At the top of my list of favorite game franchises, sits 2 seemingly unlikely companions: one is the first 4 Silent Hill games developed by Konami's internal "Team Silent" studio; the other is the series of "Souls-Borne" games created by From Software. If these 2 franchises are not my number 1 and number 2, respectively, then they are both definitely in my top 3, with Sid Meier's Civilization being the only other real contender.

On the surface, Silent Hill and the Souls-Borne games don't seem to have a lot in common, nor would one necessarily think that they would appeal to overlapping audiences. In some senses, it would seem that they couldn't be further apart. Silent Hill is a series of slow-paced psychological horror games with linear narratives, that emphasize puzzles and encourage the player to run away from threats and avoid the games' poorly-developed combat mechanics. The Souls-Borne games are frenetic action-RPGs that barely have any plot at all, and which are built entirely around combat mechanics, and which are infamous for their difficult gameplay. But despite the radically divergent styles of gameplay that these 2 franchise offer, they both contain similar themes and are open to similar artistic interpretations, which appeal to me, personally because of a particular aspect of my core beliefs and identity.

You see, I'm an atheist. More specifically, I consider myself to be a "strong atheist", "anti-theist", and "secular humanist", among other labels. Not only do I not accept any of the various god-claims due to insufficient evidence; I also positively believe and assert, with confidence, that there are no gods at all. Now, I'm sure that I've just invited a slew of commenters who will try to convert me or share their beliefs for why their personal god is real, but I'm not here to argue about the theology. Besides, I've pretty much heard it all. Not just on the internet, but also from extended family. God of the gaps, personal incredulity, watch-maker, Pascal's Wager, Kalam and other various Cosmological Arguments. I've heard it all -- or at least most of it. And I reject it all.

I am as confident in my belief that there is no god, as I am in my belief that there is no Santa Clause (and for many of the same reasons). So unless you think you can convince me that Santa Clause is real, you're probably wasting your time trying to convince me about your god.

View this entire essay in video format on YouTube.

But my atheism goes a bit further. I'm also an anti-theist, and I believe that religion and religious institutions are also dangerous and do more harm to society than good.

And based on my own personal reading of both Silent Hill and the Souls-Bornes, it seems that both game franchises kind of agree with me.

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Demon's Souls (PS5) - title

I was finally able to get a Play Station 5 for Christmas. It wasn't easy. I was on a Sony waiting list for months before finally getting the email invite to purchase one. When I booted it up on Christmas Day, I tested it out by playing a few hours of the included Astro's Playroom, while I waited for my first batch of digitally-purchased games to download and install. One of the first of those games was Bluepoint's remake of Demon's Souls.

The original Demon's Souls for PS3 is one of my favorite games ever, so my expectations for the remake were quite high. I was certain that a recreation as faithful as Bluepoint's Shadow of the Colossus remake would be good, but I also felt that Demon's Souls offered a lot more opportunity for improvement compared to the much simpler Shadow of the Colossus.

Technical improvements streamline play

Obviously, the visuals are dramatically improved. There's cloth physics, weather and particle effects, really good lighting, and all the other "next-gen" bells and whistles that one would expect. But the new hardware doesn't only allow visual improvements; it also allows for some technical improvements that do dramatically improve the gameplay experience. Perhaps the best of these technical improvements is the faster load times given by the use of a solid state hard drive.

Dying isn't as much of an inconvenience thanks to faster load times.

Quicker load times make a world of difference. Obviously, it's helpful to only have to wait a few seconds before getting back into the action after dying, rather than having to wait a whole minute to try again. But the quick loading also helps with other activities in game, such as farming. Bluepoint added the ability to warp from an archstone to any other unlocked archstone in the same world, including the one you are standing at. This allows the player to reset the current level, which can be very helpful for farming certain enemies for experience or item drops, and the loading only takes a few seconds. Barely more than sitting at a bonfire in Dark Souls!

The quick load times are also useful for things like reloading the game to refresh crystal lizards, or to trade items with Sparkly the Crow.

