Breaking My Backlog is a semi-regular features on Troamm.com in which I attempt to complete my entire backlog before buying any new games. You can read more about the quest and see my backlog here.
Selecting Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon as the first game in my backlog journey was anything but random. First, I was nearly done with the game when I made my list, so it was an easy victory right out of the gate. In addition to this, however, it also forced me to consider two questions that had come up in my mind as I envisioned this entire ordeal:
- At what point is a game actually “complete?”
- Does the difficulty setting lessen my completion of the game?
I think the first question is much harder to answer. The definition of “complete” varies wildly from game to game, and Bloodstained: COTM is no different. Originally a stretch goal for a Kickstarter for a “Metroid-Vania” style game called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, COTM is about a demon killer Zangetsu, who sets off to destroy the Dark Emperor. Along the way, he picks up a few hitchhikers who help him in his quest, and I think we all learn a bit more about ourselves through the journey. The game is a definite throwback to the 8-bit action-platformers of the NES days, and it’s very, very good. I bought the game on my Switch on release day and quickly played through the eight stages of normal mode. During this initial playthrough, I played the game on veteran difficulty, which limits the player’s lives and causes kickback when the player takes damage, a clear emulation of 8-bit gameplay. Nothing in this first playthrough of the game caused me too much trouble, though I did die on a few of the bosses that seemed fairly cheap — again, an emulation of the NES-style action-platformers that clearly inspired it. So, after finishing eight stages, and beating eight bosses, I breathed a sigh of relief and settled in for the final cutscene. At least, I thought it was the final cutscene. And therein lay my conundrum.
After being defeated, the Dark Emperor, fires a final shot before perishing. This is actually in keeping with the rest of the game, as all of the bosses are allowed this final blow before falling, a last ditch attempt to screw the player. This time, however, Zangetsu takes the entire blast of dark energy into himself to protect his allies. Unfortunately, this has the unintended effect of corrupting him completely, turning him into the new Dark Emperor. His three companions then continue into the newly-unlocked Nightmare mode, which replays the first seven stages of the original game, and a special stage eight, before facing their former ally, Dark Zangetsu, to receive the actual ending. When I finished the normal mode, I had a real decision to make: Is the game complete at this point? Or do I need to go further?
I’m not a completionist. I never have been. For me, when I defeat the final boss, that’s usually enough. While there are a few exceptions to this, I normally don’t feel compelled to go back through the game to obtain collectibles or play through New Game+, or anything like that. I walk away from the game feeling like I have seen everything I need to see, and I’m okay with that. After beating the first Dark Emperor in COTM, I actually kind of put it away at that point. There was a part of me that thought I may someday go back and obtain the true ending, but if I never did, I wouldn’t feel too bad. But then, I started this journey.
When I made my games list, I went back and forth on whether to include COTM at all. In my eyes, I had technically beaten the game already, but I knew there were still parts of the story I hadn’t experienced yet. I actually left it off of the first draft of my games backlog list entirely. But, as I reworked the list in the following days, COTM remained a nagging voice in the back of my head. Ultimately, I decided that if it was bugging me this much, I clearly wasn’t done with the game. There were apparently things I still wanted to do. And so, I added it back to the list, and my backlog grew by one. In retrospect, I feel like this was a good decision, because I think it helps answer the first question up above. When is a game actually “complete?” When I feel satisfied with what I’ve done within the game. While it may be a subjective metric, I think it’s a suitable one for the purposes of this journey. This will also help me manage games that don’t necessarily have a clear ending.
So, I added the game back to the list and decided to hop back in to COTM to finish the fight, making it my first step on this journey. This then brought me to the second question: If I’m going to replay chunks of a game I’ve played before, is it okay to play them on an easier difficulty? This then opened a whole new line of questioning: What about if it’s the first time I’m playing through it? Can I play on an easier difficulty then? What if I do choose to go through and pick up some of the collectibles? Is it okay then?
There exists within gaming a weird ideology that playing a game on a harder difficulty somehow makes the victory more credible. I think this is mostly born from a false belief that there’s a correlation between success and personal worth. There’s a lot there to unpack, and more than I want to get in here, but let me just say that it’s a concept that I disagree with wholeheartedly. I think we often forget that games are intended to be fun, so I think we should play them with that in mind. When I went to play the second half of COTM, I chose to play on the easy difficulty because at this point, I just wanted to finish the story. I didn’t feel the need to replay all of the cheap bosses again on the harder difficulty, so I didn’t. And I still had fun completing the game, more than I think I might have had I replayed everything on veteran difficulty again. So, to answer my second question: in short, I’m not going to worry about what difficulty I should play games on. Instead, I’m just going to have fun. After all, this journey is going to be hard enough without feeling compelled to adhere to some false ideology of gamer cred.
With all that said, I’m proud to have taken my first step on this quest. COTM was a good game to choose as my first completion. It evoked strong memories of a childhood playing games, and it, in a sense, reminded me of playing games as a kid, sticking with a game until its end. There’s something fitting in that, I think.
With this move, I have officially started my journey. I can now mark my backlog down by one.
(All images obtained from the official Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon website)