Let’s Look at… Paper Mario Spiritual Successors!

When it comes to the Paper Mario series, it’s pretty clear the series has been going in the wrong direction. There are fewer original characters and elements not found in the New Super Mario Bros games. The battle system is no longer a traditional RPG one, with things like experience and levelling up being completely removed.

And with partners no longer a mechanic in the games, the overworld exploration has become a lot less enjoyable than it used to be.

But while Nintendo’s dropped the ball on the Paper Mario series, it seems there are indeed other companies willing to pick it back up! Yes, Paper Mario is getting some spiritual successors! And while they’re not quite as popular as Yooka-Laylee or Mighty No 9 have been, these games still promise to offer the old school fans what they want from Paper Mario. Namely, good old turn based RPG gameplay with a paper style aesthetic!

So let’s take a look shall we? Let’s look at some of these successors and see which ones really do recapture the feel of the early Paper Mario titles!

Ikenfell

Kickstarter Funding: $61,787 CAD

ikenfell

The first of which is a pretty unique game indeed. Billed as Harry Potter meets Paper Mario, Ikenfell is an RPG adventure game about wizards and witches attending a Hogwarts style magic school and the ‘trouble they get into’.

It’s an interesting concept for a game. And the people on Kickstarter seemingly think so too. Why? Because as mentioned above, they poured more than $60,000 in this title. So we’ve certainly now got proof that Paper Mario style RPGs can be a potentially lucrative market if you show them well.

However, I will point out one thing.

Based on the screenshots and videos, Ikenfell could possibly be better described as a Mario & Luigi successor rather than a Paper Mario one. It’s got a similar graphical perspective to those games and the gameplay looks closer to a hybrid between that and the Legend of Zelda than it does Paper Mario.

But hey, if the creators call it a Paper Mario like game, who am I to argue here? It’s a bit less Paper Mario inspired than our next game though…

Paper Bug

paper bug pic

Another game following up on the Paper Mario formula, Paper Bug is.. basically Paper Mario with the characters replaced with bugs. It’s kind of in the name you know?

But none the less, it’s an interesting project in its own right. Why? Because it’s a very quiet, understated little game that’s not been heavily advertised online and instead gets regular updates on its official Tumblr blog. There’s no Kickstarter, no Indiegogo campaign, very little coverage on gaming news sites… yet the team still ploughs on regardless. It’s like a time warp to how indie games used to be developed. Quietly with regular updates and without demands for large amounts of money from online backers.

So while it’s not the flashiest project, it’s still one that could be worth looking out for at some point in the future. Which seems to be more than can be said about this title…

Paper Knight’s Story

Kickstarter Funding: $1,644

paper knight's story

Named Paper Knight’s Story and developed by ‘InQu Games’, this game was basically trying to be a free successor to Paper Mario. Yes, free. The campaign actually said the game was going to distributed for free when it was finished.

And it did okay too. It raised $1,644 on Kickstarter (not a massive sum, but much better than most of its competition), was fully funded at the end of its campaign and even had two episodes released!

But here’s the catch.

That’s all that happened.

The finished game? Never released. The online services? Not forthcoming. InQu Games’ activity on social media? Absolutely non existent since March 2013 or so.

Basically, the team took the money, worked on it for a bit and vanished never to be seen again. So yeah, we definitely got part of a Paper Mario successor. Just not anywhere near the full thing.

Thankfully, the next game likely won’t suffer the same fate…

Paper Soul Theatre

paper soul theatre

Because the Paper Soul Theatre devs Otyugra Games’ pretty much never leaves the Paper Mario subreddit. So hey, they’re already communicating with their fans more than some indie devs we know about!

Either way, Paper Soul Theatre is a… fairly odd little game. For starters, while the odd song and graphics update is posted on the official site, there’s not really a lot of information about the title as a whole or any footage showing it in action. So actually figuring out how the game plays or what stage it’s at is pretty difficult.

And it’s also got one hell of a strange concept to boot. I mean, can you picture what this game is trying to be from its official description? From this one paragraph written below?

Paper Soul Theater is a subversive 3D turn-based RPG/platformer/survival horror video game, modelled after “Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door,” about a girl in a surreal fantasy world, and the allies she gains, who use peaceful communication, violence, spiritual help, and the power of ancient totems to stop crusaders from beginning a devastating war with her weak confederacy.

