Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late To The Game: Bloodborne—Fear The Old Blood…Borne

Bloodborne is the From Software game that put the “borne” in Soulsborne. It was released in 2015 to massive critical acclaim (and the sound of every gamer in the world screaming obscenities at their televisions).

I did not play Bloodborne when it was first released… 

Actually, until recently I’d never played any From Software game. Everyone was always going on and on and on about how hard they were and how many controllers had been laid to rest as a result. So, naturally I avoided them like the plague.

Then, in early 2018, Bloodborne was one of the free Playstation games of the month, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I barely played it for a couple of hours before turning it off. I can only die to regular mobs so many times before I understand my limitations. Also, I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment…

…or I wasn’t, until I played a little game called Hollow Knight. It wasn’t From Software, but that little gem taught me what it was to hone your skills through many deaths and the feel of victory over what seemed insurmountable odds. 

Cut to a couple of weeks ago, and my dad called me and says “Hey, have you played Bloodborne.” To which I said “Yeah, for like an hour and then I shut it off.” 

Well, he’d been playing it recently and he convinced me to give it a try. 

Now that I’ve finally managed to beat it, let me give some perspective to some others who might have been a little gun shy simply because of its reputation or it’s pedigree. 

Not For Everyone

I’m going to start my review with a big old truth-bomb. This game is not for everyone. There are multiple reasons for this. 

The first would be, surprisingly, the genre and setting. You see Bloodborne is… well it’s gross, scary, unsettling, and did I say gross? Well it’s gross. I could use words like atmospheric and whatnot—which it is—but overall it’s a very stressful game because of how tension-inducing it is. People averse to body horror or jump scares should probably stay away. 

Then there is, unsurprisingly, the game’s crippling difficulty. It’s a hard game. There is no getting around that. The first mandatory boss you run into will eviscerate you more times than you can count, especially if you’ve never played a Soulsborne game before. 

This can be more than discouraging. It’s where the term “git good” comes from. While a bit derogatory, it sums up the series pretty well. You will either come to understand the game’s mechanics and acclimate accordingly, or you won’t. 

There is no shame in turning it off & walking away before THIS happens.

I, myself, was defeated by pretty much every boss several times. Every time a new boss would stomp me into the ground before I could even blink, I would immediately get melodramatic and think to myself “I’ll never beat this boss” or “I’m going to be stuck here forever,” but a few tries later I would start to understand what it took to survive. 

Finally, I will cite the game’s lack of hand-holding as a barrier for entry. 

Did I say lack of hand-holding? I meant to cite the Spartan way it kicks you out into the shit and smiles and waves as a werewolf rips out your intestines. 

Sure, there are notes you can read in the Hunter’s Dream, but there are things I’m still learning about this game after having beaten it that would have made my playthrough easier.

The Unseen Story

The story of Bloodborne is largely unimportant to the gameplay. So much so that you could play through the entire game and realize that you have no clue what the hell just happened. I’m still trying to piece it together, though thanks to some well-made Youtube videos, I’ve gotten the gist of it. 

Basically what I’m saying is that if you are looking for a narrative-driven game, look elsewhere. However, if you like to earn your story, this is definitely the game for you.

To fully understand the scope of Bloodborne’s story, you’ll need to read every item description, find every message, fight every boss, and fully explore every area (including the completely optional chalice dungeons). Even then, you may find yourself turning to the internet to fill in the blanks. 

TMW you don’t understand the first YouTube video you find…

I will say that locating the story is totally worth it. Bloodborne is basically one of the most epic Lovecraftian stories ever told. 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know that if all you did was hack your way through the game without taking a look around. Then, the game feels like a bunch of unrelated cutscenes held together by little more than monster guts. 

Weapon of Choice

One of my favorite features of the game is the way they handled weapons. 

You can use any weapon you want, and it’s a legitimate choice. Did you like one of the starting weapons? Well then, keep it. 

Every weapon is upgradable to the same degree. Your +5 Hunter’s Axe that you’ve had since the beginning is just as viable as a +5 Blade of Mercy. It all depends on how you want to play. 