The smoother, 60 frames per second framerate also helps make the action feel much smoother, which might hopefully spare players from having to suffer as many deaths from mis-timing dodges and parries or from mashing a button too many times and queuing up the wrong action. The game looks and feels faster and smoother, while still maintaining the slow, weighty, and methodical pace of play of the original.

I'm less impressed by the PvP netcode. I never had problems with lag or other network issues in the original Demon's Souls on the PS3. But I rarely invaded and wasn't very good at PvP, so I might not have survived invasions long enough to realize if the original netcode was laggy or unresponsive.

I've experienced a lot of lag and other network issues during PvP.

In this remake, I'm trying to make more of a point of playing the PvP more. Not only am I engaging in more invasions with the Black Eye Stone, but I'm also reviving to human to play through most levels in the hopes of encountering some invasions from other players. I'm not being invaded a whole lot, so I'm assuming that PvP isn't very active in the remake -- or maybe being on Pacific time means all the invaders are already asleep by the time I'm able to play the game later at night. But when I do have PvP encounters, I notice a lot more lag and questionable parries and backstabs than I remember seeing in the original game.

I guess the improvement in console hardware did not lead to a smoother online play experience?

Consumables can be consumed in bulk.

The single player, however, plays very smoothly, and there are other technical refinements as well. Inventory management is simplified. Multiple consumables (such as hard soul items) can be consumed at once. Excess items can be sent directly to Stockpile Thomas from within any level. The inventory screen will show how many of a given item are in your inventory and also how many are currently stored in the Nexus. And perhaps best of all, both blacksmiths can use upgrade stones and boss souls that are still in storage! No need to grab all my upgrade stones from Stockpile Thomas before warping to Stonefang to upgrade my weapons. Though, the blacksmiths can only upgrade weapons that are in your inventory, so I do have to be sure I take those with me.

This reduces a lot of the tedium of the old inventory system, while still maintaining an absolute carry capacity for the character. I don't have to warp back to the Nexus to offload items if I become over-encumbered (and then reset the whole damn level). But I also am limited in what I can bring with me into a level. I can't carry every weapon, armor, and consumable I own into every gameplay situation, as is the case in Dark Souls. I have to prepare in advance and commit to a specific loadout, making do with what I have or what I can find within the level. This maintains the scrappier, more adventurous feel of the original game.

I am pleased, and a little surprised, that Bluepoint retained the controversial item burden mechanic.

I know that the item burden was a very unpopular feature in the original Demon's Souls, but I actually rather liked how it set such strict limits on what supplies and equipment can be carried into a level. The item burden was the one feature from the original game that I thought was the most likely to get cut in any potential remake, and I'm glad that Bluepoint found a compromise that makes the system less obnoxious, but which preserves the fundamental contribution that item burden brings to Demon's Souls' design.

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My friends and family have always found that video games and board games are always good go-to gifts for me during the holiday season (which for us, starts in the fall, as my partner and I both have birthdays in September and October). 2020 was a bit different, however. For one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we weren't able to get groups together for tabletop gaming nearly as often as we used to. The pandemic didn't stop us from tabletop gaming altogether, but we restrained our play to being with only a few regular players, and even then, played mostly 2-player games in order to avoid having multiple house guests at a time. We even sometimes wore masks while playing, just as an added precaution.

It wasn't that I didn't want new board games (or expansions to games I already have); rather, we just weren't sure when I'd ever be able to play them. For example, I did receive the new Crusader Kings board game by Free League Publishing. Hopefully, I'll have an opportunity to play it sometime soon, and be able to write a review for it to go along with my review of the video game.

But video games were not a hard purchase because of the pandemic. Sitting at home and playing video games is, after all, one of the best and safest pass-times during a pandemic. Rather, the big video game releases of this fall came with a lot of baggage or circumstantial reasons why I wasn't enthusiastic to buy them.

