When we left off last time, I was betrayed. Severly. Amends must be payed. In blood. And Cune.
As you can probably guess, killing this guy on first meeting is the profitable option. You don't pay any Cune and Rurufon gets you a Soul Pod. But it's also rather boring. This way, we get another reason to traverse the Shadow Tower.
Out of all the levels, the Azurian Depths feel like the most optional level. That's because there isn't a key at the end and it doesn't lead to another level. It's just here so that Patches Prime can trap you in here. You need to clear the whole thing if you want to leave. It's a cool setup. What isn't cool is that you have to enter by dropping into a pool of killer fish.
”Boot to the head!”
Surprisingly enough, I don't find this level scary. Deep water levels usually get to me, but this one doesn't. I suppose the decent lighting and the small amount dank depths are to blame for that.
Unlike in KF4, Pardough here has lungs of steel, so air isn't an issue. The gimmicks are of course related to the water. You move slower and enemies use optical camo in order to ambush you. Thankfully, they aren't as strong as the fish in KF4, nor as difficult to hit.
Guns are also unusable underwater, which is a nice way to force the player to use the excellent melée system.
Hey there, you adorable little affront to nature.
These dinosaurs are our second enemy type of this level. The come in a few sizes and are of little threat. But it's fun to shoot off their mouth flaps at least. Oh, would you look at the clock, it's filler time.
Overall, I think the levels in Abyss have this unique alien/natural feel to them when compared to the first game. Take our current level for example. I'm also impressed that we get a water level but no lava level.
In ST, there were caves galore, but there were still many signs of human hands. And even when you delved deep, there was some sort of demented craftmanship to everything.
But in Abyss, it feels like some animals have invaded the outer areas of an alien society, which is metal as all hell. It's this alien stuff that is at the core of my critique of the plot. There's just not enough of it. It's all just abstract mumblings about darkness and existance, something you can criticise the Souls-games for too. But in those games, you get enough text for some narratives to form.
Here, we have gotten half of it already and we know so little. You can't really make any proper guesses on the lore. I find this really aggravating, since it seems so cool.
You know what? Let's save the rest of this rant for later, time to get wet!
Note to self: Make sure not to get as wet as these guys. Everything in moderation.
Underwater, the most important thing to keep in mind are all the currents that'll drag you to Poseidon's court. They're not hard to avoid, since enemies are kind enough not to knock you back like the ones in Castlevania.
If only there was some sort of floatation device that could somehow keep you grounded and heighten your resistance to underwater currents. If only.
An unwelcome surprise awaits the one who dives after this rare jacket. Three formerly invisible dinos of medium size jump you where you land, which can end badly. Thankfully, I had samurai armor, so it wasn't an issue. It's nice to play a game where armor actually does something. You can find the helmet here somewhere and I think you can buy the pants now too.
Equipping all of these raises your item load and lets you get away with carrying less armor, thus making it more viable to carry around heavy weaponry. Kinda backwards, but the game is too easy anyways. Might as well make item management less of a hassle.
I haven't made use of the life vest, but I guess that it lowers the speed of which the currents drag you in. How the hell you can walk on the floor with it on and how it keeps you from getting swallowed by the dark waves of the sea is beyond me.
That's not what they meant by eyes on the inside!
There isn't much more of note in this level. You go in and out of the water a few times and kill whatever obstructs your way. There's an M14 to find, which is a worse rifle than the AR-15. But you might as well use up the ammo for it and save the big gun for later.
There is an unique black dinosaur who is probably the boss, but it's barely worth talking about. You just need to go Turok on it and voilá, escape is near.
”What am I fighting for!?”
Patches Prime has of course run away, so justice will have to wait. Time to go to the other level on this floor.
Ok, naming areas was harder than I thought. Hmm, maybe..
Screw it, I'm not really feeling this one.
The cliffs are an interesting place for many reasons. It's outdoors for one, which makes it very unique as a Shadow Tower level. There's also no save point and loads of ways to fall and die.
Joy of joys.
But it's not all bad. With the enemy population being comprised of giant birds, this is a proper gun level. A good contrast to our previous one. And even with a range advantage, it's easy to get pecked to death unless you keep a good lookout. If you don't, you might get blinded and have to pull out a sabre and stab birdfolk in the kidney in order to survive.
Not that that'd ever happen to a master of the game such as I. Nope, not ever.
Strewn about the cliffs and caverns is something that I can only describe as sticky white stuff. It slows you down greatly without putting you in much danger, so it's mostly just annoying. But not as annoying as nature's worst: BABIES!