Because to be honest, I can’t. It sounds like a weird hybrid of Paper Mario, Super Paper Mario, Fire Emblem and Resident Evil based on the description, which is certainly not a combination I can make much sense of without a trailer or screenshots.

Still, it’s not cancelled, and the team do still post online on a regular basis, so we should have some sort of preview at one point or another. There’s still the strong possibility that Paper Soul Theatre will be finished at some point in the foreseeable future.

Which isn’t likely the case with the next game on the list…

Paper Tails

Kickstarter Funding: Unsuccessful ($276 of $175,000 goal)

paper tails

Because Paper Tails did not do too well on Kickstarter. In fact, it bombed really hard, to the point only 0.1% of its target was met before the campaign ended.

Either way, Paper Mario 1.5 with flash animation (or Paper Tails as its actually known) was a very clear attempt at cloning Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door. Like, so close you could make a Paper Mario fan game by swapping the graphics and music out. That close.

And like so many other indie games, the team decided to take it to Kickstarter. Which is honestly where the game’s issues came in.

Because you see, their target was not small, like the $1500 one for Paper Knight’s Story. Oh no, they wanted $175,000 for this game. Which as you can probably tell, looked closer to a Newgrounds flash game that something you’d see on consoles.

And which was topped off with a marketing campaign that puts the Wii U’s to shame. (Read, no marketing campaign whatsoever).

As a result, it didn’t pay off. The game bombed hard, updates have been scarce for ages, and all activity related to the title online has completely dried up. It did get greenlit on Steam, but whether that’s ever going to lead to a finished game is another story.

Either way, it’s a good warning for indie devs considering a Kickstarter. Namely, make your game look decent before trying to raise money, and then actually bother to advertise it in some meaningful way. Otherwise you’ll go down like Paper Tails did!

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Let’s move onto a better project now. Like South Park: The Stick of Truth for PC and modern consoles.

The only Paper Mario ‘clone’ that’s actually been released in full, South Park: The Stick of Truth is basically Paper Mario, except with South Park characters and themes instead of Mario ones. You explore various parts of the South Park town (in much the way you’d explore Paper Mario’s locales), you fight battles with action commands playing a crucial role, and as you can expect, there’s a lot of humour to be had here. After all, what did you expect? It’s based on a animated comedy show!

Here’s a video showing the game in action (the trailers show barely any gameplay footage):

As well as the link to get the game on Steam:

South Park: the Stick of Truth on Steam

It’s definitely one you should check out, if you’re a Paper Mario fan that happens to also be a fan of the South Park series. Or if you just want to try out a genuinely good licensed game for a change (cause damn those are rare)!

The Donnerwald Experiment

Indiegogo Funding: €142 (of €10,000 flexible goal)

donnerwald experiment

But back to unreleased games now, with an interesting little RPG game called the Donnerwald Experiment. Set in a strange world filled with speaking animals, unusual robots and the ruins of ancient civilisations, it stars a mechanic called Johanna as she gets dragged into ‘an insane project called the Donnerwald Experiment’.
And it’s not just the story that’s a little unusual here. Oh no, the game design itself seems to be an odd hybrid between a standard eastern RPG and a western one, with players give the choice on how they want to handle the game world and story. They can cooperate with the inhabitants to make the world better. They can run away, never to return. Or heck, they can just kill everyone and destroy the world outright. It’s like in say, the Elder Scrolls or Fallout.

The battle system sounds interesting too. It’s got action commands and partners, like in Paper Mario. But you’re not meeting these partners. Oh no, you’re apparently building them from scratch, with your skills as a master mechanic and robot builder. There are also Pokemon style elemental types too, and a system that dictates how many moves you get per turn like in Sticker Star and later games.

So it’s a very unique title really. I mean okay, it’s probably not gonna reach it’s goal (cause getting 99% more backers in 8 hours would be insane), but it definitely looks like a new take on the Paper Mario formula, and one that’s a damn lot more creative than Color Splash. So it could be worth checking out.

But the Donnerwald Experiment isn’t the only Paper Mario inspired game on Indiegogo…

Underhero

Indiegogo Funding: $300 (of $10,000 flexible goal)

underhero pic

Oh no, Underhero is listed there too. And this one… is again not your typical Paper Mario successor.

