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The systems are fruitless, the construction is tainted, everyone will use these mechanics of 'justice' for their own ends because they have accepted that where one comes shadow they must also come with shadow. But that doesn't mean that light, that 'truth', doesn't exist. To avert your eyes and act like the pursuit of truth and justice is naive and nothing more, is cowardice. Cowardice at the enormity of the issue, the complexity, the sheer size of the web. We must strive "to keep going down the straight and narrow road."

The politics are all simplified, but I couldn't help but have it hit me within a current situation that has me viscerally frustrated both in my ability to speak and others' ability to speak. In the modern world the idea of acquittal is a self made one in that the players of power and in power will do everything to keep control of the exploits they've crafted to stamp on my rights, so even if one untouchable person was brought down, nothing would change. In a sense, Resolve, asks for some hope in the people to find their way. The comparison is trite if I try to make it any more tangible, it's simply a feeling I had while trying to keep my positivity afloat amongst the sludge of pain recently. I'm not even in a good enough emotional state to try to conclude the train of thought on what I should be doing, it's radicalizing and disgusting to continue to swallow. So really I don't know where I'm going with this to a very insecure extent. I guess what I'm trying to say is that at the least, GAA2 Resolve offers comfort in a belief that we'll get there together again. I doubt me saying that will offer any solace, and it's of no use to others to oversimplify this shit.

But like at some point you have to confront the message of the work, what the characters believe, if you want to talk about it right? "To fight those who dwell in the darkness requires at least some of us to occupy the darkness ourselves." is wrong, that's wrong. It doesn't feel good though. Like an hour and a half ago I watched an excruciatingly fucked up 3 minute video of some absolutely infuriating vein-popping preacher openly saying to kill queer people with the only response being applauding and agreement, and to my side my SO is watching a 5 minute news clip of senator's arguments juxtaposed with other real senators full audibly feigning to care about mental illness of a school shooter to then say trans is the problem. If I loaded up any additional social media right now it would be a hilarious juxtaposition to the game I just played because it would be complete doomscrolling. Because like, what else is there to do? they'll say.

I want Sholmes' ray of light. I want to believe.

Completed in the ethereal sense in that while playing a couple custom levels I felt a 'complete' feeling, of which got me very emotional that will be difficult to explain but I'll try to elaborate.

I felt it near the end of the initial level included. It's a really robust intro, a casual warm hand showcasing to you what the level creator can be on offer here. It's completely short and sweet yet goes through everything you might come to expect in games of this time, even a light shocking horror segment, a heavenly vibe above the sky in the snowy mountains etc etc. It tells a full lovely almost wordless story of adventure.

And all of it is to service the spark of creation. Did you ever make custom content for anything? That wasn't really my thing. Even though I grew up around Minecraft, I'm very much a work on others' foundations sort. I like putting things within my own sort of spin rather than creating a whole drum beat from scratch. I like to marvel at what the current of electric creativity has granted others, though. I kept thinking about it since I left the starting 'story' and started downloading others. Loading up a late 00s archive and putting in folders, opening the cavern to more people's stories, from the very notoriously trippy, to calm and relaxing, to dastardly puzzly. And honestly, I bet a lot of the levels I could look at are probably shit who knows. It's very, um, human though. This whole game is very human. The community though it has long since walked away from any nurturing light that kept it growing, is very human. It's like I just stumbled upon a garden of dreams and little bits of people messing around with this same honestly janky editor. The further down the rabbit hole I got the more emotional it felt.

I hope I managed to put the feeling together right. It's very rambly to put together but it's tough to actually describe a sense of a connection, one so strong that it made a wide incredible forest you never knew about, of planters who you may never ever meet.

I'll forever feel weird that I'm honestly just not that into City Trial, but Top Ride is a blast and the Swerve Star speaks to me

I really want to get through this... I had half a mind to shelve it simply because I don't have the patience, but the combat takes soooo long to do and it's soooo easy to do. I try to play so optimally so it's difficult to measure whether I should be autobattling or optimizing the tactics, and there's not a lot of reward for playing super well at all early in. With Caligula making a theatric out of combat every single time, I immediately missed the massive amount of rpgs I played where attacks and small engagements go quick and painlessly. When the first dungeon took me more than three hours because I kept exploring and checking out the whole map I realized I was sort of playing this "wrong" but the game honestly doesn't give me a way to do this "right", other than cheating just to skip the combat equation altogether. But now it's too late. The cold clinical aesthetic has drained me dry, the budget is wearing on me, the main battle music has already gotten "annoying" (dangerous), the weight of the real anxieties these characters are facing that I imagine could be incredible note drops later have become a grueling Ask. Disgustingly unfortunate.

The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls.

The top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren - the secret name. This corresponds to the director, who directs the game of your life from conception to death. The secret name is the title of your game. When you died, that's where Ren came in.

The second soul off the sinking ship is Sekem - energy, power, and light. The director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons.

Number three is Khu, the guardian angel, depicted as flying away across a full moon. A bird with luminous wings and head of light. The sort of thing you might see on a screen in a video game from your Xbox. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defence - but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to heaven for another vessel. The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the Land of the Dead.

Number four is Ba, the heart - often treacherous. This is a hawk's body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down like Samson by a perfidious Ba.

Number five is Ka - the double. Most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Sands.

Number six is Khaibit, the shadow memory. Your whole past conditioning from this and other lives.


