FF14 – Stormblood + (4.x)

Spoilers in here I guess. Stormblood is 4 years old… does that matter?

The challenge with any series is that any individual story within still requires a start and an end. The Lord of the Rings isn’t as much a trilogy as it is one story, and with different beats. The movies did a rather admirable job finding the strong points here, but it did differ from the books. Back to the Future one has a clear ending, though it leaves the door open. Back to the Future 2 exists almost solely as a direct set up for the 3rd one. Books are often written with trilogies in mind, and while that act structure is more refined now, that wasn’t always the case. Ender’s Game, Foundation series, even Hunger Games have weird pacing issues as you move through them.

Stormblood has a similar challenge, as the primary plot is the restoration of Doma vs Garlemald, yet also sandwiched in the middle of the larger Hydaelyn arc. The start of 4.0 is a mess, where you fight one big war for no reason (characters make a point of this), unlock Kugane, then travel across the map get into the real story (Hien). Once that part starts, then every single stage of the MSQ is focused on gaining allies for a very large final battle against Zenos. You do end up fighting Zenos and wining. Not only winning, but in the uncharacteristic trend of FF games, he actually dies in front of you. Characters can catch meteors on the forehead and walk away in this game… death is a rather rare event so it tends to be a big deal when it does occur. I don’t think Zenos was a particularly interesting character; he has 1 dimension, and barely any logic in that, but he is certainly set up as being extremely powerful. Anyhow, Stormblood ends with you reclaiming the land, Hein the lord of multiple races, and Zenos dead. It is, after Kugane at least, relatively clean.

The + content starts off as a post-war scenario, which few games ever talk about. When you spend a generation at war, what happens when it all ends, who picks up the pieces? 4.1 is about the politics of leading a newly restored country, and all the characters are pretty much from ARR. Cool to see the Bull get his place though. Oh, and you find a bajillion gil in a lost city (???)

4.2 deals with rebuilding Doma an the miraculous return of Gotetsu (+1). Something is wrong with my map because I can’t see Doma unless I’m on that specific map, and the teleport has to be manually selected. It does still have a relevant mechanic where you can sell stuff for up to 2x vendor value, up to 40k per week.

4.3 is the full-fledged return of Yotsuyu, through her insane half-brother Asahi. This one lands pretty well because there was a lot of setup in the story behind Yotsuyu all along Stormblood proper. She feels like an anti-villain in a lot of respects, where you can empathize with her rage. There are not many such examples of empathetic villains in FF14. It also has some interesting twists here, where Garlemald seems to be playing 3D chess, while Doma is just shooting arrows. If it wasn’t for you being a superhero, then this whole thing falls to pieces. This one does a strong job of closing out the final loose thread (Yotsuyu) that was put up in the closing scene of Stormblood, but it does Gosetsu something dirty having him just abandon everything and walk into the sunset as a monk.

The lighting here is amazing

4.4 is the attempt to build a peaceful relationship with Garlemald (insane this) and one of the coolest dungeons in the game, The Burn. I don’t think it’s a complete chapter though, as 4.5 is the flipside where you negotiate with Garlemald’s leader – Emperor Varis. The parley scene is pure exposition, and you can partly understand Garlemald’s larger motivations. The dungeon here is oddly placed at least in terms of context. 4.6 is just a battle against 1 person, which doesn’t land.

See, Zenos is both dead and possessed by an Ascian. The end result is that he remains physically powerful, now has access to magic, AND suddenly has some sort of strategic sense. Building a god from a corpse, not so much fun. He wasn’t a good primary villain for Stormblood… all the other characters were more interesting with more nuance. If he really wanted to ‘fight the good fight’, it isn’t by oppressing farmers.

Stormblood isn’t a bad storyline compared to other games, and the + content is all logically bound to what preceded it. But the story beats are just off because the story invests so much into Zenos and Yotsuyu. If you ignore the villains and the world building around Doma + Kugane, that part works pretty good. Plus, it has ninja turtles. But the start of it all feels really off, and there’s no real ending because Zenos is still ‘alive’. The lead up to 5.0 (Shadowbringers) feels like a sharp left turn, given that Garlemald is in the process of declaring war on the rest of the world and all the Scions are ‘teleported’ to another place. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that Stormblood lacks a consistent tone.