Another game, another newborn's cry to silence.
These chicks are noisy and inflict you with gravity. Has there ever been a worse combination?
Beyond what I've spoken of yet, there isn't much more to this place. They were rightfully banking on the cliffs you can fall down taking up enough time. The aesthetics remind me greatly of the Dragon Aerie from DS2, minus rotating drakes. It looks cool, but I feel that something is missing. Perhaps a unique part of the level with a miniboss?
Recolours don't count!
After some tense traversal across small pathways and bridges, we run into the big bad boss bird.
I spent half of last level underwater, how am I unclean?
It's a decent fight. It summons minions and can be winglipped, which changes its moveset. But hunting oversized chickens with a semi-automatic rifle isn't the most ardous of tasks.
Get me my pizza?
With a new key in hand, we can ascend the tower further.
We are greeted by one of the corpse soldiers we saw controlled in the Spiral.
Thanks! I wouldn't want to cast magic by accident.
There are two gimmicks of note in this place. Magic is sealed like at the end of the first game and a harrowing cry saps health at regular intervals. It makes you wanna hurry, which is what they are probably betting on. Not helped by the enemies being really tanky.
It's more or less a second poison level, except there is no escape from the damage and it's a bit more metal. Unavoidable damage is always a dick move, but there are enough potions for this not to be awful. And remember, where there's strife, there's treasure.
The rifles remain better, but the shotgun is not without its merits. Let's save it for later. One absurd thing that happens here is that corpses fall from the sky. I have no idea why. Perhaps the corpse chute from the first game got reincarnated as a giant invisible vulture with poor grip-strength. That's about as sensible as anything else in here.
Much like the Undead Crypt in DS2, the place is littered with stones that you must sacrifice durability in order to be rid of. They keep you from rushing, make spare weapons more useful and hide some treasure from time to time.
Not every hidden wall brings you free shinies. A sad truth, but one we must learn to live with.
Once you get used to the flow of things, the level is over quickly. That isn't strange, since you're supposed to rush to the boss. And once we get there, look who we find!
And a fine dark soul to you. You cocking bitchface.
This is the end of this little questline. If you kill him when you first meet him, you'll end it even sooner. Either choice doesn't really mean much, I think they just wanted you to get betrayed. But I suppose you can see the start of NPC interactions in DeS here, if you squint.
Onwards we go, to claim the spear of kings.
A bit hard to do that now.
Talk about subverting expectations. At first I thought this was just a decoy, but it has to be the real thing. The boss is a super version of the corpse dudes in the level, tiny buckler arm and all. Going by his dialogue, I believe him to be the leader of a company of knights that made their way in here. The same ones we fought on the way here.
He too can be stunlocked with guns and offers no challenge unless you mess up severly and let him get off his lethal cry.
Oh, you'll see them again. IN SUPER HELL!
Once that's over and done with, Rurufon drops by to talk smack about Patches Prime.
You're preaching to the choir here, sister.
Probably for the better. Pierce damage isn't that good anyway.
From what I can gather, Rurufon is an agent of whatever created the spear. She doesn't think humans deserve it, so she destroyed it. I am really longing for a translation of the manual right now. But knowing From Soft, there probably isn't much more plot to be had. She also offers a cursed blade that I just sell as soon as possible.
But with the death scream bested, we can do a bit of cleanup an...
WHAT IN BALDER'S BELLIGERANT BALLS BE THAT!?
I'm just gonna go ahead and give out the reward for best monster design in the game right now. We ain't getting better than this...thing. It can murder you easily, but a few well placed shots brings it down. I wish the enemies made me feel more like this. Some of them should really be immune to stun from at least small firearms.
Speaking of the exact opposite of that, there is some high-powered ordnance in a cave here. DAS PANZERFAUST!
”A perfect weapon to exterminate the boss.”
And somewhere in this place, we find something that should enrage a certain part of the Dark Souls fandom.
Miyazaki isn't the only master troll in the company.
So yeah, that legendary useless pendant in DS1? Recycled from Abyss, to better effect. It was such a genious/asshole move to do that in a game built on people sharing their experiences online. I'm not even mad anymore.
The commander corpse gave us yet another elavator key, taking us to the last few levels. You can just go to the last level, but then you'd miss so much good loot. Can't have that.
What we can have, is a puzzle for the ages.
Like, where do I even start?