Lack of games didn't sell me on a PS5

First and foremost is the biggest of the big new releases this year: the new consoles. I've never been an XBox-player, so there was no interest in a new XBox to begin with. I am, however, interested in the PS5. But I wasn't rushing out to buy one because I'm not going to buy a new console if there aren't any exclusive new games to play on it. And since I wasn't rushing out to buy one, supply problems meant that it only got harder to find one. Honestly, I was surprised that the PS5 seemingly sold so well considering that there just wasn't all that much to play on it. My lack of enthusiasm for the new console meant that even though my partner considered trying to buy one, she eventually decided against it.

The only 2 games on PS5 worth playing are not worth buying a new console.

The big releases for the PS5 were the Demon's Souls remake and Miles Morales. So far, they are the only 2 games worth playing on the PS5, which is why I saw them bundled together with the console at multiple retailers and resellers. I was interested in both, but not enough to drop $400 on a new console -- especially not during a time of economic uncertainty. I'm sorry Sony, but if you want to sell me on a new console, you got to have something better than a remake of a game from 10 years ago (and 2 console generations ago) that I already played the hell out of back in the day, and a sequel to game from 2 years ago that looks like it's mostly just more of the same (and which is also available on the last-gen console anyway). Every other big release for the PS5, from Assassin's Creed: Valhalla to Cyberpunk: 2077 was also released on other platforms, so again, there was no need to rush out and buy a PS5 to play these games -- which I wouldn't have done anyway because both of those games have their own baggage, which I'll get to later in this post.

I only bought a PS4 because of Bloodborne, and the PS5 has so far lacked a similar console-selling exclusive. Maybe they'll have one eventually. Maybe if Elden Ring were a PS5-exclusive, I'd be in more of a hurry to secure myself a console. But as far as I know, that game is set for release on PS4 and will also be available on PC, so I don't need a PS5 in order to play it, the way that I needed a PS4 to play Bloodborne.

WARNING:
The following contains sexual content that may not be safe for work or children, including descriptions of alleged criminal behavior at Ubisoft, and a screenshot from Cyberpunk 2077 that contains nudity. Reader discretion is advised.

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Demon's Souls - title

Demon's Souls is coming to the PS5. Rumors of a Demon's Souls remaster have been floating around for years, and I even wrote a blog post back in 2017 about what I'd like to see in any potential remaster or remake. But what we're actually getting goes far beyond a simple remaster. It's more than just Demon's Souls at higher resolution and with a higher framerate. Bluepont Games is re-developing Demon's Souls from the ground up, much like they did with Shadow of the Colossus on PS4.

The scope of the remake means that it's possible that Bluepoint could change mechanics. There's plenty of opportunities to improve Demon's Souls gameplay and add ease-of-use features. But there is one controversial feature that I hope Bluepoint keeps: the item burden.

I posted this defense to YouTube last weekend, but I wanted to transcribe it here as well, for the benefit of my loyal blog readers. But feel free to check out the video as well. It is embedded below:

This defense is also available on my YouTube channel.

Demon's Souls' unique design

Players of Dark Souls may be familiar with the equipment burden. If you equip too much heavy armor and weapons, your character will become burdened, which will limit your ability to dodge roll. Demon's Souls had an equip burden that worked pretty much identical, but Demon's Souls had an additional weight burden that accounted for your entire inventory -- not just the items you have equipped. This prevented the player from carrying around excess weapons and armor in your inventory so that you can switch to it at any time during a level.

Dark Souls retained the equip burden but dropped the item burden, possibly as a result of its change to a single, interconnected world. Dark Souls is famous for its brilliant world design, which created a complex vertical helix of interconnected levels. With some exceptions, every part of the map is connected to every other part of the map and the distance between can be traversed by foot. In fact, for the first half of the game, you had to travel the map on foot and take advantage of shortcuts because fast travel is not unlocked until the midpoint of the game.

There was no ludic reason to use Dark Souls' Bottomless Box, and it was removed in the sequels.

