, but only forward. There’s no way to rewind just a little bit; it’s all or nothing, and often “nothing” is a better choice.

All of this makes progress in Majora’s Mask more of a gamble than an inevitability. After flawlessly conquering a dungeon or procuring a rare mask—often by executing timed events in a very specific order—the Song Of Time becomes a victory cry, and one of the only things that maintains your sanity.

Dark Souls

Majora’s Mask takes a simple truth—that time moves forward—and focuses its entire concept on the opposite. In this way, Dark Souls isn’t very different. In order to make any sort of progress, however small it may be, you have to do what every other game has trained you not to do: die.

And you will die—a lot, to the point where death loses any negative stigma it might have accrued from every other video game in existence. A ghoulish medieval role-playing game, Dark Souls sends you out as an undead corpse, donning armor to explore an abandoned kingdom and its demonic underbelly. There is mostly silence, broken up by doing battle with skeletons and other fearsome beasts, many of which are at least 50 times larger than you. Even the weaker ones are capable of dealing massive damage. Any enemy, no matter how clumsy or passive, has the potential to kill you at any moment. And even if you kill them, every time you heal—by resting at one of the sparsely placed bonfires—most of those enemies regenerate. No matter how powerful you become, there’s no point in Dark Souls where you can rest on your laurels.

But Dark Souls’ world is also predictable, and that tempers its potential to rise up and kill you without warning. Enemies appear in the same place every time you encounter them, even after regeneration, and with few exceptions, they behave the same way each time. While that tall snake-faced warrior knocked you flat with its scimitar the first time, you know to roll behind its back when you return—or, failing that, hope this death is at least swift. 

Dark Souls

Even though you die a whole lot, no death in Dark Souls is meaningless. You lose all of your souls—the game’s currency—every time you’re killed, but you keep any items you’ve found. Plus, you can return to the spot where you died and collect the souls from your bloody stain. 

You have to perform a delicate ballet between one bonfire and the next to progress through a crumbling fortress or submerged, ghost-infested ruins. Every swing of the sword or perfectly executed parry is important, as is every point of your health meter. Thus even the most minor tweaks in your equipment can mean the difference between a successful run and another botched rehearsal. A stronger axe might sacrifice speed, but it’s the perfect instrument with which to bludgeon those giant stone knights. The discovery of a magic-resistant helmet can allow you to finally beat that pesky giant butterfly (which, yes, is a real enemy).

None of these advancements come easily; most are hidden around corners or accessible only by falling from a great height. From the very beginning, Dark Souls is cryptic. After escaping a place ominously called Undead Asylum, now infested with deadly zombies, you’re dropped on a mountainside in front of the rare non-hostile person who will actually speak to you. There are two bells that must be rung, he says, one above and one below. With that (and only that) in mind, you head up some stairs, slashing at skeletons and avoiding firebombs thrown by the more sadistic ones. You eventually emerge onto an upper level of a castle. This is the Undead Burg, and there’s a bonfire nearby.

This quickly becomes your home base. The next stretch of game includes an impressive number of firebomb-throwers and skeleton knights with very heavy armor. Each failed attempt to move forward is like dipping your toe in scalding hot water—immersion therapy. Finally, you’re brave enough to take a proper run at a distant castle spire, which is as good a destination as any. You’ll probably die a few more times now, too, but this is nothing new; somehow it only makes you braver, the repetition breeding familiarity. When you finally manage to get past the onslaught of skeleton warriors (and a massive minotaur boss), your reward is…a ring of invisibility? 100,000 souls? A sword that’s like a big lightning bolt that zaps everything? Nope: A ladder you kick down to your bonfire, creating a permanent shortcut to circumvent everything you just did. It’s better than you could have imagined.

Dark Souls

Little victories in Dark Souls are so overwhelming, in fact, that the game’s biggest milestones almost go unnoticed. The ringing of the first bell occurs shortly after the Undead Burg, in a higher level of the castle. What follows is pretty much up to you, though it likely involves sneaking through an abandoned town full of ninjas, fighting bug-eyed monsters in a massive sewer, climbing around a treehouse-type village over a poisonous swamp, and fighting an oversized dog with an equally comic oversized sword in its mouth. Then, upon defeating a fire-breathing spider named Chaos Witch Quelaag, you pull a lever and, to your surprise, a second bell rings. Oh right, that.

The game is far from over, though. After both bells are rung, the gate opens to a previously closed-off area known as Sen’s Fortress—full of booby traps, giant boulders, and the aforementioned serpent warriors. There are plenty of deaths inside as well. It’s a similar feeling to when, in Majora’s Mask, you learn that by playing the ocarina a certain way, the days go by half as fast. Great: More time to worry about the impending apocalypse. Neither of these two accomplishments offer much solace, only the promise that if you keep trudging along, inch by inch, it might someday feel like winning.

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  • Effigy_Power

    When a tree has a first in a forest, but nobody is there to here it, does it get Bark-rot?
    Haven’t played either game, couldn’t resist firstying, already feeling appropriately bad about it.
    Peace.

  • Aaron Riccio

    Good times with games that rewarded you for starting over! Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. There’s another one that’s on the tip of my tongue, too… And I remember some of the earlier Resident Evils — once you learned how to play through, you’d probably want to restart and preserve your ammo the second time through. 

    • RidleyFGJ

      Don’t forget the Dead Rising games, although they certainly never aspire to be as sinister.

      • caspiancomic

         Yeah, the Dead Risings (Deads Rising? How do we feel about internal plurals at Gameological?) are a great example of this kind of “bash your stupid face up against the wall until either your face or the wall caves in” game design. A friend of mine was playing Dead Rising 2 shortly after I had finished it and was getting pretty frustrated with it because he couldn’t defeat one particular boss. I basically had to explain to him that your first time through the game fighting bosses is not even an option, and to get a couple of new game+es (new games+? I’m struggling here) under his belt before he even considered approaching about half the content in that game.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      That would have been the better example, as it did something unique and clever.  I don’t think there was much written about Dark Souls that doesn’t apply to every other dungeon crawler.  I do look forward to the series, though.

      Since I already posted about U.F.O.: A Day In The Life recently (again, by the best game designer ever), it’s like Majora’s Mask but high art and Pokemon Snap-ish.  Oh, and with Village People stand-ins and 1 of the best comedic reveals in games.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EREJls0sHyU&list=PLC98EDBBD54634F3F&feature=mh_lolz
      http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fja.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FUFO_-A_day_in_the_life-

      • Justin Leeper

         Thanks for getting me all interested, then finding out it’s a Japan-only PSone game. I do go to Japan once in a while and found a way to play my copy of Psychonauts on my PC, but it’s still gonna be a cold day before I get to play this game you love so much.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Unlike the best game ever, Moon: Remix R.P.G. Adventure, it and L.O.L.: Lack Of Love have almost no writing in them.  Like, near-0.  All plot is acted out or in garbled fake language (like Lovedelic’s other games, Okami, Klonoa, or Panzer Dragoon), so you won’t miss a thing.  Online walkthroughs, if you need them, are easily auto-translated.  You can play it on your PC if you don’t have a Japanese/modded Playstation 1.  It’s great!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Was BoFV any good? I had been a fan of the series, but the reviews for V weren’t great (just as much an indicator of uniqueness as crumminess, I know, and the reviews’ descriptions were intriguing), and I was in university at PS2 time, so I only had the free time for, like, 2 games a year (one during summer break, one curing winter break), so I never took the time to try it out.

