Bloodborne: the Board Game - title

I wasn't sure about the Bloodborne board game initially. The Dark Souls board game wasn't particularly good, and I already had a pretty great Bloodborne-themed card game. But I kept seeing good reviews of Bloodborne: the Board Game, and it was designed by the same designer who made the card game, Eric Lang, who I trusted to make a compelling board game. So I bought it. And then it sat on my shelf for a couple years because my friends and I were busy playing other games, like Star Trek: Ascendancy expansions. One of these days, I'll get around to actually playing a new board game promptly after buying it... One of these days ...

A narrative-driven dungeon crawl

First and foremost, Bloodborne is not simply a Bloodborne-themed reskin of the Dark Souls board game. They are made by different companies and designers, and have totally different design philosophies. Dark Souls is built around grinding with no real purpose other than to eventually beat a single boss. Bloodborne is a much more structured and purposeful game, which is built around narrative-based campaigns. In fact, this Bloodborne game actively and explicitly discourages grinding by implementing a strict turn limit. As such, a Bloodborne session (a single chapter of a campaign) takes about 90 minutes to play or less. It won't drag on for hours, or into the next day, like some of my Dark Souls play sessions did. This, by itself, makes it a lot easier to find people who are interested in playing, and to get them to come back for subsequent sessions to finish that campaign.

Because Bloodborne: the Board Game does have narrative campaigns, I actually feel like I need to preface this review with a SPOILER WARNING. Some of the images may contain story-related cards, board configurations, and enemy placements, which may contain spoilers for the first 2 campaigns (mostly the first one). The review itself does not contain any explicit spoilers for any of the campaigns, so feel free to read on. If you are worried about potential spoilers, and want to go into the game as blind as possible, then I advise that you avoid reading any of the text on cards in any of my photos, especially cards that are labeled "Mission" or "Insight".

Bloodborne is more narrative-driven and less grindy than its Dark Souls board game cousin.

The core set comes with 4 campaigns, each with its own short story and narrative branches that take place over 3 or 4 chapters. As of the time of this review, I've only actually played the first 2 of those 4 campaigns. But I've played the first campaign multiple times, with multiple different groups of players, so I still feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the game -- good enough to give a meaningful and relatively informed review.

Each campaign has a deck of cards that provide objectives for the player to complete, as well as the occasional reward. It plays out kind of like an old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, with each card telling the players to draw a specific numbered card after completing the given card's objective. In some cases, the players will have a choice, or the card will have different conditions, and depending on which choice the players make, or which condition(s) is met, the card will instruct the players to reveal one card or another next.

The total of 4 campaigns is actually a solid amount of content, and each campaign can be played multiple times to see the different branching paths. But the campaigns aren't quite as replayable as they might initially seem. Each decision always has the exact same outcome, which means that once you've played a campaign once, you know what choices to make in order to get which results. Knowing the outcomes sucks out a lot of the mystery, intrigue, and threat from the game, and allows players to micro-manage their decisions to optimize their play.

Player choices can cause several branches in a campaign story, opening up different quests and rewards.
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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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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

A couple more weeks into Sekiro, and I'm still nowhere near being finished with the game. I'm definitely getting the hang of it more, but am also still struggling at pretty much every boss (and mini-boss) that I come across.

I have a few tips based on my own experience and observation that I hope will be helpful for other players, so that you don't have to go through some of the headaches that I've gone through when adjusting to this new game. As stated, everything I'm about to say are my own personal tips and observations. Do not take any of them as gospel. In fact, if you have your own tips, I'd love to read them in the comments.

There will be some minor spoilers for early game content.

Bank your sen

First and foremost, you should definitely take advantage of the ability to "bank" your sen (money). This is one area in which Sekiro actually offers a bit of leniency to players who may be familiar with Dark Souls. The Souls games did not allow you to directly bank your souls; but Sekiro does have a way to bank your cash.

You can use a Light Coin Purse to acquire 100 sen, but they cost 110 sen to buy.

Most vendors will sell coin purses (in varying sizes). Now, you may have noticed that the vendors sell their coin purses for 10% more than what they are worth. For example, if you use a Light Coin Purse, you'll receive 100 sen. However, it costs 110 sen to buy a Light Coin Purse. Similarly, the Heavy Coin Purse grants 500 sen when used, but they cost 550 sen to buy. There's a 10% mark-up.