It seems weird to talk about Final Fantasy storylines not being logical when we’re talking about fireballs, summons, pirates, ninja turtles and a whole bunch of odd bits. I’m not expecting Nebula-level writing either. It just feels like this entire expansion could have done without Zenos at all, and it would have been much more cohesive.

White Mage Thoughts

I still have a decent chunk of MSQ to go, only about halfway done the core Shadowbringer story. Yet from a skill perspective, there are only 2 bits left to go – Afflatus Rapture (AE heal through blooms) and Temperance which is a boost to healing and reduction of damage received. The former is a replacement for Medica, the latter a raid tool for large AE spurts.

Kaylriene has a few posts on this, coming from a more end-space view and both of us have some healing experience in WoW. There are some concept beats that are important to understand in FF14, then the specifics of how the WHM addresses them. First though is being clear that WoW’s healing model is about reactive healing – the tank is always getting beat down so you’re always triaging who needs healing more. If you actually can DPS (a fistweaving Monk is an example), well that’s gravy.

FF14’s healing model is a pro-active one. There are only a few non-telegraphed attacks in the entire game, so for nearly the entire game all damage is predictable. This is helpful as there are cast times in FF14, which means you will learn the dance of seeing a cast bar, and timing your heal to land just after the enemy attack does (if you need to do it at all). For non-tanks, the majority of deaths are due to not moving in time for the AE attacks, or getting cornered because of overlapping effects. The beauty here is that there aren’t a whole lot of 1-fight only mechanics, quite the opposite. You will learn to recognize good and bad AE (colors), stacking icons, spreading icons, and so on. The order of those attacks, and the speed at which they are thrown at you impact the difficulty more than anything else. So, assuming that damage is predictable and mostly avoidable, you should not be healing much at all – you should be doing DPS to bring down the target.

A second important bit is that FF14 “syncs” your stats to the level of the dungeon. If you’re 80 doing a level 34 dungeon, then your stats will be brought down to that level. You can manually un-sync if you wish, but the LFG tool (Duty Finder) applies it. The HUGE benefit here, from a healer, is that few tanks can actually manage a “wall to wall” pull (if the zone even allows it), because they can’t overgear the dungeon. At max level it’s a different beast, but for leveling, you just won’t see it.

DPS for a WHM is simple – one DoT, one direct damage, and one AE attack. At top levels, you effectively become a Glare canon.

Healing is about as straightforward as you can make it. The player has damage, you heal that damage. Until the later parts of the game, you need to be standing to cast, but once you unlock the healer gauge, you get access to some instant-cast versions, on a timer. You don’t have stances, pets, shields, or any multi-step processes.

That makes the class have the lowest skill floor for healing in the game. And because FF14 puts so much emphasis on player control of damage, there are very few instances where healing mistakes cause a wipe. The DPS likely will have stepped in the wrong thing, or the tank will not be actively using cooldowns on “tankbusters”. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience!

Are Subs Still Relevant

I would think that many folks that read this blog also read MassivelyOP, which has a recent post on the value of subscriptions in 2021. I have opinions, and I will write them! (In all seriousness, the Massively Overthinking column is probably my favorite one.)

Remember the old days when you didn’t have any choice? Them’s was the good old days, where you paid out of pocket and that was that! If you didn’t like the cost, then you farmed and sold some virtual assets on eBay. In 2021 dollars, I made a lot of money off UO this way. As Evercrack exploded, and the internet in general, a whole lot of dev studios formed to send us out half-baked ideas. WoW + EQ2 are still around, but there aren’t many left from those days anymore. With a bit of internet gaming history, there remained a east/west development wall. The concept of gaming arcades and internet cafes exploded in the east, where the west put internet into your house. That created two different ideas that stayed apart until the wide-scale use of the iPhone.