      • Aaron Riccio

        Dead Rising 2 was in fact the other game I was thinking of (never played the first); BoF:V was interesting, but you know, I never beat it, as I got frustrated with the basic mechanics. (I beat one boss by kicking it away and then casting magic, and repeating. It was too grind-y for me, when in fact I should’ve just restarted.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000031028309 Peter Smith

        I really wanted Dragon Quarter to be good, but it wasn’t. A lot of people got annoyed at its decisions – you know, to be a survival-based tactical RPG all about positioning, a sense of dread, the dwindling of resources, starting over and the ticking of a clock – but I really think a cool game could be made with basically all of those aspects.

        Dragon Quarter just didn’t pull that off, which was a bummer. Locking most of the added and varied content away behind the new game mark instead of letting you reach it on reset took away a major incentive for the whole “hey, start over if you’re stuck!” mechanic, and the existence of a build-a-village-across-multiple-playthroughs minigame just muddied it.

        The combat system was cool but lacked impact – fights were more likely to be irritating than scary, and for a long time the only viable kill move is “stacking a half dozen magical traps in one spot and knocking an enemy back into it”.

        Thinking about ways to improve Dragon Quarter is a fun thought exercise. The one that immediately comes to mind is “the time limit should have been an actual time limit, measured with a clock. And instead of being a game-wide timer it should have been how much time you have to reach the next checkpoint, a dragon shrine or what have you, and then it gets refreshed with enough time to do the next leg of the descent. Time still gets consumed by dragon powers.” Putting in a bit of a relief and a catharsis would let players get more used to using their time-consuming super-powers, and allow for more moments of tension instead of “I have tons of time” or “I am running out of time and will thus be restarting soon.”

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          I think the series is flawed straight through, but V has the most interesting flaws.  If it’s not expensive, it’s totally worth playing.

    • Ghostfucker

      Every old-school shooter embodied this type of gameplay to some degree. Treasure games like Ikaruga required serious mastery and trial and error to progress. I think that the overtly mechanical and point-based structure of those games create a very different experience than the more fluid and narratively acceptable death-cycles of Majora’s Mask and Dark Souls though.

      • Aaron Riccio

        The difference between games like Ikaruga and Resident Evil is that in the former, decisions you make in the past don’t come back to haunt you. In Resident Evil, being overly generous with your use of ink ribbons and ammunition could conceivably lead you to a no-win scenario, or at least an unfairly stacked one. 

        What you’re talking about is what I mentioned over in the Trials Evolution review: this old gameplay staple (still alive — or dead, depending on how you look at it — in Dark Souls) of learning patterns through repeated deaths and replays.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        I disagree with @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus ’s otherwise good point.  Fewer older shooters, those of Konami, Compile, and Irem, do that, true.  Cave famously rewards those who beat the game by looping through a 2nd time with increased difficulty, altered patterns, and a secret boss.  Treasure does it even better (and more relevant to this discussion).  Treasure’s chain bonus and multi-stage bosses make you repeat sections of each stage until you see the whole “tree” of possibilities.  Eventually, you don’t just understand 1 “branch,” but the whole organism.

    • The Guilty Party

      Surprised no one mentioned this yet; Planescape: Torment rewarded you for dying. Kinda. You just ended back up in the morgue (for reasons explained in the story, you can’t die). Sometimes this is how you advance the plot.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        but that’s a story reward, not a gameplay reward

  • http://twitter.com/StoicRomance Clinton Hallahan

    I don’t know how they did it, but the first thing I thought about when I saw the title of this article was the sense of foreboding and terror in the world of Majora’s Mask. 

    Take away the giant ass moon about to pancake a civilization and you were still presented with this faceless feeling of…something. It was like there was a brown filter to the way that game felt, like you were in some sort of twisted prison. It’s like they found the moments of airy happiness that coloured Ocarina and found a way to scalpel them out while leaving the rest intact. 

    Even when nothing profoundly disturbing was happening (like screaming as you put on a transformation mask), the world of Majora’s Mask felt soulless in the best way possible. Like one of those nightmares that doesn’t jar you awake but sticks with you until you can grab a vodka at the end of the day. 

    It wasn’t added or coded, but imbued. Then they used the same techniques in a different way to immerse you in the world of Wind Waker as a follow up. Those two are the crowning achievement of the series, make no mistake. 

    • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

      The beach was so beautiful and desolate.  The desert had a sense of profound dread. The mountains were hopelessly frozen in an eternal winter every time you traveled back.

      The music was sparser than the more orchestral score of Ocarina. Some games feel empty. Majora’s Mask felt lonely. 

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Link’s Awakening is famously known for being the Zelda game inspired by Twin Peaks, but I feel some of that unsettling eeriness in Majora’s Mask, too. This disturbing little town full of weirdos, each going about their mundane lives, some of which involve the bizarre, some of which involve the down-right creepy. What a great game.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Sometimes I get that story mixed up and think that Majora’s Mask was the Twin Peaks Zelda game. It makes more sense to me.

    • PugsMalone

      I still have nightmares about that fucking moon.

  • RidleyFGJ

    Majora’s Mask is one of those games that, in theory, should not have worked at all. It largely discarded the formula for Zelda games that had been in place since A Link to the Past (and was restored shortly thereafter with Wind Waker) to focus its efforts equally on time management and characterization. The game could be often unforgiving in its time allotment (even with the song that slows down time), and it was all topped off with a save system that did not allow you to save without either playing the Song of Time (thereby stripping you of your consumables) or seeking out owl statues for a quick save that would be deleted as soon as you loaded the game from there. To top it all off, this game exchanges the innocent and playful nature that the series had been known for with harrowing existential dread. It’s very nearly a Zelda game in name only; it has more to do with the likes of the Mysterious Dungeon series.

    To this day, it’s one of the most polarizing games in the series, which is no small feat as this series has also seen the likes of Zelda II and Skyward Sword, and it makes me sad that we haven’t seen Nintendo try anything as bold with this series since then.

    • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

      It’s probably my favorite Zelda. Even when it came out I liked it better than Ocarina. The dark mood mentioned by@twitter-6583212:disqus , the personality of the Town, and the difficulty of the puzzles are all reasons why I loved it so much.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         I really didn’t like Ocarina, and consequently wrote this game off and a cheap derivative of a game I already didn’t like very much. I didn’t actually play it until maybe 2005, during a completist run on the series, and was so surprised and delighted to find that it was SO AWESOME. And strange. And adventure-gamey. It’s now my favorite in the series.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          I think The Legend Of Zelda is too beholden to its fanbase, but I would evangelize about more adventure- or graphic-adventure-inflected 3d action-adventure games so much.  I love the post-Rondo Of Blood Castlevanias/Demon Castle Draculas for doing exactly that in 2-d, but the throne is empty in 3-d.  Maybe Platinum can do a quasi-Okami?

    • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

      Something about playing Majora’s Mask when I was thirteen gave me my first inkling of games as a serious art form.  I was fascinated by the way it constantly referenced the world of Ocarina of Time, while giving everything that little apocalyptic tweak that made everything just slightly off.  There were fewer dungeons to beat, but it still felt bigger than Ocarina in some strange way.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Can I throw my stupid theory at you?  The game’s immensely creative and my favorite in the series.  That said, the experience shouldn’t be THAT foreign to people who played arcade games or consoles/handhelds before save files.  If you think about it, it’s simply replicating the way a player would feel every time he took to a game without passwords.  When one played Super Mario Brothers 1 or a new season of Baseball Stars 1, one felt a familiarity that’s not reciprocated by the environment.  Unless a shoot-’em-up generated enemies based on your behavior, it had you repeat basic trial after basic trial like you were in some point-driven purgatory.  In a role-playing game like Radia War Chronicle, simply exiting a town or turning off your system reset any boxes you moved, lines of dialogue villagers “remembered” they had said to you, and any monsters out in the field.

