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Titan Souls | John M Morelock: Storyteller
March 25, 2016

Titan Souls

By In Creative Writing Portfolio, Reviews

The Boss Fighting Game You’re Missing Out On

Roll.  Sprint.  Charge a shot, I see the titan’s weak point.  Watch out for the stone fist about to crush me from above.  If I don’t, I will certainly die, again.

Titan souls is the most lethal game I have ever played.  There is only one boss in the entire game that has a move that does not one shot kill you.  And that boss, too, has many ways to kill you in a single blow.  But this is not new.  Mario has always died to the simplest things, even a turtle touching his shin, and he is just one in a plethora of easy to kill heroes.  What makes Titan Souls more lethal is the fact that most bosses, too, die in a single, well placed shot.

The game starts from a top down perspective with the protagonist in an open air room equipped with a bow and a single arrow.  The next room teaches the player simple controls with nothing more than an illustration on the wall.  Left joystick to move, right joystick to aim.  Tap A to roll, hold it to sprint.  B to draw and fire the bow and, once fired, to recall the single, extremely versatile arrow.

After this brief room, the player must overcome the first four bosses.  They can be fought in any given order, but all must be defeated before moving on to the meat of the game.  These bosses aren’t easy, either.  I died no less than twenty times fighting the first boss, a massive green ball of sludge with a heart in his center.  Shoot the heart, kill the titan.  But each time I shot at it, I split the sludge into two pieces, then four, then eight and so on.  The heart always remained in just one piece, and eventually it had no sludge left on it all.  At this point, one well-placed arrow would end the fight, no matter how close I was to being stomped.

The best part about that first encounter, though, was that I didn’t need anyone to explain it to me.  It felt natural, shoot the heart: win the fight.  And every single boss is this way.  They’ll have a pink eye in the center of their head, a gaping hole in their stone armor, or even (in the case of the abominable snowman) exposed butt cheeks.  Rarely did I fight a boss and not know what I was aiming to do, no matter how difficult the fight was.  This game is intuitive.

The game was developed originally for Lundum Dare, a competition where indie game developers come together and attempt to make the best game they possibly could in three days.  The theme that year was you only get one.  For Titan Souls, that meant one arrow, one life point.  Lead developer Mark Foster talked in an interview about his inspiration for the game.  He spoke on playing Dark Souls, a similar boss fighting title.  He said that the inspiration for Titan Souls came from that one moment in a Dark Souls boss fight when the boss was so low he could see its heart beating furiously but he, too, had only a sliver of health and no health potions left.  This moment when either party could simply nick the other and end the battle was what Foster wanted for his entire game.

After Lundum Dare, the full game was developed over a period of six months.  Foster and Andrew Gleeson started the company Acid Nerve to work on development.  It was showcased at E3 2014 and Devolver Digital picked up Titan Souls for publishing.  In May of 2016, Devolver Digital participated in a humble bundle with Titan Souls as one of the tile games.  This brought Titan Souls back into the spotlight.

Defeating a particularly hard boss is perhaps one of the most satisfying experiences.  After death after death, eventually you’ll pop an arrow right into the weak spot.  A resounding crack signals the death of the titan.  The battle music stops suddenly.  The relentless attack halts.  All that’s left is to retrieve the arrow.  This moment exists so you can revel in the impossible shot, in the hail marry you landed.  Hold B and watch as you tear the titan’s very soul from its body into yours in a spinning, brilliant display.  All the while, you will surely be cheering in joy from your hard fought victory.

Then it’s over.  The music doesn’t start back up.  The room’s color is off, less saturated.  What’s left of the titan lies withered before you.  The air is still.  All that’s left to do is walk away and kill another.  Then another.  Then another, and while, yes, the fights are fun, I couldn’t help but start to feel guilty.  The titans weren’t malevolent or bringing destruction.  They were simply existing, minding their own business.  The only person the Titans were hurting was me, and not a single fight in the whole game is started by the Titan.  Each had to be provoked via arrow.

That’s where the core of the game lies, in this unforeseen moral dilemma.  And there is nothing else to do in this game.  I mean sure, there are one or two puzzles, but these only exist to mix it up a little bit and each puzzle leads to another titan.  In short, the only thing to do is to kill them.  But no one ever tells you that is your goal.  There are no missions, no quests.  There is only the player and the titans.  In order to move forward, the player must kill all of those blocking his path.  This is a natural game progression for most games, but Titan Souls struck at my guilt in a way that made me question my every move.

Over the past few years, gaming experienced a new trend.  Often, developers present moral dilemmas for the players.  Undertale, one of the highest rated games of 2015, is one such example.  Undertale presents a game that looks like a classic RPG where you can fight anyone and gain experience and level up, but there is also the option to not kill them.  Often, the first time someone plays the game, they don’t realize that killing the in game monsters is more akin to murder than self-defense.  Many players will complete a pacifist playthrough of the game, never killing any of the monsters.  Other players will attempt to genocide the entire underground population.  The more people you murder in the game, however, the worse you feel about yourself as a player, unceremoniously killing off loveable characters who once made you laugh, and smile.  By the end, the in game characters tell you that you belong in hell.  The only solution they offer?  Stop playing the game.

Titan Souls gives me a very similar feeling.  While this game is far less explicit about whether what you are doing is justified or not, I couldn’t help but feel a remorse for killing the titans.  Don’t get me wrong, this game is fun.  Every moment in these battles makes me hold my breath.  A quick dodge to the left can save or damn you.  A miss with your one arrow can easily mean your death.  But as the game moves on, I realized that each time I died, I came back.  The Titans did not.  Instead, they crumbled on the ground, a hollow shell, no longer breathing, no longer able to fight back.  No longer participating in the dance of hit, dodge, hit dodge.  No longer waiting in slumber for some player to kill them in the name of fun.

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