Why?

Because it’s a side scroller. You know, like Super Paper Mario was on the Wii. Or those various Paper Mario fan games are on MFGG.

Here’s the trailer from its Steam Greenlight page (where it was greenlit by the community):

As you can see, this one has quite a lot going for it. There’s a nice unique art style with some really impressive pixel art. The battle system looks inspired by (but not too close to) the Paper Mario series. And heck, the characters even speak ‘simlish’ or ‘Banjo speak’ like in Rare’s N64 titles!

It’s a good game, and one that seems to be in active development as we speak.

So that ends our list of Paper Mario spiritual successors! Some of the games look amazing and seem like they’re bring their own unique mechanics to the genre, some outright clone the Thousand Year Door with original characters. None the less, there are plenty of titles out there for you old school Paper Mario fans, and plenty of alternatives do exist for those uncomfortable with Sticker Star and Color Splash’s changes to the series.

But what do you think? Do any of these spiritual successors fill the void left by Nintendo’s changes to the Paper Mario series? Could any of these titles be more enjoyable to play than Paper Splash on the Wii U? Or are you waiting til Nintendo themselves makes a new Paper Mario game instead?

The Gaming Reinvented Contest Results Are In!

Well, it’s been two weeks since the Gaming Reinvented contest started. We’ve had tons of entries, lots of people have liked or retweeted us on Twitter about it and heck, even sites like Source Gaming and Mario RPG Universe have helped out here.

But now it’s finally over. And we can reveal the winner is…
Goomba Smackdown!! for his article on No Man’s Sky! Congrats, we’ll be in contact soon to ask what games and systems you want for your prize.

(You can also get the prize in plain cash, but that’s kind of boring!)

So why did he win? How did the other articles do? Well, here’s the full set of results for the entries we received for the contest. As you can see, we marked them each on ‘uniqueness’ and ‘quality’, and the best scoring article won.

The List of Entries

Advertising Games for Dummies

Entry by: Chronis

Uniqueness Score: 7/10

Because while advertising games is certainly a topic people have written about before, most takes seem to be from a developer’s perspective. Like say, how to promote your new indie title online so it gets through Steam Greenlight or gets funded on Kickstarter. A talk about advertising games well from a game’s perspective is hence a bit more unique in that regard.

So not a 100% ‘unique’ topic, but an interesting enough take on it none the less.

Quality Score: 7/10

As for the quality of the article, that’s pretty good as well. It’s decently well written, flows relatively well and seems to be easy enough to read.
It’s also an accurate look at how best to advertise video games with some decent examples of good marketing and can show both gamers and people in the industry how they should promote their game if they want more attention.

However, there’s one thing that bugged me about the whole thing. And that’s just how short the article seems to be. Yes, it’s technically around 500 words (which was around the average mark for content length in 2012), but it still seems like the article ends far earlier than you’d expect it to.

And I suspect that’s because there’s not really much of a conclusion here. It has a sentence saying that game companies should show their creativity more, but that seems like something you’d say after the ‘formal’ conclusion to the piece. After a paragraph or two summarising what makes a good ad campaign and ending with a general point about the matter (like say, ‘market your games in a creative way’ or what not).

Hence the final score is a nice 14/20. Not perfect by any means, but a decent enough take on a fairly original idea.

Overall: 14/20

A Journey through Drangleic and Dark Souls II

Entry by: TofuFury

Uniqueness Score: 7/10

An article written in the first person? Have to say, that is pretty novel, especially on a gaming news site. It gives the piece a very different feel to most I’ve read about the game, and makes it seem more like a story than a simple recap.

And while recaps based on the Dark Souls series are fairly common online (especially on gaming subreddits), I found this one a bit more unique than the norm, what with how it seems to blend both narrative and critical opinion on the game without coming across as too corny or clichéd.

Either way, it’s unique enough to get a good score here.

Quality Score: 8/10

It’s also a well written article, which is easy to read and where each point follows logically from the last one. Indeed, despite having no real experience with Dark Souls II whatsoever, I managed to follow and understand everything that was being said without a problem. That’s good.