      Early gaming was exactly this sort of dissonance, this dread.

      I think they did that on purpose.

      • http://twitter.com/grammaring Joe the Copy Editor

        This is how I “read” the game, too. Just like each play-through of an old-school game informs your next one, each playthrough of MM builds on the last both literally (you keep your items and major achievements) and from a gameplay standpoint (you get quicker/more skilled/more information about the townsfolk/villains/locations of important locations).

        Portal makes a similar point by turning you into a rat learning its way through an increasingly complex maze. There’s less death, sure. But there’s plenty of experiment/failure and plenty of uncertainty about when you’re moving in the right direction. 

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Agreed, and that’s 1 of the games that really helps pull back the curtain for less analytical gamers.  Even if you don’t care about mechanics or design, you can’t help but notice it when Valve made such a clever analogy.

    • flowsthead

      The mechanics of the game were so infuriating that I have to say I preferred Ocarina more. Ocarina always felt to me like a more full world. On the whole, it was very adventure like and hero like, but Ocarina had its moments of dread as well. When you first become an adult and go out into the Hyrule town center to see all of those screaming things, that was pretty shocking. When they scream they freeze you and they come upon you slowly until they jump on your back. After a while you get used to it, but the first time that happened to me I freaked out and was legitimately scared for Link.
      I felt an emotional connection to Link in Ocarina that I didn’t in Majora’s Mask. Despite his silence, Link felt like he had a personality to me in Ocarina. There were a lot of goofy scenes in that one, like when the Zora princess is trying to get him to marry her or when the Goron leader does his crazy dance for you when you play the Hyrule song. The creepiness of Majora’s Mask didn’t really appeal to me as much when I was kid.

      I can appreciate the game much more today, but I never formed that bond with the game that I did with Ocarina. Plus, Ocarina of Time introduced us to the Song of Storms, one of the greatest video game songs of all time.

    • Zachary Moore

       It’s probably the best and most interesting Zelda; it’s also the only Zelda game I’ve ever played that I never finished.

      Sometimes I wish that Nintendo would stop remaking Ocarina and remake Majora’s Mask once.

  • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

    I’m guessing there will probably be more commentary here about Zelda than Dark Souls.  I had never even heard of the game until I watched a friend of mine play.  Has anyone else here played this game?  It looked kind of fun!

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      From was a semi-known entity that produced (and continues to produce) janky games.  Souls is mostly King’s Field.  http://hardcoregaming101.net/kingsfield/kf01.htm  They took a gamble on aesthetics, gameplay accessibility, and difficulty.  Unlike 99-percent of similar decisions, they reaped the critical and commercial rewards from it.

      If you want to play either, ask yourself: is learning how to play a game “the right way” appealing to me?  They aren’t about feelings or rewarding lateral thinking.  They’re about lightning-fast analysis and, as they used to call them, SKILLZ.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         Yeah, I can abstractly appreciate what the Dark Souls games are doing, and how it is distinct and has an intentional difference in design from most other games these days. But I actually tried playing it a little at a friend’s house, and…I think I’ll prefer to appreciate it from afar. It’s pretty much anathema to the skills and priorities baked into my gaming style, and I don’t think the pay-off of succeeding at it would be worth the time and energy it would take for me to do so.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

           I am the same way. I bought it’s predecessor, Demon’s Souls, and while I appreciate the attempts to make games “difficult” again, I just couldn’t get into it. I spend too much time as it is playing games that I’ve seen it negatively affect other aspects of my life, so to spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting my skills in one game so I can make it to the end just doesn’t seem worth it.

          I can appreciate the sentiment, much like how I can appreciate a dish that’s not to my taste may still be well-done, but either way it’s just not something I can truly enjoy.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          That’s totally fair.  Some people criticize their design philosophy, but I think there’s a difference between using “1 solution” because they can’t design around the player’s choices and “1 solution” that leads them to create really interesting situations.  I think they do the latter.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

          What ‘skills’? What ‘priorities’? Dark Souls made me a true gamer.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Phrases like “true gamer” are also anathema to my gaming (and life) priorities.

      • doyourealize

        About that gamble, they seem really taken aback by the reaction fans had to Demon’s Souls.  Since it goes offline forever on May 31st, they have a little note to the community when you sign into the game, thanking them (me, us) for their support.  I haven’t played it in a while…actually I played it yesterday, but before that it had been a while…but I’ll miss it all the same in June.  No game has drawn me in as much as Demon’s Souls.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          It’s true.  I can totally see Dark Souls being that hit, as all of the changes were in response to the audience’s requests and sales.  I have no idea why so many took to Demon’s Souls, even though it’s very good.

          I think it might have simply been right-place, right-time, like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and Street Fighter 4.  They didn’t necessarily build desire for more games in that style not made by them, but they filled a market gap.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        OH!  Wow, now that you mentioned it, I remember King’s Field!  When I bought my first PS1, I got King’s Field with it, since it looked somewhat like Ultima Underworld and other first-person RPGs.  I was totally lost, however, and doubly in trouble since I forgot/didn’t know I needed a memory card to save any of my games. (I’ve always been primarily a PC gamer, and was always irritated at the earlier consoles that had no on-board savegame space, either on the system or the cartridge.)  As I recall, I played the game all night, and then paused it while I went back to the store and got a memory card and a strategy guide.

        That’s really cool…now that I know this is the same company that made Dark Souls, I’m looking forward to playing it after I complete Mass Effect 3 (heading back to Earth for the final showdown now).

        • Effigy_Power

           When you’re done… dish, you crazy luminescent magnetic phenomenon, dish.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          @Effigy_Power:disqus  – Okay, finished it just now.

          Wow.  I mean seriously…fucking WOW.

          ***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***

          The entire last 1/4 of the game blew me away.  From losing the crucible info to Kai Leng, to tracking down The Illusive Man’s base, and the final assault on Earth…I was just amazed.

          I got to say goodbye to all my friends, fight against nearly unbeatable odds to get to the Beam…nearly dying in the process, put a bullet in the fucking Illusive Man’s head (I was Paragon 90% of the time, but Udina, Kai Leng and T.I.M. all earned my wrath big time), and had to make the choice on how to end the cycle.

          After the choices I’d made in these three games, and seeing how at least SOME synthetics could be just as “human” as organics (RIP Legion), Synergy was the only option for me.  I balked right at the end and almost chose Control, thinking maybe I didn’t have the right to choose for the entire galaxy…but I was the one there, so I chose.

          I got to see the Reapers leave Earth.  Joker, EDI and Liara were alive and merged with synthetics.  And after the credits, the possibility that someday life would soar among the stars again.  (And having the last few lines read by Buzz Aldrin was awesome, if you noticed his name in the credits!)

          And this is what makes a good game great, and why I don’t really care if the ending didn’t answer every question I had, or show me what happened to everyone else – by the end, I felt like I WAS Shepard.  After I made my decision, I was gone.  And everything leading up to that end was so mind-blowingly awesome…how could I be angry at the people that gave me the gift of a story that I could make my own, and keep up the quality through three full games at that?

          I will always remember these games as some of the best fictional experiences of my life.

          So, that’s my take.  I’d love to hear what everyone else thought about it now, too.

