Untold Stories and Things We Lose

I was thinking about where to approach this topic from on my walk home, so I decided to simply start at the beginning.  Or at least my beginning…

Backlog.  It’s a very polarizing word among gamers.  For some it’s a cringe worthy subject and for others it’s a near endless record of victory after victory.  For me, it’s a bit of both.  When I was kid and at mom and dad’s mercy for money to buy new video games, my backlog was very small and very manageable.  No matter how bad the game was I eventually sucked it up and finished it.

The remains of my physical PS1, PS2 and PC games

As time passed and adulting happened (ugh, adulting) and I started earning my own money, nothing stopped me from buying whatever games I wanted.  This was around the time of the first PlayStation.  That’s probably when the backlog started to get completely out of control.  Paycheck after paycheck went to fueling my collection and great games were being pumped out faster than I could finish them, yet I still bought more.

My physical SNES backlog (though I’m happy to report that most of them have been beaten by now)

Years passed by, I changed jobs, life happened, so on and so forth.  But the one and only constant in my life through it all was gaming.  I’d say I’ve been following video games since about 6th grade.  As time passed and the nature of gaming fundamentally changed from the solitary single player experience to what it is today, I’ve been there, and I’m still collecting more games as time goes on.

But why?

I used to wonder why it was I kept buying more and more games and not finishing the ones I already had, but then one day during contemplating the idea it finally came to me.  I didn’t want to miss out on any of the experiences that were being offered.  I didn’t want to miss out on the conversation surrounding a game or what was happening in gaming at the time.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of gamers feel the same way.  So let’s get back to that dirty word that started this post.

Backlog

I keep buying more and more games because they interest me.  The genre, the studio, the artists, the composer, the whatever.  I don’t want to miss out on something that could be an amazing experience (like Hellblade) or something that can help me escape the day to day tedium (like Destiny.)  That being said, I AM missing out on some gaming experiences whether I like it or not.

The Problem Is Choice

For the last 3 years, I’ve been a Destiny player.  Someone very close to me describes my devotion to the game as ‘a testament to focus’ and while I won’t disagree with that I will say that my devotion to the game has definitely been a bane to my backlog.  Sure every now and then I’ll take a hiatus from Destiny for one reason or another and play something else, but I keep coming back to the game mostly because of friends.  This is a problem when you want to work your way through an ever expanding backlog of games.

Believe me I’d love for nothing more than to say that I’ve beaten every single game that I own.  What gamer wouldn’t?  But trying to balance free time between gaming and other things that you need to do in life, there simply is not enough time!

Sometimes dealing with your backlog can feel like this.

Online Functionality

Part of the problem with trying to work through your backlog now days is online games such as Destiny or The Division.  They never end.  You’re always on the “infinite loot treadmill” trying to get better gear for your characters instead of moving on to a new game and ticking another title off that backlog checklist like a sane person would.  But no, you don’t do that.

And then you end up with a crap ton of PS3, PS4, Wii and Wii U games.

I keep buying more games that I think might interest me and contain experiences that I think I’ll enjoy.  But there in lies the problem, what do you decide to play?  A lot of the time, I end up playing whatever new hot AAA title was just released simply so I can join in on the conversation and hopefully save myself from having it spoiled by the internet. But sometimes, I end up skipping whatever game is most popular at the moment and paying more of whatever online game I’m addicted to at the time because I either miss it or there’s an expansion or an in game event is going on.  But when I choose to do that, terrible things happen.  What do I mean exactly?  Well, for starters (and this is a serious pet peeve of mine as a gamer) there have been many and frequent times when there was a game I meant to go back to at some point only to find that the servers for it have been shut down or the community has packed up and moved on.  That there is an experience that I’ve missed out on, and now there are trophies/achievements that I am no longer able to get because portions of these games (or in some cases the game in its entirety) are no longer accessible.

3DS, Vita and Xbox 360 physicals

Take for example this photo.  See that little box that says Rockband 3?  Inside there are ALL the Rockband games that were released for the Xbox 360.  And more specifically, Rockband 2 is in there.  That game was two whole years of my life!  That was an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Did I miss out on any games that were released while Rockband was a major part of my life?  Yes I did.  In fact, most of the ones you see in that photo I’ve never gotten around to.  But in this instance, it’s ok.  They’re almost all single player games that I can go back to at any point and I don’t need to worry that I’ll be locked out of any of the content.  I also like to fantasize that I’ll go back to one of these old games someday and give it a second wind in the gaming community, but I digress.