It’s also impressive how the writer went to the effort of cataloguing the sources used for the article as well. Yeah, they’re not referencing specific pages on the wiki or certain characters in the game (because in this case, they don’t need to), but the list of wiki and photo sources is a lot more professional than is typical for a gaming article. Or for that matter, any article in the media nowadays. So kudos on that.

Add how it explained various aspects of the game well, and you’ve got an article that deserves its solid 8/10 quality score. It’s a good piece overall.

Overall: 15/20

How to Defeat Your Gaming Backlog

Entry by: J.K. Riki

Uniqueness Score: 5/10

Well, it’s a bit of a low score, but the topic here is one that quite a few people have tackled online. A quick search in Google brings up 7 articles about gaming backlogs and tackling them, two forum topics about the same general thing and one site (Backloggery) that’s often used by gamers to tackle the problem.

So it’s a fairly generic subject that’s been written about a lot in the past. But is the actual content more interesting than the theme?

Quality Score: 6/10

To be honest, the answer there is probably ‘no’. It’s a well written article, without too much in the way of spelling and grammar errors and written in a way that flows nicely when you read it. So it’s technically a very solid piece of content.

But it’s also very predictable. I mean yes, it gives advice on how to clear your gaming backlog. But it’s very obvious advice that a lot of people wouldn’t really need to read the article to figure out. I mean, stop buying games if you ever want to finish all the ones you have? That’s a true point, but it’s also very much a ‘well duh’ kind of thing.

So that’s why it gets an average score here. It’s well written, but it’s also very much the kind of ‘extremely obvious’ advice that news sites and blogs focus a bit too much on nowadays. No one who reads it is going to learn anything new.

Overall: 11/20

So Random!: How to Build Attachment to Random Generation (and Not Be No Man’s Sky)

Entry by: Goomba Smackdown!!

Uniqueness Score: 7/10

It’s a game a lot of people have already written about, but the article is more unique because of its actual content. Namely, how it’s a game design article that talks about random generation and how that applies to games like No Man’s Sky and what not.

So while the game isn’t an original choice, the direction the article goes is, and it’s been scored accordingly.

Quality Score: 9/10

Well, this is a great article on a quality level. Indeed, it’s been posted a fair amount over at Reddit and got quite a few upvotes as well. And it really goes deep into the topic too. I mean, you could probably write a PhD dissertation on procedural generation and game design with this one.

It’s certainly the kind of article that could be considered ‘10x content’ (read, ten times better than most other articles on the subject). It’s well written too, with mostly good spelling and grammar and a writing style that’s easy to read (for someone interested in the subject).

There’s not really anything negative to say about this one. It might be a tad technical for some readers, but it’s a well written, fairly unique article that’s a strong contender for winning the Gaming Reinvented writing contest.

Overall: 16/20

The Biggest Problem with Undertale

Entry by: Calin

Uniqueness Score: 6/10

It’s an article about a currently popular game that talks about an issue in said game. Again, it’s not the most original topic, though the article itself is interesting and fairly well written (more on that in the next point).

So a middle of the road uniqueness score then.

Quality Score: 7/10

Content quality wise it’s okay, with the article making some logical points about Undertale, the ‘Genocide Route’ and how the design apparently doesn’t work. I can’t see anything here that doesn’t make sense or is actually incorrect about Undertale as a game.

And the article’s use of images here is good as well. Remember, on the internet, images speak louder than words (especially if they’re relevant). So an article which illustrates its points with relevant in game screenshots is much more appealing than one that’s merely a giant wall of text with nothing to really break it up.
So it’s a good piece for the most part. Hence the decent score it’s getting in this contest.

Overall: 13/20

Why Paper Mario Color Splash Might Not Be So Bad

Entry by: Dark Young Link

Uniqueness Score: 7/10

Well, it’s certainly a unique perspective on Paper Mario Color Splash, especially considering the time in which it was written (aka, prior to the game being leaked/playable by the public). Few other Paper Mario fans were looking forward to the game before it came out, and few bothered to try and defend it.

That said, it’s still a little predictable in another sense. Namely, it’s a devil’s advocate article about a game that’s unpopular. And those are common for various titles, even if Paper Mario Color Splash isn’t usually the game being defended.