      • The Guilty Party

        Yeah, I think it appeals a lot to gamers of a certain stripe. And not at *all* to other games.

        As defined here http://insultswordfighting.blogspot.com/2008/01/new-taxonomy-of-gamers-table-of.html I’d say it’s all about skill gamers.

        Me, I’m a tourist. I like to see all of a game at a level of challenge that means I never have to spend much time redoing things.

    • James Bunting

      I enjoy the hell out of Dark Souls. It is a brutal, old school game.

      Aesthetically, it’s very pleasing and unusual. Things look plain. Your attacks look more or less realistic. Generally, your characters don’t backflip or teleport, so even if you see the giant swinging his club down at you from a mile away, a well-executed roll to the side will let you survive by inches, not miles. Chances are, your character will stumble a bit just from proximity, which will rob you of that precious half-second you need to get in for a counter attack.

      For some reason, I always think of the Connery versus Minotaur scene in Time Bandits when I play Dark Souls. I like battle that is desperate and unglamorous, and I like rewards to be pragmatic (a ladder shortcut, for instance.)

      Incidentally, there is multiplayer in Dark Souls. You can summon other players to act as your allies, and you can also be invaded. The multiplayer element really helps to keep the game from going stale. Highly recommended.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Reading your comparison to the Minotaur fight is interesting, because I was about to post how I’m annoyed that I don’t personally respond to the play style of Dark/Demon’s Souls, because I love the art direction, which I find very Gilliam-esque.  If I was to extend your analogy, I’d say the game environments remind me in spirit very much of “Evil’s” lair at the climax of the film; desolate but seeping with quiet menace.  Also, with the occasional horse-skulled demon spitting fire. 

      • A_N_K

        One aspect of the multiplayer is the ability to leave messages for other players.  In theory, this could be used to warn other players of an upcoming trap or provide insight into a successful strategy, but I mostly came across griefers. For example, as soon as I exited the Undead Asylum, I came across a note encouraging me to take a leap of faith off a cliff.  Yeah, I died.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        Dark Souls is perfect, and I honestly think that once you get past the initial difficulty hump it’s pretty easy. It also stays with you, to the point where my friend and I might make our own video about kindling a bonfire.

    • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

      Dark Souls was my favorite game of 2011 by quite a ways, beating out even Arkham City and Skyrim for sheer FUN.  It’s challenging, but it’s a game that rewards you for trying to meet that challenge.  It’s all about figuring out the weakness in your enemies and the strengths of your playstyle and equipment and trying to find a point where the two match.

      The first time I played the game, I probably died two or three hundred times.  The second time I played the game, I probably died twenty times.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        I played Skyrim after Dark Souls. Or I tried to. It just feels hollow, if you’ll excuse the pun.

    • A_N_K

      I own it, but I haven’t had enough time to play it to get anything more out of the experience than “damn this is tough.” My crowning achievement in difficult video gaming was almost finishing Ninja Gaiden on normal difficulty, so I am definitely the type of person that needs a lot of practice to get anywhere in Dark Souls. (I also beat the original NES Ninja Gaiden game, but that was when I was young and, from my old-man perspective, a zen master of videogames.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

      I recently beat it, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s fantastic, and it’s brutal but fair difficulty makes Skyrim seem pathetic.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    “I could play video games for the rest of my life, and I’m confident
    every single one of them will have the exact same goal—beat the final
    boss, figure out that last puzzle, topple that ultimate tower with your
    meager supply of emotionally unstable canaries. Beat the game. Win.”

    Aren’t there a number of games out there with no win condition? Mainly simulations? In Sim City 2000, the closest you could get to “winning” was just to earn arcologies, but that didn’t end the game (if memory serves). I’m sure there must have been other games that similarly were more about the journey than any sort of destination. A number of Atari 2600-era likewise couldn’t be “won” (again, if memory serves).

  • Raging Bear

    Against all likelihood, I became a Dark Souls convert over the weekend. I don’t know if I’ll finish it, but after enough hours of more success than failure, I didn’t even mind that much when I got inevitably slaughtered. I paid to keep the gamefly rental copy.

    It’s definitely about learning by death. The deaths that seem unfair (which is to say, not an obvious result of my own impatient carelessness) almost always come when I first enter an area, or boss fight, and get overwhelmed because I didn’t know what was coming. When I come back with a strategy, what seemed impossible minutes ago is suddenly conquerable.

    The sense of accomplishment you get from every success like that must be a big part of the draw of the game. Dark Souls makes you feel like a bigger badass for, say killing two skeletons in one room than other games that have you cutting down whole armies.

    • The_Misanthrope

       Welcome to the converted, @Raging_Bear:disqus !  This is why, even as I proselytize about the virtues of Dark Souls, I am hesitant to fully recommend it to people.  It either gets its hooks into you or not; I can’t imagine anyone being on the fence on it.

      A few basic tips, if you haven’t picked them up:
      1) Unless you’re attempting a backstab, you should pretty much have your shield up at all times, especially when entering an enemy-rich or new area.
      2)  Get yourself a bow–not a crossbow–and as many wooden arrows (you can buy better quality if need be, but that’s rare) as you afford as soon as possible.  It is very useful for sniping (L2 or LT, depending on your system) and aggroing enemies from afar.  It is also instrumental in acquiring the Drake Sword.
      3)  Lock on to an enemy only if you intend to fight.  If you are moving about or dashing through, the lock-on will screw up your movement.
      4)  Kindle any bonfire you use frequently.  It is well worth the humanity.
      5)  Instead of viewing the loss of souls as a setback (two deaths in a row with a failure to reach your bloodstain), see it as an chance to take some otherwise foolish chances, like dropping off a ledge to see if any secret area is below or making a mad dash to get a heavily-protected chest.

      • Raging Bear

         I definitely had sussed out 1-3, and 5 at least partially. 4 I got from a walkthrough I checked to confirm that I had gone on a route somewhat out of order (before that, and without a manual, I somehow had it in my head that kindling leveled up enemies in the area. I’m not sure I ever even checked whether there was an in-game explanation).

        I may need to look up this drake sword business, although I’m doing pretty well with the black knight’s sword, without which I probably wouldn’t still be playing at all.

      • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

        What’s that barely-documented attack-while-falling-from-above attack?

        • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

          Barely documented? It’s one of the first things the game teaches you.

      • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

        And what does ‘kindling’ a bonfire require/do??

        • Raging Bear

          If you just hit the normal attack button while falling, you’ll do pretty massive damage to any enemies below. Chances to do it are rare.

          Kindling lets you spend 1 humanity to make that bonfire give you 5 more uses of the estus flask when you rest there from then on.

          (Of course, there may be more to one or both of these that I don’t know).

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          I’ve been waiting for this game to price-drop further, but in the lull before Diablo 3, I may just pony up to play this now…  

          Is humanity something you also lose when you die?

        • Raging Bear

           @twitter-495079299:disqus I got it used for 19$ with tax, so not too bad, even if I get so incensed at some point I wonder what the hell I was thinking and decide never to play it again.

          “Humanity” is indeed another thing to lose when you die. It accumulates very slowly, or from cashing in found humanity items, and you can spend one to re-human yourself when you’ve died (although being “hollowed” doesn’t seem to be nearly the same handicap as being a spirit in the first game), or kindle, or one or two other things I forget at the moment.

          Oh, and if you wondered what the heck the estus flask is, you get a healing item that replenishes itself when you rest. So in some ways, it’s actually more forgiving than Demon’s Souls.

