Jedi Fallen Order Part 18: Let’s Team Up and Be Idiots Together!

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 31, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 95 comments

You might remember that last time our hero Cal Kestis had just gotten into a fight with Malicos. Cal didn’t want to join a Jedi cult run by Darth Manson and Malicos didn’t want Cal to not join.

Earlier in this series I praised how gracefully it created an unwinnable fight without running into the obnoxious problem of “Failure is Forbidden until it Becomes Mandatory“. This fight isn’t nearly as successful at doing that.

In a story sense, it makes sense that Cal can’t win this duel. If Jedi powers were academia, then Cal is in middle school and Malicos has a couple of PhDs. It would feel juvenile and fanfiction-ish if Cal went around casually besting Sith Lords and Jedi Masters. This is what made me dislike Galen Starkiller from the Force Unleashed series. He was so ludicrously powerful that he broke the universeIt doesn’t help that he had the personality of a wooden plank with a frowny face painted on it.. As a writer, It’s incredibly dangerous to create a character who is both far more powerful than Luke Skywalker while at the same time being far less interesting. So I’m glad that Cal doesn’t go down that same road by winning this fight. 

On the other hand, this is a video game and you can get good at it. On my second playthrough it was sort of hilarious / annoying to have the fight stop for a cutscene interlude where the writer pretended like Cal was struggling. 

Dissonant Design

Twin sabers vs. dual sabers. Everyone needs a gimmick these days. Dear writers: Lightsabers are ALREADY cool. You don't always need gimmicks.
Twin sabers vs. dual sabers. Everyone needs a gimmick these days. Dear writers: Lightsabers are ALREADY cool. You don't always need gimmicks.

It seems silly, but I think this dissonance is inherent to the design for this game. If Ornstein & Smough kill you twelve times in a row and then you just barely scrape by on attempt #13, then that’s what happens. No cutscenes jump in to make sure you kill Ornstein first so that Smough can deliver a few lines of reaction dialog. You don’t get Smough’s HP bar down to zero to have him escape in a cutscene. You don’t get a mid-battle cutscene where Ornstein summons a mook brigade or jumps into a mecha suit with a fresh HP bar while your character stands around doing nothing. In Dark Souls, the Gameplay is the Story.

EDIT: It has been pointed out in the comments that the Ornstein & Smough fight actually has a mid-fight cutscene. When you kill one of them, the other gets a free heal while your character does nothing.

I have no idea what to say. This goes against everything DS fans have said to me over the years, and it strikes me as a betrayal of one of the foundational elements of the design. I just watched the fight on YouTube and it actually made me angry. I really thought Dark Souls didn’t do this sort of thing.

Weird.

On the other hand, games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted run on movie logic, and your actions are visibly constrained by the machinations of the author. Your foes perish when the story says so, regardless of what buttons you press outside of cutscenes. 

The game designer of Fallen Order has married these two disparate design styles in a shotgun wedding, and this conflict is inescapable. It’s mildly annoying when a cutscene overwrites the events of shallow empowerment gameplay for a little movie that shows what “really” happened. But when a game presents a system where deep mastery is possible and makes the player work for it, then the player is naturally going to resent this intrusion.

Ornstein and Smough. I don't actually know which is which. I get stressed out just thinking about the hitbox on that hammer.
Ornstein and Smough. I don't actually know which is which. I get stressed out just thinking about the hitbox on that hammer.

I don’t know how you can fix this. I’m willing to bet you can’t. Sure, the Shadow of Mordor games have the nemesis system that allows your gameplay to stand. But sooner or later that player-controlled story needs to surrender to the will of the writer so our expensively produced cutscenes can happen. People praise the open-ended interpretation of Dark Souls lore and how the “story” is just your gameplay with a sprinkling of cryptic notes and conversations with half-crazy people to provide some loose semblance of context. That makes the world more interesting to explore and encourages player participation through careful inspection and speculation.

People talk about what a genius design this is, but I wonder if this is less a brilliant idea on the part of the designer and more a case where they took the only road open to them. I strongly suspect this is the only way you can tell a coherent story in the context of a game with such an emphasis on the mechanics. If the story said more, it could only do so at the expense of gameplay. 

MUST. PRESS. MORE. B BUTTON.
MUST. PRESS. MORE. B BUTTON.

In any case, that sort of interpretive story is completely at odds with a Star Wars game. People come to these things for that “Star Wars feel”. I know there’s a tremendous amount of disagreement on what the “feel” of Star Wars even is. We don’t need to beat that dead horse again, but I think the SW feel is inextricably bound to the art and craft of cinemaWhich includes television. These days the difference between the two is down to budget more than anything else.. You can produce fantastic story-lite games using the Star Wars setting, but they’re not going to tickle the sentimental parts of your brain the way that Han Solo saying, “I know” does. A lot of people are looking for another dose of that space magic, and you can’t get it without having vibrant characters with compelling arcs. 

I think this dissonance between the will of the author and the actions of the player is irreconcilable. Given how much Dark Souls is focused on mechanics, and how much Star Wars is focused on story and characters, it’s a miracle this game turned out as well as it did. 

Merrin Saves the Day

This kinda reminds me of Prince of Persia 2008, where sidekick Elika would sometimes teleport in and help you.
This kinda reminds me of Prince of Persia 2008, where sidekick Elika would sometimes teleport in and help you.

Merrin jumps into the fight at a couple of points and saves Cals’ life. In the end, she stops the fight and uses her Force powers / witchcraft to encase Malicos in stone, entombing him in this place where he once ruled her people. 

In a gameplay sense this is annoying because, “Hey! Butt out lady! I don’t need your help. He’s barely touched my health bar.” On the other hand, this is what needs to happen for the purposes of the story. Malicos has killed and subjugated her people, and manipulated her into helping. Cal is just here for a MacGuffin, but Merrin’s grudge against Malicos is enormous and deeply personal. She needs to be the one to conquer him in order to demonstrate that she’s broken free of his influence. If Cal kills him, then Merrin doesn’t get an arcOr her arc makes her a passive damsel. Either way, not great..

The Astrum

You can't have my Shiny Thing!
You can't have my Shiny Thing!

It turns out the Astrum is only a few steps from the platform where Cal fought Malicos. No mazes, no puzzles, no habitrail filled with mooks to chop up. We just walk in and take it. That’s not an incorrect choice, but this is another example of the slightly strange pacing of this game. At the start of the game we had massive hours-long blocks of platforming and puzzling with barely any cutscenes. And now from here to the end of the game, it’s all cutscenes and boss fights. It’s not strictly wrong, but I can’t shake the feeling that maybe some content was cut from the second half of this game. I’ll come back to this idea when we get to the end.

Once again, Cal acts like a proper Jedi. He doesn’t just take the Astrum like he “earned” it. He hands it over to Merrin, acknowledging that it rightfully belongs to her, or her people, or her ancestors, or whatever. I don’t know how property rights work around here, but this gizmo is obviously not his to take. He explains why he needs it and what he’s trying to do.

Merrin listens to his plans, and realizes that the Empire is a threat to her people as well. She grants him the Astrum and decides to join the team.

Nevermind the Mass Murder

Right. Avenge your SISTERS. But not your Brothers. Heh. I mean, who cares about those guys, right?
Right. Avenge your SISTERS. But not your Brothers. Heh. I mean, who cares about those guys, right?

I kind of feel like there’s this huge unexamined problem with Cal’s behavior. Yes, he’s stopped being such a dick, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s killed a lot of people around here. When the nightbrothers dropped him to the bottom of the world, the path back to the surface took him through a village. Sure, the village was populated entirely with shirtless bald guys trying to kill him, but these were presumably people that Merrin knew. We don’t actually see any more nightbrothers once we reach the temple, which creates the uncomfortable implication – intended or not – that Cal effectively genocided her tribe.

If a guy wiped out everyone in my neighborhood, I might feel a little odd about joining his crew, even if he was ultimately somehow fighting for a good cause. Even if we want to argue that the nightbrothers picked this fight and Cal was just innocently defending himself through the heart of their society, this is still an awful look. 