In the autumn of 2011, I got my first ‘real’ job, leaving behind the hell of zero-hour retail and office temp work to become an IT repairman at a big library. Finally, I could provide myself with food, clothing, shelter and, most importantly, video games. I loved problem-solving, working with tools and being on the computer so much already, and now had a professional outlet for all of those things that I enjoyed. It was the best job I’d ever had, but there was one weird snag - the librarians really didn’t like the cleaning and repair staff.

I’m not sure what makes librarians think that alphabetising Anne Rice novels is a more noble profession than networking 500 computers together or replacing tungsten filaments in industrial lighting systems, but nonetheless, they felt justified in keeping the workies out of every kitchen and staff lounge in the building. Mugs, coffee grounds, tea bags, milk, plates and microwaves were all kept in locked cupboards that only “academic” staff could access. Fresh out of retail hell, I just accepted this as a natural law of the universe (of course I was unworthy of a plastic cup for some water!), but in retrospect, it was a little fucked up. My “non-academic” colleagues responded to this in kind by hiding kettles, instant coffee and tin cups in electrical cupboards and storerooms, an essential act of survival misconstrued as spiteful by the microwave-havers. Without anywhere to store fridges in a stock cupboard, there was no milk to be had. Black tea or black coffee were our only options at break-time in the library.

This is how I learned to love black coffee. I had been a white-and-sugars type guy until this point in my personal hot-drink history, treating coffee more as a vehicle for warm milk then an experience in and about itself. Thirsty as hell from running around physically installing Microsoft Excel patches on computers still running Windows 98 in 2011, I had no choice but to forgo my preference for milk and just get used to gulping hot acidic bean water day in, day out when I needed to restore my hit-points. At first I didn’t enjoy it all, but like everything else in life, cultivating patience of habit can allow you to accept and adapt to almost any situation you find yourself in. 11 years later, I now drink nothing but black coffee. I could, probably, somehow - like those wine wankers you see in movies - even tell you the difference between different blends of the hot acid gloop that is burning my insides. Such is my passion for #coffee.

In the autumn of 2011, something else happened. A video game called Dark Souls launched on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, to some degree of fanfare that is still up for debate to this day. Video game historians like to mythologise the rise of the Souls series, and often claim Dark Souls launched to very little acclaim - but from my own historical perspective, I contest this claim. My memory leads me to believe the contrary - that Dark Souls had an exciting buzz about it right out of the gate - for game-fans and game-readers, at least. I was mostly a Halo and Street Fighter IV player at the time, and even I’d felt the urge to buy it on opening week. For some reason... I can’t remember why... That was over a decade ago. An age past. I don’t remember my motivation for every video game I’ve ever bought.

Friends of mine who’d foolishly bought PlayStation 3s to play Metal Gear Solid 4 derisively informed me that Dark Souls was the sequel to Demon’s Souls: their painful memories told mine that Demon’s Souls was a “stupid” and “unfair” game that treated its players with contempt and that I should consider getting Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 instead because this one was gonna have all-new ways for 12-year-olds to militarily abuse me through the internet. I wasn’t the type of person to listen to my friends, though - I preferred to listen to anonymous message board posters and professional video game journalists. With one of my first paycheques as a fully-fledged computer janitor, I purchased a Cafe AeroPress coffee maker and a copy of Dark Souls.

... And I hated it. As my friends had prophesied, Dark Souls was relentlessly unfair. Enemies came back to life and stabbed me in the back; pathways crumbled and sent me tumbling to my doom; evil knights shrugged off my attacks and responded in kind with bigger and badder swords of their own. The infamous curse status - an affliction that permanently halves your health and prevents you from becoming human - was my final straw. I recognised the gauntlet that was being laid before me in the Undead Depths and chose to reject the challenge. I found solace in the darkness of my coffee maker and put the game away forever.

A few months later, while trying to avoid studying for the most important exams of my life, I picked the game up again. I had decided that wading around damp dark sewers as a cursed little half-health freak up to his knees in rat shit was less daunting than preparing for my final exams before my adulthood-proper. I persevered, #coffee in one hand and a Wiki in the other, learning the ins and outs of the game’s mechanics in far greater depth than any of the Relational Database Management Systems textbooks on my study desk. I would rather prepare to die than prepare to pass.

Like many rookie Dark Souls players, parrying was my Everest - though perhaps over-emphasised by the playerbase as an essential skill for completing the game, it was certainly a far more important mechanic back then than that it is today. I spent many hours in the Undead Parish practicing my defence; learning the intricacies and timings of the mechanic and its follow-ups with my undead knight partners until the synapses solidified and I could pull a parry out of my reflexes without much mental effort. It was the key I needed to unlock my progress through the game, and I proudly rode my parrying prowess to the Kiln of the First Flame, linking the fire in ignorance of an unintended side-effect this new reflex had developed in me in the new ages to come.

