Dark Souls was the first game to ever give me nightmares. It wasn’t because the game was scary it was because I thought the game was actually killing me. It was slowly draining me of all will to live. It was taking it’s time and savoring every time my avatar’s body was crushed and crumpled on the ground and the words “You Died” flashed almost gleefully up on the screen. The game was taunting me. It was calculating. It was horrible. It was beautiful, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I woke up from my nightmare at around 4:10 in the morning and the first thought on my mind was “hey, if I turn down the sound I can play for a solid 3 hours before my wife gets up”. I didn’t want to play, the game was making me miserable, but I NEEDED to play. I needed go get past that next boss to say what lay in store in the next area. I have a group of friends that were going through the same thing, we would convene from time to time to swap notes. We would lament the same bosses. We would share the cowardly and cheap tricks we have figured out to get through an area that was too tough. That’s pretty much the whole point of the game, you constantly feel overwhelmed, but never unfairly so (except for Ornstein and Smaugh, they were bullshit). I constantly played with a pit in my stomach, never for a moment
Seriously FUCK these guys
getting that invincible feeling I get usually around 75% of the game when I gotten enough power-ups and into a good enough rhythm that deaths are few and far between. I always felt like I was fighting an uphill battle, grinding out each new area. I know I’ve already said it but it bears repeating, it was miserable. Fortunately, along with all the misery came along a beautiful game, haunting environment, crisp gameplay, and a sense of achievement that up until then I had never experienced in a game.
The fact of the matter is that the Dark Souls series (and Demon’s Souls before them) are incredible games. They embody the phrase “stern but fair”. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard. Really, REALLY hard. But the thing is, every time I died, I always felt like it was my fault. I made a mistake. I was too aggressive. I was too timid. I ducked when I should have dodged, and so on and so forth. I never felt like the game was being cheap, or that there was an area designed specifically so I could fail. The rules were spelled out at the very beginning of the game, and were consistent throughout. Get better. You can go anywhere, you can fight pretty much anything right out of the gate. Sure, there is a somewhat logical layout to follow to keep the character from getting in over their heads, but there is nothing that forces you to follow them. The Soul’s games aren’t ever going to hold your hand. I loved the fact that I felt every time that I played that the developers were respecting the fact that “hey, you know what you are getting yourself into. Here is the world, go kick it’s ass or it’s gonna kick yours”. It was a respect that I feel is lacking in many other games these days. The closest thing to being unfair is getting invaded by another player at the most inopportune times, but hey guess what? If you don’t like it then you can stay hollowed and you won’t get invaded. Then again, you are hollowed so you are hitting softer, and have less health. On top of it all now you can’t summon allies to help you fight your way through the enemy hoards. Again, the rules are stern, but fair. What you sacrifice in the name of safety comes back to bite you in terms of strength. I love it.
On top of all of the above mentioned gameplay aspects comes a GREAT story, if you feel like seeking it out that is. There aren’t going to be a bunch of flashy cutscenes to let you know what is happening. If you want to know what the hell is going on and why you are doing all of these things you are going to have to explore the world around you. Explore and pay attention, because it’s all there. The names, the places, the people, everything comes together for those who seek them out, and at the end when it came time to choose my destiny and decide what to do at the final bonfire I was absolutely torn. I seriously sat in front of my Playstation just staring wondering what to do. I was so RELIEVED to have finally beaten the game, but I was so invested with the cryptic story that I was frozen. I contemplated, walked away, got a drink, took my dogs on a walk, and came back. My character was still there, sitting in front of the final bonfire. Do I light it, or do I let the darkness overtake us all? Finally I made my choice, watched the final cutscene, sat back and let out a deep breath. It was finished. Then I saw it, taunting me again: “Start New Game+?” There it was, taunting me again. Except this time I was the punisher. I had slain the beast, and now it was asking ME for more. I picked up the controller and dove back in. Bring on the pain!
Come at me bro