I, myself, was a Blade of Mercy wielder. I liked how fast they struck, and how their damage scaled with the skill stat. Sure, they didn’t hit nearly as hard as other weapons, but once you started a combo, most enemies were dead by the end and had little opportunity to defend themselves from the chainsaw I had become.

The other nice thing about the weapons in Bloodborne is that each and every one has two distinct modes. Simply press L1 and your saw could become an ax, or your short sword could be pulled into two smaller daggers. This gives you a ton of flexibility in a fight, especially since you can carry two melee weapons at a time (giving you four styles to choose from).

Me, with my chosen weapons in hand

If that wasn’t enough for you, then you can also use L1 in the middle of an attack to change the weapon’s form and attack in the same motion. This allows for some interesting combos, and makes it so that you can deal damage without having to slow down your assault.

Obtuse By Orders of Magnitude

One of my least favorite things about Bloodborne was how hard it was to figure anything out. There are a lot of things that the players of this game just take for granted these days, since basically everything can be found online pretty easily. 

I’ll be honest and say that this was the first game in a long time that had me looking up things almost constantly. 

Of course, I’d see a video of someone with an amazing looking weapon and go “How do I get that?”

Well it turns out you had to talk to someone that you didn’t know you could talk to, then get an item that’s so hidden that you have to basically break the game to get to it, then you have to talk to another person at a very specific time, and finally you have to have already done something you didn’t do, so you can’t get it this playthrough. 

I made some of that up… but it’s not far from the mark. Most things in this game felt willfully obtuse, and I applaud the original gamers who found these things out and then shared them with the world. 

I mean, there’s something wrong with those guys, but I thank them anyway.

Tips For New Hunters

I’m just going to list some things I wish I’d known starting out.

  • The more insight you have the harder the game becomes
  • If you do a charged R2 attack directly behind an enemy, you can stagger them and use a visceral attack 
  • If you shoot someone as they are attacking, you can stagger them and do a visceral attack
  • Fire works exceptionally well against beast type enemies 
  • Your weapons degrade over time, but are very cheap to repair
  • Dodging away from an enemy is likely to get you killed. Dodge to the side or forward past them 
  • You can fall quite far without taking fatal amounts of damage
  • Guns do more damage to dogs

There are plenty of other things, but these were the ones that really would have helped. 

The Beckoning Bell

Overall, Bloodborne is a very solid game, albeit hidden behind an exclusionary difficulty wall that many may not be able to overcome. The combat is fluid, once you understand how it works, and is insanely hard but actually pretty fair most of the time… 

…Some of the time. 

The story is amazing, if you can find it, and the atmosphere is relentless to the point that ir starts to get into your head. In other words, it’s a From Software game.

I’m giving Bloodborne a belated 8.5/10. While it’s not my favorite Soulsborne game, it was an experience that will be hard to forget. So if you were on the fence about it, I recommend giving it a try if you have the time and don’t mind dying to the first boss an inordinate number of times. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go play something bright and colorful to get the sound of squelching blood out of my brain.  

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Far Cry 5 – Keeping the Faith

Far Cry 5 is an open-world first-person-shooter from developer Ubisoft. It follows the franchise’s long and storied history of dropping a protagonist into a remote—and usually inescapable—region of the world where roughly 95% of the population wants them dead.

Except the main villain, who needs you alive for monologue purposes

The series has seen great success over the years, but really took off after the third installment, when it began introducing its insane, yet oddly compelling, villains. I, myself, thoroughly enjoyed both 3 and 4, as well as their sister games, Blood Dragon and Primal.

5, however, I did not buy right away. At the time, I couldn’t justify the expenditure, and just when I was contemplating the purchase, the announcement for Far Cry: New Dawn came out, in which I learned the ending of 5. This put me off the idea of playing the fifth installment altogether. 

Well, now, a little over three years later, I’ve taken the leap and given this title a try. So, if anyone else passed on Far Cry 5 for the same reason I did, or if they were just not feeling a Ubisoft open-world —because, let’s face it, those can be overwhelming at times— I’ll let you know if it was worth it or not. 