The gimmick here is to scour the level for tetris pieces in order to get to the boss. They are a bit hard to see, so you need to be perceptive. This isn't helped by the thick, colourless fog that permeates the area. In fact, take a careful look. Do you see it?
Could it be, in the fog?
This place is full of transparent flying skulls who will do bad things to your status. And since they respawn, it's better to just keep moving and shoot whichever you can see. It's a bit tense, but they could have done with more variety.
Thankfully, the store has divine power for sale.
Das Zweihander behaves just as one would expect. It's my weapon of choice in the Souls-games thanks to its destructive damage and unbalanced levels of stunlocking. Here, it's less useful, since you get it so late. But I take every oppurtunity I can to smash some faces with it.
In one of the many corners of this place we can find an upgraded AR-15 free of charge. The other one was good, but this one is bananas. They had to have known what they were doing.
Just to make this ordeal that much more fun, the place is adorned with a few floating platforms. The enemies don't knock you back, so the challenge comes from elsewhere.
And it's not the size!
From Soft thought it'd be fun to hide hidden walls alongside the paths the platforms fly. Getting to them without falling down is a real buttclencher. Adding to that tension was the fact that I had to record this playthrough and didn't want to edit. Somehow, I did it all first try. Must be all the training I got from the horrible platforming sections in the Souls-games.
Speaking of horrible things in the Souls-games, the precursor to the Chaos Blade can be found in here. It's the same idea, a katana that saps your health on impact. Though honestly, finding a katana here is much less jarring than finding one in other games. And since the katanas aren't anything special in this game, I can just lob it at the store without looking back. It's a nice feeling.
Amidst the mist lies some sort of biological machine that is to blame for the bad air in here. Stabbing it increases visibility greatly and comes highly recommended by 4 out of 5 optometrists. But the smart thing is to snipe it as soon as possible, so you can enjoy the benefits more.
Let's solve this mindbender and get to the boss, shall we?
And promptly shoot it in the face.
This is a pretty fun boss. It's built with guns in mind and is a major pain without them. Its minions are best ignored, since you only need to kill the boss. But I still feel that it has too little health, since the encounter is over so quickly.
Giving me stats?
Before continuing, we can go back to the elavator room and have a final encounter with Rurufon.
Who am I to deny a lady her last request?
She wants to be freed from her existance, and we can fight her now. And boy, what a nice fight this is. We have come a long way from the explosions of Necron and the circle-strafing in the King Alfred fight. Rurufon is fast, sidesteps and uses projectiles to great effect. It's the best humanoid duel fight in the retrospective.
For liberating her from her cursed existance, we get the one useful magic ring in the game.
It buffs everything, nulls status effects and has no magic!
I couldn't ask for a better ring really. Unless they reworked the magic system and made it worth a damn, of course. Next up, the treasure level!
Here's a really inventive level. I've never seen anything like it. It's a cave (not surprising) without much in the way of floor. Instead, wide platforms fly through the level at regular intervals. You need to hitch a ride and keep a lookout for points to run to in the sides.
And wouldn't you know it, I can't photograph this place worth a damn.
Patrolling the main halls and the side rooms are some weird floating robot discs. The big ones are a major pain unless you have a big gun and immunity to status effects. Good thing I have those things exactly. They're really fun to shoot down and are the last enemies who can be threatening to a gun wielder.
I think the left one has a screw loose. Just a hunch. Or prejudice. One of the two.
Since this is a treasure level, it's very smart to make an effort to loot the whole thing. Not that you shouldn't do so in every level, but it's extra important here. Almost every room has some manner of vendor trash in it.
There's a store here that I decided to make use of for fun. I had collected enough Cune at this point to splurge, so I bought myself grenade launcher. For later.
Like right now. Chekhov's guns are for lamers!
The most interesting pieces of treasure in here is the rest of the samurai set and a dark-infused Zweihander. For where there is light, the must apparently be darkness. Just the idea of a Zweihander powered by darkness offends me. It's just wrong, pure and simple.
At the end of a path there is a switch that you can make use of to reverse the flow of platforms and get to the treasure rooms on the way back.
Poor lad, I think he has claustrophobia.
On the way to the innermost chamber lie a pair of what seems to be ultimate magical rings of light and dark. The spells look spiffy, but are nothing in comparison to Rurufon's stat booster ring.
Inside the chamber, we have one of the more troubling encounters in the game.
Aliens? Protect your tea pots!
I think this is rather conclusive evidence for the creatures of this tower being some manner of extraterrestrials. It's really evocative and serves to link the game to Bloodborne further. But as cool as it is, I don't think there's enough information here to make it satisfying.
