“Who wants an orange whip? Orange Whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips” -John Candy, Blues Brothers.
I am not going to be one of those guys who goes on and on about how Dark Souls is super simple. If I was in a reviewers shoes, my first playthrough would have torn the game apart - between traps that you can’t predict, enemy placement that is borderline torture, and only the most cryptic help messages, this game practically begs you to use an FAQ (unless you played Demons Souls, then this is all apparently standard stuff). Allow me to explain: After playing the game ‘normal’ until my eyes have bled out, (so...twice?) I decided to try do something that challenges me, and something that is a new experience. This gave me the idea for a Belmont run, named after Simon Belmont of Castlevania fame. What are the rules? You have to beat every boss after the tutorial wiiiiiiiiiiith a herring. Or a whip. Truth be told, a herring would be more effective in some cases. And it wouldn’t be a Belmont whip if it wasn’t holy, you have to kill the Taurus Demon with a holy whip. Rather, the king of Holy Whips, an Orange Whip with John Candy. Failing that though, a +9 Divine whip will work, only because +10 is actually impossible without NG+. This presented me with the greatest front loaded challenge of a souls game. Let me take you on a trip! Stop one:
Traveling through the ‘Burg is overrated, so why not just dive into Dark Souls, and start off in Blighttown. If you take the key as your starting gift, you can access Blighttown, Valley of the Drakes, and the Darkroot Basin at the start of the game. The first decision I had to make was whether or not I would go through Valley to the Basin to Andre to upgrade my starting weapon - in my case a dagger - any before going into Blighttown, or if I would just run like mad through Blighttown. I opted to just run for it. Now as you may know, the tunnel to the Bog of Eternal Stench is lined with a bunch of fatty barbarians. I could run by, but I sure could use souls...so I decided to parry their attacks (just to be time efficient) and stab them with my knife. Ordinary attacks did ~30 damage, but a riposte did about 200, plus the knife has a bleed effect. This made each one pretty manageable. Now, I just had to climb down the waterwheel, avoid the toxic blowdart, and make it to the bonfire! From there, it was a simple matter of climbing UP Blighttown to grab the whip. With a +0 dagger. Huh. Most of this involved streaking, screaming, and flopping past the enemies occasionally stabbing one to move it a foot so I could run past. Basically, I was Hobo Indiana Jones, looking desperately for his whip. Much to my own surprise, I didn’t die getting to the whip at any point. With whip in hand, the challenge could finally commence. But don’t worry: I would be back soon enough.
This was actually my first experience using the whip, and it really has to be described: The whip is 80% worthless. It has no plunge attack, no riposte, the attacks come out pretty slow like, and it isn’t particularly powerful. The animation on the whip CONSTANTLY hits walls, making it so your attacks do not connect if you are standing next to a wall. The only good thing is that it does good damage against enemies who are blocking, staggers enemies really easily, and cannot be parried. Unfortunately, nothing I was fighting made any of those strengths ‘relevant’’.
Come on baby light my fire.
The next trip was to visit Andre by going through the Valley of the Drakes to get to the Darkroot Basin. Dodging drakes is pretty easy with some practice, and I was able to pick up a soul of a brave warrior, but not of one of the Bravest Warriors - gas powered whip! Never runs out of gas! This was going to fuel the first few titanite shards for the whip, so I could get it to a respectable +5, my current maximum. In my personal life I do process improvements for an insurance broker, so I love me some efficiencies. However, there were still obstacles. First, there is a black knight right outside the bonfire. Let’s say that you have a good weapon, are leveled up, have poise, have armor, and can perform a riposte. This guy can still kill you. Like, easily. After a few parries into an old fashioned whip tickle, I decided to cheese it out of there. I think Archer said it best: “Eat a dick, jungle. Cover it with malaria and leeches, spread it with some degayly fever, and eat it a big goddamn jungly dick.”