I won’t lay this all at the feet of mobile devices, but F2P absolutely owes a damn big chunk of it’s existence to it. This is primarily due to the AppStore interface and the ability to sort by price in a sea of garbage. For console/PC games, you could get a decent idea of what the game was by reviews. This is near impossible for mobile games, and the amount of pure garbage on the AppStore at the start was impressive. F2P meant that you could install a game, try it out for free, and then optionally invest money over time. The devs just wanted the app on your phone after all. This model was extremely effective, and it’s pretty much the gold standard for mobile games today.

Success begets copies. We may harp about horse armour being the first amazingly poor-value DLC, but the trophy really does go to EA’s ability to make it pervasive. Box price + micro-DLC for death by a thousand cuts. FIFA makes crazy mint from it! That this model moved into the MMO space only makes sense. MMOs only work if there are people. Even a few free players are going to be an audience for the paying ones to show off. Devs then hope they can get enough whales (or optional subs) to make it all work. SWTOR took this path, though it certainly took the long path to get there!


Paying for something means that as a consumer you are able to estimate the value of an item. You wouldn’t pay $50 for toothpaste, when you know that the there are options at $5. This is possible due to choice and market size, so that you can compare. As items become more widespread in the consumer space, the foundational cost becomes set. When you are presented with a different price, your brain automatically questions the value. If I see a cup of coffee at $1, I am automatically assuming it tastes like old socks, where a $10 coffee better come with a massage. I wouldn’t blink for a $2 cup though.

MMOs aren’t much different. For the older players, we sort of have it burned into us what the value should be. For newer players, that have only every known a world of F2P options, every subscription game looks like a $10 coffee. Why would you spend that there, when you can spend $0 instead? Then there’s the comparison between games. Is there sufficient content in WoW to spend $15 a month? I don’t think so. For FF14? A bit for the content, but more for the environment. SWTOR? That’s entirely the social aspect for me. Look at ESO and GW2, they have no subscriptions – though that then makes you question the up-front cost of any expansion/content.

So perhaps the question is less about what subscription price point is acceptable, and more about how much you want to spend per month on an MMO. I’m less interested in the content/mechanics present in most F2P games, as they drive a different game behavior – which really sorts itself out because I don’t like the actual games. I’m good at the $20 per month range, at least in terms of usage I get out of it. I certainly spend more than that in my social settings, assuming I like the people I play with and the content being presented. I currently spend about $60 a month on gaming in general, so this is just a slice of that pie.

This meandering post really does go into that more general concept. How much do I want to spend on my hobby per month, and then how much of that should be aligned to MMOs. Which then bleeds into the question of what is an MMO in 2021 anyways?

FF14 – To Do List

The achiever in me has a love for lists. In most games I play, I enjoy reaching the end of the main quest, and then discover the various side-quests as I go along. Depending on how those side quests go, I can spend a fair chunk of time in them. AC Valhalla is a good example. There are like 20 different types of sidequests. I’ll say that boat raids are right near the bottom in terms of long-term fun. While I did finish the main quest, I only had about half of the icons cleared. In the MMO space, I tend to avoid the irrelevant side quests as they are often not integrated into the larger story, or are time-gated in such a manner to make it feel like a gatcha game (e.g. Tillers)

FF14 is somewhat different here, as it makes attempts to keep all the content relevant in some fashion. Now, attempts is a big word here, cause success is a different matter. Still, compared to something like WoW, FF14 has a massive chunk of extra content that has some meaning at level cap. Finding it, well that’s a challenge in itself.

The ‘Quest’ icons over NPC

You will have the MSQ icon burnt into you skull by the time you reach 80. I don’t think it’s even possible to get to 80 without it. As you progress in the MSQ, the other icons start showing up. The Sidequest icon (!) is small piece content that gives some small unlock. Chocobo rides are an example. It is generally safe to ignore them, but they do add some interesting content as you go forward. The Repeatable Quest icon is where the dailies show up. They do have some relevance, like clan hunts and so on, but if the goal is leveling then not a whole lot. (The Levequests icon, sort of like a card deck, is a bit like Repeatable Quests).