Years later, I got the chance to play the now-infamous Dark Souls 2 demo at a video game expo and felt compelled to put my parry skills to the test once more. Despite the fact a coked-out Bandai Namco Games employee was offering free t-shirts to anyone who could beat the Mirror Knight in their allotted 15-minute slot, I persevered in the starting area until I could get my timings down once more. After a few whiffs and some off-colour comments from our jaw-clicking host, I finally managed to bat back a shadowy blade. It was at that moment that I discovered that Dark Souls 2 had a brand new feature - the parries smelt and tasted of black coffee. Despite all the gamer sweat and farts and poorly-ventilated electronics in my environment, I could sense coffee inside my brain. Hours of parry practice while sipping black coffee in my bedroom had built a permanent association between parrying and coffee in my mind. A soul memory.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of soul memory, even if you know it by another name (Mikhail Bakhtin calls it the chronotope, for instance). The taste of spaghetti bolognese reminds you of a good day at your friend’s house in 2002. The fresh scent of factory plastic that emanates from a new video game takes you back to the summer holiday when your mum finally bought you Timesplitters 2 despite it being rated a 15+. Perhaps a particularly bad hangover from a night of drinking rum and coke has forever ruined the taste of Pepsi for you. Petrol makes you think about the forest, for some reason you don’t remember. And so on. You’ve all seen Ratatouille, I guess. I don’t need to labour at this point.

Soul memory is the currency of the sequel and the franchise, and in our current era, soul memory is undergoing hyperinflation - Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Spider-Man: No Way Home; Ghostbusters: Afterlife - filmmakers are eagerly trying to collect soul memories so they can take them to the bureau de change and cash out in dollars. You might baulk at this suggestion that the scent of your grandmother’s baked potatoes can be commodified, but I think there’s ample evidence to suggest that no link in your mind is safe from capital’s claws.

Video games are perhaps the most egregious traders of soul memory. Video games, even the best ones, are standing tall on the shoulders upon shoulders of prior moments in space-time - real and imagined - all the way back down to Donkey Kong. Re-releases and remakes and remasters and retro collections are nostalgia-primers for experiences you might not even have been alive for - we all love Pac-Man, even though we may not have met him in an 80s arcade hall; you and I replicated those experiences instead with a movie or a PlayStation 3 Arcade Archive or a Pac-Man music video on MTV; phenomena best exemplified by the teenagers I saw on Twitter who are collecting Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles promotional Happy Meal toys from 1993 to bring their souls closer to their blue-haired messiah. By letting you collect and play your figurative Rainbow Roads again and again and again in generation after generation after generation of product, video games explore the loss of a childhood place, and our attempts to recreate it.

And so what if the place that we are in the midst of is different from the physical space that we currently inhabit? What if the things we yearn for are located elsewhere, in another place or a falsely-remembered past, and all we now carry within us is an image of this place. We may remember only elements or impressions of it: there may be certain objects, sounds, a level, a character, special moves, cutscenes, or online battles; all of which come out in a manner that we cannot control or understand. Yet any of these elements or impressions make us feel at home in a way that we cannot find in the physical space where we are now stuck. Being displaced and yet capable of remembering the particularity of place: it is the state of being dislocated yet able to discern what it is that locates us. We have a great yearning, but we often cannot fulfil it with anything but memories from our soul.

In my review of Halo Infinite at the end of last year, I suggested the possibility that game developers are attempting to harness soul memory in new and exciting ways, the limits between your imagination and theirs almost fully removed in this gilded age of RTX and NGX and Speed Tree and shader-caching and other computer stuff I don’t understand; the world expanding ever-wider as we slot in more and more chips, spreading the channels between CPU and memory (both silicon and cerebellum) ever-wider. The end-state, no doubt, is a game that never ends, expanding outwards like our universe, all contained in the heart of an eternally-burning electric star on the platter of your hard drive. But how do you fuel a world-game of such approaching-infinite size? With the dependable financial and artistic mainstays of gaming, of course - the memory of/reverie in/nostalgia for/ known experiences, known systems, known self. Which makes Halo - a DirectX-based comfort food of the 18-35 crowd - an ideal candidate for colonisation via constant computer creation.

With Halo Infinite, it’s hard to gauge the intentionality of the author (and the multi-billion dollar corporation employing the author). By all accounts, Infinite was a scrap-piece, a million shattered pieces of contractor work and discarded concepts fused into a Holiday Product - something that, at least initially, presents itself as a never-ending ring-world: Zeta Halo could not be more apt as a setting for the beyond-open world template that’s come into vogue this generation (see also: Microsoft’s other tentpole, Forza Horizon). But was this product forged with any purpose greater than a shareholder deadline, a gilded-gold ring that can’t sustain itself beyond a financial quarter (never mind an eternal age!)? Fields upon fields of the same retrofuturistic alien base and knowing remarks about crunch and copy-pasted environments from your maiden, Cortana Weapon, imply that Halo Infinite was an illusion produced by profit - a defective ring-world, nothing more; but there are, at the very least, implications that game developers know what they create. In this new Halo instalment, Master Chief, regretting his transition out of cryostasis, is the only character in the game who opposes the rebuilding of the Halo installations. Too bad, John - you’re going for another last-minute warthog ride to the sounds of early-2000s progressive hard rock.