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          Thanks for the info, RB!  

          For some reason, in Canada the game still seems to be retailing for 40 bucks…

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          I’d vote ‘less forgiving’, @Raging_Bear:disqus.  I played Dark Souls before Demon’s Souls, but in Dark Souls, it was a constant struggle to monitor the Estus Flasks and knowing that, if I ran out, that was it for me.  In Demon’s Souls, I had so many healing items I couldn’t wear armor.  I just started throwing them away or not picking them up by the end of the game.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

      Once you beat Smough and Ormstein it’s easy.

  • Chip Dipson

    I gave Dark Souls about 5 hours of my time before I carefully laid the controller down and backed slowly away from the TV. I was talking to my wife the other night about it, about how the mechanics of it are brilliant, the art direction and sense of place is amazing, and how the challenge of it is greater than any other game I ever played but something just wasn’t clicking with me. She countered with “yes…but is it fun?”

    That’s my problem with this type of game. I fully understand and appreciate all the critical and commercial love for it, but you never ever here anyone talk about how much fun it is. I think this is more a game to obsess over. It’s less a game and more of a fight, a challenge, a dare. I guess it all goes back to why an individual plays a game in the first place. I like a challenge, but I also want to enjoy playing it.

    • Raging Bear

      The fun’s there; it just makes you work for it. When it’s fun, it’s really fun. When it’s unfun, it makes you want to commit genocide.

      • James Bunting

        Just wait till you get to the New Game plus. :)

        • Raging Bear

          I really might not make it. Even though I’m more accustomed to it all, bosses still give me considerable grief.

    • Basement Boy

      re: It’s less a game and more of a fight, a challenge, a dare…”

      I’ve always felt that way about most any game to some degree; *somebody* *somewhere* designed this thing, challenging me to beat it!?!? Ha, I accept!!

      But, I’m hitting that same mental wall in The Binding Of Isaac (tho it’s taken waaaay more than 5 hours to reach it) Now that I’m trying to beat Mom’s heart with “???”, the game’s more sadistic than ever, or I am more masochistic? I find myself aborting games if I get a non-usable Item on the first level, which is not my normal mode of sticking it out… I’m having enough fun (still yet) to bash my head against said wall a few hundred more times or so…

    • The_Misanthrope

       I get your point, @Chip_Dipson:disqus , but I have to take some issue with the idea of “fun”.  Exactly how much challenge can you put in a game before it stops becoming fun and starts becoming a challenge?  I suppose there might be mitigating factors.

      I think a lot of people seem to equate Dark Souls as one of those “hardcore” games that are playing to prove yourself, like I Wanna Be The Guy or “bullet-hell” shmups.  As I am pretty far from what you’d call a hardcore gamer, I can tell you that’s not the case.  I am not playing Dark Souls out of masochistic gamer pride, that’s for sure.  When I start to feel really dispirited (over and above the baseline Dark Souls experience) or tired (it is not a game I can half-ass, lounging on the couch), then I just stop playing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        Exactly! My reflexes suck. I have only average twitch skills. And I beat Dark Souls. Dark Souls is about patience, and positioning, and getting the right gear.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       True, but (and I’m sure you’re aware of this), all games mingle “fun” and “work,” and deciding which of those a game is exuding is very, very subjective. Some people actually do find the grinding and accomplishment of Demon’s/Dark Souls fun.

      Likewise, I’ve know people that see the “Find All the Stars!” injunction in Mario Galaxy to basically be the game saying “Here’s a bunch of busywork to do!” And find that game (maybe the best example of a simply ‘fun’ game this generation) to be an overbearing grind. (Admittedly, most people I know who feel this way are people who haven’t played many games since the NES era).

      • Chip Dipson

        Rereading my original post, it does read like I’m being definitive as to what is fun and what is a chore, which wasn’t my original intention. I fully agree that all of this is subjective. I’m not saying that Dark Souls isn’t a successful game. It’s just doesn’t work for me personally, as I don’t find the progress-by-inches play of it as rewarding or enjoyable as others. But that doesn’t make other people’s enjoyment any less valid. If Alan Thicke has taught us anything at all, it’s that it takes different strokes to move the world. Yes it does.

  • http://twitter.com/Dr_Grinch Grinch

    Radiant Historia for NDS has some similar elements, and is a fantastic JRPG for those who enjoy the genre. It’s a good blend of Chrono Trigger with turn/grid based combat. The characters are decent enough, and the story pretty good. Definitely a gem among the shovelware of NDS titles. Being an Atlus game though I’m not shocked it has good pedigree.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Whoa whoa whoa, the DS has an awesome library of games. I have yet to try out Radiant Historia though.

    • caspiancomic

       Yeah, Radiant Historia is the first title I thought of with this sort of premise. Because all of the non-combat fail states just boot you back to the hub world, it actually encourages you to be more experimental with the game’s decisions. More than once I made the “right” story progressing decision on my first guess, then went back and cocked it up on purpose just to see what would happen. Some of them just lead to non-standard game overs, but occasionally you get a neat little subquest or sidestory out of following a non-conventional dialogue option.

  • doyourealize

    Love that this site keeps giving me reasons to write something about the Souls games, which have a special place in my gaming heart, Demon’s Souls especially.  That kicked ladder you mention, I think I walked past that 5 or 6 times before I finally found it.  Meaning I made it to the church and died (probably by that boar or the big, mace-wielding guy) and had to go all the way back to the same bonfire, only without the shortcut, a kind of miserable experience that had me cursing the design (why isn’t there a bonfire after the freakin’ boss?!) before I realized it was my silly mistake, kind of a microcosm for the whole game experience, now that I think about it.

    And I don’t think I’d say MM is my favorite Zelda (although I do love the game), but I certainly admire its diversion from “classic” Zelda games.  It was definitely frustrating running around, trying to do at least one thing before time resets, and oftentimes failing, but the small sense of reward when you succeed makes it worth it.  “Played in Inches” is the right way to put it.

    I’ve always thought Zelda 2 was kind of a precursor for Dark Souls (3 lives instead of 3 days), but MM definitely makes the player more aware of the end.  It’s not, “When will I die?”, but “What can I do before I die?”

  • http://rmyung.tumblr.com/ rmyung

    This writeup make we really wish I had a way to play Majora’s Mask! The premise sounds fascinating to me.  I love worlds that have their own schedules.  
    I remember there was an old adventure game about solving a mystery on a train, that required you to be at certain places at certain times to solve the mystery.  But it was pretty difficult since you couldn’t rewind time without managing save files.   There’s also a text adventure called Varicella which requires you to figure out the schedules of every character.  It worked because the cycle was very quick. (actually, time is a popular theme in text adventures) Dark Souls, on the other hand, doesn’t sound too different from any high difficulty, skill-based game.  It sounds “old-school” rather than unique.It does sounds nicely polished though.. I’ve added it to my list to check out.

    • doyourealize

      If you have a Wii, you can get MM on the virtual console.

    • A_N_K

      That adventure game is “The Last Express.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

      It’s emulated.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      You can get MM on Virtual Console, or if you don’t have a Wii or N64, I’d honestly recommend less-than-licit emulation – it’s simply a must-play game.

      And I hadn’t made the connection, but the adventure-gamey townsfolk tasks/missions in MM are very reminiscent of Varicella.  Over the 3 days, everyone has a schedule that they follow, and over the course of the game, you become increasingly familiar with their schedules, and use that knowledge to complete your tasks.