I realize we need mooks for our protagonist to fight, but I think maybe some additional care was needed to avoid having Cal murder hundreds of Merrin’s people on his quest to obtain a small object that he didn’t have a right to in the first place. 

If nothing else, I think it would have helped to make a clear distinction between the nightbrothers and Merrin. Instead of her commanding themWhen you first meet her, she summons a pair of nightbrothers for you to fight, suggesting that she’s in charge of these guys., it would have helped if we discovered they were loyal to Malicos and Merrin was an outcast. Cal would still be a mass murderer, but at least there would be some distance between Merrin and the people Cal had to kill.

Also, Cordova is a massive dick for creating a quest that requires us to steal from indigenous people. #TheJediHaditComing

The More the Merrin

But I totally could have beat him on my own! Just sayin'.
But I totally could have beat him on my own! Just sayin'.

Cal gets back to the ship and introduces Merrin to the crew. I have to say I really love her character. She’s got this slightly creepy mystique mixed with a completely deadpan sense of humor. If this story were in lesser hands, then I think the temptation would have been to slot her into a familiar archetype like plucky sidekick, Flirtatious Bad Girl, disapproving badass ice queen, or fiery tsundere. Instead Merrin is a little off-putting and weird. This suits her background and makes her interesting in a way that (say) Fiery Leia Knockoff #352 wouldn’t. I’m not saying Leia is a bad characterLeia is awesome, although a lot of credit for that goes to the actress rather than the writer. RIP Carrie Fisher, you absolute fucking legend., I’m just saying I like how unique Merrin feels. Not just in Star Wars, but in video games in general. 

Next time we’re going to head back to Bogano and pop open this vault. Hopefully Cordova is done jerking us around.

Also: Happy New Year, you gigantic nerds. Here’s hoping 2021 is better than 2020.

 

Footnotes:

[1] It doesn’t help that he had the personality of a wooden plank with a frowny face painted on it.

[2] Which includes television. These days the difference between the two is down to budget more than anything else.

[3] Or her arc makes her a passive damsel. Either way, not great.

[4] When you first meet her, she summons a pair of nightbrothers for you to fight, suggesting that she’s in charge of these guys.

[5] Leia is awesome, although a lot of credit for that goes to the actress rather than the writer. RIP Carrie Fisher, you absolute fucking legend.



From The Archives:
 

95 thoughts on “Jedi Fallen Order Part 18: Let’s Team Up and Be Idiots Together!

  1. Zgred77 says:

    You don’t get a mid-battlle cutscene where Ornstein summons a mook brigade or jumps into a mecha suit with a fresh HP bar while your character stands around doing nothing

    I mean, kinda? Killing either Ornstein or Smugh first will result in a cutscene in which the survivor is powering himself up – while you character is standing still.

    Also, it’s interesting that you said that

    People talk about what a genius design this is, but I wonder if this is less a brilliant idea on the part of the designer and more a case where they took the only road open to them. I strongly suspect this is the only way you can tell a coherent story in the context of a game with such an emphasis on the mechanics. If the story said more, it could only do so at the expense of gameplay.

    because in Sekiro that’s exactly what happens. The story is much more prominent and guess how the game starts? With an unwinnable boss fight. Which makes sense story-wise, but it’s infuriating for the players if they can beat it. So maybe you’re right about this.

    Happy New Year, folks!

    1. Asdasd says:

      Some of the praise for Dark Souls about the 1:1 match-up of the gameplay being the story has always been overblown, and I say this as a fan. For example, at first the conceit of the hollow seems ingenious in that it elegantly explains the respawning of both player and enemies.

      Except that (for balance purposes?) some particularly difficult enemies don’t respawn. Well, no problem, those are just mortals, rather than hollow, right? Well, no – some of them are definitely hollow. And in fact some seemingly mortal creatures also respawn.

      So you start with ‘wow, the gameplay explains everything!’ and eventually have to make mental concessions of ‘oh, well, except for here, and here, I guess’. The purity of the thing, such as it was, gets chipped away at. It’s still a really good game.

      1. galacticplumber says:

        You can make an argument in those cases that even the undead can go full hollow, and thus become a useless shriveling lump of meat that they didn’t bother to show being useless like the clods hiding under firelink. Less that they’ve stopped existing physically, and more mentally. It’s not great but it’s an argument.

        The twins have a few factors mitigating the trope. For one the cutscene takes literal seconds either path. For two the thing you killed is still dead at the end of it. For three the powerup follows the rules of killing things for power instead of the usual arbitrary boss change. It’s just that something else stole your kill.

        And finally fourth, almost no matter how good you are at the game it’s reasonably credible for one of the twins to drive you off an area for at least a moment to do something. They are big, they are damaging, and if you don’t respect and avoid their attacks they will turn you to paste quite efficiently.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate the game’s limited reliance on cutscenes, particularly compared to other modern games, but no matter how much handwaving people do, or use “land of broken time” or alternate realities as justification, there are going to be some instances where the gameworld conventions would be broken if treated literally.

          And that’s fine. It’s already a good thing that the game is trying to bridge the story and mechanics gap, even if the bridge is a bit shaky and you need to jump over a few missing boards.

          1. galacticplumber says:

            To put it succinctly? The Dark Souls devs UNDERSTAND that it’s a sin, and minimize it to the extent that they’re able. Most don’t.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      in Sekiro that’s exactly what happens. The story is much more prominent and guess how the game starts? With an unwinnable boss fight

      It’s worse than that. The game opens with an extremely difficult boss fight where losing triggers a cutscene where he cuts your hand off, you collapse and he leaves you for dead, but if you’re really good at the game and you actually beat the boss you get… a cutscene where he cuts your hand off, you collapse and he leaves you for dead.

      The weirdest part is that this sort of “supposed to lose but actually you can win” bossfight at the beginning of the game is a common feature of the Dark Souls genre. Normally the fight is against some giant monster that doesn’t have much narrative significance so if you unexpectedly kill it, you get some item as a reward and the game can continue as normal, but Sekiro doesn’t even give you an item, it just steals away the victory that you earned. This is a huge violation of genre conventions, it’s like having a “choices matter” RPG end with a meaningless choice between red, green and blue.

      1. RamblePak64 says:

        The funny thing about all this is that Mega Man X solved this problem by just not giving the guy a health bar and therefore it doesn’t matter how much you damage him, you’ll never win.

        Is it a cheat? Sure, but it’s at least a literal unbeatable boss fight.

        1. Asdasd says:

          Breath of Fire II had an unbeatable boss fight with a character with maximal HP (65535?), but if you reduced it to zero… nothing happened. I don’t know whether there were technical dependencies that required him to have HP, or whether the developers were just attached to the concept.

          1. John says:

            I don’t remember that, but I haven’t played Breath of Fire II in what must be at least fifteen years now. Which boss are you talking about?

            1. Syal says:

              I think it’s the giant cave snake when you’re still a child.

              1. John says:

                Huh. I remember almost nothing of Breath of Fire II from before the time-skip. In my brain, the game doesn’t really start until you’re a teenager fighting harpies on some mountainside.

                1. Syal says:

                  It’s a pretty crazy opening. First you talk to a dragon and wind up in an alternate reality, then you fight a giant cave snake and wind up ten years older in a dead-end job.

                  1. Nimrandir says:

                    This is outrageous enough that I now must take a chance to play this through our Switch Online service. Thanks, I think.

                    1. John says:

                      I mean, everything he said is technically true, but it’s not as wild as it sounds. Also, it’s only a very small portion of the game. If you skipped it, you wouldn’t be missing too much.

                    2. RamblePak64 says:

                      I love how my innocuous comments can sometimes spawn an entire thread of their own.

                      If you do go back through Breath of Fire 2 on the Online Service, I recommend going through Clyde Mandelin’s Legends of Localization review. Perhaps not immediately if you want to avoid spoilers, but it’s a really good breakdown of how tremendously poor that game’s translation was, and how desperately it could use a new one.