The blue icon with the +, that’s the unlock quest icon. You will see hundreds of them, and taking them on feels like chasing rabbits down holes. Following an MSQ, you’ll only unlock about half of the content of any given expansion, if not less. Taking on these quests will open new areas, dungeons, raids and so on. If you ignore them while leveling, odds are you will be going back to unlock them over time. There are usually a half dozen or so of these near every Aetheryte crystal. Keeping track of it all though… woo

Enter XVIToDo. Import your character from the Lodestone and get a very simple interface of all the stuff you have unlocked and the things you can unlock. The mobile interface is also super clean. I entered my character information and took a big sigh realizing that as much as my journey has been long, it’s still missing a LOT of big pieces.

Still, now I have a list to work through in addition to the MSQ. Fun times ahead.

Switch Finally Gets BT Audio

Four years? Four years! Finally!

There are some limitations here… first, the controllers use Bluetooth as well, so you can only have 1 pair connected at a time. This outlier is where for some reason, you have people playing the console locally but without HDMI in use. Maybe a Mario Party game while you’re in the car? I can’t really think of too many situations where you need 4 controllers and bluetooth audio.

Second, you can only have 1 active Bluetooth audio on at a time (but can save 10 devices). This is fine I guess, split Bluetooth across multiple devices at the same time is a pain. I guess any local multiplayer game, like 2P Mario Kart you’d be stuck with regular audio. Maybe for those long car rides… you’d have to play with the audio off?

Third, is that you can’t have local multiplayer across multiple devices and Bluetooth audio. I get why, the Switch uses Bluetooth to host local games, rather than a subset of WiFi. This is the one that seems the largest impact to me. There are numerous instances of 2P meeting each other for some local gaming and this means that they need to stay wired (or the weird bypass option). Doesn’t look like this problem will ever be solved without a full re-architecture of the Switch.

Still, for those situations where you want to game without using a TV, and have some sort of practical use for the kickstand, this is a win. It’s also a confirmation that the device was built with this in mind a long time ago, as only firmware was required. In that respect, impressive planning and I can only assume the hurdles Nintendo had to surmount to get this thing work consistently. 4 years!

Balance is Hard

There’s enough bad news on Blizz that I figure I can at least try to explain some of the more complex factors that are working against them from a design perspective. This one will be on the concept of class balance. I’m picking on Blizz (WoW) here because they are an edge case compared to other MMOs

For each character/class, you have a base toolkit. Let’s just call that the baseline, where everyone starts on the same page. Your level 1 rogue is identical to any other level 1 rogue. As you progress, you make choices, and your power level changes. Of those, the following categories of choices directly impact your power level.

  • Class/spec boost
  • Gear
  • Enchants / Gems
  • Legendary
  • Talents
  • Potions
  • Drums
  • Food
  • Covenants
  • Conduits
  • Shards of Domination
  • RNG of Torghast (some classes have horrible RNG here)

Each of these has a particular scale of power increase as well. Some are big boosts, some are smaller. Some are additive, some are multiplicative. Some stack, some don’t. When a person says “my class is underpowered”, they are effectively pointing to a magical list of attributes that are a nightmare to balance out.

  • Is it because you’re not using the rotation properly?
  • Are you using the “best” temporary stat boosts?
  • Did you pick the “right” covenant/conduit?
  • Did you get RNG lucky on the borrowed power system?

If you were to take 2 Rogues, in the exact same gear, same talents, same covenant, and same conduits, you would still see massive power swings due to the other temp boost options (potions, drums, shards… heck, even the timing of bloodlust), not to mention their rotations. Raids have a particular baseline to balance against, where the devs go in with the assumption of a given power level, and try to allow variance to be related to player performance.

You can compare to FF14 here, where there really aren’t that many potential boost to look at. There are no borrowed power systems, and food buffs are relatively small. 2 jobs at the same gear level are going to be pretty much the same, excepting the execution of the rotation.

Blizzard has a major challenge in finding the right balance in difficulty on a sliding scale that swings wildly – if not an impossible task. I’m not feeling sorry for them though, this is entirely of their own making. They continually insist on building more and more complex systems on top of this balance tower. And the only way to “balance” this effort, is to make one section dramatically stronger than all the others (think Infinite Stars in BFA) – essentially breaking everything. And this has nothing to do with the concept of class identity, which is its own balancing act.

