With the recent release of Bloodborne I thought it fitting that I should write reviews on Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, and Bloodborne in order to express the gratitude I have for this trying serial experience. I might do Demon’s Souls and King’s Field, but we’ll see.
Players may remember “Prepare to Die” as the chief slogan for From Software’s release four years ago, as it even graced the complete DLC package: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. I myself gawked at the prospects of dying repeatedly to contrived gains, but after the dust had settled, and I “prepared to live” just a little bit longer, I soon realized that Dark Souls was just that; a game about living.
For those of you who are virgins to the series, or have only experienced Bloodborne as your first Souls, you really only have to play one to play them all, but let me take you on a journey that will hopefully convince you to do otherwise.
Dark Souls is a third-person fantasy RPG developed by From Software and produced by Namco Bandai on the Xbox 360, PC, and PS3. It features rogue-lite elements in that death is consequential to the game, and a core aspect within the story itself. The combat is nuanced and takes a little bit of adjustment from cookie-cutter sword fighting games, and the story-telling is nigh on subliminal levels, often feeding you lies or misdirection. Adversity will be fought and hard-won no matter how you look at it.
And here’s what I learned:
After the opening cutscene rolls over, you show up in a place called Lordran, a land hosting impending doom, preaching the desolation of mankind and the feeble flame within. It all very unclear, and lore becomes even more elusive and convoluted as you venture on.
The tutorial is more than abject horror for most new players, but the game offers you the tools to succeed and even lightly pushes you in the right direction, although the right direction often fades through a veil of swords and shields. It’s this swordplay that tests the mettle of most gamers, and when you’re pitted up against a giant creature three times bigger than you, wielding architecture as a weapon, I can see how most would flee to the ends of the earth.
Combat is an illustrious art within these games. You trade blows with enemies, either attacking, dodging, blocking, using items, or running away. Sound familiar? It’s spiritually turn-based combat, but it’s also TBC you must pay attention to because the entire construct is now based around real-time actions. You must understand the ebb and flow, watch for different strikes and must act upon the egregious mistakes of your enemies. It’s a dance of swords, where you must focus and put forth the effort required to accomplish victory. Cowardice is always optional.
However, if you die, don’t fear. You just respawn at a bonfire and lose whatever souls you happened to be carrying. You have one chance pick the souls up off the ground and it’s practically the same as if you had never died in the first place. Souls are the global currency of the game. You grind enemies to obtain their souls and use that loot to level up, buy items, etc. It’s all slightly off the beaten path, but it works flawlessly as a mechanic. The amount of souls you obtain gives you a feeling of power, but also makes you a glass cannon in that you could lose several levels of experience if you carelessly walk off a ledge or press on into a fight you weren’t prepared for.
You see, it’s understanding and defeating enemies that makes the game enjoyable, far beyond the beautiful scenery and creative design choices, but it should be incidental to the whole guise of Lordran that the lore and physical creations are a Frankenstein’s creation of several real-life analogues, from sun gods to hydras and even the hefty medieval weaponry.
Everything feels very impactful within Dark Souls including the force of your weapons and the bosses depleting your health bar one violent strike at a time. Even the stories intertwined with each NPC hold weight and all it takes is a few seconds of listening, but within the burden of stories and sword strikes lies a fact that one cannot ignore.
The story will leave most new players confused or scrounging the forums for answers to diluted questions, answers that must justify their efforts and rectify this disillusionment. Far too many will be dodging the sword to read into the lore, and this could never be influenced by the game itself without being a hassle, much different than Ubisoft’s love for spamming the screen with lore and objectives, or The Elder Scroll‘s middle-school-theatre presentation of global occurrences.
It takes dedicated players to piece together a story, and the result is far beyond the tribulations of their journey, ends justifying the means, so to speak. If you’re new to Dark Souls, it’s only a favour to yourself when you take the time and immerse yourself in the chaotic graveyard you have trespassed upon. Regardless, you are subjected to the nature of this world, but even reading a small line of text or dialogue can benefit you mechanically. Keep that in mind.
I said before that Dark Souls is a game about living, and this could never be more true. The goal is never to die on repetition, but rather a subject of survival and pushing the boundaries beyond their breaking point. In Dark Souls you are just as powerful as you choose to be. Your resolve shines above defeat, and death is but an option.
I say this heroically, a champion of the gauntlet, but what Dark Souls showed me is that you really have to want to win. You need to kindle the desire within yourself to overcome the odds presented before you. This is very much reflected in the story, with some NPC’s who disagree with you, don’t trust you, defile your path, or even straight up try and murder you.
The bosses exist within a canon reaching into the upper stratosphere, and when you learn their stories, their past, and their own struggles, perhaps a bit of sympathy is to be gained from their brutal desecration.
It stands the test of time (so far) that Dark Souls is my favourite game to date. Love at first sight, perhaps, but I think it’s the case with anyone else who loves the game as much or more as I do: this game grew on us. Every time we loaded up to Firelink Shrine bonfire, we could remember the sights and sounds, and then, before we know it, we’re venturing off into the many diverse areas that Lordran has to offer.
Bonfires are your respite from the world, your haven, or hub to regroup and set your head straight. You can level up here, change some different aspects, but mostly they serve as a breather between intense situations. It’s the variation between bonfires that strikes a yearning for the different areas of Lordran.
There’s forested areas, valleys, sewers, cities that grace the sky, and trenches within the dark and fiery recesses of the world that make you long for daylight. There’s something for everyone, and when the artists began constructing Lordran, they created much more than unique models, they created individuals who you must overcome. In some sense, every enemy must become your closest adversary so that you can pass through them with the utmost efficiency, and when this becomes truth, it finally becomes clear that every step you take is worth its weight.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die is currently available on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.