                      Sadly, the major players of the day don’t seem too interested in providing new translation efforts of these old RPGs, no matter how in need they are.

              2. Boobah says:

                If that’s what he means, then there’s two unbeatable boss fights in that game; the second one is a solo fight against the tiger man who looks an awful lot like Ryu’s best buddy from the third game.

                Mind, it’s conceivable he has a finite amount of hit points, but I fought him for a few hours with an overleveled Ryu and he took everything I could dish out until I got bored. Or maybe ran out of time; I forget which.

                1. Asdasd says:

                  Actually, now I think about it, there’s three.

                  The Beak at the start of the game, the first fight with the demon in the cave, and Tiga.

          2. Algeh says:

            I remember an unbeatable boss fight in the first Breath of Fire. The enemy used some kind of poison gas that dropped your (temporary) party to really low HP, which was supposed to let him easily “defeat” you so someone from your party could escape and go get the real party to fix it. (Maybe it artificially kept you at really low heath and your only option was to run away? It’s been a few decades. This was during the part of the game when Nina first joins the party.)

            Well, I misinterpreted that as “should have leveled these new guys more along the way rather than heading directly for plot stuff” rather than “narrative fight you’re supposed to lose” and promptly busted out the high-powered “bring your whole party back up to decent HP” item I’d been saving. I then spent an exceedingly long time not denting the enemy’s HP bar while messages kept popping up on the screen about how weak I was even though I was at/near full HP. I eventually concluded I needed to run away even at full HP, and was EXTREMELY GRUMPY about using my only really good healing item to discover that. (This could have easily been fixed by not letting the temporary party use your “real” items, but they needed to let them heal along the way in general and probably didn’t have time/room to implement an entire second inventory for the temp party.)

        2. Chad Miller says:

          The funny thing about all this is that Mega Man X solved this problem by just not giving the guy a health bar and therefore it doesn’t matter how much you damage him, you’ll never win.

          They needed it, too. It turns out you’re not supposed to lose by losing all your health; you’re supposed to lose most of your health, then the boss uses a stun ability, then he gloats at you and the cutscene starts.

          I know this because as a kid I figured out how to dodge that stun attack, walk into the boss and die instead of continuing the plot.

      2. Zgred77 says:

        Exactly, good point. First boss in both Demon’s Soul and Dark Souls is also designed to destroy you, but *technically* you can win. And if you do, you’ll get something special. In Sekiro it’s like “nuh, you still lost”. They could at least give you some kind of reward to not make it so blatantly obvious. I love Sekiro, but, eh, that was a rough start.

    3. MerryWeathers says:

      The first boss is actually winnable and a different cutscene will play that acknowledges it though the outcome will ultimately stay the same.

      I think the frustration of the player works in favor of the story, making them dislike Genichiro in a genuine manner because he won dishonourably and then makes comment where he essentially says he doesn’t care about having a fair fight.

    4. Rho says:

      The weird thing about the O&S fight is that you don’t know if you actually did it even in retrospect : there’s a weird thing where it may have been some kind of super-powered illusion but you can’t reveal this until after the fight. At any rate, it appears that Ornstein definitely wasn’t there. Smough is a “maybe”. Perhaps for once the weird mid-fight cutscene logic makes sense.

      Another quirk: I’m not sure anyone would notice the cutscene being odd if it just happened in the game itself. It would hardly be unprecedented for the other boss to rush over and do their thing at that moment, more or less ignoring all your attacks.

      1. Dalisclock says:

        O+S both drop a Soul and hit very hard, which implies they weren’t illusions(since Boss illusions tend to be very fragile in these games).

        The sequels, OTOH, apparently wanted to retcon the shit out of this because Orenstein ended up being so popular they wanted to keep shoehorning him into the next two games.

        Hell, DS3 decided to have you fight his armor, find his armor in an optional spot after beating an even harder boss, and then fighting in armor again in the DLC because…..Why the hell not, apparently? Fan Service or Timey Whimey balls galore? Pick your poison because it doesn’t matter either way.

  2. Syal says:

    If Cal kills him, then Merrin doesn’t get an arc

    Most videogames are one-man shows; in a one-man show, giving side characters arcs weakens the story, because it comes at the expense of the one character people are interested in. Unless you’re switching to Merrin for the Malicos fight, she shouldn’t be the one to end it.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      I think this is an area where the Uncharted games really get it right.

      Other NPCs have character arcs too, but most of them are really centered around Drake and Drake’s actions. So your friends will help you push things, unlock things for you, toss weapons to you, etc, but you do most of the heavy lifting and the boss fights.

      So when eg Chloe gets a change of heart at the end of Uncharted 2 (spoilers), she helps you get Elena out of harms’ way, but you still have do to most of the fighting and shooting.

    2. Daimbert says:

      I think that in RPG-type games having the main character be at least in part a vehicle for the character arcs of the companion characters, at least. If the characters are interesting, then they will have interesting arcs and the main character can be as interested in it as the players are. Dragon Age and Mass Effect seem to have done that pretty well, and of course the Persona games are entirely BUILT on that idea.

      1. Syal says:

        It works when the player also controls all the party members*. It’s fine if Handmaiden gets a fight against all her sisters, or Barret gets a duel with Dyne, because the player is still doing the work and winning the fight.

        But when Aloy fights a boss to rescue an NPC from a slave camp, and then we get a cutscene about this NPC getting vengeance on the guy Aloy just beat up, it’s completely hollow. The NPC is just a quest marker to me, her character growth is a waste of the player’s time. (The end of Iron Fist Season 1 was Colleen having a duel against her mentor while Iron Fist sat and watched, and I spent it thinking “what made you think I gave a crap about Colleen, writers?”)

        PCs are the characters, and should be dynamic; NPCs are the setting, and should only change in reaction to the PCs.

        (*Still haven’t played Mass Effect or Dragon Age myself, maybe there’s some NPCs that pull it off in them.)

        1. Joe Informatico says:

          Yeah, but in a BioWare-style RPG where you get to decide how your character behaves from scene to scene, writing a consistent arc for that character is extremely difficult. (Dragon Age II tried–NPCs sometimes reacted to you based on your pattern of responses to previous conversations. But I suspect that mostly worked because there were usually only three response options for most dialogues, and because the main plotline was fixed and your actions couldn’t really change it.) It’s really hard to make a changeable PC like that into a dynamic or multi-dimensional character. That’s why it’s your companions who get all the character development.

          (I’m not sure if that’s a consideration in Horizon: Zero Dawn–I know Aloy often has three different response options to dialogue trees, but I never got the sense they really mattered. Maybe it was something they were working on and had to scrap mid-production.)

          But honestly, that’s okay. Pulp and genre fiction are full of heroes who don’t really change from story to story like Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Conan the Barbarian, and if there’s any character development in those stories it’s from the supporting characters. The best pre-Craig Bond films tend to be the ones where the main Bond girl has a personal stake in the plot, even if Bond is mainly there because it’s the current assignment. In video game franchises that end up having multiple sequels, that might even be a better choice. You would avoid a lot more nonsense like each of the last three Tomb Raider games ending with “And now I’m finally Lara Croft, Tomb Raider,” only to be reset at the beginning of the next game.

          1. You actually CAN do a character arc for the player character, and Obsidian/Black Isle have done it (Planescape: Torment being the prime example and basically the tour de force of the concept) but that arc is almost always “the PC starts out clueless and eventually finds out what the heck is actually going on”. KotOR and KotOR II had PC character arcs, also, and arguably Pillars of Eternity as well. Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal also had one. There are examples out there.

            The trouble is that, if you examine all of those games, they involve identical plot structures that involve you chasing a Big Mystery that is sufficiently all-encompassing that it can drag ANY kind of character into it. It’s a structure that gets incredibly tiresome with repetition and is so saturated with cliches now that it’d be a serious challenge for anyone to take that formula and make it fresh and interesting again.

            What generally happens is that the reveal(s) wind up not being worth the buildup and this destroys the game. To tell a story like that and do it well you have to be really inventive and also a MASTER at setting up story elements and paying them off later, because that is YOUR ENTIRE GAME STORY. If it doesn’t work or it’s a little hamfisted or dumb . . . you broke the whole game.