So yeah, I feel bad for the devs who have to balance all of this because the game directors created and maintained this model. And conversely, I’m really happy for the devs who had leadership make decisions that benefit both the overall game health and their ability to balance it all out.

Epic vs Apple – Big Win

This was a very interesting lawsuit because it hit 3 fundamental aspects of the App Store – first, the need to even use the AppStore at all, second the % of cut that Apple took from developer sales, and finally the requirement to use Apple for any in-game purchases. That business line accounts for a big chunk of Apple’s income. There was a fair amount of mud slinging on this, which was certainly entertaining.

Now we have some answers for the 3.

AppStore Is Mandatory

This was expected, and to most people, a long shot to start, if not a red herring. Epic was smart here, as it forced some disclosure on Apple’s part of the inner workings. For multiple reasons (if not primarily security) this has to be the case.

AppStore Cuts are Pro-Rated

The rate is low for the first $1m in revenue, and scales depending on the size of the application. Again, this makes sense for the smaller organizations that barely recouped any costs, and Apple is big enough to absorb it. The downside here is that it will likely generate more bloatware as the cost of entry has dropped. See itch.io as a good example.

AppStore Must Support 3rd Party Payment Options

This was the real meat of the case, though the one that had the least amount of press. Today, if you only use your phone for Spotify and pay your sub through the app, then Apple takes a cut. For multi-platform apps, this isn’t a huge deal as you’re unlikely to use a mobile app as the primary method of payment. Well, it seems a judge ruled that Apple no longer has full domain over payment processing inside the applications. That leaves a particular use case that is going to be a massive change.

No question that the AppStore makes a ton of money off F2P/IAP. The game industry made about $110 billion on F2P games in 2020 – the market is massive. Apple makes a chunk from that for games like Clash of Clans, Honor of Kings and so on. Does anyone really think that Tencent wants to pay Apple 15% moving forward? And you know that Google has got to be sweating as well!

This one is a big deal, and a massive shift in the market. Odds are it will generate alternative payment programs that are lower % cuts for the smaller apps, and then some in-house machines for the bigger ones. Heck, it may even mean that Apple themselves needs to re-price themselves appropriately.

The details still need to be worked out, as well as the timing. And certainly there will be some appeals. Lots of them. But from what’s come out so far, it really looks like Epic won this battle.

Blasphemous 100% Complete

I’ve got a thing about this genre where I really enjoy finding every nook and cranny. Didn’t know I had this until I played Metroid 2 on the GameBoy. I played the heck out of that thing! And since then, there’s just some weird itch about it.

I wrote prior about Blasphemous (I’m on Switch) being an attempt to merge Dark Souls and the larger genre. I still hold to the idea that this doesn’t make any real sense, since it’s actually the other way around. What makes a Souls game is not the respawning enemies, or the healing mechanic, or the difficulty curve. It’s the hit box mechanics in 3D. If you were to somehow move Souls into a 2D space, you’d be looking at a grimy Celeste.

Still, Blasphemous has a dark theme to it, a rip on some religions’ need to focus on guilt. It takes a very long time to make sense of the lore, the text within isn’t super clear on the overall intent. I guess Souls has that in common. It does allow for some very enemy and boss art styles. Fighting a bishop’s corpse held aloft on bony hands, or a weird baby monster with a snake attack, or even a triad of warring sisters. It’s consistent, I’ll give it that.

