Dark Souls 3: The Fire Fades Review

Let The Feast Begin

Developer: FromSoftware

Publisher: Bandai Namco

Reviewed for: PC and PS4

Played: 100+ hours

 

So much has been written about Dark Souls, and the Souls series as a whole, that its really quite hard to come at it fresh. By now, we know of the series’ legendary difficulty and the impenetrable lore that is hidden so deviously throughout its massive game worlds. Its asynchronous multiplayer is unique in games, and the formula (Fromula?) that has made the series so iconic has been aped by so many games now that “Soulslike” has even become its own genre. 

But even with all that said, there is just something so compelling about the complete package. The Fire Fades Edition collects Dark Souls 3 and its subsequent DLC offerings, Ashes of Ariandel and The Ringed City, into one enormous game that can easily eat up all of your free time and most of your sanity, if you let it. We are talking about dozens of areas, bosses, NPC’s, and hundreds of items and weapons and armour sets. All of this is built upon one of the most satisfying combat systems I’ve ever played, which somehow manages to keep combat encounters fresh and exciting right up until the credits roll.

This is due in part to the fantastic gameplay loop that has been the hallmark of the franchise. You as the player enter a horrifying nightmare-scape of an area, timidly encounter fearsome foes, and usually die a couple of times experimenting how best to engage said foes. As you become more proficient at foe slaying, you accumulate the souls that are used to strengthen your character and purchase items and equipment, but lose them if you die. You are given one chance to reclaim your souls, but die again and they are gone for good. And while the bonfires that act as the games checkpoint system allow for quick travel and a welcome reprieve from the oppressive kingdom of Lothric, they also cause most enemies in the game to respawn. It’s a simple loop, but its so very effective at building the tension that I find so addictive. Do I push on, for glory and untold spoils, or do I play it safe and retreat, only to have to play through an area again? Couple that with the fact that most of the time new areas can only be accessed after defeating some hideous boss creature, this element of risk and reward is incredibly engaging, and I subsequently spent most of my time playing on the very edge of my seat.

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This last title takes us to the kingdom of Lothric in which, like Lordran and Drangleic before it, things have gone very much awry. As the Ashen One, an Undead who has been awoken by the tolling of bells, it is your duty to seek out the Lords of Cinder and return them to their vacant thrones, by force as it turns out. The story is really open to interpretation and a whole community has sprung up around the lore of the series. After rolling credits I immediately fell down a rabbit hole of lore videos, in particular I enjoyed Vaatividya’s analysis and would highly recommend them. But something that isn’t brought up often enough in relation to the narrative is the quality of the voice acting, which is totally off the charts. NPC’s in the Soul’s really sell this grim-dark universe, and they range from the incredibly morose to the surprisingly comedic.

What I like most about the various narrative threads and quest lines in Dark Souls 3 is that not only are most of them optional, I was in fact not even aware several story lines existed on my first playthough. It was only after failing them, for apparently no reason, that I became aware there was more going on here than meets the eye. Unless certain prerequisites are met, NPC’s can die or simply just vanish from the central hub of the game (Firelink Shrine). And while some players might find that frustrating, this is a game that lends itself to repeat playthroughs, what with its multiple endings and near infinite build options and new game plus modes. Getting to see some of the more obscure story lines play out was incredibly satisfying, even if some of the triggers for certain events will be missed by the vast majority of players.

While a lot of players may have experienced the base game at launch, myself included, From’d DLC offerings are reason enough to plan a return journey to Lothric. The first, Ashes of Ariandel, was a tad too short for my liking. It more than made up for it with its fantastic final boss fight though, which is unique amongst all bosses in the Souls series. Set inside a universe contained within a painting, Ariandel is a land of frozen forests and wild beasts that mirrors the horrors of the outside world. It has a Norse aesthetic that is used effectively, and its sombre narrative provides an interesting trail of breadcrumbs that lead  directly into the second piece of DLC. I was expecting them to be self contained tales, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out how intrinsically they are linked.

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The monster design is up to par with the base game, and in particular the Corvian Knights are a ferocious surprise for the unwary. Similarly, the packs of deadly wolves that prowl the opening woodlands signal to each other and hound the player relentlessly. Less impressive are the groups of Follower enemies, inspired by the Undead Legion of Farron, who just feel a little too similar to basic soldier type enemies we have seen throughout the series.

