Comparison – Demon’s Souls Vs Bloodborne

With the release of Bloodborne, I finally believe that the true “next-generation” is here. While the game may not be dramatically different from it’s predecessors, the attention to detail and general streamlining of game mechanics makes it an extraordinarily engaging game.

Everything about the limited story, combat system, upgrades and level design is polished beyond what I could have expected. I’ve always been a big fan of the Souls games, but Bloodborne really does take it to an entirely different level.

Is it really that insanely good, though? How does Bloodborne compare to the grandfather of souls, Demon’s Souls? Both were made under the direction of Hidetaka Miyazaki and they share a lot of aesthetic choices. They also both have similar structure in world design.

Now, to point out something like graphics would be asinine. Since Bloodborne is a PS4 game and Demon’s Souls is a fairly early PS3 game, there is already a clear winner in terms of graphical fidelity. You can look at other aspects, like art design or graphical density.

Bloodborne has so much going on in various levels that the game cannot push more than 30 frames-per-second. While this is a bit disappointing, the game runs mostly smooth throughout. Certain actions can trigger slowdown and co-op often hinders the refresh rate, but the game works damn fine by itself.

Demon’s Souls was not so lucky. While there are a bunch of areas that are flawless, when you run into any densely packed area, the game shutters. I’ve seen framerates as low as 15 frames-per-second a couple of times. They never seem to crop up in the middle of a boss fight, but they do occur randomly in levels.

Fluidity is what makes Bloodborne so damn addicting. The combat is kicked up to a different gear and is hard to grasp, at first. Everything goes so fast that you need lightning quick reflexes and proper knowledge of your character’s limitations and advantages.

Demon’s Souls was the first in this series, so it obviously doesn’t have as many options. What it does have is purity. Enemies are not given crazy attacks that you will never block and all of your moves are limited enough to give you clear control. You will precisely know what to do and will rarely hit the wrong button.

Having said that, the options afforded to you are vastly different between the two games. Bloodborne is absolutely a melee game. While there are some ranged options, they will not be the linchpin of your arsenal. Your assassination of targets will require you to get up close and personal.

This is facilitated by the silver bullet system and firearms. While that sounds like it would be a tremendous boon, your firearm is only able to carry 20 bullets (disregarding upgrades). This gives you extremely limited amounts of ranged capability.

You can find other items, but they also require bullets. One item even utilizes 12 bullets, only being able to fire a single shot before going away. This change from diverse ranged options coerces  players into fighting the beasts hand-to-hand.

It also eliminates any “cheese” tactics or glitches. You cannot rely on developmental oversights to see you through a rough challenge. It makes every victory solely yours. Even with co-op, you still need to pull your own weight.

Demon’s Souls is not so lucky. Being the first of it’s kind, obviously something was going to go unnoticed. Bow and arrows allow you to tackle enemies from a distance, but with their cost being so low, you end up being able to carry 500+ arrows very shortly into the game.

There are also some problems with level geometry that will allow you to shoot arrows through walls. This nearly eliminates the challenge associated with certain encounters. While you could make a point of saying this is similar to old-school game design, the legacy behind the Souls games looks a bit fabricated with these glitches.

There are also a host of magic attacks in Demon’s Souls that nearly become dominate over other weapons. Since the AI of the enemies is fairly slow, you are able to shoot off a lot of magic attacks with ease. You can restore your MP, as well (via rings or items), so you don’t ever need to stop if you’ve prepared correctly.

On my first playthrough years ago, I never even saw a few of the bosses. While I was a coward, I was still able to “cheese” them out with fireballs and arrows. It trivializes some levels. Practicing self-caution does make the game more enjoyable, but one of the basic tenets of game design is lacking.

Bloodborne has seemingly fixed that by not including magic or ranged weapons. It also fixes the AI by making them far more aggressive. Instead of passively waiting for attacks or walking off of cliffs, the AI will rush down the player and keep them on edge.

This allows little time for healing or flicking through inventory. Your strikes need to be quick and your recovery planned. The infamous running away tactic from the souls game is mostly fixed, too. Once you aggro an enemy, you (9 times out of 10) will have to kill them to stop their pursuit.

As for healing, Bloodborne follows in the vein of Dark Souls by making healing a dedicated button. Instead of putting it to an item and allowing different levels of healing, this ensures that you will always have a way to get some kind of health boost.

What it does away with is the unlimited refills. You need to keep killing enemies and collecting blood echoes to get more vials (or you find a bunch in the world). Dark Souls and it’s sequel would always refill your supply of healing flasks upon dying.

