Monthly Archives: November 2012

On Satan Goat

Ever since our acquaintance over at VGJunk wrote about Crossed Swords and mentioned a boss from that game named Satan Goat, it seems like the video games we’ve been playing have taken that amazing name as a challenge and now they keep trying to out-great Satan Goat. We would feel bad that the other Deadly Villains are ganging up on Satan Goat, but he can handle himself. He is sin spawn, after all.

We’re going to take the time to make a little tribute to all of these guys and their fantastic names. There is a caveat…we’re only going to list bosses we’ve actually faced. An important part of having an awesome name is matching your awesome name, and we can’t pass judgment on enemies we haven’t met yet. We have bosses to list from two games: Dark Souls and Deathsmiles. We’ll save Deathsmiles for next time and start with Dark Souls:

Capra Demon

Having seen the success that Satan Goat was met with, the From Software team decided to appropriate the character. After carefully changing the character’s name using the power of a thesaurus, they ended up with the Capra Demon. He’s the first really difficult boss encounter of the game. The Capra Demon is not so bad by himself, but he’s accompanied by two dogs that are not afraid to nip your heels a bit and put you in a state of stunlock that that allows the Demon to beat your head in a leisurely manner. It’s an excellent early example of relatively easy enemies who become much more difficult in groups.

If the developers of Dark Souls were to change anything about the game, I would ask that they have Darkthrone start playing at the start of this fight. Maybe some Watain? Really, any entertainer who has refused to go on stage due to a venue’s refusal to provide adequate sticks and animal blood would do. There’s nothing more black metal than a demon in raggedy clothes, two big knives and a goat skull for a head EXCEPT for all of those things accompanied by some men in corpse paint.

Gaping Dragon

This monster was used in a lot of press materials because it looks really scary with all of its sharp bits, but it may be the easiest boss in the game. You just stand by it’s tail and hit it with your weapon, adjusting position every now and again to stay out of the way of its stomping and grabbing. However, that’s not what is important just now.

Follow us down the twisted road that our mind constructed around this name and the monster’s appearance. If you’re a normal person, you might think of a gaping wound or a gaping sore, which is appropriate. If you’re a denizen of the Internet, the word “gaping” may immediately make you think of a very specific niche in the world of pornography. Either way, upon seeing the monster’s appearance, one can’t help but think of vagina dentata. You know, that myth about the ability of a lady’s nether regions to spring to life during intercourse, grow teeth and chew the organ off of an unsuspecting male. There was an excellent movie about it! Anyways, that’s what we think of every time we reach this boss. Take from that what you will.

Another interesting thing this boss brings up with its distinctly representing a vagina is gender issues! We could probably write a whole blog on the gender things that run through Dark Souls, but we’ll stay our hand for now. However, you might that dragons are representations of traditional masculinity: serpentine, intimidating, majestic and difficult to kill in most mythologies. Indeed, the other dragons we’ve met in the game have been dragons in this more classical sense. The Gaping Dragon happens to more closely resemble traditional feminine traits: a vagina-like creature that, while intimidating at first, lives in the bottom of a sewer, spews toxins, and is absurdly easy to kill. We’re just saying.

Chaos Witch Quelaag

Quelaag is half sexy lady, half lava-spewing spider. These characteristics make her great. It pleases us that they didn’t call her “Black Widow” or some crap like that. They could have too! She is a sexy lady who lured us into her web or something. She’s fairly difficult if you’re not resistant to fire damage. She’ll box you in with lava puddles and then hack you to death with her Furysword in no time.

The cutscene that plays when you reach her area is hilarious, creepy and awesome:

We don’t really know what we can say about her that isn’t said by that cutscene. She is a fallen Witch of Izalith whose bottom half got melded to a spider during a spell that went horribly wrong. She feels contempt for her sister who, also having been melded to a spider, has devoted herself to easing the suffering of the people that live in the Great Swamp by sucking all of the poison out of them at the cost of her health. Quelaag doesn’t want to suck the poison out of them, and thinks her sister is ridiculous for helping the humans. It’s all very sad if you start getting her backstory. That’s why we’ve decided think of her solely in these terms: Half Sexy Lady, Half Lava Spewing Spider, All Uproarious Cutscene.