All That Remained Was Hope

Far Cry 2 took place in darkest Africa, 3 on the Rook Islands—which were somewhat comparable to Indonesia—and 4 in Kyrat, a fictional country nestled in the Himalayas.

Far Cry 5 hits a little closer to home (for some of us) than the previous installments. Instead of dense jungles, tropical islands, or arid mountains, 5 offers you a glimpse of the Big Sky State and takes place in the fictional Hope County, Montana.

At first, I was a little skeptical of the location, given that the locals of Far Cry are usually completely cut off from the rest of the world. 

Well, worry not. 5 continued the tradition. 

You see, Hope County is completely surrounded by mountains, and the main antagonists of the game have cut off all roads and communications out of the county, making this little slice of Americana one of the more interesting locations in which to Far Cry.

We’re not counting the in-between games.

I do have to admit that this was bizarre compared with… well, most other open worlds.

Most open-worlds take place in a fantastical location, or at least a place very far removed from anywhere I’ve ever been. So, being dropped into Montana and told to go on what can only be described as a killing spree of biblical proportions was off-putting, to say the least.

That being said, it was a magnificently crafted world, and if we were judging by that alone, this game would take top billing. 

Do Not Drink the Punch

The main villain of Far Cry 5 is Joseph Seed. He‘s the fanatical leader of The Project at Eden’s Gate, which is a cult that believes that the end of days is approaching. 

You know, THESE guys.

While not as mental as Vaas or as charismatic as Pagan Min, Joseph’s brand of evangelical zealotry is intense. When you add in his “Family”—Jacob, John, and Faith—they round out to be a pretty great rogue’s gallery.

Each of Joseph’s “children” offers a different dime-store version of a religious cult. Jacob is basically a militia leader (and not like an actual militia, but the kind that builds compounds and often threatens to kill elected officials). John is the kind of cult leader that believes in self-actualization and “the power of yes”. And Faith is more of the hippy-dippy “love, acceptance, and copious amounts of drugs” cult leader.

You play as a deputy tasked with arresting Joseph and bringing him to justice. The only problem is that he has a seemingly-endless amount of followers who are completely devoted to him. So, when you do try and arrest him, he takes it as a sign that the end is nigh — because, let’s face it, it was for him — and begins enacting his vision for the future. 

This “vision” is basically to steal every resource in the whole of Hope County and then kidnap and convert everyone in their way. Of course, if being forced into a religion isn’t your thing, they are more than happy to send you away in a pine box. 

This, for me, was one of the best versions of Far Cry I’ve seen. Usually, the villain is already in power and you are trying to depose them. In this one, Joseph is trying to take over the county, and you and your ragtag resistance (mainly composed of doomsday preppers and good ‘ol townsfolk) are trying to make sure he doesn’t succeed.

A Wingsuit and a Prayer

The gameplay in Far Cry 5 is phenomenal, but gameplay for Far Cry has always kind of been phenomenal. So does it mean that it’s still good if it’s always good? 

Yes. The answer is yes.

Everything feels right in this game. The movements are smooth, even when driving or operating the wingsuit. The gunplay is great and somehow feels closer to reality than I would have liked at times. The only real problem I encountered with the actual play-action is that after playing so much Apex Legends, where the slide is so vitally important, the slow and stubby slide in Far Cry 5 felt like a joke.

I would also like to take a moment to point out how many great characters are in this game. It seems like almost everyone you run into is somehow a main character. Whether it’s Pastor Jerome tending to his flock with a pump action shotgun, or Skylar Kohrs—a woman so into fishing she’s willing to fist fight an armed cult just to catch a fish—no one is lacking in personality. 

Did I mention that one of your teammates is a bear named Cheeseburger?

My only real gripe with the game (other than being kidnapped every 5 seconds) is that I never really felt like I was exploring Hope County. There were places to go, but they were mostly places to receive missions or places to complete missions. Even when I got to those locations, I never really felt the impetus to take a look around.

I never even had to walk anywhere, because I took the parachute, wingsuit, and airdrop perks early.

