So I wrote a post a long time ago (right when COVID started – hard to imagine such a time now) about the 5 most impactful games on my life – the games that got me started, that shaped my love of gaming. But that was when I was younger – innocent, dumb, full of life and optimism. Okay, so I’m still dumb, but my taste in gaming has changed and expanded as I’ve gotten older and I figured an update was in order. This also fits well into the theme for the second week of Blaugust – Introduce Yourself! While I have talked pretty extensively about most of these games in other posts on my blog, they are pretty crucial to my gaming life. Which is to say, if you’ve been with me for a while, you’re going to be familiar with all of my picks. But after reading this, you’ll know everything there is to know about me, gaming-wise, which is probably more than you asked for anyway.
I hope reading that header caused you as much pain as it caused me. Since I’m contractually obligated (by my eldritch patron, don’t worry about it) to mention Dark Souls at least once every 13 seconds, you know it’s going to be here YET AGAIN. I’m putting it first so everyone can get their eye-rolling out of the way quickly. Sorry (no I’m not). At least I’m talking about modern FromSoftware games more broadly.
Since I picked up Dark Souls around 2013, the series and their spiritual counterparts have been such a huge part of my life. Dark Souls was the kicker that got me into this style of game in the first place – while I was initially hesitant (mostly due to doubting my own abilities) the story structure, gameplay mechanics, and compelling world building got me absolutely hooked. I’ve played through I-don’t-know-how-many hours of this game, and beaten it upwards of a dozen times now. I still tend to gravitate towards my tried-and-true Strength/Faith build (Claymore with Sunlight Blade? Yes please!) though I have gained a fairly new appreciation for Intelligence builds – shout outs to Abracadaniel. Across a multitude of playthroughs, with different builds and varying degrees of success, I grew to love this ridiculous game with all its technical shortcomings and gameplay pitfalls. Dark Souls was the gateway through which I discovered FromSoftware, and it inspired me to continue on with the rest of their games in this style.
Bloodborne, which I picked up in 2016, was a scary venture for me for two main reasons: the first being the horror elements, which I don’t always handle well. The second, and major reason I was hesitant to give it a shot, was the lack of defensive options in this particularly brutal world. In my early days of Dark Souls, and to some extent Dark Souls 3, I was very much a turtle player – I liked to hide behind my high stability shield, and it made the game a lot more approachable for me; I relied on that precious shield a lot. So when Bloodborne quickly became notorious for “NO SHIELDS” and “BE AGGRESSIVE (B-E AGGRESSIVE)” ya girl was very intimidated. But of course, I had to try it anyway. And while I struggled in the beginning to be as aggressive as the game wanted me to be – I was much too attuned to the cautious playstyle of Dark Souls – I did eventually get the hang of it, and (I like to think, anyway) have ascended to my usual Parry Queen status that I aim for in all of these games.
But speaking of parrying – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a real struggle. The combat made me feel very out of my depth for the entirety of the beginning of the game. In fact, I was close to dropping it completely (partly because I had started my first playthrough of Persona 5 and put it on hold to play) because I was finding it so difficult. I did, however, arbitrarily decide to be a stubborn cow and beat Lady Butterfly as my first boss – which I did. After many attempts and several bouts of crying (just kidding… mostly) I felt like the gameplay was finally clicking, and the next two bosses (Gyoubu and Genichiro) were a cakewalk. The rhythm-based feel to the combat and unique narrative are unlike anything I’ve experienced in another game. Ironically, after all of this, I feel like Sekiro might be the FromSoft title that I feel most confident playing – it really has grown on me a lot.
While I wasn’t thrilled with Dark Souls 2 (yes, I am that bitch) I’ve stuck with these games through it all – Dark Souls 3, Bloodborne, Sekiro, Demon’s Souls, and now, Elden Ring. Despite their demanding gameplay and harrowing worlds, they’re all something of a comfort to me now (ah, to be an adult and find comfort in worlds where everything is intent on peeling your face off – at least I don’t have to make any phone calls or pay taxes) and I can’t imagine my current gaming-scape without them. I’ve made countless friends through playing and talking about these games – and by ‘friends’ I mean “people who tolerate me never shutting up about them” – and I’ve successfully convinced more than one poor, naïve fool to give them a try. I’ve also had the opportunity to do some co-op with people I actually know, rather than randoms – I recently played some Elden Ring with DaNamesX and GamingOmnivore, which was both hilarious and slightly irritating (shout outs to the one asshole that invaded us about four times). But this is just one of those things that makes me pause for a minute and think “wow I’ve actually made some connections through gaming” which, ultimately, is what it’s all about, innit? (JOLLY CO-OPERATION INTENSIFIES). So, yeah. FromSoftware games are kind of important to me. I also have a Bloodborne tattoo now, so there’s that. My official Gamer Girl™ license should be arriving in the mail any day now.
