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Dark Souls II Review

Dark Souls II ReviewVideo game developers will often go to great lengths to help players understand the basic mechanics of their games. Tutorial missions, pop-up hints, on screen guides even paperback manuals back in the day are all tools used to help teach players on how to play the game. Games like Final Fantasy take this concept to the extreme with nearly half the gameplay comprising of tutorials. Even Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon went as far as the send up the modern trend of video game tutorials with a satirical opening mission. Highlighting the redundant nature of the tutorial prologue mission, present in most mainstream video games. Dark Souls however is a game that bucks that trend and takes a less hands on approach with the player’s development. Hidetaka Miyazaki the games creative director not playing the mother hen but instead shoving the player out the door to fend for themselves, if they fail that’s their problem.

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“Darks Souls will teach you how to expertly dodge and roll, just don’t expect to acquire these skills without ranking up a serious amount of respawns.”

Dark Souls II and its predecessor occupy a place in the relativity uncharted territories of Masocore gaming. The term a portmanteau of “masochism” and “hardcore”, a quite accurate description of what the genre is about. It is a genre of gaming that employ complex and extremely difficult gameplay mechanics as a method to deliberate frustrated the player. Generally the player will die or fail very easily and with very limited save points, they will often have to play certain sections of the game repeatedly. It is surprising that anyone would find this enjoyable and future more would be willing to pay for the privilege, but in truth the concept has existed since the early days of the industry. Many of the arcade classics featured harsh gameplay mechanics and due to the technical limitations of the day checkpoints where non-existent. In fact a lot of modern games borrow from the Masocore genre of gaming; they just don’t employ the technics to the extremes that games of that ilk do. An indie title like Super Meat Boy will sometimes stray into the Masocore genre or the gameplay mechanics of a game like QWOP could be viewed as somewhat masochistic. The classic example is the satirical platformer I Wanna Be The Guy, a game that has no qualms about testing the players’ tolerance for difficult gameplay. A more recent success in the genre is Flappy Bird, a game that is a case sample for studying gamer’s addiction for difficult games.

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“Dwarf Fortress difficultly start with just trying to understand what the ASCII graphics represent, is it a game or a corrupted text file?”

The somewhat reclusive developer Dong Nguyen seems to have a penchant for Masocore as his avian side-scroller exemplifies the genre. The game went viral earlier this year, topping the mobile download charts for weeks until it was pulled down by its own creator. Nguyen citing that he had become too overwhelmed by the game success and his growing concern over it addictiveness. Many questioned such motives but maybe instead of been hounded for his actions he should be hailed for saving gamers from such a sadistic game. At the heart of its popularity is the sense of satisfaction the player receives when they manage to navigate the vertically challenged fowl through a certain number of marioesque pipes. Every time going back to the start and only through sheer perseverance each time managing to pass through more pipes. In some ways Flappy Bird is a more of a masochist game then Dark Souls, because even with successive attempts there is no acquired skill or hidden secret to bettering ones progress. It is a simply case of rinse and repeat with randomness, luck or even a glitch helping you progress further. As difficult as Dark Souls is, the player can learn through much trial and error how to beat certain enemies. The game does have a learning curve it just happens to be a very steep one, an ascent up the sheer face of the Matterhorn an apt analogy.

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“Miyazaki has a bit of a thing for impossibly difficult games, with his previous effort Demon Souls testing the mental wits and perseverance of its players”

It is a key aspect of the Masocore genre that isn’t there to hold the players hand throughout the game, instead hoping that they learn from their own mistakes. Which is in part such games appeal that the player has to figure out for themselves how to master the game and not having it spoon feed to them through constant nagging hints. One interesting mechanic that the games designers used instead of more common insistent pop-ups is the player generated hints system. This can take two different forms; the most notable is the bloodstains left on the ground by other players after they have succumbed to an untimely end. Not reviling what killed them but giving the player some idea of the dangers that might be nearby. Other online players might also appear as ghostly phantoms, displaying their real-time progress and more often than not their eventual death. Instead of the video game developers setting out tutorials at the beginning of the game, the players themselves feed into a real time in game FAQ. Even with help from fellow gamers the game still poses a massive challenge for newcomers to the franchise.

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“Entering an area covered in blood and filled with hapless phantoms having their heads caved in might be a warning to head in the other direction, or at least be ready to die over and over again.”

The creator behind the series Miyazaki last year announced that he was shifting his focus away from Dark Souls and onto a brand new IP. No information has yet been announced about his next title. However it would be no surprise if work on Demon Souls and Dark Souls over the last number of years will influence his next creation. Also owing to the fact that the Masocore genre seems to be growing in popularity, with gamers never tiring of challenging and strenuous gameplay mechanics. How many more cracked smartphone screens, dented controllers or smashed keyboards will come as result of the Masocore genre. Many studies have extolled the behaviour effect of violent video games, but a more recent group of researchers have linked aggressive behaviour to the frustration of losing while playing video games. Developers of Masocore games might have to think about the effects their complex and infuriating mechanics have on the psyches of gamers.

By Colm O’Sullivan

Posted in Review(Sort of?) and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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