In terms of difficulty, this is where things get a bit weird. The game starts with making enemies the challenge, but as you increase in power, it then starts adding the environment as a larger hazard. I certainly died more to giant laser beams, exploding bombs, flying scythes and spike pits than I care to admit. Since you only ever get 1 weapon and it just swings harder, there’s not much in terms of mechanics that changes the pace. Even the magic powers you get aren’t terribly useful since they a) cost a lot to use and b) leave you vulnerable while casting. You learn the cadence early and the rest sorts itself out. I mean, I beat the final boss on the 1st attempt. (The penultimate boss though, that was a war of attrition)

Fine enough, but the chase for 100% is what drives me here to look beyond the wrinkles. There are quite a few collectibles in the game – bones, stones, beads, cherubs, spells and so on. You can mark the map for these items if you pass them and don’t have the required skill to collect them. Collecting all of a given set gives a reward, nothing big mind you. I am 99% sure you don’t actually need to collect any special skills to work your way to the boss. The real challenge in this game is that you have no idea how to actually collect any of these skills in the first place!

Take the Three Gnarled Tongues – which allows for branches to spawn where you can climb up them. Look at the steps to unlock this thing. You need to find a given room, then give the “thing” in that room 3 items – one of those items needs another skill to get. Then you get an egg that you need to lay at a tree (?!) and take that resulting hatched egg to a frozen pool. There’s no way any of this is intuitive. You’re just going to reach things, press the interact button, and then hope you happen to have some object that interacts. I won’t even go into the whole Redento quest line.

Which means the game effectively has a “quick path” and then what amounts to a “100%” mode. The latter is really only enabled through donating 20,000 gold (tears) to the church to enable a much better teleport option, as you’ll be backtracking like crazy. Once that is unlocked, the whole path to 100% becomes very enjoyable.

Plus, I got this for $12. The game may not be perfect, but for that price, it’s a crazy good deal.

Super spoiler video, but gives a good show of the art style of all the bosses

FF14 – MSQ Progress

Since the Main Story Quest (MSQ) in FF14 is mandatory to get access to pretty much everything, it acts as a sort of secondary leveling metric. If you’re playing only a single job (class), then you should never be lacking levels in that front to get to the next stage of the MSQ. If you’re swapping around jobs, then yeah, you’re going to need to supplement the exp gains.

Each expansion has a set of MSQ, then there are post-content MSQ that prepare for the next expansion. Of interest is the following:

  • ARR – 185-188 (starting city makes a difference)
  • ARR+ – 20
  • Heavensward – 94
  • Heavensward+ – 44
  • Stormblood – 122
  • Stormblood+ – 40
  • Shadowbringers – 107
  • Shadowbringers+ – 51

That’s 663 quests to get through, most where you’re just talking. Some where you kill 1-2 monsters, or delivery an item. About 10% of them unlock a dungeon or raid.

I’m currently at quest 87 within the Stormblood campaign, which is about 70% of the way through until the end of this pack. I’ve reached level 67, which is right in line with expectations. I’ll have some thoughts on it once I get to the tail end. That also puts me at 430 quests of 663 total to reach the end of current content before Endwalker comes out – or 233 to go.

I started at the Heavensward+ content about 2 weeks ago. Works out to something like 60 or so quests done a week. If that trends continues, then it’s a month+ to get through all the rest. If I was to look at the entire journey, it’s 11+ weeks of content at my pace… and someone more slow paced may be seeing 4+ months of quests before joining the end portion.

I’ll add a counter to the website to keep track.

Skip MSQ or Not?

I like the MSQ, I really do. The storylines are decent enough, in line with most FF games. There are still the weird bits that often pop up, like literal Ninja Turtles. The villains are often nuanced enough to understand why they do what they do, without some larger puppet strings being pulled. It’s always a larger arc, with a foundational set of NPCs to go through it all.

The real benefit however is the unlocking of various “things” and effectively training wheels for new players. I’ve long been a proponent of this model (WoW’s proving grounds are a lost opportunity), so that new players can be eased into the game’s systems. Be it group combat, crafting, social structures, raids, stuns, flying, retainers, swimming, glamour and so on. There’s a logical structured path to uncover these systems, as many of them depend on each other.

The downside is the length of time required to get through all this. If you “skip” the MSQ, then you automatically unlock everything and likely have no idea how any of it works. WoW is deceivingly simple in terms of systems – very few of them ever interact with each other (think about it, what mechanics from Legion are evenly remotely relevant today?). They can become complex, if you so choose. FF14 is quite the opposite, where trying to do one thing likely requires doing a half dozen other steps first. Skipping the MSQ means you don’t understand it. Plus, compared to many MMOs (LotR excepted), the entire story is relevant.

