Dark Souls: A Dark Medieval Romance
I was just looking at my game collection recently wondering what game to replay. I was looking for something challenging, a game that would still keep me on my toes even after beating it for the nth time. I don’t really have a lot of difficult games in my library, but I do have Dark Souls. I felt silly really, I was just looking for an excuse to fire up my PS3 and play Dark Souls again.
Dark Souls is a dark fantasy role playing game, at least that’s how I would describe it. The game puts the player in the role of the Chosen Undead, the hero of prophecy that will come at the end of the Age of Fire and ring the bells of Awakening. It is notorious for its difficulty and penalties for dying. It is also known for its epic boss fights. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t come prepared. I finished Demon’s Souls long before I found out that FROM Software was making Dark Souls. With Dark Souls being the spiritual successor to Demon Souls, I didn’t have a hard time adjusting to its gameplay mechanics. But that doesn’t mean I had an easy time. Dying is a part of Dark Souls and you’ll be doing a lot of it.
But I don’t want to talk about the combat mechanics, role-playing system and exploration elements that Dark Souls has. Anyone can look up a guide online or visit any of the wiki sites or better yet, watch YouTube for game walkthroughs. What I want to write about is the romance of Dark Souls. The depth of the story in this game is amazing considering how scant the usual storytelling elements are. It is really up to the player to put the pieces together by talking to NPCs, reading item descriptions, observing the environment and figuring out how everything falls into place.
“In the Age of Ancients,The world was unformed, shrouded by fog. A land of grey crags, archtrees, and everlasting dragons.
But then there was Fire. And with Fire came Disparity. Heat and cold, life and death, and of course… Light and Dark.
Then, from the Dark, They came,and found the Souls of Lords within the flame.
Nito, the First of the Dead. The Witch of Izalith, and her daughters of Chaos. Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight, and his faithful knights. And the furtive pygmy, so easily forgotten.
With the Strength of Lords, they challenged the dragons.
Gwyn’s mighty bolts peeled apart their stone scales. The witches weaved great firestorms. Nito unleashed a miasma of death and disease.
And Seath the Scaleless betrayed his own, and the dragons were no more. Thus began the Age of Fire… But soon, the flames will fade, and only Dark will remain. Even now, there are only embers, and man sees not light, but only endless nights.
And amongst the living are seen, carriers of the accursed Darksign.”
The opening cinematic promises the start of an epic medieval dark fantasy adventure. Little did I know that it would be up to me to figure out what happened to the undead infested world that Dark Souls put me in.
“Thou who art Undead, art chosen. In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land of Ancient Lords. When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the Undead thou shalt know.”
You are the Chosen Undead. It is your destiny to break out of the Undead Asylum and head to Lordran to ring the two bells of awakening. If you succeed in this, your claim as Chosen Undead will be acknowledged and the rest of your destiny will be revealed to you. You are branded with the Darksign. The Darksign is a mark that appears on humans who are chosen to become undead. They are granted immortality at the cost of losing their sanity if they stop consuming souls. Because of this, they are brought to the Undead Asylum to be imprisoned forever.
“Yes, indeed. The Darksign Brands the Undead. And in this land, the Undead are corralled and led to the north, where they are locked away, to await the end of the world… This is your fate.”
“Only, in the ancient legends it is stated, that one day an undead shall be chosen, to leave the undead asylum, in pilgrimage, to the land of the Ancient Lords, Lordran.”
For players who did not play Demon Souls before playing Dark Souls, the Undead Asylum will present quite a challenge. And for a lot of seasoned RPG players, an escape from prison that ends with a difficult boss fight is usually followed by respite in a nearby village inn. There is no such comfort in Dark Souls. You are alone, and it is up to you to figure out where to go and what you should do. You will meet a few NPCs along the way, but they will only provide little information about what’s going on and subtle hints as to what you should do. There is no village inn, no children running about in the streets, no women gossiping about the state of affairs, no chickens pecking at the dirt. There’s just you and your quest. You stand up, brush the dust off your clothes, ready your sword and shield, and leave the comfort of the bonfire behind for the loneliness of the journey ahead.
The first town you encounter is overrun with undead hollows. Hollows are undead who have lost their sanity because of soul-starvation. They are hostile. The level design is solid and it’s easy to see how people may have lived in this town once. It made me wonder what could have happened to bring the town to its current state. This really sets the perspective of how grim the situation is and what awaits the rest of the world if whatever is causing it is allowed to continue. With the lack of people or books telling you about the world’s history, you turn to item descriptions. The bulk of Dark Souls’ lore can be found in item descriptions. Getting items and reading their descriptions will net you bits and pieces of history that will give you an idea about what went on and what’s happening in the present. I found this romantic and it fit the game’s atmosphere. Much of Dark Soul’s story is left to speculation and interpretation.
As you continue to plod along your seemingly hopeless quest, taking on one hellish monster after another, you will reach places that vastly differ from the first town you visited; dark underground sewers, a haunted forest, a world that exists inside a painting, a beautiful but deserted city under an eternal twilight, just to describe a few. The items that you find in these places, the elements of the environment , and even the type of enemies you face will give you an inkling of what transpired and how these places came to be as they are now. Nothing is told to you directly.
The game’s challenging difficulty made me wonder a bit about the main character’s motivation. Why continue with this vague quest? Isn’t it better to just rest in front of the bonfire than to fight one horror after another only to die over and over? But the protagonist is silent and never complains, driven only to complete the quest at all costs. I couldn’t help but remember Roland of Gilead and his quest for the Dark Tower.
Dark Souls is a beautiful game that has a story to tell. It discourages players from charging in and swinging blindly. This game rewards careful thinking and strategy. And in the moments that you stop to catch your breath, you realize that you’re in a beautiful broken world full of wonder and mystery.