The Legacy of Dark Souls
Almost a decade after its initial release in 2011, Dark Souls to this day is one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood games in existence.
After the game launched, its reputation became “It’s popular because it’s hard,” but there’s far more than meets the eye to the world of Lordran. The developers at FromSoftware knew what they were doing when they made Dark Souls. While they are a Japanese studio, they wanted to make a game that incorporated both eastern and western storytelling, atmosphere, and architecture, and they accomplished just that. But what really makes Dark Souls special is the underlying themes and subtle storytelling mechanics.
One thing that often irks me is the constant barrage of comparisons many journalists make about the game purely because of its difficulty. Generally speaking, the majority of people only see Dark Souls as a metric for difficulty and nothing more, comparing every game left-and-right to Dark Souls if it’s even slightly challenging, even if said games have nothing else in common.
The thing about Dark Souls is that it has a grand story to tell, but hides the narrative in plain sight. One complaint that many gamers have about a myriad of modern titles is that they force obnoxious cutscenes down your throat or cater to meeting “barrier of entry” requirements, i.e., sacrificing depth and subtlety in the name of making the game more accessible to everyone. This makes them feel vanilla, safe, and sterile. However, believe it or not, some games prove that you can have the best of both worlds. Take The Witcher 3, for example, which has great lore and depth to its narrative and story, but is still accessible to new players in the franchise because they thought to include a bestiary and character description section, allowing new players to catch up on who everyone is and what role they play in the main story without forcing exposition down their throat. And the brilliant thing about these is that they’re optional, so if you’ve already played the previous titles, read the books, or just don’t give a f*ck, you don’t have to read them and can just play. But more on The Witcher 3 later.
Dark Souls is special because they threw all the rules out the window. They didn’t play it safe, they didn’t make a game with a low barrier of entry, they didn’t include difficulty settings for new players to play on “Easy,” and they didn’t include mandatory exposition. The only way to understand what’s going on in Dark Souls (without Googling it) is by being inquisitive and leaving no stone unturned; the game hands the reigns to the player and tells them that they have control, and if they want to know what’s happening in Lordran, they have to do some digging and discover the secrets of the world for themselves. And if not, that’s fine too.
One thing that fascinates me is how warm and welcoming the game is once you start to get in the rhythm of things. I know, that sounds like complete hyperbole or sarcasm–Dark Souls, warm and welcoming? Really? But hear me out. What seems like a callous, brutal game is actually a warm one waiting to embrace you.
The game is hard, but fair, a rite of passage for gamers. The reason why Dark Souls 2 is usually considered the ugly step-sister of the DS series is because they made the game frustrating for the sake of difficulty, whereas DS1 (and 3) reward the intelligent player (although that’s completely debatable and subjective, so don’t take that phrase as canon). It’s also an excellent allegory for depression; every character in the game fears “going hollow,” the moment when their soul loses purpose and meaning, and it can happen to anyone, including you, the player. The players who “go hollow,” so to speak, are the ones who never finish the game, who meet an obstacle they are unable or unwilling to overcome, and quit and give up. The same can be said about those who give up on their dreams in the real world, considering their hurdles insurmountable.
Like a caring father, in order to “get” Dark Souls you must first understand what it expects of you. It doesn’t expect you to do anything you aren’t already capable of. It only wants you to maximize your own potential; everything it throws at you is merely to make you stronger, more capable, and more confident in your ability to conquer the next challenge.
The game is an epic symbolism for overcoming obstacles and challenges in an otherwise indifferent world, and if you have what it takes to beat Dark Souls, you have what it takes to conquer the real world; and for this reason, every gamer should play it.