During the PS3/Xbox 360 era of gaming, I can only really recall one game that I meant to go back to and complete (or try to get the platinum for) and that game was Resistance 2.  When news came down that the servers for that game were going to be shut down, the forum at playstationtrophies.org lit up like a Christmas tree with random strangers exchanging IDs in hopes of getting 10,000 PvP kills before the end came.  This is but one example of an experience and a community that I’ve missed out on.  The most recent instance of this (and the one that prompted me to write this post) was when it was revealed that Nintendo has decided to shut down Miiverse.  (Source: https://www.polygon.com/2017/8/29/16222310/miiverse-wii-u-games-shutdown-2017)  It made me start thinking about the one Wii U game I’ve meant to get to for a long time, but just couldn’t seem to find time to shoehorn it in my gaming schedule:  Xenoblade Chronicles X.  Sure I’m upset that every other game on that list, games that I own and have played and loved, is going to be missing something for the rest of my life, but here’s a game that seems right up my alley that I’ve never touched.  And now, if I wait too long I feel like I’ll be missing out on something that was special and something that I could have enjoyed instead of only getting to play a partial game.  I’ve been informed by a close friend that’s repeatedly played the game annually that I’m going to miss out on some special enemies, materials and a few other things.  That really bums me out.  I feel like if I don’t jump on it and start playing now, I’m going to miss out.  But you know what is out in just a few days?

Destiny 2

I’ve purposefully been avoiding sinking my teeth into anything that’s too meaty or that I can’t finish quickly because Bungie’s juggernaut is just around the corner and I’m interested in playing it.  That being said, I’m trying to internally justify passing up Xenoblade yet again so that I can make more time for Destiny 2.  But I don’t think I can justify it much longer without feeling a lot of guilt or remorse for not playing it.

That red bar is games that I own that I’ve never finished.  But that green section of the red bar?  That’s games that I own that I’ve never even played!

But then again, the same can be said for a lot of the games in my backlog…

Like Sand Through An Hourglass

Some years back, I started giving serious thought to how I’d ever finish all the games that I own before I die, and I came across a couple of very interesting articles about that very thing.

Sources:

http://kotaku.com/how-to-beat-400-games-in-4-5-years-1607296068

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-finally-beat-the-unfinished-games-in-your-never-1691789842

The Lifehacker article was more about PC games, but its still relevant to the topic.  Trying to reign in my ever growing backlog was also a major factor in me uninstalling Steam and unsubscribing from their emails (especially the pesky ones about games on my wishlist being on sale.)

The Kotaku article, however, was geared more for me.  It lists a few resources and tips that I think that I can use to conquer my backlog in the long run, or at least put a sizable dent in it.  I was already in the habit of tracking games on The Backloggery but the article also suggests the sites RF Generation and How Long To Beat both of which I’ve yet to use but might be persuaded to (not like I’m already tracking my backlog on The Backloggery and 2 mobile apps, but who’s counting?).  The point is, if I’m ever going to experience all the games that I own and hopefully never have to deal with the loss of games’ components, I’m going to have to find the time somewhere or better manage the time I have.

Conclusion

What am I going to do?  Worry about it until it kills me I suppose.  But in all seriousness, if the loss of Xenoblade’s Miiverse component is happening very soon, then that might have to be the game that I play in between Destiny 2 sessions if I want to experience what the game has to offer before part of it is lost.  But while I’m experiencing Xenoblade and the future of the Destinyverse, I hope I don’t miss out on any more experiences that I might enjoy.

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Reset Terminus

Destiny, part 19

Tonight is the last weekly reset for Destiny before Destiny 2 hits next week.  I know it’s not like they’re going to turn Destiny off once part 2 begins (at least they better not, I know a certain someone that hasn’t done any of the raids yet) and it will still be there if I ever want to go back and play it.  I take comfort in that.

I thought, for the sake of posterity, I would record the state of the game for this last reset.  A sort of snap shot, signaling the end of a 3 year long journey, before the beginning of our fourth year in Bungie’s sci-fi universe.  Without further ado:

The Featured Raid:  King’s Fall

Challenge of the Elders:  Catapult, Precision Kill Bonus, Small Arms

Nightfall:   The Wretched Eye with Epic, Fresh Troops, Match Game, Catapult, Exposure

Heroic Strikes:  Heroic, Arc Burn, Specialist, Exposure

Weekly Story:  Dark Champions playlist with Heroic, Berserk, Brawler

Crucible:  Mayhem Clash

What I’m Playing, part 20

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Please note that everything in this post is a spoiler for the game!  Also please note that there may be some depictions that some may find unsettling and may be sensitive to.

Please take this shit seriously.  Thank you.