Abyss is low on text as is and so little of it is spent establishing motivations and the world at large. The game leaves me with so many unanswered questions, even more so than the Souls-games.
The battle with these robots confused before I realised how they work. Their shots are absurdly strong and can kill you very quickly. But they only come out of their shells and shoot you when you go through the door. So the strategy is to camp outside, peek in, launch a shot and hope they miss. Thankfully, the reward is actually decent.
Mephistopheles cosplay, here I come!
That's all the loot to get, so it's about time we move into the last level. And it's pretty weird too.
The game has kept to it's aesthetic of caves pretty strictly so far. So it's quite the chock when you enter here and see the start of this level.
Umm, trick or treat?
The inside is equally ornate and strange. It consists of black hallways adorned with glass windows and the odd talking relief.
Almost literally the plot of Dark Souls 2.
There aren't many enemies either, which is strange for a final level. Instead, we find ghosts who just stand around with their hands cuffed.
They remind me a bit of Queen Yharnam. Minus the poisonous blood and screaming of course.
They are of no threat, but I think they can attack you if you attack them a few times and don't kill them. They seem to be some kind of servants, but I have nothing conclusive. I went through the monster book at the end of the walkthrough if you want to draw your own conclusions.
Our last gimmick consists of hunting down black versions of these ghosts and depriving them of their material form. Whenever you kill one, it turns more transparent and runs away, leaving you with a key plate. It might be the same one actually. But before you can open a door to one of these ghosts, you need to earn passage by besting a knight in honourable combat.
Despite there not being a map available, this level is actually easy to navigate. It feels confusing, but it adhers to its corridors and constricts movement with the key plates. You need to place them in order to activate some teleporters. But you need more and more placed at the same time, so there is really only one way to play through it. It's a bit lame, but also very cool. You can really feel the design of this place.
There is a secret behind a window with no light, as well as one behind a wall with blood leading to it that you can strike down. You're rewarded with an upgraded shotgun. It's really fun to blow through all the shotgun ammo you have here, but I made good use of the grenade launcher and the Zwei too. Bloodborne would have been so much more my kind of game if you had a Zwei and a grenade launcher instead of the Cannon and Ludwig's Holy Blade.
This elongated trek takes us to the fanciest room in the game, where our last opponent awaits.
Definitively worth the cost of gas.
He gives a short spiel establishing his place in this world.
As good a reason as any, I suppose.
The obvious connection to draw is to Balron in the first game. Balron is less interesting as a penultimate fight, but he is much more imposing. The knight in this game is a better fight, but isn't as cool and doesn't have enough HP to make use of his mechanics. A really fitting comparison between the overall strengths and weaknesses of the two games. But you can dismember him greatly, so there's that.
Decapitations are always a plus. Except for the victim, I suppose. Then it's more of a minus.
He can shoot projectiles, dance around as well as summon a clone. But he's so squishy, so it matters little. But he has enough HP to survive without a head and arms, which is pretty amusing.
He drops the final elavator key, so it's time for us to say hi to the Great Will and end this retrospective.
I love the ascent to its chamber. It's really eerie and alien, complete with green growths and a light pulse that traverses the length of the corridor. It just wins out over the void maw in the first game.
The fact that it's covered in veins is pretty nice foreshadowing.
The will is a giant green heart that's hanging from the ceiling up here. It spouts a bunch of random nonsense about existance. If I were a less trusting man, I'd blame the translation for this, but it feels like something From Soft would put in the game.
Blah blah blah.
And as one would expect from From Soft, our final boss is really lame. It summons a goopy and corrupted version of Rurufon with an identical moveset. Once she falls, its shield drops and you can kill it in just a few hits. But why do it in a few hits, when you can do it in exactly one with style?
We get a few more lines before the game fades to the ending.
Ok, you deserve death for that pun alone.
The ending is pretty lame, as it only shows Pardough walking outside of the tower whilst what looks like a human Rurufon stares at him with an evil eye.
And so ends Shadow Tower Abyss. But wait, there's more!
The game has a New Game Plus mode, which deserves mention. It's stupidly easy, since you get to keep your stuff and stats, while the enemies are no tougher. It's really just a fun little victory lap. But they did put in more effort than they did in DS3, so there's a whole slew of new items to find. I went through it all and noted my findings.
The coolest thing is this awesome golden gun you get as a first treasure:
Fabulous and deadly, the optimal combination.
