Seems like everyone is “You Died”-ing interminably these days via the PS4’s newest (only?) must-have game: Bloodborne. The game is insanely hard, especially (in this humble blogger’s opinion) in the beginning when you have no Earthly (or Yarnhamly, as the case may be) idea of just what the fuck you’re supposed to do. Seriously, it’s as if you’d never heard of the game of chess and suddenly you’re supposed to take on Kasparov.
I’m now a bit further into the game (though I haven’t even beat the first beast yet), and I’m enjoying it a little more. I mean, I define “enjoying” in this context as now having more to do than face the same three characters and get mulled over and over. However, the game remains insanely difficult and frustrating, but it is now, at least slightly, more enjoyable than having my balls hit with a sledge-hammer.
J is fond of regaling me with stories of how difficult the Souls games are, but he is always quick to add: “but they’re fair!” J and I both go back to the classic example of Super Mario Brothers 3 for what constitutes a damn hard–but fair–video game. Toward the end of SMB3, there’s a level that will literally turn you into the little girl in the exorcist in a fit of rage-quitting. But the level is the same every time. It’s just a matter of getting the perfect timing. If you mess up, it’s clearly your fault, the game didn’t trick you into dying. (Also, I’d just like to point out that I beat the more difficult Japanese version of the game when I was 12. So suck on that, you damn goombas.)
As for unfair games, I would categorize these as games where you are unable to control your character and/or environment in a consistent way. This could be due to poor design or poor coding. Being fair is not dissimilar to creating fictional worlds: you must define your rules and stick to them consistently. Obviously, any game with technical glitches is probably unfair in some sense (I’m looking at you, Skyrim.)
Which brings me back to my question: Is Bloodborne fair? I’m not so sure. There are problems with Bloodborne that I would not put up with in other video games, but I find myself sometimes apologizing for Bloodborne because I don’t want to be the “casual” gamer who gives up in the face of difficulty. Here are a few of the problems I have with it…
- Camera issues (not fair): This is, by far, the most frustrating part of the game for me. Especially when in attack mode (see later bullet point). There are many times in the course of Bloodborne battles where I find myself shoe-gazing like a 12 year old emo kid while a giant werewolf slices open my colon. Look, there are a lot of nooks and crannies in Yarnham, and I’m sure the camera is tough to deal with, but it seems like control of the camera is unnecessarily yanked away from me far too often. And this, more than anything else, really pisses me off.
- Slow player attacks (fair-ish): For an “action” RPG, Bloodborne plays very sluggish to me. My main issue here is that the attack direction seems to be very finicky. If I’m off by a hair, I miss my mark and am quickly slaughtered. But on the other hand, the attacks are consistent. Ish. So, I guess that’s fair. The reactions required for the game lead the player into becoming very good at timing, and ultimately, that’s what you’re playing: A “timing” RPG (not my favorite genre, I like butt-kicking speed). The battle system, frankly, reminds me of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.
- Targeting (fair, but bad design): This is right up there with camera issues, and it’s related. If I use the target function, I can attack without any of the aforementioned finicky directional issues, but then I’m back to the camera issues mentioned in point number 1. When in a targeted mode, the camera becomes entirely controlled by the game. This is OK if you’re facing one baddie, but the moment a second dude gets there, you’re pretty much toast. The biggest issue is that as soon as you un-target, the camera does a Nancy Kerrigan while a goddam werewolf pulls a Jeff Gillooly on me (also, I’m old and so are my references). It may be consistent, but this is questionable design (and poor design in light of the poor camera control mentioned above), at least give me the option to turn it off. Also, changing targets is basically unusable, but fine, whatever.
- Load times (fair, I guess, but maddening): Look, I’m sure the devs aren’t putting in these horrendously long load times–after we died due to shitty camera angles!–just to make us wallow in our self loathing. But that’s how it feels. If I die and can immediately go seek my revenge, there’s something comforting in that. But when I die and I have to look at a fucking loading screen for 40 seconds before I can play again, by the time I’m back in Yarnham I’ve often forgotten why I’m so fucking mad in the first place because I’ve tuned-out and am now browsing NBA scores on my iPhone.
As an adult, I no longer have time for unenjoyable games. But does unenjoyable equal unfair? I think Bloodborne is mostly fair (aside from the camera issues, but I could probably overlook those). Frankly, my ratio of fun to ball-hurt–right now, for me–is not enough to justify continuing to play Bloodborne. Especially because of the load time issues.
I’m going to beat the first beast and then put the game back on the shelf until an update comes out fixing at least the load time problems. Don’t worry, I’m coming home soon, Ul’dah.