The Ringed City, conversely, nails its environments and smaller enemies encounters but somewhat drops the ball in its boss fights. The journey through the Slag Heap is exciting and provides a real challenge to players with its combination of deadly environments and Angel enemies, that had me flashing back PTSD style to the first Dark Souls Anor Londo and its infamous Silver Knight archers. Upon reaching the Ringed City proper, the DLC really hits its stride both in gameplay and from a narrative standpoint. And while I was fascinated by the lore implications of what transpires in the closing moments of The Ringed City, which really wraps up the Soul’s series as a whole, it is ultimately let down by its final boss fight. While suitably difficult, after eventually slaying this final foe, I found myself kind of confused. The encounter didn’t feel like a final boss fight, so much so that I spent another hour or so searching for a path I may have missed, and I ultimately was left feeling unsatisfied, which isn’t what you want to come away from a game feeling.

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Dark Souls 3: The Fire Fades is a fantastic title that will keep players playing for hours on end, and long until the night. Ashes of Ariandel and The Ringed City complement the base game perfectly, and even if they don’t live up to it in terms of narrative and boss encounters, are a meaty addition to an already lengthy game. And it is content worth exploring, for the brave and skilled alike, and for the ash that seeketh embers.

Yes, indeed.

Final Fantasy VI Review

Squaresoft, 1994.

“I’ll never let go. I promise.” Locke

I love video games, I have for as long as I can remember, and reviewing them is something that I have always wanted to do. Shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Wrong. I racked my brain for days, trying to decide on the perfect title to dissect. I wanted it to be an RPG, that was obvious. It had to be something that I had enjoyed personally, and what i would consider to be a classic. Something that had a memorable cast, engaging game play, and that told a story worth telling. Actually, looking back, once I had those parameters set, it shouldn’t have been as hard as it was.

Final Fantasy VI, released as Final Fantasy III in North America, is not my favourite game in the series. That honour belongs to the much maligned, and admittedly somewhat angsty Final Fantasy VIII. No, it’s not my favourite, but I do think it’s the most important. Its strong focus on narrative, and character arcs would be aped by RPG’s for decades to come, and its more character specific take on the ATB (Active Time Battle) is something I wish the series would return too, where an individual party member is more than just a blank slate.

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VI is the story of the mysterious, amnesiac Terra. Or arguably of the turncoat Imperial commander, Celes. I’ve even heard claims that the actual protagonist is the self styled treasure hunter/thief, Locke. And while today it’s tale of a ragtag rebel outfit resisting a nefarious empire might seem overplayed, but back in ’94 it was quite fresh (at least in video games). It’s a unique Final Fantasy game in that it’s hard to decide whose story it actually is, you could argue that XII is somewhat similar in that regard, but I digress.

Our story begins in the small mining village of Narshe, where an “Esper” is unearthed. Sent to claim it for the Empire, is the aforementioned amnesiac and initially brainwashed, Terra. Mounted on the imposing Imperial Magitek armour, slogging through the driving snow, and flanked by the ill-fated Biggs and Wedge, the opening cinematic is one of VI’s most iconic image’s, and should be instantly recognisable to any true RPG fan.

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It’s full of touching moments, too many to list. My favourite, though, would have to be the iconic ”coin” scene. Edgar, atop the battlements of Figaro castle who would, with the toss of a coin, seal his own fate and that of his twin brother Sabin… and that of an entire kingdom. It’s a scene that’s bound to tug at the heart strings of anyone with siblings, doubly so when you learn that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. And of course, the whole scene is set to a stand out tune on what is a truly extraordinary soundtrack – The Coin Song, a melancholy re-arrangement of the unforgettable Edgar & Sabin theme.

And speaking of soundtracks, Nobuo Ueamatsu’s work on VI may (in my humble opinion) just be the finest collection the great composer has ever produced. While I think other games in the series may have stronger tracks, (To Zanarkand, Those Who Fight Further, and The Man With The Machine Gun come to mind, from Final Fantasy’s X, VII and VIII, respectively) VI’s score as a cohesive whole is quite simply masterful. It feature’s rousing anthems, like the aforementioned Edgar & Sabin’s Theme and Cayenne, to more sombre piece’s like The Mystic Forest and Forever Rachel. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the games boss battle theme – The Decisive Battle. My personal favourite track, I once heard a street performer play a stripped down acoustic version on my very first visit to Akihabra, making it both a song and a day I will never forget. It never failed to get me pumped up for a boss fight, and really, what more can you ask of a boss theme?

