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Dark Souls: a Story-Telling Masterpiece
Praise the Sun!!!
For the uninitiated, the Dark Souls series is the ARPG (Action Role-Playing Game) developed by FromSoft and published by Bandai Namco. It takes inspiration from a number genres but is primarily a sort of gothic action adventure role-playing game. While it has gained mainstream appeal, Dark Souls originally started out with a cult following of players who wanted to experience the rush of the gameplay along with a great story. Now I'm going to tell you briefly why Dark Souls and video games, in general, are going to be the go-to storytelling mediums of the future. If you haven't played the games or aren't at all
If you haven't played the games or aren't at all familiar with them, go check out VaatiVidya's video series on the original Dark Soul's lore, he's got a great voice and very good analytical skills, so I suggest you watch.
An Immersive Universe and a Sense of Realism
If you've ever played Dark Souls before you'll know of the sheer gravity of the universe. Through the three main games, you can clearly experience and feel the hugeness of the world. You get the whole idea of what's going on, lighting the fire, prolonging the age of gods, or rejecting the fire and becoming a lord of the new age of dark, you kill bosses and meet friends along the way, simple.
But what you may realize is a lack of in-depth lore, or rather a lack of clear lore. Many role-playing games with large universes out there right now have a sort of "Skyrim complex". What I mean by Skyrim complex is the bad habit of trying too hard to shove the lore down people's throat. If you've ever played Skyrim (which I'll bet you all have) every single NPC has something to say about your quest and all too subtly drops hints on where to go, or, upon talking to them will give you a brief history of their village and what's going on. I'm not saying that this way of storytelling and lore is bad but rather unrealistic and un-immersive.
Dark Souls is a brilliant example of how storytelling can be both deep, immersive and realistic at the same time. Dark Souls is also a great example of a hero that seems rather insignificant at first and through many trials and tribulations becomes the god you expect the main character to be. You learn the goings on of the world not just by talking to NPCs, but rather experiencing the bosses, reading item descriptions, observing the environment and partially by building the story yourself. Dark Souls understands that in real life, your experiences are more important than anything else, and it's important to learn the world through those experiences rather than through long cutscenes or NPCs who seem to have memorized history books.
Here's an example, let's say you live on the East Coast and you want to take a modern day adventure to the MidWest and start a farm (call to adventure). You don't know much about the area (world) or really what you are getting into. So you follow a roadmap and make your way across the plains to Wisconsin. You finally see a guy who looks like a farmer and you stop and ask him a few questions. If this were in Skyrim's world you would probably get a response something like:
" Aye, I know something about farming. I've been a farmer for fifty years. My name's Farmer McFarmington, but you can call me Arm. If you're looking to become a farmer this year's not the year to do it. Our seeds have been very low and our crop has been very shaggy. I don't know much about the higher ups, but apparently the evil governor, a wretched man has cut off the magic known as 'subsidies' to our farms and we can't sow our seeds. It was written in the prophecy that you, Foreign-born are the only one who can save our land from the evil governor. So GO to the capital and raise up your picket signs and lobby with all you might. Because only you Foreign-born can fulfill the prophecy and save the world, I mean Wisconsin."
While a Dark Souls NPC would say something along the lines of
"Hmmmm, Hmmmhmmm, Hmmmmm... Ohh! Another migrant I see! Wandering spirits seem to be everywhere these days. Hi I'm Siegmeyer of the Onion Farmers. I've been waiting on this farm for, well, I don't know! Forever I assume? It seems we are bound by the same mid-life crisis and came to this land to start anew.
Interesting isn't it? Feel free to talk to me whenever you want, I'll probably still be here. I don't know if I can help you though. "
This slightly roundabout, yet brilliant way of giving little hints about the lore of the story, while also presenting interesting characters that you can get attached to is one of the reasons that I believe Dark Souls' storytelling is amazingly unique and masterful.
Deep, Interesting Characters
Any piece of literature, movie, video game or even real life needs characters. Whether they are realistic, metaphorical, static, dynamic or anything else, characters are a necessity to any story. There are so many characters in the wealth of stories produced in history, making ones that are truly likable and stand out all the more important these days.
The characters in the Dark Souls series not only seem real and are likable, they have interesting connections to the lore and they each have their own unique take on the universe. Plus, not every NPC is just going to be thrown at you by being necessary for a story point, most are completely optional, and the vast majority can be killed permanently.
In the souls universe, there's everything from an on the loose serial killer to a son of the sun who is on the same journey as you, to an onion with an inferiority complex and a conniving swindler who looks like Dr. Facilier from the Princess and the Frog.
Let's take a look at one of the series more straight forward and favorite characters, Siegmeyer of Catarina AKA the Onion Knight. Before reading, check out the video below by SilverMont, another one of my favorite Dark Souls YouTubers.
Siegmeyer is a ditzy and carefree knight whose path crosses yours many times in the series. He's looking for his daughter, Sieglinde, another Onion Knight and has come to the land to search for her. Each time you meet him he is in a predicament you save him and he thanks you. Siegmeyer is an earnest, funny and jolly character, so naturally we like him. But Siegmeyer is a Dark Souls character and couldn't be so one dimensional, so the devs threw in some twists, albeit cruel, to his story line that make Siegmeyer seem more human. Siegmeyer is a knight, who values his honor and pride more than anything and while he's thankful for you saving him all those times he can't get over the fact that he needed to be saved. Here's a look at some of his later dialogue.
Oh, there you are.
Wait!…Did you defeat those dire creatures?
Outstanding…You never fail to impress.
Well, wonderful. This knight of Catarina thanks you.
Take this, as a token of my gratitude.
I feel like I'm always thanking you…
I curse my own inability.
There's a character that everyone can relate win, enjoy and fanboy over, and they all seem so eerily real even if they are very clearly fictional and impossible characters. Although there are factions, the lore of the Dark Souls universe isn't one sided, so nothing is black and white, no characters are painted as a true villain or a true hero, so you're free to side with anybody and not feel 'punished' by your decision. It's like making friends in real life, no one is perfect, but some people have more chemistry with others.
Check out this Siegmeyer Lore Video by Silver Mont!
Video Games are Awesome!
These two reasons are what make Dark Souls especially stand out as a story-telling medium, but that's not all there is to it. Video Games themselves can be used masterfully in telling stories because you aren't looking at a story unfolding, you are playing through a story that you shape yourself.
If you were a kid in the 80s,90s or 00s you'll probably remember the Choose-your-own-adventure type books or games, and the suspense and feelings you got from choosing the path you wanted your story to take. If you've played Dark Souls or any number of video games with a compelling story that you get to influence, or pretty much any game with multiple endings, you will feel the same rush as when you read those CYOA books, it's a real treat.
Obviously, video games aren't perfect in their attempt to make realities where you can make choices that affect the course of the world since not every choice can be accounted for and not everyone will have an ending or outcome that satisfies them, but some are getting pretty damn good at doing it. It might have seemed like Skyrim was a terrible game since it looked like I was ratting on Skyrim before, but even Skyrim does this unique aspect of video gaming pretty well with the Storm Cloak rebellion and the whole Dawnguard expansion.
Video Games, at the very least, are like movies that you can play through, that is if there is one outcome for the game to take. A video game with dynamic choices that change the way the game is played or changes the plot is really like an alternate reality where you make the choices, and should be treated as a viable medium of expression.
An ExtraCredits Video Explaining My Last Point
© 2016 Michael Tu