It’s difficult to put into words the way we feel when we experience loss.  Sadness, anger, rage, frustration, none of these words accurately portray the pain or the emotion that fills us.  The story of Hellblade is one such story of loss and the intense pain that follows…

Love

Our story begins with our heroin, Senua, on a makeshift boat heading into the lands of the old Norsemen to save the soul of her beloved, Dillian, after her village was ransacked and he was offered as a sacrifice to the goddess Hella.  As Senua narrates her journey, I was filled with an intense unnameable dread as I watched her boat reach the shore.  Conflicting feelings of excitement for the story that’s being told and of dread for what’s to come.  I had to pause once the boat had stopped in order to compose myself and begin this post.

It is during this boat ride that we are greeted by not only Senua, but the nagging voices that live in her head.  Those nagging voices that we all have within, telling us that we’re no good at anything we try to do, we’re worthless, we’re useless.  The constant voices are unsettling and excruciating but set the narrative perfectly.  There is also another voice, that of Senua herself, as she narrates this terrifying journey to the underworld.  The narrator speaks much truth that you would do well to listen to intently.

I haven’t even started the game and I’m already ready to go home.

The game does a good job of making you feel uncomfortable and keeping you in that state.  Every part of me was tense with each session I had with the game, my fight or flight response was on high alert at all times.  Once you have control over Senua, we are greeted by our first collectible, a runic stone.  The runic stones, narrated by a man Senua met in exile named Druth, tell the story of the Norse mythology excellently but their fiery red appearance is unsettling to say the least.  They also remind me just how hardcore Norse mythology is.Afterward, we are greeted with a sight that’s both awe inspiring and terrifying at the same time

This is your ultimate goal throughout the game.

We come upon a lone building on what feels like an empty, lifeless shore and are told by our narrator that this is where we must go.  After making my way through a rocky path and a little climbing you are tasked with one of the other core mechanics of the game, finding runes in the environment.

Find a gate with runes…

…search the environment for floating runes and then…

…focus in on the shape to unlock the door.  Simple yet entertaining!

Through out the course of the game, you are occasionally tasked with environmental puzzles where you have to find rune shapes in everyday objects/surroundings.  It starts out very easy at first, but later on becomes much more complicated.  We are then greeted by a gate, a choice and a fight.

This is the gate that will lead you to Hella.  This is also where the “tutorial” on how to play the game ends.

Upon discovering the gate that will lead to Hella, you are met with your first, and easiest enemy in the game.  Combat is simple yet satisfying.  It can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be.  I didn’t figure out until my second playthrough that you can tap R1 at the right time during an enemy’s attack animation to stun them long enough to do some serious damage.  During my first playthrough I pretty much just hammered on square and triangle so I could experience the story of Hellblade.  Landing a strike is very satisfying, you definitely feel the weight of every sword strike as you watch your enemies buckle and start to bleed and limp under your attacks.

Rot inside a corpse’s shell

Upon falling in combat (it’s an unavoidable point in the game that serves to set the stage) you are presented with the consequence of failure.  A consequence that was/is very polarizing among the gaming community.  That consequence is this: as you fall in combat and die, the rot slowly consumes Senua’s body, essentially making her arm your life meter for the game.  If you die enough times and the rot reaches from her arm to her head, you lose your life AND your save file and you must start over.  Speaking from personal experience, even though I died a fair amount throughout the course of the game, I never once lost my save file.

I lived with the fear of this loss throughout the course of the game and it was a constant thought at the back of my mind as I made my way through this awful land.  But thankfully, I was spared.

Try not to worry too much about it, but don’t fuck it up either.

After everything settles, you find that the gate to Hella is sealed by two marks and that each mark is held by the gods Surtr and Valravn.

Valravn on the left in red, Surtr on the right in yellow.

Bathe The World In Fire

I decided to first face the fire god, Surtr.  This was when the game became a bit less linear and presented you with a more open space to explore.

All of the puzzles in Surtr’s realm (and the game as a whole, really) were fairly straightforward and easy to figure out in one or two attempts.  The only thing I had any trouble with was combat since I was new at the game.  Surtr’s realm is where the disturbing imagery of the game really starts to pick up.  In order to progress through certain gates in the area, Senua must touch pyres with Surtr’s mark on them.  Once she does, ashen corpses screaming for mercy start to appear out of nowhere as you run for the gate and progress deeper into Surtr’s territory.  Progressing through this zone was relatively easy, then came time to fight the god himself.  I was filled with fear as this small, frail, lovesick woman went up against a man easily three times her size.  I didn’t think I would be able to defeat him, but ultimately I was gifted with a new ability:  Senua’s Focus.