      The Last Express is a great game – and I recall it being well-designed enough that I never had to juggle save files. Any time I got a game over, the game automatically turned back time to before I made whatever decision led me down the wrong path, so I was never completely stuck.

  • Basement Boy

    Picking nits here, I know, but when do you “win” Tetris? Is beating your own high score “winning”? Tetris is like life; everything just comes at you faster and faster and you scramble more frantically until AAAAAHHH, *Top Out*!!!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Yeah, I take issue with that opening paragraph. Plenty of games, major, mainstream games, have no win state. Including standard modes of Tetris, and the Sim City (and Sims, I think) games.

  • The G & P Trixie

    It’s weird, Majora’s Mask is a game that I feel I should I should be a fan of because its aesthetics and overall concepts and themes appeal to me, but I can’t stand to play it. I have a perpetually half-way finished playthrough because I simply can’t be buggered to play it. There’s just something about it that makes it impossible for me to care about.

    But Dark Souls? Oh man I love that game. I picked it up after one of my friends got it for Christmas and was playing it. I fully expected to hate it and thought I’d end up taking it back, but I didn’t.
     
    Instead, the dark tone and unique, sparse lore drew me in. I spent hours studying the Wiki and interrogating my friend, learning the secrets of the game. I seethed at the unfairness of the Capra fight. I got so angry at the Bed of Chaos I ended up punching it to death.

    Sure, the game got a little weak after Anor Londo, and the gimmicks in some of the areas afterwards seemed a little cheap (in fact, I’d say Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith are two of the absolute WORST levels in video game history), but the overall experience was FANTASTIC. I could spend hours just wandering around looking at the architecture and level design.

    What I’m trying to say is Dark Souls is one of my all-time favourite video games.

    • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

      The Capra fight was infuriating!  A friend beat it in three tries, but, outside of the final boss of the game, nothing in the game gave me more trouble than the Capra.  I still have minor rage seizures thinking about that fight.

      What did  you have against Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith?  I don’t recall anything particularly frustrating about either.

      • SnugglyCrow

         Capra was 3hrs+ of over and over again deaths but, as many people say about this game, the satisfaction that comes with finally beating someone like that is huge.  Beating Smough+Ornstein and the Four Kings felt like huge accomplishments.

        I picked up Demons Souls about 9mos ago and got to King Allant at about 11pm one night.  At around midnight I made the pact I’d go to bed after beating him.  At 3am the frustration was immense and as tired as I was I still craved the win and refused to write off the multiple hours and go to bed empty handed.  The fact he was frequently stealing soul levels from me left me despondent and at about 5:30am I finally admitted defeat.  I beat him a night or two later when my wife was in the room and I was running around in circles pumping my fist in the air celebrating.  I’ve never received a videogame beatdown like that and have never felt such a sense of videogame accomplishment once it was over.

        • http://avclub.com/ Poo McPooperson

          “Beating Smough+Ornstein…”

          I wish I could say that. I really got into the game and it’s about as rewarding of a thing as I’ve played in years. I got to the S+O battle right around the weekend that Skyward Sword came out and due to that game (SS which I haven’t finished either), and life, work business…etc I haven’t gone back to it (yet). I’m actually scared – if that’s the right word – to re-enter the Souls world again and I didn’t even come close to beating Smough+Orstein. Damn lightening.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          Smough and Ornstein didn’t trouble me NEARLY as much as I thought they would.  The first couple times I fought them, I summoned Solaire to help.  I came close, but I just couldn’t do it.

          I finally ran so low on Humanity it just wasn’t worth it, and I decided to just dash from the bonfire to the bossfight without touching any of the other enemies.  I got in there with a pouch full of black firebombs, the ring that gives you more casts of spells, and the most powerful pyromancy spells I could afford.

          It was a brutal fight, but I beat them on that first try, post-Solaire.  A lot of the bosses many people had trouble with – S+O, the Four Kings, Nito – I found you can beat pretty easily with sheer, brute force.  Time your attacks well and you can beat a lot of them without ever even resorting to clever tricks or melee combat.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

          What was so hard about Four Kings?

        • SnugglyCrow

           Were the Four Kings not difficult?  I spent a long time making repeated trips from the Undead Parish to the Four Kings because there was no closer bonfire for me.  I was a bit sloppy with my attacks and eventually killed them with alotta pyromancy and a +5 lighting spear.  It took me a fair amount of trial and error to get my strategy down.  I can be slow like that.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          I had a friend who almost quit the game because of the Four Kings (he did quit before beating Nito), but I didn’t have that much trouble.  For a lot of the trickier bosses, I found that a combination of the Bellowing Dragoncrest Ring along with the Crown of Dusk and either the White Seance/Darkmoon Seance Ring or the Dusk Crown Ring made it easy to simply outpace the damage of some of the bosses.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

          @SnugglyCrow:disqus by the time I took on Four Kings I had Havel’s Armor, the Dark Grain Wood Ring, and a +5 Lightning Claymore so I just ran up to them, wailed on them, and repeated

      • The G & P Trixie

        For starters, the Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith have horrible lighting and colour scheme. It’s a very dark level with bright red/orange glows from the lava. It’s a headache-inducing setup.

        Secondly, Demon Ruins has way too many bosses. You have to fight Ceaseless Discharge to access the rest of it, run a guantlet of Taurus Demons and Capra Demons to reach the next boss, that boss is another palette swap of the first boss in the game, and then you have to fight the Centipede Demon to reach Lost Izalith.

        Lost Izalith is poorly balanced. It’s a very small level and it has two bonfires, but the problem is the roughly fifty Dragon Asses hopping around making your life miserable. If they had respawned every time I rested I probably would’ve snapped the game disc in half.

        And finally, the boss of Lost Izalith is insulting. It’s a stupid puzzle boss in a game that didn’t need one. It’s a very poorly balanced fight.

        Those two areas to me are the nadir of the game. They just weren’t fun, not even in the challenging way the rest of the game was. They were just a slog.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          I didn’t have anything against Demon Ruins, except that I didn’t know the worm demons could instantly shatter your weapon… something I learned very, very much to my dismay.  The Taurus/Capra fights weren’t even that hard by that point, though I admit that I was cheating and using the Winged Spear/shield build, which is amazing for fighting monsters like that in tight hallways and narrow ledges.

          I was trying to figure out why Lost Izalith didn’t ring any bells with me, and then I realized – I took the Chaos Servant entrance.  Using that bypasses all the ‘dragon asses’ completely, I believe.  Though, yeah, that boss fight was something of a letdown.

          The only area I hated as much as you disliked those two was The Great Hollow.  The combination of incredibly narrow pathways and those friggin’ baselisks made it a borderline miracle that I got through it at all.  That place was MISERABLE.

        • SnugglyCrow

          I don’t have issues with individual level design(and found it wasn’t too difficult to weave in and out of all the ‘Dragon Asses’ after I had already picked up the surrounding treasure–re-fighting them after each death would, indeed, be a slog) but the world design of Demons Souls vs. Dark Souls left me frustrated for awhile.  It took me a decent amount of time to fight through the Tomb of the Giants and was a little ticked to run into the dead end of the yellow door.  At around the same time I was avoiding the Smough+Ornstein fight and decided to hit the New Londo Ruins and then ran into the dead end of not being able to drain the water due to not having the seal.  Demons Souls was nice because the objective was simple–get to the end of the level.  Dark Souls had me frustrated for awhile as I didn’t want to turn to the internet to solve my problems. 