The end effect for Dark Souls is that the character does not have convenient access to a central hub location. Firelink Shrine fills a similar role as the Nexus of Demon's Souls, but you cannot warp to for the first half of the game; you have to walk. This means that you can't easily dump excess gear or items at Firelink, which means you have to carry everything with you, which means the Item Burden of Demon's Souls doesn't make much sense. Granted, From included a Bottomless Box item that allows you to stow away excess gear at any bonfire. They could have easily just built the Bottomless Box functionality into the bonfires by default and maintained the Item Burden. But they opted not to, and the lack of an Item Burden mechanic makes the Bottomless Box completely unnecessary. In fact, the sequels to Dark Souls did not include the Bottomless Box at all.

Demon's Souls has a central hub location (the Nexus) that makes it somewhat convenient to drop off or pick up equipment on your way between archstones.

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Sekiro - title

I never got into Tenchu because the
demos were too hard for younger me.

Oh, boy, was this a tough game to play and review! Frequent readers should probably know that I'm a huge Souls-Borne fan -- to the point of writing strategies and lore analyses. Sekiro is a bit different, however. It's much further divorced from Dark Souls than even Bloodborne was. Despite the lack of "Souls-Borne-ness" of Sekiro, I find it very difficult to put this review in any context other than of a new Souls-Borne release.

Sekiro is, ostensibly, a stealth game. There's more of Tenchu and Metal Gear in Sekiro than of Dark Souls. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I like stealth games just fine. The Metal Gear Solid games rank among one of my favorite game series ever.

I'm not terribly familiar with Tenchu, though. I think I played a demo of a PSX Tenchu game on one of my Official PlayStation Magazine demo discs (back in the day when publishers let players play pre-release demos, for free, instead of expecting us to pay for games long before they're even released, or holding the "open beta" hostage to a pre-order). I never bought the full Tenchu game because the demo was far too hard for my little 13 or 15-year-old gamer skills to handle. This was, of course, long before I started playing more demanding games.

Sekiro is in an awkward juxtaposition between Tenchu-inspired stealth, and Dark Souls-inspired boss fights.

However, there seems to be a certain degree of juxtaposition between Sekiro's desire to be a Tenchu-like stealth game, and its desire to feature demanding boss fights in-line with what is given in Souls-Borne games. In essence, we have two games here: a stealth game about staying out of sight of enemies and picking them off one-by-one; and a melee boss gauntlet in which the stealth isn't applicable at all. The first of those is good enough. The second one is where my problems begin...

My first playthrough of Demon's Souls was spent
cowering behind a shield.

All parry, all the time

You see, this really comes down to play-style. I was never a big parry-er in my Dark Souls-playing days. I parried a lot more in Bloodborne, but a big reason for that was that the guns allowed me to do so from a relatively safe distance. Heck, my first playthrough of Demon's Souls was done as the Royalty class, starting with the mana-regen ring, stabbing out with a winged spear from behind a shield, and using Soul Spear to dispatch any enemies I wasn't comfortable fighting up close. I hardly realized the parry mechanic existed!

Of course, I've grown and matured since 2008, and parrying has become a common element of my play-style. But I've still never been particularly good at it. This is causing me a lot of trouble in Sekiro because Sekiro's combat is all parrying, all the time! The new posture mechanic (which essentially replaces stamina) also means that a single parry isn't good enough to riposte and kill your enemy. You have to parry each strike in flurries of blows. For those coming from Dark Souls, imagine having to fight a hollow undead, and needing to parry every one of its wild slashes before you can riposte, instead of just the first one. That is what Sekiro expects and requires you to do.

Sekiro requires that you parry most attacks.

If you were a master-level parry-er in Dark Souls III, then you'll probably segue right into Sekiro with no problem and wonder what all the fuss is about. But for the rest of us plebs, that isn't going to be so easy.

This game plays much faster, enemies are much more aggressive, and health is in much smaller supply. Almost everything will kill you with two hits, and many grab attacks will drop you from full health to zero. This game leaves you with virtually no margin for error! Yet the mini-bosses and bosses have ridiculously high HP and posture.

...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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