Does Halo Infinite sound familiar? Well, you might have played Dark Souls 3 and its downloadable follow-up: The Ringed City. Hidetaka Miyazaki's Souls series homecoming may have been hailed as a "return to form" for the franchise after the polarising reception to Dark Souls 2, but this oft-quoted games-journalist soundbite has a double-edge to it - namely, that it quite literally returned Dark Souls to its original form, repurposing locations, bosses, and emotional beats from the games that came before it. Lothric isn't a million lightyears away from Zeta Halo - it forges a similarly flimsy ring of questionable geography and architecture, a Dark Souls Disneyland built from item and character references that no longer mean anything beyond commercialised self-sabotage, names and item descriptions appearing only for the purposes of cynical, cyclical continuity with its predecessors. The game knew what it was creating with itself in its Bandai-Namco-hued orange-yellow wasteland - an idea perhaps best exemplified in the Abyss Watchers, a gang of frenzied Artorias fanboys from the Firelink Shrine who serve no literary purpose beyond infighting among themselves about the ways Artorias of the Abyss was like, really, really cool. (For some reason, I am now recalling the fact my PlayStation 4 copy of Dark Souls 3 came with a mail-order slip for a £344.99 statue of Artorias from the Bandai-Namco Official European Store...) These references without continuity, these connections without purpose... all they do is ring a Pavlovian spirit bell of soul memory in your brain for a fleeting moment. Nothing more. And Dark Souls 3 didn't just know this - it made it a central tenet of its thematics, even building its last-ever DLC around the concept of painting a forever-world made of the Dark Soul itself. Known experiences, known systems, known self, known forever. Consuming the Gods without question, like Gael, until the coming Age of Dark.

// TODO: placeholder for another 9 paragraphs discussing the cyclical ages of fire depicted in the Dark Souls trilogy here and how the idea can be metatextually applied to the development cycles of each Souls game and their growing commercial impact vs. receding artistic impact. This part will be included in a post-launch patch to this review at an undetermined date. Hopefully never.

In Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths are the truths of the “Noble Ones”: those who are deemed “spiritually worthy". These truths are:

- Dukkha (suffering, incapable of satisfying, painful) is an innate characteristic of existence in the realm of samsara, the world-cycle of death and rebirth we all live through. Existence is pain, to some degree.

- Samudaya (origin, arising, combination; 'cause'): together with dukkha arises taṇhā ("craving, desire or attachment, lit. "thirst”). While tanha is traditionally interpreted in western languages as the 'cause' of dukkha, tanha can also be seen as the factor tying us to dukkha, or as a response to dukkha, trying to escape it; a suffering often understood to be a combination of a consumptive desire for fleeting things, destructive hatefulness, and ignorance of the world as it truly is.

- Nirodha (cessation, ending, confinement) dukkha can be ended or contained by the renouncement or letting go of this taṇhā; the confinement of tanha releases the excessive bind of dukkha; the end of suffering. We are finite flawed creatures with only two ways out: either cyclical death, or transcendence through enlightenment.

- Magga (the path, the Noble Eightfold Path) is the path leading to the confinement of tanha and dukkha. The next path in the teachings; Buddhism’s sequel, post-launch DLC or content update.

Elden Ring is an action role-playing game developed by FromSoftware and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. The game was directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki and made in collaboration with fantasy novelist George R. R. Martin, who provided material for the game's setting. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S on February 25, 2022.

Elden Ring is presented through a third-person perspective, with players freely roaming its interactive open world. Gameplay elements include combat featuring several types of weapons and magic spells, horseback riding, summons, and crafting. Elden Ring received critical acclaim, with praise for its open-world gameplay, fantasy setting, and evolution of the Souls formula. The game sold 12 million copies within three weeks of its release.

Elden Ring is From Software's first game of a new decade that follows an Age of Dark.

The exciting thing about a long voyage like Elden Ring is that it can inhabit so many spaces and times within your life, entwining its soul memories with your own in so many more ways than just an association between coffee and parrying. Due to its epic scale, brutal difficulty and my desire to travel through it as un-aided as possible, it took me four months to beat the game. Looking back from the now, the distance from February until May feels, as it often does in modern times, like a lifetime and a moment. Nothing and everything happened within the standard cycles of my life. I got up and went to work every day, playing through Elden Ring in spare moments and evenings. A war broke out while I was playing Elden Ring. I finished all six seasons of The Sopranos and four seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the time period I existed within while attempting to beat Elden Ring for the first time, and I noted that Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleed for the PlayStation 2 plays surprisingly similarly to Elden Ring. I went abroad for the first time in over two years, often thinking about Elden Ring while looking at the cathedrals and sweeping vistas of Barcelona. I saw a bunch of my friends in person for the first time in years while playing Elden Ring, and we discussed what builds were cool and which characters were cool. When I started Elden Ring, social distancing and facemasks were still mandatory in many places; when I finished Elden Ring, they were not.

So how do these new memories of mine intermingle with those presented in Elden Ring? Does Hoarfrost Stomp taste like marzipan? Is the Altus Plateau a portal to the golden fields of childhood freedom? Have I come to understand Godfrey as a Tony Soprano-like patriarchal figure in relation to Godrick's AJ? Perhaps nothing as crass or immediately interdependent as that. Has playing Elden Ring while existing in 2022 caused me to draw personal and societal parallels between my different lives? I'm tempted to say yes. I'm tempted to take apart Elden Ring's Elden Ring piece-by-piece and point at its golden roots and talk about the scarlet rot and the human ashes that drown the golden skyscrapers of Leyendell and all the ways in which this tale of souls and swords can be applied to someone who travels in the world of our present. But I'd be here even longer than I already am, hanging onto the dying embers of a rambling essay that has gone on too long. In a sense, choosing what aspect of Elden Ring to unpack and explore is exactly how the game makes you feel when you're contemplating which path to take at a crossroads in the Lands Between - whether to explore a cave, a castle, a peninsula, a continent, a realm, a galaxy, an age, a concept of the afterlife turned into a video game level. Naturally, you have to let go of possibility and walk down a single path in order to move forward.