          The instruction book they give you is anemic and learning from the few markings left on the ground of the Undead Asylum is a bit of a joke.  I’d be interested in hearing exactly what the game designers had in mind here.  I prefer to do as much in a game as possible without help but there’s no way you could ever platinum the game without extensive internet assistance–and if you decide not to go online at all you miss out on huge concepts.  No way I’m going to trial and error all the different weapons/acensions.  And alot of what you can do in the game amounts almost more to discovering easter eggs than actually figuring out logical puzzles.  How many people are going to shoot a dragon’s tail 50+ times when the first 49 attempts have what appears to be no effect?  And throwing Lloyd’s Talisman into a mimic to quell it and snatch it’s treasure?  Who figured that out? 

          I’m nearing the 100hr mark and spend a fair amount of time mulling this over.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

          Except Ceaseless Discharge could be beaten right after Quelanna with an easy trick and Centipede and Fire Sage went down in one go. And that’s if you didn’t grind humanity to get the shortcut.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

          @SnugglyCrow:disqus : the idea is to get people to trade knowledge and tips. That’s what makes it fun. I walked my friend through the back entrance to Blighttown Swamps, for example.

        • The G & P Trixie

          @facebook-684620608:disqus  Indeed. My issue with the Demon Ruins isn’t that the bossess are hard (they aren’t), it’s that there’s three of them in a fairly small area. The Undead Burg and Undead Asylum both have multiple enemies in a similarly small area, but they’re paced out much better. Demon Ruins is just a slow slog punctuated by bosses.

          The quick and dirty Ceaseless kill does make it much simpler, however.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        I got Capra in three hits. Gargoyles were easy too. The only bosses that really gave me trouble were Smough and Ormstein (who weren’t that horrible) and Gwyn (who you can kill easily if you summon Sunbro). Also, grind humanity to unlock the Lost Izalith shortcut.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          Gargoyles gave me a ridiculous amount of trouble.  That fight was friggin’ ridiculous.  I think it was just the early bosses – my build was pretty weak in the beginning, but I guess it picked up a lot at the game went on and I figured out how to play.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        @SaoirseRonanTheAccuser:disqus : Exactly! For Smough and Ormstein, upgrade a weapon so it does lightning damage. Isolate Ormstein and kill him, then hang back and stab Smough every time he does a butt stomp.

      • The G & P Trixie

        Anyway, in response to your reply below (Disqus is really poor at handling multiple replies to one comment, but I’m sure this has been pointed out before):

        The demons are pretty easy to kill, and the Winged Spear is extremely useful throughout the game (in fact it was my main weapon for most of the game). It’s only aggroing ONE demon at a time that’s tricky. What seems like an simple fight is greatly complicated when you’re dodging two Taurus Demon clubs instead of one.

        And yeah, the shortcut the Chaosbros open up helps immensely. I opened it just to kill the bugs and save Solaire, but I still went through the normal way because I’m a completionist.

        I only went to Great Hollow once, but I’ll agree it was frustrating.

        On a side note, people have trouble with Nito? He was disappointingly easy to me. Maybe he’s harder if you don’t have a divine weapon to kill his minions?

        • SnugglyCrow

           I’m sure there’s a youtube video of somebody fighting Nito without a divine weapon but for me  that just seemed flatout impossible.  I tried maybe a dozen times and got one or two hits on him total.  The constantly regenerating skeletons that would somersault towards me were a total dealbreaker.  I upgraded to a +5 divine scythe and after that beat him in my first attempt.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

          @SnugglyCrow:disqus I beat him with a lightning weapon and weak pyromancy, but it took 2 or 3 tries.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          I fought Nito without a divine weapon. He was dead before any of his minions even reached me, and I didn’t take a single hit.  Outside of Moonlight Butterfly, he was the easiest boss in the game.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          Also, with regards to the Capra/Taurus Demons in the Ruins – did you try equipping the… I think it was the Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring?  Might have been the Fog Ring, not sure.

          Anyway, it made you harder to detect, which in turn made it easier to pull a single Taurus Demon at a time.

      • The G & P Trixie

         I had the Dragoncrest Ring, but not the Fog Ring. The only way I could get the Fog Ring was by trading to Snuggy and whatever she wanted for that ring I didn’t want to give up.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          Ah. I ditched the Skull Lantern pretty quickly in favor of the Cast Light spell, so it was no big deal to me.

  • Knuxo

    One little kink in your Majora’s Mask thesis: it is possible to alter the flow of time to make life a little easier. If you play the Song of Time backwards, time slows down to about half, essentially negating its constraint, at least when you go through the dungeons.

    • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

      He does point that out at the end of the article. Nevertheless, presumably that is not information you start the game knowing, just like you don’t start Dark Souls knowing all the shortcuts and boss weaknesses.

      • Knuxo

        D’oh. My bad.

    • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

       The thing about that is that you have to talk to an inessential scarecrow to learn about this song, and the scarecrow doesn’t actually tell you what to play to make it happen.

  • forbidden_donut

    With that song to slow down time, MM is pretty forgiving. I don’t recall many instances of having to start over and over until determining a specific schedule or finishing a dungeon in time, just a couple tricky sidequests.

    Dark Souls actually reminds me more of the NES Zelda games, with the dangerous and unforgiving world that requires a lot of practice and patience to pass through. In fact, Dark Souls feels more like a 3D Zelda game than … any of the actual 3D Zelda games.

    • Sarah T.

       Yeah, Majora’s Mask does have a few key things that make the mechanic easier, namely the Notebook which hints as to what needs to be done when for sidequests (but, often fatally, not where).

      The water temple is famously difficult to complete in time.

      • RidleyFGJ

        It’s always funny to hear people still rattle on about how ridiculous the Water Temple was in OoT, but Great Bay Temple is far more devious and features a boss that doesn’t die in 10 seconds from the start of the battle. And like you mentioned, you literally don’t have all day to beat it.

    • Agnes Günther

      Yup, I don’t remember having too much trouble progressing during the three days (although failing to save the farm from aliens after beating the snowpeak boss and waiting around a whole lot was annoying).

      Now, the sidequests however – making one wrong move during the last five minutes of the third day after jumping through all the hoops of the Kafei-plot rendering everything undone… *gaah*

  • forbidden_donut

    With that song to slow down time, MM is pretty forgiving. I don’t recall many instances of having to start over and over until determining a specific schedule or finishing a dungeon in time, just a couple tricky sidequests.

    Dark Souls actually reminds me more of the NES Zelda games, with the dangerous and unforgiving world that requires a lot of practice and patience to pass through. In fact, Dark Souls feels more like a 3D Zelda game than … any of the actual 3D Zelda games.

  • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

    Not sure if you ever heard of Ephemeral Fantasia, but that’s a game that uses a similar mechanic.  It’s an RPG, though you do very, very little fighting – basically, you play a minstrel and a thief invited to perform at a lavish royal wedding on an island, and, along with the rest of the island, you get caught in a time loop that forces you to relive the same week leading up to the wedding over and over.  You can free other people from the loop so they, like you, can remember what’s happened, but you have to be choosy.  For example, freeing the watchmaker early in the game lets her construct something to bring your money and items with you through the loop, but she’s rubbish in a fight.

    It’s not a great game, but I LOVED it as a teenager.  It was just such a cool idea – ripped off from Majora’s Mask, I now learn, a game I badly want to play – and it made such interesting use of fairly basic JRPG elements.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I wanted to love it, being a combination of Radiata Stories, Chrono Cross, and The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.  I think Radiant Historia did something similarly neat with role-playing game basics.

  • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

    Not sure if you ever heard of Ephemeral Fantasia, but that’s a game that uses a similar mechanic.  It’s an RPG, though you do very, very little fighting – basically, you play a minstrel and a thief invited to perform at a lavish royal wedding on an island, and, along with the rest of the island, you get caught in a time loop that forces you to relive the same week leading up to the wedding over and over.  You can free other people from the loop so they, like you, can remember what’s happened, but you have to be choosy.  For example, freeing the watchmaker early in the game lets her construct something to bring your money and items with you through the loop, but she’s rubbish in a fight.

    It’s not a great game, but I LOVED it as a teenager.  It was just such a cool idea – ripped off from Majora’s Mask, I now learn, a game I badly want to play – and it made such interesting use of fairly basic JRPG elements.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/X7KV5ER2DHTJNR2MTU3PB4P3HU Jeremy L

    To anyone who has tried Dark Souls and found it too frustrating to continue with: I was in the exact same boat as you. The manager at my local gamestop recommended it to me and within an hour of playing, I was furious and ready to get a refund. 

    I decided to give one last effort at one of the first mini-bosses before handing in the towel and what do you know, I beat him. The rest was history. I was completely engrossed in the beautiful world and story that Dark Souls has to offer. Completing this game was the most rewarding gaming experience I have ever had the pleasure of struggling through.

    Yes, the learning curve is incredibly high at first, but once you get the basics down and learn to take the game slowly, you’ll be enjoying yourself more than you ever could have imagined. 

    Dark Souls changed my gaming experience. It can change yours too.

  • duwease

    All this talk of Dark Souls’ challenge and learning through repeated failure is tempting me to go back and finish the last level of Super Meat Boy’s Dark World.  For some reason, I got all the way to that final-final level and just decided I had reached my frustration limit.. strange, considering the level is maybe only a minute and a half long if done correctly.

  • http://twitter.com/Whirlygig17 Sean Egan

    Majora’s Mask is awesome. And really fucking creepy. Probably my favorite Zelda game. For those of you who don’t know, there’s a pretty cool creepypasta/ARG that takes advantage of MM natural disturbing feel to good effect. I recommend checking it out here:

    http://z15.invisionfree.com/Within_Hubris/index.php?showtopic=494 

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Ah yes! I love that story. Also I really like the creepypasta/fan fic mashup of TF2 and Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.

    • http://twitter.com/philipbuuck Philip Buuck

      I really enjoyed Majora’s Mask too, but I found it extremely difficult to figure out at the beginning.  The ‘Groundhog Day’ dynamic is one that hasn’t been very well tuned in modern games, but one that I think can ultimately lead to a groundbreaking video game.  Majora’s Mask had too many inherent flaws to be that groundbreaker, but I think there are promises of interesting gameplay from it.

  • 3FistedHumdinger

    The hardest part of Dark Souls isn’t the mechanics, those are fair.  Brutal, but honestly fair.  It isn’t the enemies, either.  Every one has a weakness.  It is easily the other players; they can be avoided, but the game both rewards and punishes you for being available to other players.  So, in that sense, the vaunted difficulty lies more in your PVP skill, build, and most importantly, connection speed.

    PSN ID: NickW855 if anyone wants to play DS together, I’m on it fairly often.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I like that interpretation.

      Mine’s my username, but it would be nice if our profiles here could have our various monikers.  I don’t think that’s possible if these are only Disqus-based, though.

    • The_Misanthrope

       Xbox Live handle:  DormantParasite

      I’ve actually done very little of the PvP or co-op, because it can never seem to connect for me.  I suspect it might be due to my ISP throttling my internet, thinking that the game is some punk trying to bittorrent some illegal stuff.

    • Raging Bear

      Mine’s RagingBear on PSN, Steam, Game Center, and Words With Friends. I’m not very active on any of these.

    • doyourealize

      Haven’t done too much PvP in Dark Souls yet.  Loved Demon’s Souls and got really into it, then picked up Dark Souls on day one and loved, but for whatever reason never really got into PvP.  I should probably try again.

      Is 120 still the recommended level or is it different?

      PSN is my username (also Xbox and Steam IDs)

      • 3FistedHumdinger

        SL120 remains the standard, yeah.  It seems to have a little more leeway than Demons’ Souls with that, though.  I’ve asked other players I’ve encountered what their SL was, and I’ve gotten answers from 80-140.

        If you’re not into PVP, it’s perfectly acceptable to co-op PVE. If that’s the case, SL almost requires you to be SL115-125 for any success matching up to other players.

        • doyourealize

          I assume the matching system is similar to the first game, which had a formula to calculate the level range of joinable players, although invaders could never be a higher level than the host.

          I was always more of an “invader” rather a PvPer, but I dabbled, and lost more than I won, but it was fun.  I see more Dark Souls in my near future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sam-Eacott/100003737355355 Sam Eacott

    Does anyone think the Witcher 2 is like this? I’m beginning to think I just really suck at that game :/

    • Effigy_Power

       I have it sitting there, haven’t played all that much yet, but was quickly discouraged not so much by how hard the game is (which it is), but how little help it gives you.
      A girl runs away from town. She’s now somewhere. Find her.
      Really? No hint? No indication of direction or location?
      Sheesh… the game seems to require a lot more focus than I am willing to give it, despite the fact that it’s gorgeous, gritty and has great breast support. ^_^
      Maybe I am spoiled by games like Skyrim that hold your hand every step of the way… but maybe sometimes devs just make quests very vague so the can say “game x promises y game hours”… yeah… spent searching for stuff.

      • doyourealize

        I actually kind of liked this about this game.  Most quests give you a direction, but some don’t, so the thought is you’ll hopefully stumble on something while completing another quest.  If every quest expected you just to explore a huge country, I would understand the frustration, but I think the fact that some of them don’t lead you is a good idea.  I know games aren’t real life, but if a girl ran away from you, you wouldn’t see a cursor telling you which way to go to find her.  Some things, though, you could always find on a map.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

      I hope it’s like this. I need my fix!

    • doyourealize

      It’s not really like this at all.  The beginning of the game is brutal and can be trying, but after the experience tree opens up, combat becomes a lot easier, except for one boss fight.  At least that’s how it was on PC.  Not sure if they’ve tweaked difficulty or anything.

  • Nertz

    Yeah, yeah, Majora’s Mask is so awesome because it’s dark and creepy. Whatever. Just let me save my progress in a dungeon I’ve been playing for two hours straight because I’m tired of looking for those stupid fairies that hide in jars or enemies or beehives or slightly discolored rocks in the walls and ceilings. 
    I suppose I should be thankful the game only puts 15 of them in every dungeon.  So I’ve got all but two, and I’m near the boss already huh? Yay, I was looking for an excuse to retrace my steps back through every possible room with that stupid mask on while repeatedly hitting a bunch of switches that alter the structure of the dungeon. The time limit only makes it more fun, right? Remind me again why people complain about dowsing in Skyward Sword.

  • http://twitter.com/shortino John Shortino

    The first time I played Majora’s Mask, I was pretty amazed when I failed to get the ocarina back in time. The screen goes black, and then the words, “Something terrible has happened to you, hasn’t it?” appear on screen. It was pretty dark. It ended up being my favorite Zelda game, though, because of the sense of doom and the fact that some of the side quests are just making death a little more acceptable for the minor characters.

    This article really makes me want to play Dark Souls. 

  • remly

    The game is super cool! I cannot stop playing. If you want to buy you can find it really cheap at Kinguin, they have the lowest price!