Either way, originality points for offering a positive view on a much derided game, but a few less than perfect score is needed simply because devil’s advocate articles are a fairly common thing online.

Quality Score: 5/10

Well, this is interesting. Apparently, this article’s author posted a video about the subject on YouTube, which the article itself is based on. Got to commend the amount of effort there, it’s not often someone will write an article for a news site and then record a video or podcast based on it as well, especially not if it’s a guest article rather than one by a ‘staff member.

That said, something does feel a bit off here. Like the article doesn’t quite flow properly, and seems like it was made to be a video. For example, the points (about Paper Mario post Sticker Star feeling more like a 3D Mario platformer and the story being more interesting) are alright. But they’re very basic and not very well elaborated on. That’s okay for a video defending the game, but perhaps not great for a lengthy article about it.

And the point about Sticker Star failing because we didn’t know about the changes isn’t a great one. I mean, that’s exactly why people are hating on Color Splash. Cause they know the changes are there and they don’t like them. Knowing or not knowing in advance doesn’t really matter here, since the people who hate Sticker Star will almost always dislike this one, and those that don’t mind it/want to give it a chance won’t.

In general, it’s an okay but kind of barebones article for the most part. It just won’t convince anyone to change their opinion (whether positive or negative) about Color Splash, so kind of doesn’t really work when it comes to defending the game.

Overall Score: 12/20

The Results

And here’s the list of entries ordered by score…

  1. So Random!: How to Build Attachment to Random Generation (and Not Be No Man’s Sky): 16/20
  2. A Journey through Drangleic and Dark Souls II: 15/20
  3. Advertising Games for Dummies: 14/20
  4. The Biggest Problem with Undertale: 13/20
  5. Why Paper Mario Color Splash May Not Be So Bad: 12/20
  6. How to Defeat Your Gaming Backlog: 11/20

As you can see, all the articles were at least decent, with no one getting a score below 50% in this contest. But we have to choose a winner overall, so we’re giving it to Goomba Smackdown for his article on No Man’s Sky.

So that’s all for now! Will there be another contest? Well, maybe. We’re planning on launching a more general platform for non gaming news in the near future, so that might get a similar deal too if we can get the support for it. But for now, let’s just see what Goomba Smackdown chooses for his prize, shall we?

Shovel Knight is Appearing in Yooka-Laylee!

No, we’re not making this up. Playtonic Games have announced that Shovel Knight is appearing in Yooka-Laylee. Here’s a picturing showing him in game:

As well as a trailer featuring him in action:

His role isn’t known as of yet, but it’s best to assume he’ll be an NPC you’ll interact with in levels. Maybe he gives you a sidequest or something? Or you have to bring him a certain item for a Pagie?

Either way, it’s a guest appearance by the star of one great indie game in another, and something we can’t wait to find out more about it come Yooka-Laylee’s release!

But what do you think? Are you interested by the prospect of Shovel Knight in Yooka-Laylee? And for that matter, what would you think about the opposite happening at some point?

The Gaming Reinvented Contest is Now Over!

Well, it’s finally happened. The Gaming Reinvented contest is now officially over. If you’ve not submitted your entry by this point it won’t be counted (though you can still post it on our platform and potentially make money from it).

So what happens now that’s over?

Answer: We spend the next week or so judging all the entries and deciding who deserves the prize. Why a week for this? Because we’re not just giving out scores here. We’re not just saying ‘Bob came 1st, Alice came 2nd, John came 3rd’ or whatever.

Instead, we’re actually writing out a full breakdown of every entry’s score based on the following factors:

  1. How well it’s written
  2. The uniqueness/interestingness of the subject

These will each get a score out of 10, and the entry marked best overall will win. This way, you can see for yourself exactly why one article won the contest and the others didn’t.
So yeah, it’s now over. All you can do now is wait and see who’s won the grand prize!

A Journey through Drangleic and Dark Souls II

Long ago, in a walled off land, far to the north, a great king built a great kingdom.

I believe they called it Drangleic.

Perhaps you’re familiar.

No, how could you be.

But one day, you will stand before its decrepit gate.