The airdrop lets you do just that: choose a location and drop down. In conjunction with the wingsuit and parachute, this essentially means you never have to walk or drive anywhere. You simply airdrop to a nearby location and glide to your mission objective. If you can’t make it in one drop, you can do it in two or three.

I know I didn’t have to airdrop everywhere, but I could,  and it seriously hampered my ability to appreciate the beauty of Hope County. 

The Collapse

Overall, Far Cry 5 is a pretty great game. It has a ton of personality, the gameplay is amazing, and the characters are interesting. While the overall plot is a little stunted, it’s still beautifully realized. There are some weird narrative choices — again, you get kidnapped way too often for an action hero protagonist — and sometimes the A.I. pathing would kill my allies at inopportune moments, but these things never stopped me from enjoying my playthrough. 

What did that was knowing how the game ended before it began.

I’m giving Far Cry 5 an objective 8.5/10, but a very subjective 7/10, so, do with that what you will. 

I’m also currently playing through Far Cry: New Dawn, so…

…aaaaaand I’m being abducted again. I’ll be back with that review after an intense villain monologue where the bad guy totally could kill me, but arbitrarily will not.

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game – Ashen: A Light in the Darkness

Ashen is an action-RPG / Soulsborne game from New Zealand developer A44, and published by Annapurna Interactive. It was released back in 2018 to what I would consider a moderate amount of critical acclaim.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really the biggest fan of the Soulsborne genre.

I wonder why?

Though I do play Soulsborne games occasionally, I’ve never played Demon’s Soul, or any of the Dark Souls games (I know, them’s fighting words).

The crushing difficulty of most Soulsborne games can be somewhat— read: insanely — exclusionary. I like a good challenge, but at the end of the day, fighting the same boss seventy-five times is just not something I find inherently entertaining.

Don’t get me wrong, Hollow Knight is one of my all time favorite games, but I love it because I love the art and the story, not because I had to fight Hornet 85,000 times.

Ashen was enough like Hollow Knight to pique my interest.

I know I’m late to the game by about… two years; give or take a few months… but I decided to buy Ashen after I recently stumbled upon the trailer. It had such an intriguing atmosphere about it that I felt compelled to give it a try. 

Now that I’ve finally managed to finish it — without breaking my controller — I can give you a rundown on the best, and worst, parts of this charmingly infuriating game. 

Let There Be Light

The story of Ashen is subtle and yet it permeates every aspect of the game. 

It starts with a creation myth. An Ashen (a bird) brought light into the world and perched upon Yggdrasil (the world tree) for a millennia. When its end drew near, it released its final breaths and its light began to fade. In this dying light the three great ages began.

Gives the term “bird breath” a whole new meaning!

You take control of your character just as a new Ashen is born and light has once more returned to the world. You are then charged with finding and protecting the new Ashen from the Elder Dark, beings who would destroy the fledgling beast and have darkness reign for eternity.

Not only do I love creation myths, but I also enjoy the fact that the whole game feels true to this mythology. The further you get from the place of the ashen’s birth, the less light there is, and the closer, the brighter and more alive things feel.

I also liked that your quest is to save this new light. I feel like other games would have had you groping through the dark to find the Ashen’s egg and start the new age, but Ashen chose to have your journey begin along with the new age. 

It’s a little thing, but it made me smile from time to time. 

An Ashen Darkley

My absolute favorite part of Ashen was it’s aesthetic. The characters look like moving Willow Tree figurines.

So, both terrifying and beautiful

The same can be said for the environment. The style is simplistic, but there is enough added detail that it never feels devoid of personality. It’s actually the exact opposite. Even the bleakest areas of the game are rife with atmosphere.

This is most true in the dark, twisting corridors of the game’s many caves and caverns, where the only light source is your trusty lantern.  While it can be incredibly unnerving to traverse these areas, I also found myself in awe of how the lighting and design worked so well together. It didn’t matter that I jumped out of my skin every time a shadow shrieked from the abyss and clawed my eyes out; I wanted to explore more.

In fact, one of my biggest complaints about Ashen is that it was too short. I wanted to see more of it’s world, and I was sad when it was over.