        2. ElementalAlchemist says:

          In Mass Effect, specifically ME2 (also technically a little in ME1 with Liara), this idea turns into more or less the entire party all having daddy issues that are dumped on the player to solve. It pretty much devolves into the sort of thing Shamus was alluding to. The characters don’t really get a proper arc, their arc is Shepard steps in to solve all their problems. On the plus side, this does more or less make 80% of the game about the companion backstories, which is preferable given the excremental main plot about a giant terminator made from humans put in a blender.

  3. Aquarion says:

    One of my pet peeves with this kind of fight is the “You are losing” only triggers by time or the enemy health. It means if you *are* failing the fight, you will die and game-over repeatedly and only be able to fail “properly” when you’re getting _better_

    1. Daimbert says:

      Yeah, that’s stupid. It’s probably a side effect of trying to do the narrative in the fight itself, and so you need to hit the high notes and so have to be good enough to GET there before you can lose “properly”. I prefer how games like Suikoden III handled it, where in general if you’re good enough to win you actually get a different scene, but if you lose at any point like you’re supposed to the same lose scene kicks in and you can continue on.

    2. Joshua says:

      Reminds me of the We Cannot Get Out flashback instance where you play Ori during the final onslaught of the orcs in Moria. It can be a challenging instance (especially if you don’t normally play characters of that build type) where you are fated to die at the end, but you fail unless you die before the very end, even if you die in the correct room before that time. Ironically, if you do play it well enough the game doesn’t force your death, but just has the screen go dark.

    3. Chris says:

      This i found really jarring in call of duty. You need to run through a hail of bullets and if you die you have to redo the part. But then you get to the endpoint and your guy gets killed in a cutscene. Makes the whole ordeal just feel like youre getting the character in the right spot so he can finally die in the right place.
      In these unwinnable fights i think it should be quick and painless. Just have the guy use some super move that oneshots you. No need to meet some arbitrary point where the game tells you you now failed successfully. Even worse is when the boss has a healthbar that barely budges as you hit him, and you feel youre doing something wrong, but it is just that you have to get him to 3/4 hp for the cutscene to play

  4. Thomas says:

    My attempt at a solution would have been to build Merrin into the mechanics of the fight, instead of the cutscenes. Ideally she’d be running around as an NPC hacking at Malicos as well, but if that’s too technologically tricky, then she could regularly ‘disrupt’ the bosses attack patterns from the sidelines with some canned force move, giving you an opportunity to get some hits in.

    You’d balance the fight around Merrin’s involvement, so it doesn’t actually make the game easier. And then the ‘death’ cutscene could involve Cal and Merrin finishing off Malicos together, which would work neatly with her joining up.
    ——————–
    Hearing about the tail end of the game is the first time I’ve had any urge to actually complete it. It’s a shame the beginning was so bland.

    1. Christopher says:

      That would be cool. Zelda came up the last time, and those games usually get Zelda in to shoot some arrows or something in the last fight. It’s nice.

    2. PPX14 says:

      I was expecting something more like that. Maybe instead of the button mashes that seem to mark the stages in the fight, having a QTE button press to call Merrin in, or stagger Malicos for her to do some damage.

      A PoP 2008 style battle would have been great though. Press Y to Merrin attack haha.

  5. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    There are definitely ways around the “win in gameplay, lose in cinematics” bit. Have the bad guy acknowledge that you’re a tougher nut to crack than they thought and pull out some increasingly powerful moves, until they get enraged and pull an undodgeable force lightning attack or something. You still lose (in gameplay) but you know why, you realize that you couldn’t have taken him but that you forced him to pull out the big guns. Maybe have an achievement for it.

    That’s kind of how they did it when you have to survive the waves of enemies in ME2’s Arrival, and it was cool to try to last until the reapers were fed up with you and threw that energy wave, especially since the indoctrinated enemies got more and more upset at how unkillable you were.

    1. Henson says:

      “Impressive. But how will you fare…against my second form?”

      *grows spikes*

    2. Lars says:

      Anotherway would be, if the bad guy attacks a comrade you have to defend. So that you are entirely on defense without the oportunity of offense. In this case Malicus could force magic pin the droid to a wall and throw one of his lightsabers at it. Cal is now without healing source defending the droid and Mal is focusing on one target giving the witch the chance to strike from behind.

  6. Ackirus says:

    EDIT: It has been pointed out in the comments that the Ornstein & Smough fight actually has a mid-fight cutscene. When you kill one of them, the other gets a free heal while your character does nothing. I have no idea what to say. This goes against everything DS fans have said to me over the years, and it strikes me as a betrayal of one of the foundational elements of the design. I just watched the fight on YouTube and it actually made me angry. I really thought Dark Souls didn’t do this sort of thing.

    The secret is that the fight actually becomes easier once you defeat one of the pair, Ornstein and Smough were mainly hard because they were tag teaming you. It feels unfair because you’re panicking from the expectation that the second round will be as hard as the first (while it technically still is, it doesn’t feel as impossible anymore).

    1. Benjamin Hilton says:

      Also is the fact that your really never expected to beat a souls boss fight on the first try, so you’ll know pretty soon that’s how it works. It does sound bad on paper but in practice it’s just phase two, and most of the boss fights phase changes shake things up allot

  7. Smosh says:

    Devil May Cry 5 starts the game off with an “unwinnable” boss fight in the prologue. The boss has a billion HP and hits you with attacks that do a lot of damage, and are very hard to dodge for someone who has just started playing the game.

    But you can beat him. It is possible. At which point the game just goes: “Well done!” and ends.

    If you don’t win here and return to the same boss 10 hours later, you get not only a ton of new abilities, weapons, and basic stats and just skill at the combat mechanics because you’re playing the game, but also a massive temporary cut-scene power up that makes the same boss rather easy – essentially burning through his defensive shield in a few seconds instead of it taking ten minutes of chipping at it.

    I think this is the right way to do it. Make the boss so unfairly hard that only the most veteran players have a chance of beating it, and add a short cutscene about winning if done so, with a direct option to restart at the check point and get beaten as it should be. Then when you need an NPC or power up due to the story to beat him, actually put some power into those powerups.

    (Chrono Trigger also did this.)

    Ornstein and Smough is slightly different: You can kill them in either order, but the surviving one will drain the life force out of the defeated one, and power up for the second phase. It’s not nearly as aggravating. The fact that the scene resets to neutral with the boss away from you is usually a big help, as it’s likely the hammer was already coming your way when you stabbed the last three HP off Ornstein.

    1. Rariow says:

      I’m a big fan of the “well… This is awkward… I guess congrats, you just won the game” approach to intended-to-lose boss fights, but I think it only really works when it’s really early on, so you can just make the player restart the game without wasting much time. There’s games like JFO that overwrite your save constantly in which you can’t reload a previous save halfway through and even if it does it feels really clumsy and weird asking your highly skilled player to pretty please load a save and let the bad guy win. That awkwardness is lessened if it’s the first boss, since it comes across as an acknowledgment of returning players more than anything.

    2. Liessa says:

      Re DMC 5: That is seriously fucking awesome. More games should do this – I love it when you can override the ‘intended’ story beats by being good and/or tenacious enough to win a seemingly impossible fight. I recall having a major ‘mind blown’ moment in the original Deus Ex when I realised that you could save Paul Denton’s life, even though it doesn’t affect the story much after that.

      1. PPX14 says:

        I know, it was a “wait you can WHAT?!” Urgh guess I have to go back and do it :D

        Of course when I learnt that I actually could have killed Anna and stopped her from killing Lebedev like I had attempted as a half joke and then decided was impossible, it was too late to go back. Guess I’ll do it whenever I finally replay it :D

    3. beleester says:

      Tales of Symphonia splits the difference. The boss fight with Kratos is tough but optionally beatable – if you win, you get some XP and items and the cutscene shows you getting the upper hand on him. If you lose, the cutscene shows him about to win, but hesitating before the final blow. Win or lose, Yggdrasil shows up and he’s like “I guess you couldn’t bring yourself to fight him seriously,” before launching into another boss fight. This one really is completely unwinnable – if you’re somehow overleveled/cheating enough to survive for more than a few minutes, he just cutscenes you anyway.