Demon’s Souls relies on consumables. This bloats the inventory by having various types of grass that do differing amounts of healing. It also arbitrarily inflates the difficulty level. If you happen to run out of grass and have no souls, you won’t be healing.

That might seem like a personal opinion, but Demon’s Souls is a bit difficult. Many players have vanquished the steep learning curve, but the game can often times be frustrating. Instead of dying of your own ineptitude, you end up failing because you cannot get ahead.

Bloodborne does go back to that a bit, but your foes drop a lot more blood echoes then any enemy ever dropped souls. Level ups also require more, but most items are fairly cheap while the enemies have plentiful blood echoes.

Speaking of leveling up, Demon’s Souls employs 8 different stats to give to your character. Bloodborne cuts out the fat and only asks you to deal with 6 of them. It may be more fulfilling to govern magic with 2 additional attributes, but the gains start becoming obscured and the process feels more daunting then it should.

Bloodborne clearly explains it’s skill points and allows you to power up faster. This doesn’t inherently make the game easier, but it does allow one to have a more gradual difficulty curve instead of hitting spikes along the way. Bloodborne does seem more well-rounded in that regard.

Demon’s Souls is uneven in difficulty. The first area is overwhelming and even the next level you choose will be threatening, but you tend to get the hang of it after a few times. Then the middle sections of each world become a bit easy before ramping up with the final boss.

The only problem is that the final boss of the first world is hard even at extremely high levels. You never get the feeling that your stat distribution was worth the investment. The False King can still one shot you, so it comes more down to raw skill.

Skill is what makes the Souls games work. While it would be nice to actually feel your character power up in Demon’s Souls, the unbridled sense of success has never been topped. Even if Bloodborne ends up feeling fairer, Demon’s Souls has a better sense of accomplishment.

Co-op can make things dramatically easier. Bloodborne suffers a little in that you can summon more players to your world, but it also allows you to directly summon friends. Demon’s Souls is very specific in it’s execution of multiplayer.

The invasion mechanic is frustrating, but it does also keep you on your toes. To eliminate those invasions, you have to play in soul form, but that reduces your total health. It makes for a strategic element that is absent in Bloodborne.

Bloodborne changes that by actually giving you a way to stay connected, but forego invasions. You won’t actually be able to get invaded in early levels; as you progress, a bell maiden will appear that summons invading players.

Co-op also makes that maiden appear, which then gives you and your cooperator a reason to explore the world. She is often hidden quite well, so finding her is a small reward unto itself.

It still is revolutionary in that it makes single-player minded people actually want to participate in multiplayer, but the lack of an ability to get together with friends is a big fault to me.

I get that the point was anonymity, but Bloodborne becomes a lot more enjoyable when you grab a friend to suffer with. You both can directly talk and feel like you’re bonding with each other over such a dark world.

Speaking of worlds, the design of both games is truly remarkable. While I personally prefer the way in which Bloodborne‘s paths weaver together, Demon’s Souls truly feels labyrinthine at times.

That sense of being lost makes the exploration very palpable. You aren’t always finding anything, but you feel compelled to look. Some of the dead ends can be frustrating, but the game remains fun despite it’s shortcomings in structure.

There are far less realistic touches and more of a sense of game construction. Not every area is brimming with content to discover, but the roads all lead to a specific point. Figuring out which road will take you there is the hard part.

Bloodborne makes it’s central city feel real. There are better indications of where a path ends via large gates and there is limited use of bottomless pits. There are even tons of shortcuts for the player to discover and use. Trekking down an unknown walkway will usually lead to something worthwhile.

Demon’s Souls just doesn’t have that. It’s secrets are vague and limited in supply. Bloodborne has a secret in nearly every area. Backtracking even comes into play, but feels more organic then most games can muster.

This works in conjunction with how buildings are set up. The classrooms in the middle of the game have hallways that only lead to doors. There is no other purpose, but it is built to feel like an actual school.

The mountain peaks have caves that sometimes contain nothing. It looks enticing, but real life doesn’t always have a prize at the end of the rainbow. Sometimes, just the simple act of looking brings joy, which Bloodborne captures.

As for enemy design, both games are basically equal. After a few playthroughs, the general enemies may seem boring, but their first impressions are terrifying. Both games also start off with humanoid opponents and then expand into various creatures from some nightmarish vision.

The only reason I would say that Demon’s Souls falls short is because of it’s controls. The enemies in each title are menacing and not easily conquered (except for a few). Demon’s Souls is a slower game then Bloodborne, so it’s combat doesn’t pack the same punch. That doesn’t mean the enemy design is lacking.