Here's the rest of the stuff I found:
Shadow Fang(Which looks like a cursed spade.), a physical Zweihander, a Barrel Helm, a Deep Sea Diadem, a Small Axe, a Night Lure, the Daratome (The best physical bracelet, I think.), the Teprou, an M14, a Vigour War Mail, a Glory Lord helmet, a Frost Falconry bowgun, another stun rod, the Dark Thunder katana(Which has a blood curse. The edge!), Shade Hard armor, a Thunder Hammer, a revolver, a Desire Axe, Royal Arm guards, a silver Derringer, Robust War mail, a Venom Hunter sword, Aurora Dust, Nova Cloud boots, a Sever Heavy axe and a hard hammer.
It's a nice bit of extra stuff to loot. I also learned some new things while in NG+. You can attack the rower at the start if you want. He hits super hard and has loads of HP. His name is Rof.
I was wrong about Rurufon. You can attack her at the start without breaking her later quests.
There's a gun exclusive to NG+, the RPK. It's tons of fun, as it has automatic fire and 40 bullets per magazine. You can stunlock anything with it, Rurufon didn't even get to move! Since I wasn't under recording pressure, I confirmed that you can get stuck having to do the cliffs, just as I remembered. There's a grub that you need to shoot before dropping down to the cliff path if you want to avoid getting stuck, unless you're in NG+. Then you can shoot it from behind with the shotgun and do the spiral in another way. I doubt this was intended, but it's still a fun detail.
I also found the shottie to be hella fun to use on the birds. It was at this point I realised that you can put away a two-handed gun with L1 and reset the Y-axis with R3.
There is a corpse you can talk to for a bracelet in the desert, there's a potion where the golden mask was and you can indeed skip a few levels.
Going by my rough understanding of Japanese, the cover is promising at least three soul rapes per playhtrough.
I think my feelings towards Abyss should be quite clear at this point. It feels like its design philosophy is close to the oppposite of the one of the first game. It's much more fun, the controls are amazing and the enviroments are much more unique. But it's really easy, durability is of little concern, the plot is a giant tease and it's rather short.
The solution would be to mix these designs, so let's do that in a thought experiment. It's not like From Soft are ever going to make a third game anyway. First, let's remove durability on magic rings and have MP be the limiting factor. MP costs should be higher and the damage spells should either be removed or be super useful on enemies weak to that element.
Then, I'd like to see support spells be added and made awesome. Stuff like buffs and enemy manipulation spells that are actally useful. Charm, shockwave and turret spells for example.
I like the guns too much to let them go, but they need a major nerf. Ammo should be rarer and reloading should be much more of a risk. Might need to lower their durability as well.
Enemies should be built to incorporate melée, guns and magic, so that you'd need to stay prepared for every situation. Say there is a crab enemy with a shell you need to cut or smash open before they are susceptible to gunfire. Stuff like that would make the game more interesting beyond the ”first blood” combat that's there right now.
Durability should be lower overall, the UI for elements to tell you when weapons are about to break should be better and there should be a lower amount of items. That way, scrounging will feel more rewarding and you'd actually need to save equipment for the perfect moment.
I'd also like the plot to be told a bit better, whilst leaving room for a bit of interpretation. The idea of the Shadow Tower is so awesome and deserves better.
Destructoid did an article on the game a while back and the Bonfire Side Chat podcast covered it as well.
That's my quick thoughts, but there are many other ways to do it. We are now at the end of the retrospective, so I hope you've all gotten some insight into the roots of From Software and why I find these games so interesting. I also hope you realise just how much stuff they've recycled through the years.
I don't consider any of the games of the retro great masterpieces of design, but there's so much cool stuff in them that I thought it worth to write all this for them. I was turned away by the graphics of King's Field many times, but I'm glad I pushed forward.
The Souls-games are the next step in this line of challenging design, but for as great as those games are, I can't help but mourn the first person ones. I won't get to play anymore like it unless the fantranslation of Hungry Ghosts gets completed, and that saddens me. I don't want subgenres like these to die out when there's so much potential, especially since VR is kind of kicking off.
Thanks to all who've read up to this point and special thanks to Wes in particular for goading me into this. It's been really fun.
I might still do the dropkick blog!
One last thing before we end things. It should come as no surprise that I like other games than these. Thusly, there is another retrospective I want to do. I've already spoken of it openly and there are countless references to the game series hidden in this retrospective. But one last clue couldn't hurt. I'm not sure when I'll start that, but when I do, it's gonna be a good time.