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“The Reaper is always one step behind me” – Shadow

Gameplay is very much traditional Final Fantasy, which is to say, it utilises the ATB system, and is very story focused. For those unfamiliar, the ATB system is a turn-based combat system in which the players characters are able to attack when their action gauge is full, with some attacks/abilities taking a little longer. The speed at which a characters turn comes around is tied to their speed stat, and can be influenced with spells such as Haste. Its a tense system, as it has a feeling of randomness to it, and you cant see your foe’s gauge so you never know what attack you will be hit with next. The basic gameplay loop consists of narrative scenes and dungeon crawling with a surprising amount of side-questing, which is truly impressive considering this was released as a 16-bit game. And of course, random battles. One of my favourite aspects of VI’s battle system is that each of the games fourteen playable characters have a unique skill that makes them feel truly different, making the choice of what party members to bring alone feel less arbitrary, and more like choosing the right man (or woman, and whatever Gogo is) for the job at hand.

Like most games in the Final Fantasy series, VI is a game that needs be experienced to truly understand why it is more than just the sum of its parts. Sure, it has an engaging narrative, a cast free of the many tropes found in the genre today, and an incredible soundtrack. It has an engaging battle system and tons of replay value. Its art style is original and instantly recognisable, and it has a truly evil arch villain (Kefka) that actually achieves his goals, and the better part of the game is spent trying to deal with the consequences of that. How many games can you name where that is the case?

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You think a minor thing like the end of the world was gonna do me in?” Sabin

Any of those qualities alone would make for a great game. But its the way these elements are woven together so effortlessly that truly makes VI such a timeless game. Its that, and its so much more. Developers are still trying to recapture VI’s magic,for the most part unsuccessfully. It has so much heart, and it’s full of real emotion. Its a story of growth, and of redemption. It’s a tale of longing, and of timeless love. Its an epic of adversity, and of friendship. It’s a fantasy based in reality….

And it’s a journey I would recommend taking.

K.

Persona 5 – Review Roundup

Take Your Heart

The long wait for Persona 5 is over, and the reviews are in. The highly anticipated next entry in Atlus’s fan favourite JRPG series, known for its stylish visuals and complex character development, is a game I’ve been looking forward to for what seems like an eternity. Its predecessor, Persona 4, set an incredibly high standard for the genre. With its addictive mix of gameplay elements and refreshingly adult themes, combined with its wicked soundtrack and slick aesthetic, P5 has some incredibly big shoes to fill. Initial impressions have been overwhelmingly positive, but lets see what the industry’s critics think:

thumb-1920-656813“A strong story and tremendous sense of style make this the best entry in the series yet.”

 Andrew Goldfarb, IGN. 9.7 / 10  – Amazing.

@garfep

“With more to do than ever and the series’ strongest story to date, it stands out as an extraordinary, memorable experience and easily one of the deepest JRPGs of the last decade”

I’ve been following Andrew Goldfarb ever since his days as the Dark Knight of News, on IGN’s PlayStation podcast Beyond. His passion and admiration for the Persona series is, at this stage, world renowned. This positively shines through in his review, and as a proven series veteran (seriously, anyone that earned the platinum trophy in Persona 4: Golden is deserving of respect) his opinion carries a lot of weight with me.

persona_5_wallpaper_2_by_de_monvarela-d8ho6fh“Style and substance.”

Lucy James, Gamespot. 9/10

@lucyjamesgames

“There’s an overwhelming level of artistry in every part of Persona 5, making it a truly standout entry in the series. It’s a refined, effortlessly stylish RPG that will be talked about for years to come.”

I really appreciate Gamespot’s more longform written reviews. Lucy James isn’t a reviewer I am particularly familiar with, but I really enjoyed her review of Persona 5. It’s insightful, wonderfully worded, and I’ll be following her work with interest. While this is another very positive review, Lucy draws attention to an at times problematic camera, and issues with context sensitive climbing prompts, but admits these are very minor complaints in the grand scheme. I appreciated her description of the game’s lighter moments. Persona games have always balanced darker themes with moments of levity, and I’m glad that trend continues in P5.

maxresdefault“Yes, this is exactly how I remember high school”

Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku.

@kirkhamilton

“Persona 5 is one of the most stylish video games I’ve ever played. It restlessly pulses toward the corners of your TV screen, as if unable to contain its overabundance of verve. This game doesn’t run, it bounces, helped along by a giddy and unusually cohesive audio-visual aesthetic.”

While Kotaku’s review system eschews numbered scores, Kirk Hamilton’s review was definitely positive. He was particularity impressed with the music and artistry of the game, and his descriptions are incredibly vivid, the sign of a great writer. While his review did stray into what I thought were unnecessary plot spoilers for a couple of paragraphs, his writing style is striking and infectious, and I can respect that.  

thumb-1920-678024Persona 5 hits store shelves on April 4th, and from all accounts looks to be an outstanding game in a year already overloaded with high quality releases. Are you excited for P5’s launch? Sound off in the comments below, and let me know who wrote your favourite review! 

K.