If anything, the bosses have great build-up, better than Bloodborne in a lot of cases. Demon’s Souls also has a tremendous spark to introducing new enemies by clouding their appearance with environmental cues. Bloodborne doesn’t rely on that tactic.

For Bloodborne, you can basically see every foe before you kill them. Their design and size are what fill you with fear or confidence. Their movesets are all distinguishable, so you never leave wondering what happened. Bloodborne doesn’t rely on jump scares, either, something the Souls games have perfected.

Quite honestly, that area is a tie. The combatants fit each game world to a tee. You won’t leave either experience feeling like you disliked an aspect of it’s enemies. Some of them will piss you off, but you will learn to respect their attack patterns and strike with efficiency.

This all adds up to the end game. I understand that not every final boss has to be a ball buster, but Demon’s Souls lacks a true closing battle. The lore surrounding the final encounter is very detailed and interesting, but the battle is basically a gimmie. You walk in, slaughter the guy and leave. Game over.

Bloodborne also brings tremendous attention to detail in it’s lore, but the final encounter isn’t a push-over. If anything, it’s last boss is the hardest thing in the game. You square off against one of your kin and it becomes a battle of skill over style.

Facing off against a literal equal makes the last moments of Bloodborne truly memorable. After all these years, I remembered the difficulty of Demon’s Souls last boss, but I could barely muster an image of him in my mind. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how emotional I felt after Bloodborne.

But both games do offer truly compelling narratives. Their ambiguous approach to storytelling makes their moments seem unique. Each second of the game is your own. Even if the developers have a concrete story, you’ve carved your own path in their work.

That allows every player to fantasize about what piece goes where or how a particular NPC fits into the role of things. That nothing is spelled out also makes discovering any detail more rewarding.

At the end of it all, both games are worthy experiences that I would tell anyone to play. Demon’s Souls was more unique in it’s time, but it hasn’t aged poorly. Certain aspects are outdated, but the game doesn’t overstep it’s boundaries. Every mechanic and design choice is deliberate and counter-balanced (apart from Magic).

Bloodborne is the culmination of surprising success taken to it’s max level of polish. I do truly wish that the game ran at 60 frames-per-second, but the sense of speed and precision is unfounded in any of the Souls games.

It also has intricately laid paths that have no set order. It makes for an experience that truly will be solely yours. It may have taken 6 years to happen, but I finally believe that Demon’s Souls has gotten the sequel it deserved.

Also, you can make randomly generated dungeons in Bloodborne. You can literally play it forever and never see every combination. That is fantastic.

Side Note: I do love Dark Souls. I was just disappointed with it’s technical failings and more grandiose map design. It was an amazing world, but Demon’s Souls had unrivaled freedom of choice for it’s time.

Dark Souls seemed to limit that. Regardless, I would still say that Dark Souls was a worthy successor. I just always wanted a more true sequel to Demon’s Souls, something that I feel Bloodborne delivers handsomely.

Advertisements

The Necessary Evil

Creative geniuses won’t strike gold each time. When you’re at the top of your game, you sometimes just mess up. Even Miyamoto recently admitted that, yet his works are still looked at with awe. Gamers don’t hold a grudge against him.

I attended the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention this past weekend and got a chance to ask the guys from Acclaim Entertainment about their past. I didn’t expect to get such a lively response, but I walked up and questioned, “Are there any games that you guys regret making?”

During their explanations, I began to understand a bit more about why publishers will license specific games. Ever wonder why so many sports games exist? Well, over half of Acclaim’s revenue came from its NFL Quarterback Club titles. Without those, we would have never seen Turok.

This just got me thinking about something like Call of Duty. In the hands of a better publisher, we would be seeing more creative titles coming from Activision instead of retreads or iterations of the same ideas. In a better industry, giants like EA and Ubisoft would be producing a more diverse range of titles.

Even so, something like Madden and Call of Duty are a necessary evil in the games industry. Without any money flowing in, how would we continue to play games? PC gaming is an exception, not a rule. For consoles, if we didn’t have cash cows to move hardware and fund publishers, we probably wouldn’t be getting anything.

ne_3

Even Nintendo is guilty of this. Mario has slowly become an annual franchise. Just last year, we were graced with two Mario titles, even if they were basically the same game. Nintendo uses the ludicrous sales from Mario to fund its other games and online services.

A Nintendo without Mario or Zelda to fall back on means a games industry without nostalgic games, platformers or local multiplayer. Ever ponder why Rayman: Origins had 4-player co-op? If Nintendo didn’t even attempt it with Mario, Ubisoft would have never thought of including it.

Gamers bemoan iterative and annual franchises, but we really should be thankful for their existence. We never have to purchase them and if there needs to be a change, we can clearly voice an opinion. Still, ridding the world of these titles would only lead to bad things.