A Friend In Need

One of Ashen’s best/worst features is the AI companion who accompanies you on all your quests. This is especially nice given the game’s crushing difficulty. 

Basically, whenever you get a quest from an NPC, they will accompany you on said quest. This is fantastic in a lot of ways. It gives you some extra damage and a person to hold your enemies’ attention so you can mete out attacks with impunity. Your companion will even carry a lantern in dark areas, giving you the opportunity to use a two handed weapon or a shield if you want to.

Now, the AI companion is decidedly not the greatest in all situations. When you fall in battle, they have the option to try and revive you. It is an exquisite kind of hell to watch your AI buddy try and figure out what they should do. Sometimes, they try to revive you while a horde of enemies is right on top of them, and other times they refuse to save you even if they have all the time in the world. 

It’s like this.

Sometimes, they do get their shit together and manage to pick you back up, but this rarely seemed to happen, especially later in the game. 

The AI in my game also had a terrible habit that left me screaming obscenities into the void more often than I care to remember. On more than one occasion, they would simply jump to their deaths for seemingly no reason. I would make a simple jump to a nearby platform, and my companion would gear up to make the jump… and simply fall off the map, leaving me stranded at the bottom of a dungeon with no backup.

A Friend Indeed

There is another option for companionship, in case you’re not into the whole AI-buddy system. You can leave your game open, and another player will drop into your game in place of the AI. 

I, however, did not have the best experience with this system, to say the least. 

I only tried it twice. My first buddy was amazing. They signaled their intent and direction, they stayed nearby, and we fought everything together, making light work of some tough enemies, or enemy encounters.

Immediately after they logged off, I was saddled with someone who had no respect for cooperation. They immediately bolted through swathes of enemies, fighting exactly none of them. Before I even realized what was going on, I suddenly had a gang of creatures who were on their way back to their previous positions chasing me all at once. 

It did not end well.

I immediately locked the multiplayer feature and decided that the somewhat suicidal AI was better than randomly grouping with someone who had no intention of working together. 

It Takes a Village

There were a couple of things in Ashen that were a pleasant surprise simply based on what I had seen in the trailer. 

The first surprise is that the game is fully voiced. Given its minimalistic appearance and overall austerity, I was expecting a silent game — something along the lines of Journey or Abzu. Instead, everyone has a voice, even the random traders you meet in the depths of the world.

At first I didn’t know what to make of the voices. I felt a little like Ashen had betrayed my expectations. But about an hour in, I realized how crazy that was and found an appreciation for the voice acting. 

The second surprise was how the starting area changes over the course of the game. What starts as a vagrant camp that you clear of enemies so that you can save for the first time slowly turns into a village as you progress. I barely noticed at first, but eventually the ragtag assortment of tents becomes a thriving little community.

Seriously. It came out of nowhere.

I’m not sure why, but seeing the town’s progress every time I returned to upgrade my equipment quickly became one of the highlights of my playthrough. 

The End of The Tunnel 

Overall, Ashen is an engaging game that often made me want to smash my controller. It was hauntingly beautiful and bleak in the best possible ways. Could the companion AI use some work? Yes. But having them with me throughout the game gave me a small amount of comfort when I was lost in the bowels of darkness.

Though it could have been longer, it did well not to overstay its welcome.

I’m giving Ashen a glimmering 8.5/10 for both being exactly what it needed to be, and for being more than I expected. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to what I was doing before: shouting obscenities into the pit that my AI companion fell into. I know it won’t bring them back, but it makes me feel better. 

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Katana Zero–Fast Frenetic Fun

Katana Zero is a 2D action platformer game that came out in April of 2019. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I missed this title when it first dropped. I did see something about it near the beginning of 2020, but I figured I would get to it eventually.

I said “eventually.”

Sometimes, when I get to a game that has been out for a number of years, I can find it underwhelming. This is especially true if someone has taken the formula of the original game and improved upon it, or created something entirely new with the same premise. While I will say that it is unfortunate that I waited so long to play Katana Zero, I will also say that it has in no way diminished this game in my eyes.