Without really knowing why…

(Opening Narration to Dark Souls 2 – Darksouls.wikia.com)

            A thunderstorm unleashes its torrential fury as I trek through a deserted forest, dressed in rags befitting a beggar. I am cursed, marked with the brand of the undead curse. This is the fate of all who decide to test their mettle against the might of a Dark Souls game, and I have come to challenge Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. The difference in Dark Souls II is that in addition to being cursed with the undead brand, my memories are slipping through my fingers like sand. I have no memories of home, only the urge to find some sort of cure for my ailment.

Upon traversing a lake in a simple paddleboat, a great vortex churns before me in the middle of the water. Beckoned by fate, I step forward, and fall into the portal that sends me on my adventure to the land of Drangleic, the world of Dark Souls II. Though I am just a player sitting in my computer chair, I feel as if I’m transported as well into this beautiful, yet dangerous world.

The next thing I know, I’ve arrived in a land called Things Betwixt, a limbo land on the outskirts of Drangleic. As I wander about for shelter, there is a cottage in the distance with lights in the window. I stagger inside, hoping someone can help me gather my bearings in this unfamiliar land. I find a group of old hags sitting around a fire, knitting and rocking in their chairs. They mock me, laughing at my decrepit state.

“An undead has come to play, heh heh,” the main firekeeper chuckles.

They speak to me as though I’m not the first undead to reach their home, and I likely won’t be the last. The head crone smirks with rotten teeth and asks if I can even remember my own name. I struggle, searching deep within my addled mind for something familiar.

I search the recesses of my mostly empty mind until a name sticks out to me. I tell the firekeeper what I think my name is, and she nods in approval. The old hag then hands me a little wicker figurine, a human effigy she calls it, and asks me to tell her what it looks like. I peer at it long enough until I reach an epiphany; it’s me.

I am MacGreggor the Cleric, a warrior who can use the art of miracles to heal, and craft lightning to strike down my foes. I shed my rags and appear as a proper cleric should.

“Run along now, hold onto your souls, for they’re all that will keep you from going hollow,” the old hag explains. She stops, and chuckles under her breath. “Oh, I’ll fool you no longer, you will lose your souls, over and over again.”

The women laugh as I shuffle dumbly through the exit. There’s nothing else to do but move onwards. Their words echo through my mind as I fight my way through the tutorial lands of Things Betwixt. I’ll show them, I think as I swing my mace on a dagger armed hollow. I will see this quest to its end.

As I leave Things Betwixt, I feel the warmth of the sun for the first time. I’ve reached the rocky beach of a desolate seaside town. This little village is called Majula, and it will be my home for the entirety of my long journey. As I step towards the bonfire situated next to a cliff looking out to the sea, there is a strange woman there dressed in a green cloak, staring off at the ocean. I approach her, and she addresses me with a simple question.

“Are you the next monarch? Or merely the pawn of fate?”

This question is the foundation of my quest, my journey through Drangleic. The woman, known as The Emerald Herald, tells me to seek a great old king, the one who shaped this land into what it is—King Vendrick. Yet I cannot do so at the moment. My soul is weak, untested, and to become a monarch, I must complete a trial worthy of a king.

“Bearer of the curse, seek misery. For misery will lead you to greater, stronger souls. You will never meet the king with a soul so frail and pallid,” says the Emerald Herald.

Four great souls await me, held by imposing figures of Drangleic’s past. They will test me in battle, and I must defeat them if I am to seek audience with Vendrick. I have a long journey ahead of me, and path is wrought with danger.

There’s the Lost Sinner, imprisoned in a cell within the stronghold of Sinner’s Rise, hidden within the many jails of the Lost Bastille. She is a blind swordswoman, bound in chains. Though weighed down, she carries a sword and will sunder those who underestimate her prowess. Upon entering her prison, she blows out all the lights, trapping me with her in the darkness and evening the odds against me.

Deep underneath the ground of Majula in the poison pits of the Black Gulch stands The Rotten, a beast made up of an amalgamation of decaying corpses. Surrounded by ever burning fire pits, the Rotten cleaves all who foolishly enter into his domain. Protecting the path to him stand countless poison spitting statues, as well as frightening subterranean creatures that would make Lovecraft shutter.