      It works pretty well, IMO – there’s an optional challenge for people who are good at the game and want a challenge, while the unwinnable fight is very clearly unwinnable, and ends on its own before you burn too many items if you didn’t get the hint. The fact that the first fight reflects your efforts means you feel like you got something for your hard work even if it’s negated immediately. And it generally leaves you with a feeling of “The first boss kicked my ass/I barely beat the first guy, and the final boss is even stronger than that?”

  8. Abnaxis says:

    I realize this is “Dark Souls convo #353 that probably contradicts 90% of what’s already been said about the series,” BUT!

    I feel like there is a rift in Souls fandom, between people who enjoy the bosses and people who enjoy the environment/levels leading up to the bosses. I’m definitely in the latter camp, and lot of the reason why I kinda dropped off the Souls games after DS1 is because EVERY boss fight is designed like O&S, with a minimum of 2 stages with a transformation in between because that’s what appeals to the former group.

    When Shamus talks about O&S going against what fans have told him over the years, I’m pretty sure it’s the disaffected grognards like me who think O&S can die in a fire and said “fuck this” after Iudex Gundyr transformed that are coming to mind.

    1. Fizban says:

      Oh absolutely- I hate hearing some streamers talking like it’s a fact/barely acknowledging that it’s just their preference saying “dark souls is just bosses.” No, it’s not. Frikken obviously, unless you’re blind or something. Choosing to run straight past 50% or more of the content like a speedrunner does not mean that’s how the game is meant to be played. Hell, if you’ve played the game enough that you can first-try every boss, the only way the game *isn’t* a speedrun is if you’re “experiencing the world” by killing everything else and picking up all the items. The presence of those items and the quality of the environmental and direct-lore storytelling received while picking them up makes it an experience, rather than the usual rpg “run down every hallway for and extra 50gp and a minor health potion lol” problem- in a lot of those, remembering only the important items and skipping the chaff actually does not seriously impact and likely would improve the experience. In Dark Souls, you’re visiting all the sites of interesting events (and usually people’s deaths), taking a self-guided tour.

      And indeed, they add more and more mid-fight powerups for bosses as the series progresses, some with and some without cutscenes, and by the time you hit DS3 it’s just literally every boss (to the point that it actually reads as another bit of lore, how every boss gets firey and powerful before dying, the same way *you* can if you actually use an ember mid-fight).

      I don’t think it’s disenfranchised people who may have suggested this though- if anyone has said it specifically, they had probably completely forgotten. The souls series boss cutscenes, when they happen, are usually pretty seamless in pacing. Someone who finds the game very immersive and praises it for that, by defnintion was not jarred by said cutscenes. The very first time you see the O/S powerup, if you struggled horribly killing the first one (which you might not with a big weapon and upgrades), then you’d probably go “oh come on!” as you realize that wasn’t everything and you’re gonna need to budget health and fight better for the first part and learn a whole second part. But once you know that’s the fight, the “cutscene” barely even registers. It’s just the game showing you something that they can’t normally do, and as has also been mentioned, the position reset essentially makes it a whole new boss fight without penalizing you for yanking the camera. If anything, the mid-fight “cutscene” is actually the intro for a second back-to-back boss fight, in terms of actual gameplay.

      Hell, I might even be remembering wrong- it could be DS *3* actually has no mid-fight cutscenes and does all its powerups seamlessly, but it still *feels* the same because there are so many little intro cutscenes and past games did have some mid-fight that the lack of them doesn’t even register. And one should also not forget that DS 1 was not exactly high bugdet- it’s a lot easier to do a 5 second cutscene that all the testing required to make a multi-body scene happen anywhere within an arena with obstacles and the player. The later games after the popularity explosion could afford it, DS1 probably not.

      1. Christopher says:

        I think Dark Souls 3 pulled a couple mid-boss cutscenes here and there. Lorian teleports over and whispers in his brother’s ear, and the dead Abyss Watchers all pool their power into one guy. I don’t really mind these either. Possibly you could do both in-game – I think the final bosses of the Ariandel DLC did that. But it’s probably actually faster to just skip them than have that animation happen in real time, lol.

        I can understand the focus on Dark Souls bosses when you compare it to, say, Jedi Fallen order. Guess I could make a mistake here since I’m going off what I’ve read and seen rather than played, but this game has like four lightsaber duels, that giant bat thing, and a ton of bounty hunter minibosses. Dark Souls just delivers on that front, you’re always getting plenty of bosses, where a lot of especially western action games will prioritize differently and might deliver no memorable bosses at all – and only like three in total – where two ends with you losing in a cutscene at the end and the last one ends in a QTE. There’s a lot of bad action/action RPG game design out there.

        Obviously the fans are split on what boss design is best, and I totally agree there’s so much more to the games, but I understand why you’d put a spotlight on something the Souls games deliver that tons of other games just don’t – and that goes for both the 3-phase super action heavy bosses and the more unusual, “unique experience” type bosses. You didn’t get this shit in like Fable, Skyrim or Fallout, I tell ya that much. Kingdoms of Amalur delivered something like two bosses in 40 hours and they were both crappy fights where a big head off a cliff summoned mooks for you to slaughter, and that was the one with the God of War-like, 3rd person melee combat. The new God of War game itself has what, 6 reskins of the troll guy, a cinematic dragon fight and like two other bosses? It’s hard to get your boss fix, man. It’s one of many, many reasons people were so receptive to Souls.

        1. Christopher says:

          Sorry, the new God of War game also had like 7 valkyries or whatever lol

          I’ll grant them it’s more than the original God of War had. I think that was just the Hydra at the start, a Minotaur right before the end and then the final boss.

        2. Fizban says:

          Hmmm. I wonder how much of the stretch of Dark Souls overlapped with when I was playing The Binding of Issac and other roguelikes. ‘Cause Issac is another game with lots of bosses, the bosses being a significant pillar of action roguelikes (though Issac is an outlier itself), and while I can’t disagree that DS has more good boss fights than most games, I didn’t really think of it as super unique. But yeah, not many games will deliver a full dozen interesting boss fights (though still no excuse for brushing off the rest of the game).

          1. Nimrandir says:

            Oh, hi, Shadow of the Colossus.

            On a serious note, I wonder if this is why Monster Hunter World hit so big. Its franchise was doing the ‘big boss fight’ thing before there were Souls games, and its quest structure gets players to those fights faster.

            1. Fizban says:

              I mean, I could have mentioned Shadow of the Colossus, but it’s both ancient, and the complete lack of combat between the boss fights actually makes it harder to claim that there’s nothing important between them. An actually empty huge world you have to find you way through is more conspicuous than one full of trash mobs people take pride in refusing to fight. Good reminder on Monster Hunter though.

              Actually makes me wonder why DS blew up when the others didn’t so much, but these can also be answered with the PC port, PvP, and speedrunning. Colossus is a simple story and MH is a grindfest, but DS has trash mobs to run past to make the speed or challenge run more of a run, and PvP for people to get stuck in. Two extra niche communities plus the original atmospheric+good boss fights one. And DS was fairly early on I think, in the wave of PC ports which MH has since caught up on.

              Of course Shaodow of the Colossus won’t get a PC port because eff you that’s why- a guy at work keeps swearing up and down that the Demons’ Souls remake will, with no evidence I’m aware of, nor do I expect Bloodborne will. Presumably because Sony.

              1. Dalisclock says:

                Sony apparently bankrolled Demons Souls and Bloodborne, thus they have no reason to let it get ported elsewhere(as much as I’d love to see them on PC).

                I was really hoping Demons Souls would get a port since it was a PS3 exclusive and the PS3 is a dead console now, but then it got a remake for the PS5(which ironically might be harder to get now then a PS3 due to demand and scalpers) so that’s not gonna happen anytime soon. The only way to play it on PC is to emulate it.