"I bet people like looking at bonfires" - my brain, deciding when to take screenshots
After whipping to death a crystal lizard, I made it to Andre and could upgrade my whip! Imagine the fear struck in the enemies hears as my whips damage lept forward from 20 to about 40. Welp. I would level up my dex, but 1. that would take a while to grind out the souls, and 2. It won’t even be scaling with dex as much later, so why bother. After grinding out the required souls from the Parish, I had a +5 whip, and ventured forth to meet the first major obstacle of the playthrough: a freaking butterfly.
There are a few gimmick bosses in Dark Souls, like Taurus Demon (run up ladder, plunge, repeat) and Ceaseless Discharge (call a doctor, that should stop the discharge from burning). I used to classify the moonlight butterfly with these guys. It has no health so if you are a melee character, it should take you all of six attacks to kill it once it lands. If you are a ranged character, you don’t even have to worry about it landing, you can kill it Dovahkiin style. But what if your weapon is too busy fellating itself to damage the boss? Then things become tricky. It took me honestly a dozen attempts to kill this stupid butterfly with the whip. First of all, I cannot soak any magic damage. Second, I had no idea how to dodge its magic spear attack. Third, I didn’t even know it had a magic bomb attack. Finally, I didn’t have enough stamina to do significant damage when it lands. After the first eight attempts, I rage quit. Hard. The next day, I decided to analyze the fight a little bit closer, and found out the strategy: Right before any magic attack, roll at a 45 degree angle to the wall. If it is the spears, your roll animation has you tucked safely in the wall (“tucked safely” isn’t a phrase that should EVER be associated with a butterfly). If it is the homing attack, you have enough time to counterroll in the other direction. Each time the boss landed, I could do 20% of its health. This was the second most demoralizing part of the run.
Yeah, you better fly away, or I might start using my fists! That'll show ya
With a divine ember in hand, I could now ascend my whip a second time! Before heading out, I took a pit stop to pick up the Wolf Ring. See, my other challenge with this is that I am forcing myself to use the most Castlevania like armor that I could find. This, unfortunately, means I have 0 poise, which presents a problem. The wolf ring was going to be essential for me, because I am still used to tanking out fights, a habit that I need to break. With the ring in/on hand, I unlocked the Parish shortcut, and traveled yet again to Blighttown, this time to fight enough leeches to +5 the divine whip. Now, I think there is a second property to the whip, because the whip DESTROYED those leeches. I assume that armor has a part in this, as whipping someone wearing chainmail sound about as effective as me hitting on Emma Stone while I’m drunk. Best case, the recipient finds it amusing. I also took this opportunity to visit the hollow and pick up my second ring in the Great Hollow. Fortunately, I only had to make 2 runs to get 10 green titanite shards, so I got another chance to visit my bff Andre. At this point, the whip was becoming an actual weapon - in two hits, I could take out the undead in the Parish. Plus, the weapon is sort of fast. Could be slower. I guess it isn't all bad. Now, after starting in Blighttown, where should I go next on the tour of pain? How about...
"I don't regret this. But I both rue and lament it"
Now, this could have been much, much worse. For those who don’t know, a divine whip permanently kills the skeleton, even with a necromancer around. Sorry Sally, Jack isn’t coming back. This required a lot of patience to only pull one at a time, but overall was pretty manageable, and it was pretty spot on with the theme I was going with, so I couldn’t complain too hard. This also allowed me to pick up the remainder of the gear for my Belmont Run, in the holy set. Unfortunately for me, Simon didn’t wear a hat, so neither could I. I am fairly certain he wore gloves though, so those are still on. And rings. The hardest part was going to be killing Pinwheel. Wait, what? Much like the Moonlight Butterfly, this run was becoming a cruel joke, where the bosses who were previously tripping on pools of their own saliva were my greatest fears. On my previous character, I killed pinwheel in 2 hits. This time, it was going to be about 20 hits, I estimated. With that I mind, I summoned Leeeeeeeeeeeeroyyyyyyyyy to help me out. I basically ran around the arena taking out the copies of Pinwheel while Leeeeeeeerooooyyyyyy took out the real one. I actually got it on my first time! Pinwheel really is the Radditz of the Dark Souls universe.
With that behind me, it was all good times and rainbows, right? Right? Having earned the Rite of Kindling, my time down here was done? Sadly, no. But that is going to be a blog for another day.