Past the Shaded Woods and the caves of the Doors of Pharros lies the mining town ofBrightstone Cove Tseldora. The sandy town is overrun with menacing spiders, and its mindless inhabitants are slowly turning into arachnids themselves. The spiders all share one mother, the frightening Duke’s Dear Freja. Once a pet, upon gaining a great soul, the two-headed spider grew to a monstrous size. Venturing down webs to her arena is not for the faint of heart, and she waits with her brood for the next meal to walk into her domain.

Legends speak of a mighty iron castle known for its strength and power. Yet now the castle sits deep within a lava pit, brought down from the weight of its beloved iron. The Old Iron King was once a cruel ruler who took pleasure in killing the undead, yet his strength was his undoing. His castle unearthed a powerful demon, which killed the king and possessed his body. The king now waits at the foot of his castle, ready to incinerate those who face him.

Reaching these great souls is not an easy task, and there are many other lands I must cross to reach my foes. There is the Forest of Fallen Giants, once a great and mighty fortress. Once, there was a war between Vendrick’s army and the Giants from across the sea. Here my journey begins, facing hollow soldiers who continue defending their fortress long after the battle that destroyed their battlement. In the heart of this fort lies The Last Giant, the sole remaining Giant from this war who seeks an end to his suffering. There is also The Pursuer, a well-armed knight that hunts down any undead who seeks the throne. Though I am able to strike down The Pursuer, he continues to pop up in other lands to test my nerve in battle.

The Huntsman’s Copse is a woodland, filled with trees watered from the blood of undead. The Old Iron King once hunted undead in these woods, and his minions still lurk around, ambushing wayward undead seeking passage. Close by stands the Undead Purgatory, where a fierce chariot thunders through the streets, ready to trample any who foolishly wander into its domain.

All these lands and more circle around the final goal of the quest, Drangleic Castle. This is the residence of the man who made the land what it is today, King Vendrick, The king instilled such loyalty from his followers that they turned to stone standing guard from staying in their post for ages.  But only those who have conquered the many trials of Drangleic can seek an audience with the king and queen.

I have seen all of these places through the eyes of MacGreggor, my avatar. Yet every step he took, I felt as though I made the journey myself. Through the seventy plus hours I spent in the land of Drangleic, I climbed the tallest heights of the Dragon Sanctuary and plunged into the deepest depths of Black Gulch. I’ve clashed blades with hollows and invading human players alike. I’ve suffered the pain of losing countless souls, and the glorious elation of defeating the most intimidating of bosses. Every minute spent playing Dark Souls II were some of the greatest moments I’ve ever had playing a video game.

I did not make this journey alone, either. Throughout the game, I ran into the invisible phantoms of fellow players who were on an incredible journey of their own. Many times I called upon the help of another sojourner who had placed their summon sign in front of a difficult boss. Once I’d defeat a boss, I would place my own sign down, and accompany someone who I’ll never meet in real life and aid them in overcoming their own trial. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in a video game came from helping a struggling soul finally put down the foe that had given them so much trouble. These moments celebrating with my host filled me with more joy than defeating the boss on my own.

However, not every interaction with another player came under such enjoyable circumstances. I had to be on guard, as at any moment another person could invade my game and hunt me down for souls. Player dueling offers a tense and stressful experience for any adventurer. While I learned the patterns and fighting styles of normal enemies, a human player is unpredictable, never offering the same experience twice. Many times I fell to their blade or magic, but banishing an invader gave me a bigger sense of accomplishment than finishing off a boss.

These moments working cooperatively with another player or fighting an imposing invader gave me an experience unlike any other game I’ve ever played. I never play online multiplayer games, as I lack the confidence in my abilities as a gamer. The Dark Souls series, especially DSII, forced me to face these fears, and I’m glad it did. Instead of looking for ways to avoid other players, I’ll place my sign down for PVP duels, something I never thought I’d ever do. When another player invades me, I’ll give them a friendly wave, and more often than not they’ll wave back. Sure, they’re trying to kill me, but it’s all in good fun.

While I enjoy all the entries in the Souls series, Dark Souls II holds a special place in my heart. One of the reasons comes from the story. While Dark Souls II eschews most of the lore and characters from Dark Souls I, this allows the game to tell its own tale rather than rely solely on callbacks from previous entries. Dark Souls II’s story is reminiscent of a fairy tale told around a bonfire. Each area acts as a chapter in a storybook, centering on characters that have become corrupted and fallen from grace.