    2. Benjamin Hilton says:

      I’m going to push up my hipster glasses and say that this is why I like demons souls. I love the environment and base enemy fights and in demons souls original flavor (haven’t played the remaster) every single boss has a way to cheese it that trivializes the fight for those of us who don’t enjoy that part of the game.

  9. baud says:

    typo patrol: there’s a brian instead of brain. Or unless your brian is where you feel your emotions, in which case I’d have to brush up my American English.

    Also Happy new Year Shamus! (and everyone else in the comment section!)

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Haven’t you ever had a brianstorm?
      It’s where you need a load of ideas for something, so you call every Brian you know and ask their opinion.

      It’s also very important to feed you Brian, especially as you get older.

      1. Thomas says:

        I thought brianstorm was where you throw an infinite number of Brians at your opponent in Magic the Gathering

    2. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

      Also “Earlier in this series game I praised how gracefully it created an unwinnable fight”

  10. Corvair says:

    If Cal kills [Malicos], then Merrin doesn’t get an arc.

    I have not played Fallen Order, so maybe the following does not work, but: Would it not be less grating if the roles of Merrin and Cal were reversed, and Cal butted in on her barely holding her own against Malicos? From the outset, you would get the understanding that this is her fight, and that it is Cal who is interfering. It would also allow for the player to dominate the fight as much as he wants to, since he is now the deciding factor, the “tool” to force a decision, and the whole “a junior Jedi hands a Jedi Master his ass” does not even get a chance to play out, since from the second the player enters the fight, it’s one Master against two Younglings/Neophytes/whatever the inexperienced ones are called.

    but they’re not going to tickle the sentimental parts of your brian the way that Han Solo saying, “I know” does.

    Star Wars fandom is fascinating to me, like some of them insisting on Luke remaining central to whatever story is being told. I’m more a distant afficionado that enjoys the universe – the setting is the draw for me: The shriek of a Tie Fighter shooting past, seedy aliens in a cantina, Nar Shadaa’s skyscrapers, or the desert mausoleums of Korriban – that is what gives me the Star Wars vibe.
    Harrison Ford being Harrison Ford in a space cowboy getup is just that for me: An actor acting his way through a plot, in a setting I enjoy. I’m probably in a distinct minority on that, but to me, the characters are much more interchangeable than anything else.

    It’s probably why I enjoy the Old Republic setting more than the Skywalker-verse, and kinda just roll my eyes when I hear about Luke or Asokha showing up in the Mandalorian. Oh great, more stories with the characters whose stories were already told, retold, and then fubared. Yaaay.

    1. Henson says:

      It still surprises me that we haven’t yet seen Nar Shaddaa in live action. (we haven’t, right?) It seems like the perfect “new” Star Wars-y location; spaceships & high rises everywhere, but a seedy atmosphere full of all sorts of crazy aliens.

      1. Thomas says:

        This new wave of Star Wars is the first that seems to be showing signs of influence from the KOTOR games.

        So far most of that integration has been pretty poor (I’m sure the Star Forge was the inspiration for Palpatine’s ass-pull of a fleet. Especially as there’s a rumour they were planning to include statues of the KOTOR Sith Lords in that scene), but if we’re ever going to get Live Action Nar Shaddaa, now is the time.

        1. Benjamin Hilton says:

          Nar shadaa is wayyy older than Kotor

    2. Fizban says:

      When I heard Han Solo saying “I know,” my reaction was “wtf? when did this happen? what even?” It’s a very informed “romance” to me, as in the writers informs us it has happened. Star Wars is a very early example for me of how if there is a female character/friend, all the male characters must desire and fight over her, and she will pick one of them, trope. A trope which is both realistic in some ways and also a terrible way to be teaching people to behave. Maybe there were bits on other scenes I never picked up on, but considering we know the brother plot twist was invented part-way, it only makes it more obvious that the otherwise “strong female character” is being required to fall for a barely reliable asshole. For someone who had previously learned “main character gets the girl,” suddenly being told “actually the girl likes this asshole despite explicitly saying she didn’t but hey main character gets to be her brother,” bit rude.

      I do have to wonder how much of the persecuted nerd culture actually came from people being stuffed in lockers, and how much was informed by pop culture saying it was so and then people acting accordingly. For someone with Star Wars as a major formative moment, taking in “the girl actually prefers this asshole” along with other objectively good lessons like “don’t give in to hate and fear,” seems like it would lead to problems down the line.

      (It would also be some hilarious projection evidence if it turned out I’m misremembering the context of that line, heh).

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        The dissonance is because by the standards of 1970s American cinema, Han Solo is the coolest guy in the room, and the standoffish, detatched, “I’ve got this” cocky persona is part of that. (The fact that he frequently doesn’t have this, and ends up looking like a fool is the film pushing back on this.) His sincere “I know” is already a more heartful confession than most 70s male leads ever had. But today’s society generally considers this personality to be the mark of an asshole who can’t be honest with his own feelings. This helps explain why older Star Wars fans usually rate Han as one of their favourite characters (if not #1) while most younger fans don’t think highly of him at all.

        (I’m not saying one is right and the other wrong–like a lot of generational divides, it is what it is. Younger people have a point that older generations bottling up their feelings or not finding ways to express them constructively is self-destructive and harmful, but those older people didn’t necessarily have a support system for that even if they wanted to.)

        1. Fizban says:

          To be clear- though I give Han shit for being an asshole, it’s actually the abrupt turn around of Leia that’s the problem. Granted, I don’t remember the exact details of the exchange on Hoth, but it’s pretty damn negative, and I don’t recall much of anything happening that should suggest a change between the two people and events. Whether or not the culture allowed for men to properly express their feelings, setting an expectation that women should just like them anyway out of nowhere, even in direct contradiction to previous encounters, is bad.

          Or rather, the greater problem is that multiple generations of people by now have had pop culture as primary guidance for relationship expectations, rather than stable communities of relationships, and thus I have a suspicion that a lot of male so-called nerds/geeks/etc got screwed- by inducting persecution complexes in the transition from childrens’ stories to edgy teen+ stories where the characters they’re self-identifying with are always unpopular and generally shit on (usually in school, but apparently even in space!). Or to be blunt, I realized over the years that I had done so, and being aware that I’m not some unique edge case, that means plenty of other people must have as well.. And Leia’s sudden turn around on Han in Star Wars is that little bit of “actually bad boys are better than you” edge which stands out in a movie many people define themselves by, but otherwise doesn’t fit that mold.

          Yeah, they’re popular specifically because they’re a soft heroes journey spiced up with lasers and wretched hives etc, but that inexplicable “actually Leia likes Han now just accept it” is, if anything, probably the strongest specific take away I think I have from the OT. Second movie, suddenly the boys have to fight over her, third movie she suddenly likes the bad boy. Lessons learned: girls aren’t allowed to just be friends, and even if they say they don’t like someone that person will still take them from you. That’s standard fuel to either cripple someone’s social ability and/or make them a controlling abuser if they do enter a relationship.

          Maybe that comes off as some younger generation complaining, but it’s quite dismaying to think about how the stories and movies and shows and games that were otherwise my/many people’s salvation, also kinda hugely unintentionally fucked us.

          And Shamus mentions that line as one to tug on sentimental emotions, when for me it represents confusion, indeed a hint of betrayal, and quite possibly a more significant source of inferiority/persecution/etc problems than I ever gave it credit for.

          1. The Puzzler says:

            Leia found Han’s personality abrasive, but he got her out of the Death Star, saved Luke from Vader so he could destroy the Death Star, and went out into the snow to save Luke again. He’s a sexy bad-boy with a heart of gold. She was attracted to him from the start, but was only willing to admit it when she saw him about to be frozen in carbonite.

  11. John says:

    I have some issues with the Disgaea series, but I do like how it handles unwinnable boss fights. For one thing, it’s very, very obvious when you’re supposed to lose. The enemy stats always give it away. For another, the unwinnable fights are (mostly?) technically winnable–if you’ve been a good little level-grinding Disgaea player or are in New Game+, that is–and the game will acknowledge your victory. It probably helps that Disgaea is a turn-based tactics series and has no cinematic pretensions whatsoever.