So, for the gamers who sometimes don’t have the cash to buy a game when it first comes out, who are inundated with other games to play, or have too many responsibilities, I’ve taken the time to see if this game is worth your time and money two years later. 

Live / Die / Repeat

Katana Zero takes place in a Cyberpunk Neo-Noir future. You play as Subject Zero, a katana-wielding amnesiac who works as an assassin for a mysterious organization. 

Zero has two abilities that make him uniquely suited to be an assassin. 

The first is time dilation. He can slow down time, allowing him a level of speed and accuracy that far exceeds that of a normal human. This is used to slow down the frenetic action sequences and give yourself some time to breathe as you figure out how to deal with the onslaught of bullets.

Just call me Neo

While this ability is helpful, it runs out quickly and takes some time to replenish. I often found myself opting not to use it until it became absolutely necessary to do so. 

The second ability is precognition. You see, death comes swiftly in Katana Zero. One hit, and you die. That’s it. Precognition allows Zero to see the results of any action he takes before he takes it. This essentially means that he can see all possible outcomes to any given situation. When you are playing the game, you are simply playing out those possibilities until you find one that allows you to succeed.

When you do finally complete an area without dying, you are shown security footage of your perfect run. The best part about this is that it does the run at full speed, leaving out any time dilation and making you look like a complete badass. 

A Marriage of Form and Function

What is, hands down, my favorite aspect of Katana Zero is how the gameplay mechanics affect the story, and vice versa. 

Zero’s time dilation and precognition are used to facilitate the storytelling. Sometimes you’ll be in the middle of a mission and it might cut back to an earlier point in the game to show you that Zero essentially lives in a reality unstuck from time itself. You can never truly tell where or when he is in the story because of this. 

How Zero must feel, like, ALL the time

The precognition also lends itself to some very well-done scenes. These include scenes where you play with dialog and death, and others where your security footage playbacks are used to interesting effect. If I went into any more detail it would likely spoil the fun, but needless to say I was very impressed with the way the story used Zero’s abilities. 

The cherry on the top of everything is that Katana Zero is an absolute joy to play. The controls are responsive and tight, and the gameplay is fluid and easy to learn. There is a level of skill involved, as later sections of the game require pinpoint accuracy and impeccable timing, so that’s something to be aware of before purchasing the game.

Though sometimes dying is half the fun.

I will say that there are a couple of levels where you need to use a stealth mechanic that is, unfortunately, not as fun as bandying about cutting people down with your sword. These sections weren’t exactly bad, but I felt that they broke up the action in a weird way. 

What’s There to Talk About? 

Another aspect of the game that I found truly interesting was the way dialog was presented.

You don’t just get one or two dialog options per interaction. Instead, you start off with one off-the-cuff answer that usually derails whatever the other person was going to say.

Baba Booey Baba Booey Baba Booey

If you wait long enough, however, you’ll open up some other options that might yield more information… and they probably won’t piss off the person who’s talking quite as much.

While most of the dialog options never really lead to any big changes within the game, it was a nice way to spice things up when you weren’t running around killing everything that moves. 

Disjointed

While I have already mentioned a couple of times that I really like how the story is told, I also enjoyed the story itself. It may not be the greatest story ever, but it hits some highs–and lows–that I found pretty impactful.

It reminds me of films like The Man From Nowhere or Safe. Basically, a guy with an unknown, yet violent, past kills his ways through an army of faceless bad guys.

Like So.

The only real difference between those movies and this game is that in the movies, the guy is protecting a small child, whereas the game merely has Zero hanging out with one from time to time. 

I also enjoyed that the game wasn’t told in a strictly linear way. There are dream sequences that might be flashbacks, flashbacks that might be inaccurate, and even some future flashes. While it can be confusing, I never found these aspects to be unwelcome. In fact, sometimes the best parts were me staring blankly at the screen trying to figure out what, exactly, was going on. 

Final Cut

Overall, Katana Zero is a game you should not miss out on. The story, while short, is told in a unique and interesting way, and holds a surprising amount of emotional weight. The gameplay is phenomenal, with fast-paced action and pixel-perfect controls. And the game itself is a near perfect combination of the two.