Traditional JRPG’s are really not my thing. At all. I’m not a fan of turn-based combat (Pokémon is different, don’t @ me) and the legendary grind-fests, 2 hour boss fights, and endless random encounters are all elements that I prefer to avoid. Plus, most JRPG’s involve at least some degree of strategic combat – knowing when to guard, heal, and how to conserve MP is important. Any combat that requires much beyond bonking enemies with a giant sword is a lot for my pea brain to handle, honestly. But I had a friend who was determinedly convincing me to give Persona 5 a try – I’d heard a lot about it, but for the above reasons, hadn’t been super interested in playing. I did admire his resolve to keep pushing the game at me however (as a preacher of the Dark Souls gospel, I respect the dedication), and eventually, he bought the game and sent it to me. I was officially out of excuses, and conveniently between games, so yeah, why not? Persona 5 time.
More than 200 hours, 3 playthroughs, and 1 platinum trophy later, I decided that yeah, actually Persona 5 was a pretty good game. While some of the issues that I typically have with JRPG’s were definitely present, I found that the elements of the game that I loved far outweighed any negatives. Persona 5 is super stylish, has an absolute banger of a soundtrack, and gameplay/combat that I found to be both addictive and fun. While combat does require some degree of strategy, I found it to be streamlined enough that I could more or less maintain my usual unga bunga (i.e. attack, attack, attack) approach throughout the game. What ultimately sold this game for me, however, was the cast – I genuinely don’t know if I’ve ever gotten as attached to a group of protagonists as I did to the Phantom Thieves. Their unique personalities, compelling personal stories, and endlessly amusing banter are honestly what I live for. There are way too many scenes from this game that will live in my head rent-free forever.
I remember thinking that the dungeon-crawling was going to be the highlight of the game for me, with the social aspects taking a backseat in the catbus. But lo and behold, I adored hanging out with the homies and trying to max out all of my confidants. And of course, I always prioritize my favourites. Sorry Ann, I know you’re going through a modeling crisis right now, but Ryuji wants to go to the movies, BYEEEE. Dropping all of my afternoon plans to meet Akechi at the aquarium? Couldn’t be me. Though the endless dialogue feels a bit draining after so many hours, these interactions are the standout element of the game for me – as a newcomer to the world of Persona, it really sold me on all future additions to the series. I’m more open to trying JRPG’s now, and stepping outside my gaming comfort zone. And of course, I had to return to the world of the Phantom Thieves for both Persona 5 Royal and Persona 5 Strikers. I may or may not have logged another 200 or so hours in both (ft. two more platinum trophies). I don’t have a problem.
Shadow of the Colossus
I was pretty late to the Shadow of the Colossus party – I didn’t play the game until 2012-ish, after the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus collection was released for the PlayStation 3. This was yet another game that I had heard about, but never had the opportunity to play before; and somehow, I did manage to go into the game completely blind, as I didn’t know much about it or its story. But hoo boy – this one really caught me off guard.
Not to sound melodramatic, but Shadow of the Colossus really changed my view of what a video game could be. At its core, the game is really just 16 boss fights, one after the other, with not much else to do in the Forbidden Land. Like much of this title’s minimalist presentation, there isn’t much to the combat either – each Colossi (gigantic beasts of varying design) requires some puzzle-solving to find its weak point and take it down. This puzzling is actually more significant than the actual stabby-stabby combat. Some Colossi can be scaled fairly easily, while some have to be knocked over, baited down to earth, or lured out of hiding. Figuring out how to approach each encounter is more important than slaying a Colossus – a slightly depressing affair, truth be told – and some are more complex than others. All of this might have you questioning the premise of the game anyway.
I mean, the Colossi are all just chilling, really, minding their own business, doing colossal things. They’re not aggressive until you engage them by attacking. So who’s the real monster, huh? You’re killing a bunch of innocent creatures to save a loved one, but does the ends justify the means? Especially, you know, when you see the end of the game. This is one of the only stories in a game (up until this point) that made me question what I was doing, and whether it was right. The moral ambiguity, along with the narrative consequences of killing the Colossi, kind of blew my mind; it really is such a unique tale, and coupled with its unusual structure, it’s unlike anything I’ve played before or since. Janky controls aside, the one-of-a-kind atmosphere (melancholic, lonely) and presentation really changed how I approach thinking about games – so for more than one reason, Shadow of the Colossus was a big one for me.