This painful push and pull between potential possibility and your (perhaps pre-determined) path is what makes Elden Ring so compelling. Of course games like Breath of the Wild have already explored this concept of 'go-anywhere', but not in an artistic sense that exists beyond the controller and the things that are happening literally on the screen. In Breath of the Wild, going up a hill will get you into a fight with a bird and you will do a puzzle and you will get a cool sword and you will have a lot of fun - but experiences begin to entwine and overlap, memories becoming overwritten and jumbled in endless plains of rolling green and goblin. Memories require delineation if they are to be stored within containers of consciousness, and in Elden Ring, going up a hill can turn into a 20-hour odyssey through the ashes of time to explore an all-out conquest that was once fought over the very nature of Godhood, where you will meet and contemplate primordial, psychological and philosophical concepts in the form of a dude with a wolf head who reads Berserk. Or maybe you will explore the entirety of a lost kingdom on the edge of the afterlife's cosmos and wonder why it exists or even existed at all, all while the ghost of a forgotten world-serpent caves your skull in. And you will get a cool sword and you will have a lot of fun and those unique, memorable moments will bond with a greater space and time in your head.

Exploration of space beyond the time is a fundamental element of Elden Ring and the Elden Ring. From Software understand that space-time extends with video games, through video games, in video games - that old cliche of a gamer living a thousand lives. In much the same way that it can be confusing to refer to Elden Ring as both a video game product and a concept within the world of Elden Ring itself (it is amusing to note how difficult it is to get the wiki page for the Elden Ring on the Elden Ring Wiki), so too can it be confusing to separate memory and space-time as they exist within and outwith ourselves, our Golden Orders of subjective fact and fiction; moments and how we place ourselves inside them, the near-infinite subjectivity of experience that so often causes people to argue with each other over matters that are ultimately our inner order of perception and recollection. Was Radahn right? Was Malenia right? Sound off in the comments below.

For a long time, one of my most-visited YouTube videos was this performance of Dragon Quest V’s music by the NHK Symphony Orchestra. The music is a fantastic soundtrack to a comments section full of positive nostalgia in a foreign language. Google Translate doesn’t get the full meaning across, but you can feel all that’s being said despite the barriers between people on opposite sides of the internet's round table. This is the comment that always stands out to me when I scroll down:

“This was a game of my dad’s era, but it makes me nostalgic for that time all the same.”

I only beat Dragon Quest V in 2019, but I feel this same nostalgia, these same memories, this same realisation of a video game world as a portal through soul memory. I beat the iOS port of the DS port of the original Super Famicom version while sitting on the toilet at work, but my shared DQV reality with that kid, and his father before him, who played the game on different hardware in a different space in a different time, allows me to understand them. We saved the world and that adventure will stay with us all for a lifetime. Bur this feeling isn't anything unique - throw a dart at the board of YouTube's video game soundtracks and you'll find this phenomenon replicated for pretty much every video game ever made. Queen Rennala stands in a Grand Library and offers you endless rebirth.

The beauty of Elden Ring's length, scale and scope is that it's also capable of playing with this concept of chronotope from within. Whereas Dark Souls 3 relied on imagery and ideology from previous entries to invoke soul memory with (intentionally) cheap referentiality, Elden Ring instead chooses to loop over itself many times over in order to play new games with your mind. There are many ways in which the game achieves this, and if you've ever griped about "reused content", you probably know the kind of thing I mean - fortresses reappearing in different states of decay and ruin; enemies returning again and again as if pursuing you through the Lands Between; the souls of wolves and trees and tree-avatars haunt the earth; the same dungeons and dragons in different locations, sometimes appearing as battlefields of the present, sometimes appearing as sites of historical importance - Great War memorials on a school field trip. The game even deigns to reference the wider From Software cosmology (I am using every word in my vocabulary to avoid typing the term "Soulsborne"), but interestingly chooses to place a lot of these capricious callbacks in dank, dirty, decaying swamps - they are deemed to be hollow, undead references. In a sense, it's a game so vast that it's able to create nostalgia for itself.

For me, the most interesting way the game exemplifies soul memory is in its boss battles. In our realm, the bosses of Elden Ring are something of a contentious topic - out of some 150+ battles that put grand old names above life-bars, only five in the whole game are wholly unique. "How could the developers be so lazy as to do this?!" is the rallying cry of the passionate masses who are seemingly unwilling to afford From Software any artistic agency or intentionality of design. In a series/franchise/whateverthisis like the Souls games, isn't the whole point that you're prepared to die, over and over again, in the same battles, just like the demigods that you seek to surpass? You're in battle against spiritual and physical elements of the universe itself! The Fallingstar Beast appears twice in the game, but you didn't fight him twice, did you? I'm willing to wager you fought him five times, ten times, twenty times, maybe many times more. Why delineate by encounters in space when you can just as easily use time? Was each death and rebirth just "reused content", or was it an intentional part of an experience that the game's developers wanted you to live through? The game's named after a big old circle, for crying out loud!

This isn't an attempt by me to reframe the reuse of content as a purely artistic choice - of course it was done to gild the game's vast size and ensure every crevice of the world map had some experience of some form for the player, but practical compromises made within the constraints of development can be moulded, with appropriate care, into art. We can challenge From's tendency to rework frameworks, but aren't they trapped in their own never-ending cycle by capital, working to the drumbeat of 100 million sales? You may rankle when yet another boss pulls off the iconic Scarlet Aeonia (itself a reference/homage/repetition of a Magic the Gathering card ), but it's all in aid of your personal character development and the development of the game's characters and their relationships in the Lands Between. While I certainly wouldn't call any of my many, many, many battles with Malenia and her acolytes art in and of themselves, my memories of these multi-faceted repetitions tie back to an essential theme of the Souls series - overcoming the greatest boss of all: yourself.