It would be nice to have a mini MSQ, where there was still some training wheels for the various systems, but that it didn’t take half a year to get through. You’re still a sprout for like 170 hours, so perhaps there’s something that could be done there… it would be a coding investment and now that the game is entering the 4th expansion, I’d be curious if that was worth it.

Dark Souls-ify – Blasphemous

I think Dark Souls is a solid game. Punishingly difficult at times, but well structured and balanced with a focus on smart hit box usage. I think this model existing with Ninja Gaiden prior, and personally preferred the flow of that game. The campfire mechanic (healing in exchange for enemy respawns) is certainly the twist that pops out the most, yet the open world nature is also a highlight. It really bears mentioning that DS games are somewhat slow, gameplay-wise, as choices are deliberate.

From a design perspective, giving the player a choice to respawn enemies in exchange for healing allows for a challenging design that has some safety net. It moves from the prior design choices of checkpoints everywhere and auto-generating health. The former rewards skill, while the latter rewards speed. So sure enough, plenty of games have tried to emulate this new design model.

I wouldn’t say that this has been terribly successful overall, though there are some standouts. Jedi Fallen Order is the closest to this model with widespread success, if you look at games outside of FromSoftware. The Surge (and sequel) are closer mechanically, but don’t really work as total game packages (not bad games mind you). There are others, Steam has enough curated lists.

One I picked up on sale on the Switch is Blasphemous. It’s a merger of the Metroidvania (think Symphony of the Night) with a campfire mechanic. It’s a weird game, where it exchanges planning for this healing mechanic. In a more standard Metroidvania game, enemies will respawn if you leave 2 screens or if you die – and those games are about getting around rather quickly. Blasphemous does not respawn enemies until you die or use a healing lantern (which are not exactly common). And the low use of those lanterns means that you’re rarely ever presented with an actual choice of respawning enemies in order to heal. Like you won’t go 2 screens, take so much damage that it’s worth backtracking and trying again with enemies back. You’ll go one screen more, die, and then proceed along the same steps as if you did heal.

I wouldn’t even say that the difficulty is on par with Souls games, where you should aim for semi-perfection in order to progress. Death here is often related to knockback effects rather than outright damage… or the odd pit trap for insta-kill effect. That seems like a negative take, and in terms of advertising as a ‘dark souls-like’ game doesn’t really work when meshed with the Metroidvania genre. It already has those mechanics built-in.

This sort of imagery is quite common.

Where Blasphemous does work, is in the exploration aspects and multitude of hidden quests. Each zone has a particular flavor with somewhat unique enemies. The lore is obscure enough to give a sense of foreboding, without being confusing. There is a lot of backtracking as you unlock more and more movement skills (extra platforms, higher jumps, poison immunity, etc..) The downside to any game based on exploration is the discovery phase. There are breadcrumbs of a sort, if you look at the item and the lore. But even then, there’s a whole lot of guesswork and no in-game ability to track the 2 dozen odd quests here.

The combat does bear some note. You’re only ever given your sword, which gets marginally more powerful as you go through the game. There are (very few) magic attacks, and you’re open to attacks while casting, which truly negates most of the benefit. There’s a block/parry feature, but the logic behind it is somewhat inconsistent. The dodge/poke attack however… that doesn’t get old!

I guess I could talk about the lore, but frankly, that’s best experienced in-game. Clearly inspired by Catholicism a few hundred years ago, what with the constant references to ‘guilt’. But it’s a sort of grotesque take on it all, which given the material, is towing a tough line on ironic. I will say that it’s consistent in tone, which is more than I can say for Dante’s Inferno.

The game’s foibles are primarily quality of life items, which from a small dev-team perspective aren’t exactly deal breakers. That said, there are (free) DLC items for the game, the last of which will launch in December that address some bits. And a sequel in 2023. I’d expect that given the solid bones here, that the sequel will find a way to add these items and therefore broaden the appeal. It’s an interesting experiment that somehow works.