Ceaseless Discharge

This is, without doubt, the best name for a boss we’ve come across in all of our years of video games. CEASELESS DISCHARGE. He’s so cool with all his tentacles and lava. The Internet postulates that he is another one of the fallen Witches of Izalith, which would make him a she, but I don’t think so based on some item description text in the game. We’re not going to get into that though…he’s plenty awesome just as a monster.
He is difficult to kill with legitimate melee or ranged attacks, but he does have a special “cheap” environmental kill where you can coerce him into leaping off of the cliff that he walks along. We killed him with regular melee the first time we faced him and, resigning to never do that again, have moved on to making him jump off his cliff. It’s a little more sad for him that way if you’re an empathetic sort, but trying to kill him the regular way for a little while will quickly turn that sympathy to contempt. Wine into vinegar. Bread into moldy bread. You don’t want that.

CEASELESS DISCHARGE. It makes one think of either an open sore or niche porn, and then he smacks you with a tentacle and you die. The trash talk you can hit him with is limitless (ceaseless?):

“I’ll cease your discharge.”
“Cease and desist, motherfucker.”
“Stop it.”

See? And that’s just off the top of our head! Plus, he’s an AI so he can’t talk back.

Dragonslayer Ornstein & Executioner Smough

Finally, we have these two German gentlemen. This boss fight is where a lot of people stop playing. It’s certainly where WE stopped playing 9 months ago. You really need a strategy going in to kill them. They wouldn’t be hard apart, but Ornstein’s fast attacks and Smough’s slow ones compliment each other perfectly and can drain your stamina really quickly if you’re not patient. Once you kill one, the other acquires his defining characteristic and the fight gets harder. Ugh. You’ll be pleased to read that on this most recent playthrough, we were able to kill them on our first attempt! Bully for us.

Tactics and armor aside, this manages to be kind of a creepy fight due to its atmosphere. The names invoke majesty, almost to the point of reverence, but the music that plays during the cutscene and the boss fight is so depressing! See below:

These two men have just been waiting around in their gilded armor for us to come and kill them. The beautiful destructible environment doesn’t help either. They’re destroying their sanctuary! It’s very church-like, and the whole thing feels like you’re bringing down the façade that some farce of a religion has been hiding behind. You are, but that doesn’t stop it being a little morose. The armor’s a little creepy too if you consider it for a bit. Once again, Dark Souls is depressing if you spend too much time thinking about it.

So those are the cool boss names we’ve happened upon in our time with Dark Souls. If you’re not convinced that a name is awesome, just say it aloud in that monster truck advertisement voice and you’ll hear it.

We chipped away at it just a little bit when we got off topic in this post, but you can imagine that there’s a lot of Business going on in Dark Souls beneath the surface. It’s a rare sort of video game that incorporates the gameplay, lore, and allegory into some cohesive themes, and we’ll try to go into some of that later.

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Prepare Vous a Morir

We’re back to playing Dark Souls again after a 9-month hiatus brought on by our defeat over and over and over at the hands of Smough and Ornstein. This playthrough has been going really smoothly and it’s made us think that some of the difficulty in Dark Souls is artificial. Not to say that it’s not hard, but it does a lot of things to make one think it’s hard, and that goes a long way towards creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where one’s spirit is crushed. Then comes the miserable circle of ice cream and despair. Some of these things were covered in this blog over on Gamasutra, but we think there might be a few points that that writer did not discuss:

  • The paratext surrounding this game is probably the chief reason that people think it’s so hard. What with it saying Prepare to Die in English and French right there on the back cover. And the trailers full of big monsters and death montages. And the tradeshow previews going on about how hard that armored pig at the start of the game sat on people and killed them. And the reviews going on about the games difficulty, probably mostly because the reviewer was trying to meet a deadline and didn’t have the time to just learn how to do things. Dark Souls is a game designed for a person who’s devoted to video games, and the marketing people at From Software took that into account while they were advertising for it in the months leading up to release. Dark Souls requires you to learn its terms and then play along with them. A press event or a week before your review is due is just not enough time to adequately learn how to play the game, so the gaming press was set upon by a big metal pig over and over again and that’s the narrative that stuck to the game.
  • Like we mentioned above, Dark Souls requires that you play on its terms. What are those terms? There’s pretty much only one: Wear Your Patience Pants. Especially for a new player, if a few moments are taken to learn an enemy’s habits and wait for an opening rather than rushing into a fight, every enemy can be defeated with relative ease. This is a game where boss fights can take upwards of fifteen minutes if you’re being extra cautious, and the player needs to accept that fact going in and wait for the opportunities that the enemies give them.
  • All of the tools anyone needs to get through this game can be purchased, created, or farmed as early as Sen’s Fortress. Granted, a lot of the cool stuff doesn’t come until a bit later, but you can meet any challenge at a relatively early point in the game if you use your knowledge of enemy weaknesses. If you can figure out how to start getting elemental weapons early, or at least how to upgrade your weapons, you can kill just about anything with ease. If you can’t, there isn’t anything that can stand up to you once you get your lightning spear in Sen’s.
  • If you’re thorough, there’s a restoring bonfire at just about every five to ten minutes while you’re playing. That’s a new crop of estus flasks and spells every five to ten minutes. The creators of this game give the player SO MUCH HEALTH. Further, the bonfires act as checkpoints, so you’re never more than five to ten minutes from your last death, which really isn’t that awful. In short, if you do manage to run out of resources, you never have to go very far to get more. The bonfires may restore all of the enemies to their positions, but each time through the level and the enemies gives you a bit more experience (Experience Points in real life!) and more souls to level up and buy stuff with. The game forces you to learn through rote repetition! It’s like you never left work. See? We’re having fun.
  • The surprises in Dark Souls can only surprise the player once. There are a lot of pressure plates and hidden enemies, but after they kill you once, you ought to always know where they are, and then it’s just a matter of figuring out how to pass them. This goes back to what we were saying about the gaming press earlier. This game is really hard to play the first time through and you will die over and over again, but if you take the time to learn the levels and what the game expects of you, it’s really not so terrible. The natural progression for the game is to just move a little bit past where you last died on each attempt until you know the whole level inside and out. There are areas that took us an entire evening to conquer earlier this year, and on this playthrough we’re breezing through them in 10 minutes. Not so terrible.
  • Leading from the last point, some of the toughest enemies in the game don’t respawn once you kill them. We’re not entirely sure why, but we’re not going to complain. Those blow dart snipers suck. Actually, we suppose they blow. Anyways, it’s weird that the blow dart snipers and black knights don’t respawn, but the skeleton dogs do. The skeleton dogs are the unqualified Most Difficult Enemy We’ve Met So Far, and there’s so many of them! Anyways, we must be thankful for little mercies, and the distinctive lack of blow dart snipers after you’ve killed them is one of those.
  • The fact that your game can be invaded by other players at any time is pretty terrifying for some players, including us. Single player only, please. If an invader kills you, you lose all of your souls and humanity in your bloodstain just like any other death. However, to stop the terror, all you need to do is stay hollow for the whole game. No one will invade you if you’re hollow. The only thing that’s not predictable and repetitive in this game is the PvP, and that actually has to be initiated by the player through the use of their humanity pool. You only get invaded if you want to! Demon’s Souls was actually a lot harsher in this regard and halved the player’s health if they weren’t human. In Dark Souls, there’s not even this penalty. You can easily play through the whole game invasion free, nullifying the only unpredictable aspect of Dark Souls.
  • The diegesis is that last thing we’d like to point out. From the bleak environments to the tattered and/or imposing enemies, the general atmosphere of Dark Souls is bleak and depressing. If you’re the sort of person to read all of the item descriptions and explore the game’s backstory, you’ll find a lot of failing and backstabbing and mutilation. We won’t go into detail, but suffice to say there’s some messed up business going on this game. The developers reinforce the idea that the game is really hard by showing the player all of the hopeless NPCs and the powerful AI opponents that are oppressing them.

So that’s our discussion on that. Like we said earlier, this is not to say that the game is not hard or that it is not excellent, because it is both of those things. The developers were able to install the notion of extreme difficulty in their game well before it was released through savvy marketing.  It was then maintained and heightened by post-release reviews and press releases that players eagerly ate up. Both of the Souls games have become something of a “hardcore” standard in video games and allow a person who has beaten one or both of them to carry a good deal of player cred, and we’re quite sure that From Software likes that status.  It’s like playing through a Lars Von Trier movie!