It would be trite of me to spend a ton of time telling everyone about a universal human experience and how it applies to a series of video games that have sold enough copies to make them almost universal gamer experiences, so instead I'll just share a soul memory of Elden Ring that I think embodies this value of repetition and self-mastery. The Subterranean Shunning-Grounds (the names in this game rock lol) is essentially the final dungeon of the game, a terrible theme park of sewer content that long-time fans of these games will immediately recognise - pipes, poison, basilisks, curses, rats, little fucked up gargoyle dudes. It's essentially all the most annoying things about playing a Souls game in a single package, ramped up to 11 by twisted virtue of the fact this is the final area in a 100-hour game that stands at the end of a path of six other 100-hour games with similarly wicked ideas. 11 years after giving up on Dark Souls, I was once again a half-health freak up to his knees in rat shit. Indeed, it is a punishingly difficult experience to be a half-health freak up to his knees in rat shit - even with a high-defense build, certain enemies can take you out in a hit or two. And if they aren't capable of taking you out in a hit or two, they have almost certainly been carefully positioned next to a giant pit that can take you out in a single hit. It's an infuriating area, yet entirely optional. You don't have to do it to yourself, but at this point, it just feels right that you should pursue whatever nebulous reward that the Shunning-Grounds harbour. And what is the final test at the end of this dungeon? A dragon? An army of the undead? Another cosmic deity? No! It's a jumping puzzle in a tomb of skeletons and corpses piled to the ceiling - an incredibly tricky test of wits that combines your physical dexterity with an eye for problem-solving. It took me dozens of tries to master, and memories of the hallways leading from the bonfire to the puzzle chamber have now been seared into my mind. A video game challenge that made me scream out in pain for the first time in years... Fuck that bullshit!!! And at the end of it all, what is your reward for completing this task? No runes or swords or armor. Just a spell called Inescapable Frenzy, an incantation that sends the minds of humans towards madness. Let it never be said that From Software do not have a sense of humour! No wonder some players choose to enter into a covenant with Chaos a few moments later...

"try jumping" is a message you see a lot in Elden Ring. One of the oldest pranks in the Souls fan playbook, it's a nasty little trick that encourages the freshly chosen undead to leap from high places with promise of some unknowable reward. Inevitably, it always leads to one thing - a painful, costly death. Why do players take the time to encourage people they'll never meet to commit suicide, and why do so many people mark these messages as helpful to others? Probably for the same unknowable reason that people tell each other to kill themselves via other mediums of the internet. Ugly as "try jumping" may be, it has always fit comfortably with the artistic notions of Dark Souls as an analog for the neverending battle against depression and misery, the difficulty that comes with suppressing one's urge to die, to give up, to leave it all behind. One of Elden Ring's first concessions to new players is to finally explain this meta-mechanic - if you fall for the very first "try jumping" message that the game places before you, you end up in a tutorial area. Hopefully you won't make the same mistake twice now. From Software know that the Internet-at-large is one of the most lethal enemies their games have to offer, and I fought against that wicked foe by making a point of putting down some "no jumping ahead" messages while on my journey.

The online component of these games has always existed, but has never really been explicitly acknowledged within the game-world beyond a few experimental instances like The Ringed City's Spear of the Church. As the ostensible herald of a new age Elden Ring takes the first steps toward acknowledging ours, supplementing a mechanism with a metaphor. To avoid beating around the bush - I think the Roundtable Hold is the Internet. A realm inaccessible by horse nor foot, where the people of the world meet up to sell shit, trade stories, gossip and fuck around, all under an oath of no physical contact. Per Varre's comment, the Roundtable is "a place for has-beens trying to look important but unable or unwilling to actually take any action". Sound familiar? There is a place in Leyndell Royal Capital that looks exactly like the Roundtable Hold, but no one is there - the Hold is, in effect, a virtual, imagined space; a simulation in parallel existence to reality. It's a trick that From has pulled before, but characters and their occupation of parallel space-times with differing persona spells out that this is, in some classic weird-ass cosmic FromSoft way, a digiverse within a digiverse.

Ensha, Dung Eater and D are the most vivid exemplars of this idea. Three masked edge, lords who spend their time in the Roundtable acting aloof and cool and above it all; their corporeal forms lashing out with hatred against women in the meatspace of the Lands Between, giving away their Inner Order to pursue violence against Malenia, Fia and - in the Loathsome Dung Eater's case - every woman and child in the known universe. (See also: Gideon/Seluvis and their relationship to the class-conscious Nepheli Loux: Gideon as a gatekeeper who encourages you to overcome your Maidenless status and venerate yourself in the eyes of the Roundtable's men ("the road of champions"); Seluvis as a PUA who tries to involve you in a date-rape scheme.) In the case of D, the game implies the existence of a "twin brother" - an alternate persona - who behaves differently depending on the space-time he inhabits. We see him in reality, unreality and Nokron's post-reality afterlife, behaving more aggressively in each plane until he loses bravado when faced with with the bare-faced truth of inescapable Death itself. The player has the option of giving him back his mask and suit of armour, which ultimately leads to a violent death for "that bitch" Fia, a woman who recognises men possessing a warmth that has nowhere to go. In the case of the Dung Eater, whose mortal form is trapped within the aforementioned ur-Souls palace of the Shunning-Grounds, the connection to our ugly internet personalities is a little more explicit, a seeming admission by From Software of all the ugliness that arises from building one's personality around a nexus of digital souls and swords. If From are shackled on some level to this medium of expression, the least they have done here is develop some self-awareness and critique. At the game's climax, the Roundtable burns out, telling us more or less everything we need to know about the developer's feelings on the Web Between Worlds that we inhabit and the paths we choose to walk in each realm of spirit. Will this Roundtable fall to the mortal ashes of Leydendell too, or is there potential for All to achieve Magga, the enlightened transcendence of Buddhist teaching?