I’m giving Katana Zero a stylish 9/10 for being unapologetically cool with its retro aesthetic and neo-noir setting, and for not only attempting some risky design elements, but for pulling them off without a hitch. 

Overall, Katana Zero is a game you should not miss out on. The story, while short… is fantastic…and… and told in a… unique… have we done this before?

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Hollow Knight: Filling the Void

Listen. I already know what you’re going to say. “Hollow Knight came out back in 2017 so why are you doing a review of it now?” 

Well, to you– fictitious person I just made up–I would say, “I wasn’t doing game reviews in 2017, and Hollow Knight is one of my favorite games of all time.” 

At this point you would probably try and get a word in edgewise. 

But nay, I was not finished.

 I would continue, “Also, Silksong has to come out at some point. So let’s just say that this review is for people to stumble upon as the sequel draws ever nearer… Also, my heart needs this.”

At this point you would nod with admiration for my candor and begin a slow clap.

(It’s so easy to win a debate with myself). 

Anyway, I am basically doing this for myself, but if someone who’s never played Hollow Knight decides to give it a try because of this, well, I’ve done my duty.

Enter: the Knight 

Hollow Knight  is a side-scrolling metroidvania game that follows the adventure of a nameless–and adorable– bug knight as he explores the ruined kingdom of Hallownest. 

Made more beautiful by the hand-drawn art

Although this sounds like a simple enough premise, Team Cherry executed it so beautifully that it makes my soul hurt a little inside. 

We’ll get into the details below, but if you’re in a hurry, here are a few highlights about what makes this game so amazing that I needed to review it 3 years after its release. 

  • The art is hauntingly beautiful 
  • The progression of gameplay is deftly handled
  • The story, though well-hidden, is worthy of several epic poems
  • The combat is tough but deeply rewarding 
  • The music direction is amazing

There are probably a few more bullet points I could shoehorn in here, but these laid the foundation for a game that sits upon the throne of its genre. 

The Knight is Dark and Full of Shadows

One of the most immediately striking aspects of this game is its art, and that’s because Hollow Knight is completely hand drawn. From the town of Dirtmouth  to the claustrophobic tunnels of Deepnest to the The Knight himself, every facet was lovingly, and precisely, crafted.

Including… whatever the hell this thing is

Each area is brimming with little details that bring the world to life. Whether that’s the spores that drift listlessly through the Fungal Wastes, the ever-present rain in the City of Tears, or the encroaching darkness of The Abyss, you’ll get the sense that this is a place that has existed long before The Knight and will stand long after he’s gone. 

The dark, somewhat gothic, art direction lends itself to the overall tone of the game and lets you feel the weight of Hallownest’s history. Every broken statue, every abandoned building, and every lifeless carapace tells the story of what happened to the once proud kingdom. 

I remember the first time I entered The Forgotten Crossroads. At the time, I wondered why everything was so dark and creepy, but the more I played the more I understood. It wasn’t “dark and creepy,” it was forgotten and lonely. The sense of loss and abandonment can be felt even in the farthest reaches of the game, and makes a cohesive world that is not often accomplished in AAA games, let alone an indy release. 

Hone Thy Nail

One part of the game that I did not appreciate on my first playthrough, which became much more evident on subsequent playthroughs, was the level design and how it progresses.

Hollow Knight is basically a master class on how to build a game from the ground up. The first few moments teach you how to play the game without a single word being said, or text to prompt your actions. Every enemy you encounter or obstacle you must overcome is foreshadowed by everything that came before it. 

When encountering enemies, you are left to discover for yourself the best way to deal with them. By the time you encounter any given boss, you will have the skills (or at least an understanding) of how to defeat them because you learned from previous encounters with similar enemies. Even the platforming segments build upon themselves, teaching you what you can and cannot do so that when you find yourself standing before the Path of Pain, you should be ready for whatever comes next. 