  12. BlueHorus says:

    Take one of Shamus’ ideas from earlier and adapt it. Everytime you attack Malicos, he blocks or dodges or counterattacks…unless Merrin is distracting him. Then it’s made clear that you can’t win alone..through the gameplay.

    I’m sure I’ve seen a game that did that in the past. I mean, it’s really not a revolutionary idea…

  13. Joshua says:

    That picture of O&S looks weird to me (haven’t played the games). It kind of looks like the guy on the right has his right hand on the handle of the hammer, while the bigger left guy also has his right hand on the hammer but choked up. Meanwhile, there’s a spear running through the guy on the right’s leg.

    I’m guessing it’s just an illusion and the guy on the right’s arm is actually hidden and is what is holding the spear?

    1. Fizban says:

      Correct. The prespective and timing of the still has apparently managed to line up their arms- it’s from the pose at the end, they’re completely separate at the beginning.

  14. Christopher says:

    I don’t really think having an NPC beat the boss you just beat in a cutscene afterwards and having a cutscene for a mid-fight boss power-up is very similar. It’s not like smough jumps in and saves ornstein or something. Or afterwards they go “well done chosen undead, we were just testing you” and then Solaire kill steals them for some character arc.

    It’s probably best if you _don’t_ put the protag in a fight you can’t win. If we were fighting Malicos’ pet monster or bodyguard or whatever, we could take that out and feel satisfied – especially if Malicos was kind of a wimpier guy who wouldn’t be worth fighting directly for the protag. Immortan Joe springs to mind. Or Spandam, for a _cool_ weeb example.

    Merrin is cute. Goth GF isn’t super star wars-y, but it’s archetypical and fits pretty well, as does her whole “force witch” thing.

  15. Grimwear says:

    So Dark Souls is weird. I’m very much in the camp that I prefer a straight boos fight without gimmick. There are a fair few gimmick fights but in DS1 O+S are the only ones that have you reduce a health bar, then get a cutscene where a health bar is refilled and you fight another boss right after. I feel DS1 is forgiven because O+S is the only place where this happens.

    DS2 is garbage but rather than cutscenes with more health bars we just get multiple bosses/boss with enemies all together at the same time to swarm you but no interruptions so I guess they don’t count.

    So DS3. This one is tricky. They do have some O+S shenanigans. Abyss Watchers where when you kill him the first time he gets a cutscene and a health bar refill. Sister Freide. Kill her once, get a cutcene, then health bar refills AND a second boss joins. Kill second boss and then no cutscene but you do get another health bar refill and have to kill her a third time. Super scummy. Then you have things like Gael. He only has 1 healthbar but during the whole fight takes so little damage and has so much health that his 3 phases are essentially 3 separate health bars. Someone mentioned Iudex Grundyr above and I personally don’t consider him as one of these garbage bosses solely because he has 1 health bar, no cutscenes, and while he does transform and get a different move set he still takes the same amount of damage as he took previously so there’s no health shenanigans. Ultimately while I do love the Souls games I do have a big problem with how they’ve been approaching bosses in the name of “hardness” rather than enjoyment. DS2 is a waste of time, and DS3 dlc is just as much crap and made to be “hard”.

    1. ChrisANG says:

      It also doesn’t take control from you while Grundyr is transforming, so you can totally smack him around while he’s leaving himself wide open.

  16. Misamoto says:

    On Clone Wars TV series Nightsisters were evil bitches, and no they wouldn’t care about nightbrothers dying. So I was mostly surprised about Merrin being a positive character, I mostly expected her to be a boss fight

  17. John V says:

    A couple lore things with Star Wars help clear up the Nightbrothers. For one, according to how they’re shown in the Clone Wars they’re essentially just slaves to the Nightsisters. Of course, that does cause more issues with Merrin’s character and letting her join the crew, but I digress. Also, the game does actually state that Merrin gave control of the Nightbrothers to Malicos and he indoctrinated them to his cause. I think it might be in one of the lore pickups you can get.

  18. Tizzy says:

    This is when I suddenly got the impression that the game had been rushed out. We go directly from boss fight to McGuffin without any puzzles or other complication. We recruit a new party member for the first time, in a way that feels like the first step in assembling a team. And then that’s it. Sure feels like the initial plan was for a bigger scope. My guess is that movie tie-in considerations got in the way and it needed to ship.

  19. ChrisANG says:

    Doesn’t Merrin make Nightbrothers appear in flashes of green fire? I remember getting the impression that they were ghosts or constructs or something.

    If so, it’s not something the author commits to, especially given that village we, uh, “visit.” But if it’s something they were considering it might explain why Merrin doesn’t care about us killing them all.

  20. Philadelphus says:

    I feel like if the game designers want an unwinnable boss fight, it should be easy to make an actually unwinnable boss fight. Don’t just rely on giving the boss faster attacks or whatever, because there will be players out there who will practice enough to have the super-human reflexes/muscle memory/whatever to beat him. Just have the boss cheat; have Malicos Force-Pull rocks into the back of your head while you’re fighting him or something without—crucially—giving the player any way to defend against this attack (ideally, give him a few different attacks like this, such that if you’re “defending” against one [by, say, fighting with your back to a wall] then he can hit you with another one [stone spikes from the floor!]). It should be obvious that no matter how much you’ve mastered the mechanics of the game, you can’t win because the boss isn’t playing by those same mechanics. Since the player can’t block this damage, you can time out exactly how long the fight will last (at maximum, obviously you could still lose faster to normal damage if you play badly) based on the attack frequency (obviously, the fight should be quite short), and then you can avoid the “well, I took his HP down to zero, but somehow he still won?” problem. Granted I’m no game designer, but this seems like a really simple problem to solve.

    On the topic of Cal’s Jedi-with-the-body-count-of-a-supervillain problem; I recently discovered an amazing playlist on YouTube where a guy is going through all the campaigns in Age of Empires II and playing them as a technical pacifist. It’s amazing how many of the campaigns can be completed without killing anyone (even the Genghis Khan campaign can be completed with only a single, scenario-mandated, killing). It takes the game in an entirely new direction, where you’re worried not about fighting off your enemies, but converting them or running away from them.

    I feel like it’d be interesting to have a Jedi game like this, where you can easily kill people but your focus should be on simply disabling them or evading them entirely wherever possible. Not to say that Jedi are necessarily pacifist or anything, but as Shamus has mentioned it seems…at odds with their stated philosophy that they’d be going around wiping out anything that attacks them without trying to avoid it. Part of this I feel is because enemies in games are usually pretty binary: they’re alive and attacking you, or they’re dead. It’d be neat to have some sort of morale system where you could try to intimidate living enemies into fleeing or surrendering (and then you could also fight droids where that doesn’t work but which you could destroy with less compunction), or even a system where you could “disable” enemies through skillful play without killing them.

    I’m not really sure how to incentivize players not to kill enemies, though (without introducing some sort of heavy-handed morality slider); my thought is that killing them would be easy, almost trivial (lightsabers are incredibly deadly after all), but disabling them without killing them or getting them to flee/surrender would require a bit more skill, making it naturally attractive to players as they get better at the game. Make it something like how Iji did it, where you can cut down enemies with abandon, but you can also play through the game at a higher skill level with just one or two story-mandated killings of bosses, or something like that. Basically, my thought is that players like challenges, so if it’s more challenging to keep enemies alive than to kill them, players will naturally gravitate towards trying to do that as they become better. And hey, if you really want to just go ape on a bunch of mooks, you can do that too.

    1. Syal says:

      you can’t win because the boss isn’t playing by those same mechanics.

      This causes problems when it comes time to have the actual, winnable bossfight; now you’ve got to narratively disable their superpower before the fight starts. If you’re pretending they’re just really strong, then you can just pretend the player got strong enough to fight them fairly later.