Take for instance Mytha, queen of Harvest Valley and Earthen Peak. Queen Mytha pined for the attention of a nearby king, so she sought to enhance her beauty by drinking a potion crafted from her lands. The king paid her no mind, and soon Mytha earned the title of the Baneful Queen. The queen’s jealousy became so potent that it ruined her kingdom, filling it with noxious poison. The poison transformed the once beautiful queen into a hideous serpentine monstrosity, and the toxic poison that is lethal to the player heals her.

Another fairy tale motif can be found in the two bell towers in Drangleic, Belfry Luna and Belfry Sol. These two hidden areas were built to commemorate the undying love of a princess and prince from long ago. The two royals had a doomed romance, and these bell towers were erected to symbolize their undying love and a hope that one day they could reunite and wed. The princess and prince crafted living marionette soldiers who stand guard in the towers to protect the bells. These marionettes stand guard to this day, though the lovers have most certainly perished long ago.

In addition to the story, one of Dark Souls II’s greatest strengths is its quest. Dark Souls II is a lengthy game, longer than any Souls game in the series. DSII didn’t feel like just a game to me as I immersed myself in it, but rather a grand adventure that I experienced firsthand. Every time I cleared a boss, I’d rush to the next area with anticipation of what was next in store, and what new lands I’d get to explore. As a lover of ruins and abandoned places, Dark Souls II is brimming with castles and keeps to investigate. I explored every inch of Drangleic, soaking in the atmosphere wherever I went.

While the Souls series has a reputation for its fierce difficulty, the game provides the player with countless builds, weapons, and spells to overcome adversity. With my character, I fought with strength weapons and used miracles for healing and buffs. While my build saw me through the game, I can start over and try countless other builds and weapons to accomplish the same goal. I never ran into another player who played exactly like me. Some players were spellcasters, others used flashy rapiers with a focus on dexterity. Any play style can carry a player through the game, with spikes of difficulty here and there to balance the experience.

The often-touted difficulty of the Souls games like Dark Souls II is honestly a detriment to the series, as it’s a false barrier of entry for many prospective players. Many times when I’ve told people that I’m playing Dark Souls II, they’ll look at me in amazement and say they’d never try a Souls game based on the difficulty alone. I avoided the Souls series for years from their reputation alone, as I hate trudging through difficult games, only to give up in frustration.

Once I gave Dark Souls and Dark Souls II a shot, I learned the challenging Souls games aren’t something to fear, but relish and enjoy. Every time I finished an area like Huntsman’s Copse, I felt like I mastered a new section of the game. There’s a true sense of accomplishment with every victory won. As harsh as death is in the Souls series, it only makes victory all the sweeter.

Yet don’t let the difficulty keep you from trying a Souls game, as there’s so much more to Dark Souls II than just constant death. The lush world design, the hidden lore, the vast amount of weapons and abilities, and unique multiplayer encounters keep me playing long after I finished the main quest of Dark Souls II. I’m still playing my original character, as well as several new builds to try for fun. I’d suggest that any fan of RPGs or adventure games give Dark Souls II a try. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you won’t know unless you try. You might find, like I did, that it’s one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had since picking up my NES controller so many years ago.

 

I climb the long steps outside Drangleic Castle, weary to end my long quest. I’ve died countless times, only to resurrect and try again and again. Yet my journey is almost at an end. I can feel it in my bones. There are two massive guardians wielding deadly halberds, ready to cleave my body in two. Yet there is a friendly face standing at the foot of the stairs—the Emerald Herald. She greets me at the foot of my last great task.

“This castle is isolated. But nonetheless, you must forge on. To bring an end to your journey…and mine,” she tells me.

I hoist my blade and begin my ascent towards my enemies. The words of the Emerald Herald continue on as my foes begin their charge.

“End your journey…and mine.”

I charge ahead with my blade, throwing caution to the wind. I will not be denied my victory, no matter how many times it takes me.

 

Sources, dialogue, and fact checking:

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

http://soulslore.wikidot.com

http://darksouls.wikia.com/

http://darksouls2.wiki.fextralife.com/

 

All Photos come from my playthrough of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin on Steam.

All dialogue comes from Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin belongs to From Software and Bandai Namco