I’d definitely like for more creativity in the industry, but we should never be so naïve as to think that Call of Duty is ruining gaming. The only thing that is hurting developers’ creativity is how bloated console game prices have become.

As MatPat from The Game Theorists put it, “Don’t buy a game if you don’t like it. Don’t like the new Call of Duty? Don’t like the new Battlefield? Don’t like the new Mario? Then don’t buy them.” Taking that advice to heart, we shouldn’t be angry about people who do.

ne_2

Everyone likes something for some reason or another. We may have grown tired of the repeated tricks and boring tropes of these games, but they serve a purpose. That purpose is to get new ideas and hardware rolling.

With the next-generation looming, I hope Call of Duty has enough steam to keep going. If Microsoft and Sony fail to keep their hardware moving, we really will be looking at another industry crash.

If that happens, we might not have anything new again.

E For Effort – Devil May Cry 4

To my friends, I am known as a man of hatred. I tend to hate on a lot of fairly popular games for not advancing their respective genres in any meaningful way. My friends will all boast, “HOLY SHIT, GEARS OF WAR IS STELLAR,” yet I simply think, “Meh. It’s like Resident Evil 4 without the tension.”

So whenever I say I hate something, they usually expect that I find no redeeming qualities in the title. This isn’t the case for a few of my more recently disdained games. While I won’t talk about disliking Okami, I figured Devil May Cry 4 may be interesting to a few people.

I’m sure most people know about Devil May Cry (it only paved the way for Ninja Gaiden and God of War). A little series Capcom started while trying to make Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry has become ingrained in gamer memory as the staple game of the action genre.

While Capcom hit a snag with 2 and nearly obliterated the first title with 3, the move to the HD era and the lack of console exclusivity had people worried that 4 may be lacking. That certainly wasn’t the case, even if 4 couldn’t touch the first game in terms of raw quality.

But, as much as my friends loved pummeling demons with Nero and Dante, I couldn’t help but feel bored and generally angry at what was going on. Why did Capcom copy and paste certain aspects of the gameplay? Why did Dante’s character radically change from previous entries? How come the final boss was a pushover?

I couldn’t understand the appeal, even if I knew the game was rock solid. It had extremely beautiful and flashy graphics, the voice overs were actually not bad for an English dub and the story had some actual emotion in it. Hell, even the combat was improved from previous games.

What I think was inherently wrong with the game was how Capcom divided the story between two characters. You spend the first 10 levels becoming acquainted with Nero and learning a brand new play style to the series (something reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden). I fell in love with how easy it was to knock enemies around, even if their AI couldn’t do a damn thing to stop me anyway.

When Dante finally comes into the mix, you learn that he’s now a pompous douche. While he always had an attitude, he is either in over-drive or woke up and had a full serving of Carnation “Instant Bitch”. Just listening to him is aggravating.

But the game goes back to the exact style of combat present in DMC3. While that game is great, why in the hell would I want to relearn something after playing a new character for close to 8 hours? Not only that, Dante doesn’t have any concrete combos. You just mash buttons like a madman and hope that enemies die.

Nero eventually comes back and, low and behold, you end up facing the previous bosses again. I think there are only 4 actual bosses in DMC4, but you end up facing them each about 6 times. The worst part of this game (level 19) has you on a Mario Party style board hitting a random dice and fighting off either waves of enemies or a boss (a boss you already beat, mind you).

The thing is Capcom always does this in their action games. Even Mega Man falls into this ploy in the Wily Stages (granted 10 does something neat with revisiting old bosses). I don’t mind if the guy is powered up, but when I’ve already taken him down twice, why should there be any reason to continue? The bastard should know that I’m just going to kick his ass again.

The levels in-between all these boss shenanigans don’t really fair much better. Nero has to backtrack a lot through environments to solve puzzles and place statues to open doors. As Dante, you essentially replay the entire Nero campaign with enemies that are even easier due to your constant upgrades from Nero. It just makes it feel like a bland action title.

But I digress; everything about this game is slick and entertaining. I managed to finish the game twice within a week, even with my constant hatred flowing. There is just something about how polished the combat is that makes you want to press on, or possibly how personal Nero�s story is (love does go a long way for narrative).

And like I said, the graphics were stellar back in 2008 (they actually still look fairly good). While graphics can’t save a game, DMC has always been based on stylish kills and frenetic combat. DMC4 doesn’t disappoint at all in this regard.

So while I hate DMC4, it definitely is a quality title. It gets an E for Effort from me, though I would be surprised if someone else felt the same way.