Sadly, there's no bulk discount for buying larger coin purses, so there's no reason to save up for the Heavy or Bulging Coin Purse, as opposed to just buying a bunch of Light Coin Purses. The number of coin purses that each vendor will sell is also limited, so invest wisely!

Dying will take away 50% of your un-banked sen.

Don't let this 10% mark-up deter you from buying the coin purses. These coin purses are not lost when you die, but some fraction of your "soft" sen are lost when you die (unless you receive "Unseen Aid"). If you do not intend on making purchases with your coin in the immediate future, then you should strongly consider banking the sen by buying coin purses -- especially if you are about to enter a new, unfamiliar area, or if you are repeatedly dying to a boss or mini-boss. A single death will cost you 50% of your un-banked coins. Repeat deaths will quickly eat away at the rest. And (unlike in Souls-Borne), you can't go back and retrieve your lost coin or experience. The 10% mark-up on buying coin purses is a paltry penalty in comparison, and the insurance of having coin purses is well worth the investment!

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Adjusting to FROM Software's newest game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has been a very mixed bag. I'm handling most of the stealth just fine (coming from a background of lots of Metal Gear Solid), but I've been having a tough time with the game's very-demanding combat. This game is much further divorced from the Souls games than even Bloodborne was -- so much so, that I'm not sure if it's fair to lump Sekiro in as a "Souls-Borne" or "Souls-like" game. Honestly, I was never much of a parry-er in the Souls games anyway, so I'm having a harder time adjusting to Sekiro than many other Souls veterans might. Sekiro is all parry, all the time!

Even a week later, I'm not very far into the game. I've cleared the Ashina Outskirts, Ashina Castle Gate, and a large chunk of the Hirata Estate. I've only beat [I think] two legit bosses, a couple mini-bosses, and have challenged (but yet to defeat) a third boss. These bosses have been tough -- perhaps tougher than any early-game bosses in any of the Souls games or Bloodborne. A big part of this difficulty is that Sekiro very deliberately, and very explicitly, has removed many of the crutches that Souls players have enjoyed since Demon's Souls: you can't summon help, nor can you grind to level up your character. You can acquire new skills, but you can't upgrade your attack power or vitality by simply farming grunt enemies as you could in FROM's earlier games.

If you weren't much of a parry-er in Souls games, you may find it difficult to adjust to Sekiro.

This creates a much higher bar of entry than FROM's earlier games. Perhaps too high?

In any case, don't expect a full review from me any time soon. I'll be tanking the rakes for weeks -- if not months.

The Blazing Bull can be parried!

In the meantime, however, I want to share some important observations that I had about one particular boss in the early levels of Sekiro: the Blazing Bull. All of the bosses that I've encountered in the game so far have felt like entering the Capra Demon arena in the first Dark Souls -- but none of them have channeled the cheapness of the Capra Demon quite like the Blazing Bull.

Many early bosses -- the Blazing Bull in particular -- feel like walking into the Capra Demon arena.

This giant, flaming beast essentially ambushes you. It's exceedingly aggressive and almost impossible to dodge. It's very easy to feel overwhelmed. I certainly did.

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Resident Evil 2 - title

Capcom's remake of Resident Evil 2 is a pretty difficult game. Much of its design is based on classic survival horror paradigms, which many players may not be familiar with. Classic survival horror has been essentially dead since the release of Resident Evil 4 all the way back in 2005. (And if you want to know what I think of Resident Evil 4, you can listen to my commentary in a playthrough for On the Branch's Let's Play channel). Since then, every mainstream horror game has either followed a formula similar to RE4 (such as Dead Space and The Evil Within), or it has gone the Amnesia route and been about running and hiding from foes rather than confronting them (such as Outlast and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories).

If you didn't play Resident Evil 7 or the REmake of the first Resident Evil, then you probably haven't played a true survival horror game in over 10 years (if ever).

Even though it has an over-the-back, third-person camera, Resident Evil 2's remake firmly follows most of the design conventions of the classic (pre-Resident Evil 4) survival horror genre -- minus the tank controls. Here's some observations of mine that I hope will help you survive Raccoon City, whether you're an experienced survival horror gamer (like me) or a newbie.

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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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