Even a seemingly-never-ending obstacle-course of buzz saws

The progression of movement throughout the game is one of my favorite aspects of Hollow Knight. I know that most metroidvanias have this–it’s one of the defining characteristics of the genre–but somehow each new ability feels like regaining a lost piece of yourself, instead of a new ability you’ve never had before. When you gain the ability to dash, double jump, or perform wall jumps, it feels more like becoming who The Knight was all along instead of becoming a better version of himself.

All of this combined makes for a game that never beats you over the head with tutorials but allows you to learn simply by playing, and that is an accomplishment that few games can claim. 

Echos of Civilization

My first playthrough, I was able to get the gist of the story. I vaguely understood what was going on and what my character was trying to accomplish. 

Very vaguely

Once it was over, I was satisfied with a job well done. However, when I started my second playthrough, I began to notice the little things that went over my head the first time. I began to see the whole picture, instead of just the part involving The Knight. The story of Hollow Knight is largely hidden, but If you take the time to investigate every nook and cranny, you will find a story that is both epic and heartbreaking.

It is the story of the rise and fall of Hallownest. 

It begins with the arrival of the Pale King, and ends with a kingdom driven mad. However, the story is not told in any specific way. You might find some statues built by a defender to honor his comrades. It could be an incomplete tramway that lies abandoned along with the corpses of those who attempted its construction. It could be a lone statue atop a crystalline peak, the last vestige of a dead religion. 

The pieces might not mean much on their own, but together they weave a massive tale. 

Unfortunately, finding the story is an arduous process. I’ve played through Hollow Knight several times and still made new discoveries on my most recent playthrough. I’ve even watched YouTube videos on the Lore of Hallownest, and even the people who search for this kind of stuff for a living don’t have the whole story. 

What I’m trying to say is that the story is there if you want to find it, and it’s amazing. But, if you don’t want to scour a game for hours on end, you should at least give the videos a try. 

 The Path of Pain

The Combat of Hollow Knight is one of its greatest–and most exclusionary–features. 

It is tough, unforgiving, and can make you want to shatter your controller from time to time, but it is ultimately fair. It might seem too hard at times, but all you need to do is “Get Good.” 

…or go home

In all seriousness, the combat in Hollow Knight is not for everyone. It can be brutal, especially with some of the later bosses (looking at you, Traitor Lord). I literally had to repeat some fights upward of 20 times before I was eventually able to push through. While that seemed like a good investment of my time, others might not feel the same, and that’s ok.

If you are not having fun, don’t bash your head against the wall. Hollow Knight is an amazing game, but if you’re ready to pack it in because the first boss is hard, it doesn’t get any easier. 

All that said, if you’re looking for a challenge, this is the game for you. There are a total of 47 bosses in Hollow Knight, each with their own moves, which could eviscerate you for making a single mistake. There is even a DLC that allows you to fight them all again at higher levels of difficulty–just in case you found the original too easy.

 Filling the Silence

I chose the music of Hollow Knight as the last section because it, like, really tied everything together man.

While most of the game is soft orchestral fair, it does do some work during the boss segments with epic scores that get your adrenaline pumping. There are also times where the music fades, letting you traverse Hallownest in foreboding silence. It’s these choices, and a million more, that make the music of Hollow Knight one of it’s more enthralling features.

It’s true that without the music, the game would still be beautiful and serve its function. However, it’s what really makes you feel the emptiness of the Forgotten Crossroads, the life bristling anew in Greenpath, and the regret in the City of Tears. It conveys the game’s emotion from the title screen to the moment the credits stop rolling. 

It’s the soul of the Hollow Knight.

Late to the Game

I know that I’m late to the game as far as a review is concerned, but Hollow Knight is a game worthy of the 9.5/10 that I’m giving it.

For a little indy title, it has set the standard that I personally have for all metroidvania games moving forward. Its story was well written, the art is beautiful, and the combat is en pointe. It’s one of the few games that I’ve played through more than twice, and there is a reason for that.

So, if you missed Hollow Knight the first time, I urge you to take a look at this amazing game as the sequel  draws nearer. In fact, I might do this more often: make game reviews for older games that deserve more attention. 

I could call them Late to the Game reviews… and apparently this is the first one.