Senua vs. Surtr during a Focus attack

Senua’s Focus is definitely a game changer for combat and the way it’s displayed/shows up on screen is a lesson in how a minimalist user interface should be implemented in a story driven game such as this.  After landing so many blows on opponents (or getting the shit beat out of her) there will be a small blue/white spiral that appears from Senua’s back.  When one of the voices in her head tells her to “Focus!” it’s time to unleash Celtic fury against who or whatever is in your way.  For a few seconds (or more if you have all 3 spirals filled) Senua becomes a practically unstoppable killing machine, splattering blood everywhere. After a few tense minutes and some swearing, I emerged from the flames triumphant. The first mark was mine, and the music that played during the fight still haunts me all these days later.

The World is an Illusion

Next it was time to enter the realm of Valravn. Valravn is an illusionist, a trickster and navigating his realm was no easy task.  There were portals that changed the very landscape around you and – you guessed it – you had to use them in order to find the god of illusions.

Door

No door.

I remember a haunting sound that would happen when trying to navigate some of the areas.  The voices in Senua’s head said it was Valravn’s voice or his chant.  The thing that really sticks out about his place was this room:

The room with multiple glyphs took me a while to navigate (I eventually just gave up and Googled what to do) and once I got through the rest of his realm, actually fighting Valravn gave me some serious hand cramps.  I’d even go so far as to say that he’s the second hardest fight in the entire game.  Either way, I’m glad that I opted to fight him after Surtr.

Fuck that guy.

The Path of Totality

When Senua looks at the camera, it definitely breaks the 4th wall and is unsettling.

After the battle with Valravn, I just can’t bear re-living the journey as I write down my thoughts, plus I think the remainder of the game is best experienced on your own terms.  Senua’s journey through hell is more than other horror games; more personal, more relatable.  The game does a fantastic job of playing on my old childhood fears of the dark and the unknown.  The imagery, both visual and vocal, of the afterlife and of hell and pain and suffering is something that won’t soon be forgotten.

I can see why Ninja Theory thought that doing the game in this manner was risky, but I think it is a risk that paid off.  Would I change anything about the game?  Absolutely not, I think it’s fine the way it is, even the “threat” of losing your save if you die too many times.  I do wish, however, that I had been warned that after beating the game there would be no way to continue, that you would be forced to start over, but since the game is so short it’s not really that big of a deal.  It’s definitely given me thoughts of trying to speed run the game or maybe even trying to play through with combat difficulty set to Hard.  Fighting Fenrir (the beast) was the only time in the game that I had to set the difficulty to Easy in order to progress.  I was frightened of losing my save file and having to start over.  I knew from looking at the trophy list that I was close to the end and just wanted the torment to end.

Hella waits silently for you to come and face her.

I would like to revisit the game in its entirety at some point in the future when the sting of pain has worn off.  I got so caught up in what was going on, I didn’t even take any opportunity to try out the game’s photo mode (similar to the one in Horizon Zero Dawn).  I did start a second playthrough in order to comment on Surtr and Valravn and I can also tell you that whatever runes you found do carry over to subsequent playthroughs, so getting the platinum won’t be terribly difficult.

Ragnarok

There was many a time I had to put the controller down and just cry, and other times that I was so overcome with emotion that I simply had to save and quit for the night.  I know Senua’s pain, I’ve felt that loss several times in my life, I can sympathize.  I’ve lost friends, family and lovers to the inescapable grip of death.  I’ve felt the torment of wanting them back but ultimately being powerless to do anything; the maddening feeling of helplessness.  Senua’s journey is not for the faint of heart, but I promise you that you’ll be glad you took it.  It reminds me that I would do whatever it takes for the people I love, even my own life.  Hopefully you’ll understand why it’s my #2 game of the year after Horizon Zero Dawn.

To Hella, Dillian was sacrificed and to Hella, you must bargain

Lovers separated by the veil

VNV Nation – Illusion

I know it’s hard to tell how mixed up you feel
Hoping what you need is behind every door
Each time you get hurt, I don’t want you to change
Because everyone has hopes, you’re human after all

The feeling sometimes wishing you were someone else
Feeling as though you never belong
This feeling is not sadness, this feeling is not joy
I truly understand, please don’t cry now

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to hate for all the hurt that you feel
The world is just illusion trying to change you

Being like you are, well, this is something else
Who would comprehend? But some that do lay claim
Divine purpose blesses them, that’s not what I believe
And it doesn’t matter anyway

A part of your soul ties you to the next world
Or maybe to the last but I’m still not sure
But what I do know is to us the world is different
As we are to the world, I guess you would know that

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to hate for all the hurt that you feel
The world is just illusion trying to change you

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, oh please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to change for all the hurt that you feel
This world is just illusion always trying to change you

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to hate for all the hurt that you feel
This world is just illusion, trying to change you

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, oh please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to change for all the hurt that you feel
This world is just illusion always trying to change you

  • Is platinum attainable?  Yes, easily
  • % of trophies at the time of writing according to PSN: 90%