Fun fact: Shadow of the Colossus has one of my favourite video game soundtracks of all time, and I used to listen to it when I was studying for my university exams. So lowkey, hearing this music still gives me anxiety because it reminds me of late night cram sessions, and being stressed as all hell. Good times.
If you’re reading this and somehow STILL haven’t played BioShock, you need to do so. Immediately. I’ll wait.
BioShock was one of those life-altering games for me – the kind that REALLY effect you, and stay in your mind long after you’ve seen the credits roll. The city of Rapture (aptly named, for more than one reason) is still one of the most incredible settings I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring in a video game. Though we only get to see Rapture after its fall, its easy to imagine this awe-inspiring city at the bottom of the sea in its former glory. Its also easy to see how such an incredible venture met its downfall – greed, corruption, and extremism all play a part in Rapture’s impossible story.
These politics have always been one of the most compelling aspects of BioShock‘s story for me – when I was younger, I was completely enthralled by the ‘magic’ of Plasmids, the twists in the narrative, the fear of the Splicers, and of course, the Big Daddies. But as I got older and came back to this game again, it was the politics raging behind the scenes of Rapture’s demise that really grabbed my attention. Inspired by Ayn Rand’s novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” the philosophical and political quandaries present in BioShock are fascinating to me; while I can’t cover even a small part of it in a satisfying way here, it’s the way that this game made me think that ultimately stuck with me. The class conflict that underpins the entire narrative, the contrast between Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine (and what they represent), and the social/moral dilemmas present in maintaining a ‘haven’ like Rapture are all endlessly intriguing. Timbers = shivered.
So sure, as a video game, BioShock has it all – great gameplay, a fascinating setting, and a phenomenal soundtrack. But most importantly of all, it has a story worth discussing. I had a conversation with GamingOmnivore recently, where we talked about being surprised that certain groups of gaming enthusiasts were so resistant to recognizing the presence of politics in gaming. I was truly stunned when we discovered that BioShock was one of these games people argued about – no politics in Rapture, huh? Hilarious. This game wouldn’t be half of what is without its political backdrop, but okay, go off. #KeepPoliticsOutOfGaming, am I right?
Turns out, choosing only five games to represent your tastes for roughly a decade is kind of a hard ask – I struggled with this final choice. But I felt like I had to go with Journey here. I still have trouble explaining why I like Journey so much – which is why I only wrote about it fairly recently – but I’m going to steal a paragraph from that original post that summarizes part of why I love this game so much:
We take, and we strip, and we destroy, but we never give back. Eventually, this is going to catch up to us, and when it does, it will probably be too late. But as we see in Journey, this isn’t necessarily the end; it’s the nature of cyclical patterns. Just like we see in this title, it’s possible to give back, to return, to heal. Though things may die or collapse, it isn’t without the promise that life begins again. This is, at least in part, why I love Journey so much. It’s incredible that such a nuanced, dense reality of the human experience can be captured in such a short, quiet game. I love sitting in the unspoken-ness of Journey’s story, and thinking about the shape of the world (both in-game and ours). It feels sad, but at the same time, it lends a lightness to my heart every time I walk into that light at the top of the mountain.
Journey‘s storytelling is simple and clever, as are its graphics and gameplay. It didn’t blow me away with a complex tale or flashy presentation. It’s the quiet, introspective nature of Journey that keeps me coming back time and time again. Whenever I’m feeling particularly low, I find myself wanting to play this game. It’s a kind of reminder of the bigger picture, and it never fails to make me feel a bit more grounded. But if there’s one single element that truly never leaves me, it’s the soundtrack – so much of the emotion and weight of this short title is communicated through its music; if you haven’t played the game or listened to it, I can’t recommend it enough.
Wrapping up week two
So that’s it for the first “official” post of Blaugust! As usual, I spent way more time rambling than I anticipated, but these games do make up about 70% of my personality at this point, so I felt like it was justified. Feel free to let me know which games have had the biggest impact on your life – whether they introduced you to a new community, offered a one-of-a-kind experience, or maybe were just plain fun. I’ll be back next week (optimistically) with another Blaugust post, so until then~