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At the heart of Sin & Punishment is an undying dedication to emergence. Over time, the game demands more control over the player’s movement and the ability to aim properly has to adapt in response. It throws enemies, levels, bosses, and plenty of balls of energy at the player that take well advantage of this design. Everything falls into place, culminating to produce an experience like no other.
Naturally, Star Successor is an experience like one other, and it isn't nearly as emergent. But it feels deliberate, acknowledging that an attempt to recreate that beautiful curve of d-pad/joystick action would miss the novelty of it, given most people playing would’ve long since experienced the N64 game. Not to say this sequel brings nothing new to the table, far from it in every fashion. The player is now granted full control over movement in the Y axis, seemingly the next logical step after the point of control the original left off on. Star Successor lets far more loose creatively, coming off as a collection of insane, tightly designed levels, being less concerned with how it’s experienced as a whole. An increase in difficulty was clearly intended though, which is where this iteration’s closer focus on bullet hell comes in. This factor is not a main appeal, which is obvious given how much of it can be dodged through. Like any game with interesting gameplay, it pushes a lot of different scenarios gone about in ways unique from each other. This was present in the original through what I mentioned previously, but the scenarios feel much grander and bolder in the successor, independent of controls. It’s shown best through the bosses, one fight’ll be unhooking train carts across three lanes to impact the tailing enemy, another’ll be shooting at two platforms to move them upward while keeping them balanced to lead the boss into lava. Though that’s a small sample, it should clue you in on the range of crazed situations the game sets up.
To be a sequel is to be compared to what preceded, and Star Successor does its best to iterate on the formula left behind while ironing out some nuisances (timer) of the first game. To be a sequel is also to contrast itself from what preceded, and Star Successor succeeds in this regard as well, offering up plenty more newness mechanically, aesthetically, and in the content itself that makes it quite distinct from the original. Playable on its own, but it’s only enhanced by being aware of what came before. A gem of a successor. A true star of a sequel.
Elden Ring is a grip-testing arcade cabinet, gradually becoming so as a vast sea of content that spikes in its pull away from you to hold on, while remaining utterly static. The first time you play on one of these machines you're presented with what feels like a new experience, and yet the way the game moves along could only lead to frustration.
By these stripped-back ideas these two experiences could be quite similar, but the reason for my frustration with Elden Ring is nothing like one of petty perseverance I would have with a grip-testing game. Elden Ring didn't upset me with an unnecessary abundance of content, reused or reskinned bosses, or the game not fulfilling any preconceived expectations, I was upset realizing its opening to be an elaborate masquerade. A world of several paths you can choose yourself is an idea untapped by Fromsoft since Dark Souls, and while those paths' intertwining nuance was sacrificed, it sounded enticing to have that “go anywhere” approach return for an entry. However, I didn’t think I’d find myself begging for another linear world by my journey’s end. If Sekiro spread itself too thin, Elden Ring’s done it at molecular scale. The open world ruse lends itself well, the overworld appears strikingly different from its contemporaries with a gorgeous mix of starkly colored skies and foliage, yet you walk inside anywhere and you’ve been aesthetically dropped back into a Dark Souls game. Play enough and eventually recognize the overworld doesn’t do the game any favors either.
I can say the first bit of Limgrave felt new to traverse, but the game has nothing else to offer after a point. It’s to an extent where I can also say with certainty you could be dropped at the start in any of the other regions, with level scaling and other progressions adjusted of course, and be similarly enamored. Witness enemied encampments battle it out, hop a gust of wind with Torrent and be taken in by the Erdtree’s gleam, fight a dragon, or take your steed up or down gravestone platforms jutting out of a hillside. These examples are only a fraction of Elden Ring’s attractions and are all present multiple times in multiple regions, with their repeated instances being equally uninteresting as you’re given one way to approach each obstacle. Approach anything whenever you want, but the “why” and “how” were left out to dry. Perhaps it was made to be this way to assure the player can experience them at least once and won’t miss out, but if missing anything was of concern then having an open world at all should be reconsidered. Either way, these once-special encounters are done so frequently that it’s surely chalked up to laziness. Exceptions exist of course, the temple-like levels you can find in the catacombs made them some of the most fun to figure out and were varied enough, despite their copy and paste interior design.
The height of my enjoyment with Elden Ring was in its legacy dungeons, though it mostly had to do with the way you move around these setpieces – Stormveil Castle, Leyndell, and Crumbling Farum Azula being of note. Even so, it’s clear some intricacy in these areas was put to the wayside. It’s unfortunate the reward for making it through them are such dull bosses. In fact, it seems all the worst tropes of Fromsoft’s boss design have sprung to the helm of this title. Even further delayed telegraphing, longer multi-hit attacks, areas of effect where you can only rely on the invincibility frames of the roll, exclusively flat arenas, ridiculous second phases, etc. You'd have a hard time finding a main boss in this game that isn't supplemented with two or more of these traits.
Elden Ring doesn’t want to be anything more than its label, it’s close to nothing. At least I got to be mystified for a few hours before seeing that.