The natural follow-on from this topic is an exploration of the golden Grace, the "maidenless" concept and its real-world implications, but I feel the paragraph above demonstrates why it's unwise to provoke red phantoms in the hold through discussion of certain topics and experiences. Elden Ring is a game where not every path should be taken, and, as I already said like three times before (lol), the same holds true of a review; I'm not sure I have the experience or incantations necessary to step into that toxic swamp, lest I provoke an invasion. Instead, I choose to focus on the light that casts this darkness: Friendship. The golden light of the summon sign is the natural enemy of the blood-red invader, and Elden Ring makes this relationship more explicit than its predecessors by mandating that human invaders can only go after parties of two or more players - the eternal war between the "git gud" and the "git help" is now more aggressive than ever before. By changing the mechanics of the franchise's online component, From Software have peppered their latest instalment with challenges to the sensibilities of try-hard players that remind me most of Sakurai's implementation of the anti-competitive tripping mechanic in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While I think the omnipotent anger and cultural overpowerment of the "git gud" crowd is perhaps overstated by the fans at large, it's an unfortunate signifier of their ever-presence that after seven of these games I still get second thoughts about asking for help when I need it.

The kindness of strangers is an enduring motif of Elden Ring, a natural tonic to the toxic anger that permeates every environment you journey across. Melina, the thematic emodiment of this kindness, turns your experience and soul memory into strength, a companion who appears to those at risk of stoking personal flames of frenzy as a guide who leads you towards the Erdtree and the Elden Ring. I don't think it's a coincidence that the game gets inordinately tougher to handle by yourself in the wake of her ultimate sacrifice; investments in endgame Rune Levels feel less substantial, less meaningful, than those conversions of experience made while travelling with Melina at RL100 and below. (The Ranni questline, with its literal idolation of a young girl as a peculiar doll the player can contemplate in silence by the fire, dovetails nicely with Melina's death and serves as an interesting pair of endgame decisions the player can take, further compounded by the Roundtable stuff discussed above) The final stretch of the game demands, almost explicitly, that the player look beyond themselves and extend a hand of need to those around them in much the same way one should following a deeply personal loss.

If you did not touch a summon sign or ring a spirit bell or read a fan-wiki after Leyendell, know that I know you are a liar and a punk and you will be judged far more harshly by my council than the guys who spent six hours outside Maliketh trying to bring in a sorcerer called Pigf*cker or whatever other desperate means they chose to undertake in order to realise their ambitions. Everyone needed help to finish Elden Ring; everyone needed help to stave off the Frenzied Flame that the Elden Ring's Golden Order was trying to stoke from within you on your personal path to enlightenment. Fought the Godskin Duo by yourself, did you bro? Well, the Godskin Apostle didn't. He brought in someone to help him. Are you really that stupid? The legend of Let Me Solo Her didn't develop from the tremendous feat of beating Malenia solo - was this noble pothead the first person to ever beat her by himself? Of course not. The legend developed as a veneration of kindness, a manifestation of will and memory and dreams of ambitions, a symbol of those Tarnished who offer their help to those who need it most: Let Me Solo Her is our idealised savior, a breakup bro for the maidenless, a hero who will help you fight your hardest battles and overcome your most painful soul memories. Stay isolated and lost in your past, or find your friends on the path and start living your life.

Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well.

Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really.

How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that.

How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty.

And yet it all seems limitless.

So what of soul memory, the idea I spent so long talking about at the start of this review? Well, that's another thing that's beautiful about Elden Ring - I'm not done playing it yet. Much in the same way I wasn't done playing Dark Souls after I'd put down the pad, Elden Ring has manifested itself in my everyday life and my relationships with the souls and space-time and coffee granules around me. It's difficult to write a conclusive conclusion for an Elden Ring review because it doesn't feel like the game is over yet. I fought the Elden Beast, I saw an ending, I saw the credits, but evidently I can't stop thinking about the game and the ideas and memories and experience it imbued me with. I'm walking on an invisible path in a consecrated snowfield of boundless white, trying to find my noble truth and inner order and greater will by constantly making sense of everything I've seen, heard and felt through, with and in my lives lived, tilting at windmills in the gardens of madness within this life and beyond. You are too. Let's face it together.


The seventh soul is Sekhu. The remains.