      But I do like the actually unwinnable version. Tales of Berseria has the boss take zero damage from everything; Shenmue 2 has the boss auto-dodge everything. Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening has a giant “Survive For 5 Turns” message pop up.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        This causes problems when it comes time to have the actual, winnable bossfight; now you’ve got to narratively disable their superpower before the fight starts.

        From my point of view that’s a benefit rather than a problem, as it gives a clear signal to the player that you can win this fight when you couldn’t before (in case the player’s wondering if it’s another unwinnable fight). Sure, you’d have to handle it carefully, but I think done right it could work well. You could say that’s essentially what Merrin’s doing in this boss fight; because Malicos now has to defend himself from multiple attackers he’s too focused to pull his unblockable damage tricks on you anymore, or whatever. Put in a line or two of dialogue from him and her to explain that to the player, and you know why you can beat him now (if it weren’t obvious very quickly because you’re no longer taking unblockable damage).

        I guess, at heart, this stems from a dislike of being forced to fail in games, so if it does have to happen (I can see the narrative appeal), I’d like it to be telegraphed so that I don’t waste a lot of time on trying to beat an encounter I’m not supposed to win (or worse, beating one after a supreme effort only to immediately have the game treat it as if I just lost).

  21. Joe Informatico says:

    Really, my biggest issue with these big-budget, cutscene heavy third-person action games (I guess what Yahtzee used to call “spectacle fighters”) today is the way they work what are effectively quick-time events into standard game mechanics. There are a few in Fallen Order, but the standout for me was the Gorgara (the giant bat thing) fight. There’s a sequence where you’re free-falling and constantly have to Space Harrier-pilot your fall so you land on Gorgara and trigger a cutscene, and I kept missing and having to do it over and over again. I thought the developers were clearly really invested in this awesome cinematic where Cal freefalls and lands on the monster and stabs it, but because I had to repeat the same sequence a dozen times, it became a farce. And because I had to pay attention to actually trigger the cutscene, I couldn’t even be impressed with how cool the whole thing looked. Why couldn’t they just make the whole sequence a cutscene then? They get the cool-looking cinematic they clearly want without my incompetence mucking up the whole thing.

    1. Tizzy says:

      I could not agree more. The bat sequence, and also on Kashyyyk the bit that turns Cal into a freaking pinball. It’s not particularly enjoyable to be whizzed around like this, and, to make matters worse, you can fail those bounce sequences: even though you barely have any control, you have just enough that you cannot take your hands off the controller. How fun! What were they thinking?

  22. Geebs says:

    I just watched the fight on YouTube and it actually made me angry. I really thought Dark Souls didn’t do this sort of thing.

    I don’t really understand why that’s so bad, and like most Dark Souls players I’ve had my butt kicked by O&S more times than I care to remember. You still have to win the fight in gameplay. It also ties into a risk/reward mechanic, in that it’s a bit trickier to kill Super-Ornstein than Super-Smough, and they drop different things; therefore the player has to figure out who to kill in the first run and who to save for NG+.

    The Souls series also has a history of really good “well….shit” moments in boss fights; which is part of the reason I think the games should be as hard as they are. You can’t really get that feeling if the player doesn’t find what was already an uphill struggle suddenly get even harder. See e.g. Grundyr, Ludwig, or (especially) the Guardian Ape.

    1. Addie says:

      It’s one of the boss-fight highlights of the whole series, for sure, but I think the main thing that makes it difficult is that there’s been very few occasions up until then where you even have to fight two enemies at once, let alone two boss-class enemies with such differing movesets. The main thing that you have to learn in the fight is what kind of dance gives you exploitable opening on one of them without being murdered by the other one; once you’ve learned that, it’s a relatively straightforward fight. They were a brick wall the first time I played through – I’ve had later runs where I’ve defeated them on the first attempt. (Not counting magic builds, where I think I’ve always defeated them on first attempt – magic is not well-balanced in DS1.)

      The choice of drops (two sets of armour beneficial for fashion only; the chance to forge a somewhat indifferent spear and a hammer that’s not going be useful in NG; and the option of a ring that I’ve always found a bit too situational to be worthwhile) aren’t nearly so good as the rush that comes from finally beating those scoundrels.

  23. Dreadjaws says:

    Ornstein and Smough. I don’t actually know which is which.

    While it’s impossible to know which is which based on their names, watching that video you can instantly tell which is which the moment you read their names as the game states them in their health bar: Dragon Slayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough. I think it’s good character design.

    Happy new year, everyone.

    1. Addie says:

      Also; in Japanese, Smough’s name is written with the same characters used to write ‘sumo’, which matches his (apparent) build.

  24. RFS-81 says:

    I can’t close the footnote textboxes on mobile (both in Firefox and Safari on iPhone). Don’t know if that’s due to some bug on the website or because mobile browsers suck, or both.

    1. Pink says:

      Seems to be working fine in Brave on android.

    2. Chad Miller says:

      I’ve always had this problem on iOS also. You can get rid of it by either clicking a different footnote or clicking an image in the article.

  25. Mersadeon says:

    Also, Cordova is a massive dick for creating a quest that requires us to steal from indigenous people. #TheJediHaditComing

    okay, so I’ll hope that this isn’t controversial enough to count as running afoul of the no politics taboo here, but here’s one thing I really liked about The Mandalorian:

    Tusken, who previously have only sort of been potrayed as vaguely arab stereotypes, are now much closer to Native Americans (fitting with the Western theme Mandalorian has) and in the series, it’s ALWAYS the right idea to respect them, understand their culture and cooperate with them. There is something to be said about the stereotypes employed there in the way that they’re not exactly perfect, but I felt it was pretty refreshing to actually see Tusken not just be brainless mooks that get mowed down by the dozen like in some of the video games (looking at you, Jedi Academy: “Tusken stole a droid so it’s okay to murder 50 of them and then plunder the droid from dead Jawas”).

  26. Decius says:

    An interesting recontextualization I had recently was that since Jedi are all precognitive, lightsaber duels occur almost entirely in a chess-like space of competitively predicting the outcome of the duel and predicting how the other parties would act. Obi-Wan giving up and turning his lightsaber off on the Death Star was a dignified act, like a chess grandmaster resigning a match..

    In that ontology, the events of Fallen Order take place almost entirely during the meditation, where the Player Character uses superior precognition to look at possible futures, and discard the possible futures where he dies, but accepting possible futures where he unavoidably walks into traps or falls for tricks that are set up by people competing with him in the precognition contest. Thus, when the Player Character would ‘die’, it’s really just them deciding to change their intended actions when they stop meditating.

    During lightsaber-on-lightsaber battles, apparent “grazes” or “flesh wounds” aren’t really the lightsaber delivering a non-fatal blow; they represent the party whose health bar decreases becoming a little more exhausted by expending midichlorian energy changing their plan and continuing to fight in the precognitive state. Only in conflicts where at least one of the opponents is not precognitive enough to participate fully, or where they have precommitted to fight even if they lose, does any laser sword fighting actually happen.

  27. PPX14 says:

    Hey I’ve almost caught up to present day! I couldn’t follow this when I wanted to because I’d not played it yet, but now I’ve finished it and have been reading through.

    Interesting assessment of Merrin – I actually found her character too cliché to take seriously. Standard stoic straightforward EasternEuropean sounding woman. Eastern European sounding Witch. It took me out of the Star Wars theme somewhat and seemed like she belonged in a different story or universe.

  28. PPX14 says:

    Given that this and other games are happy to break immersion with repeated in-game tooltips advising me that BD-1 can help me with puzzles or that blast-doors have apparently been locked from the other side, I think a game like this might as well just tell us outright if a boss fight is unwinnable – if you spend over 5 minutes on it without dying and ignoring the “you cannot beat me!” taunts then it could just flash up on screen with “Cal cannot beat this enemy at his current level” or something similar – maybe Cal could say it or BD-1 or a side character. In the same way that it might say “Cal does not have this power yet” if I tried to use a power I don’t have yet to get to a currently inaccesible area. It’s hardly an Immersive Sim so wouldn’t be particularly jarring.

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