Simultaneously more and less legible. I don't want to necessarily say I 'roll' my eyes at postmodern accelerationist philosophical musing but it's like... well I definitely feel something close. It's all very jumbled, intentionally messy and sure there's threads everywhere but the yarn ball being interesting on each strand, to me, is not impactful. More musing ego death, not much more. The concepts are high and abstract but scrutinizing the aspects of it doesn't reveal messages it reveals craft at best. And for what it's worth, it's much better craft, although I think this sort of aesthetic makes me feel a bit insecure when I go "mmm yes very nice postmodernism" but yeah I do think the imagery is great <3 A friend of mine pointed out to me inspirations/clear references she saw so it was a bit more museum-esque in that regard. Definitely can see this being a One To Appreciate for some more entuned to this class of Getting down and dirty with the truths of Fearing Time, but for me it's sort of pouring off the windshield.

me revolvio un toque el estómago, me pareceria bien que le den esto a chicos en la escuela como complemento de las clases de educación sexual porque muestra historias reales que si bien son bastante duras muestran la importancia de defender los derechos que tenemos

The sounds of Flores con Historias end up feeling like an eerie procession, a calm cacophony to horror. The horror of stories left untold and repressed, pierced down and pinned under buckets of pain and intentional misery. And yet despite the timeline in front of me, nothing has changed. In my own country a 50 year tide is threatened to be overturned by a decision that feels progressively powerless to counteract in time. Stories like this are a reminder to fight, for the garden of lively flowers we help live on, hopefully to never see reaped.

Yet still continuously discomforting how the voices of men compound, breaking down so clearly visceral lived experiences like this. "Not nuanced." "Not of sufficient interest". "So clearly explicit and lacking in subtlety." There is not a shred of empathy in those words, there is no understanding of rights and life there is only an impulse to eye roll at stories that do not affect them. Much better to live in detached houses away from the world, letting the violation continue, refuse the memoir for the easier to consume, to play with the world in centrist "high art" but seek nothing of what's real. I am not surprised, but it will forever be continuously torturous. Eventually they will become discarded wastelands, but as of now they make the gripping darkness of these stories more apparent. We have to keep striving to give these flowers light. For a brighter future. Salud.

Been biding my time thinking about my experience with Halo infinite because I sort of just logged hours when I felt like it and I never really shared it with any friends. Mostly because it's like a flurry of fights not just with the expectation this game brings out, but also my lightly nostalgic feelings on the series, and my tumultuous actual time with the series over time. To describe my conclusion now would be 3 steps forward and 2 major falls back.

We made one big step for suffusing the campaign again with a great deal of charm and a flurry of lovely 'moments' that reminds me what this series Can bring as an experience.
We made another step up in that same area by really stressing the word "infinite" in an interesting place, an infinitely recharging grappling hook that somehow perfectly combines halo textbook shooty patooty with freedom to bring to encounters. Especially doing such in a way where it really never got old for me by campaign's end.
And finally another strong step by having a really super competently put together multiplayer. While I mourn what 5 gave me I'm not at all unhappy with this Halo 3-meets-more-arena-fundies.

The first trip-up was in the story. The immeasurably gross moe Cortana-but-not-Cortana that we infantilize in such a fashion that the meme people make about "Dad Games" is somehow more true here than any other actual example. It's so disgustingly misogynistic while also once again slamming Halo 4's sense of letting go. The idea is twisted into a semblance of moving on by neither addressing john's problems and instead just letting him have a girl he can have grieving fatherly control on.
The second was the multiplayer beginning to regress. Besides the fact that it has no real timeline to keep it afloat while lacking in SOOOO much that pretty much every other Halo multiplayer has as a staple, it's already pushing me back into a Halo Reach situation again, removing the tech I actually enjoyed doing with no communication beforehand (Honestly it's just shocking. I was modding waypoint when I got to see Bungie just sack ability tech in favor of making each one stronger on their simplest shit which is how you got modern armor lock. I'm reliving it!). The idea of compromising with long term vets and re-introducing people to Halo of old is now dissipating like the smokescreen it is.

This leads to such a discombobulate frustrating experience. Even if they reverse some of what I've talked about it won't change how Halo has become so trashy in having a coherent vision. For fucks sake

Trying to delve into this is a lot of insecurity because I have two besties where this is an allll time fav for them, which is difficult because I have such kneejerk rejections to this writing and character dialogue. It's a fine definitely amateur charming dating sim/CYOA hybrid wrapped around murder mystery, but progressively everything about it is a major turn-off. The writing is what I kept looping around to, it's just really dry, and generally nonsensical. Not in the sort of "plot hole" but in sort of how tone/attitude/character motivations can really just shift within the given context and things feel vastly more immature versus the conceit's expectation. Emphasis on tone shifts, within a serious conversation discussing a dragon's corpse right in front of you there'll be meme humor drops that, albeit small, add up. It never quite feels like things are ever settling on how a scene is supposed to feel and while some of the unnerving nature of it is intended this makes things feel more detached and constantly wavy when it very clearly doesn't want to intend such sometimes.

The characters are at least ok, definitely take time to get somewhere and a lot of them do not have what I feel is requisite character voice (delivery is too muted for my tastes it's certainly not personable enough). A lot of the story is backloaded and the first route requiring you to get a bad ending before you can really get to anyone's good ending and true ending is enough to really ice this because it's asking for upfront patience I no longer have for something that is, unfortunately, anti-my-shit. Would I say it's bad? Kind of. I certainly don't like it but it's very glaringly obvious the sort of first work it constantly feels like which is why this entire... rant feels a little sour to type. Like I need to vent my thoughts on this because fuck the dichotomy between me and said besties here hurts and I doubt my perception of this work is alone but it definitely doesn't Deserve much scrutiny. It doesn't ask for it. The writing's just kind of mostly whatever! It's not even interesting for being problematic for something!!