In Praise of Dark Souls
I have played hundreds of games throughout my lifetime. This has included dozens of bad games, some mediocre games, and even fewer genuinely amazing games. I think one game stands above the rest of the games for multiple reasons. That game is the infamous Dark Souls. It has built up a reputation for multiple reasons. From its difficulty to its level design, there are many reasons to praise the game.
Dark Souls has built a reputation for itself as being THE “hard game”. Many game reviews will compare a game’s difficulty to Dark Souls’. For many people this has undoubtedly either drawn them in to want to try and beat the game, or has pushed them away. I was one of the people who was drawn in by its difficulty. I played until I had gotten to the bridge with the red drake that spits fire on the entire length of the bridge. Now, I am a very impatient person, so trying and failing to cross this bridge multiple times was not an experience I enjoyed. I quit playing the game and did not pick it up again until about three months later. That time I had looked up a guide on where to go from there. I successfully crossed the bridge and actually ended up beating the game.
When I finally pushed through the parts that were frustrating for me I continued and fell in love with the game. Dark Souls has had this “hard game” reputation ever since it came out. This reputation does the game a disservice. Yes, Dark Souls is a hard game, but when I slowly played through it for the first time (a playthrough that took me nearly 40 hours) I kept finding reasons to love it even more. The story, the music, the level design, the characters, and the bosses in this game all swirl together into a perfect concoction. Very few games, in my opinion, have achieved such a perfect mixture of all of the elements that make a video game.
Many games have been subject to comparisons to Dark Souls. I think this is usually for all the wrong reasons. Whenever I see a game get compared to Dark Souls it is because it is either difficult, uses a similar dying/healing mechanic, or has a similar gameplay loop. By gameplay loop I mean the loop of exploring, dying, then exploring the same area again until you get past it. When games are compared to Dark Souls I think it should be because of the excellent standards the Dark Souls presents. Especially when it comes to areas like level design. When a game has a gameplay loop comparable to Dark Souls, instead of looking at the surface level comparisons (such as difficulty) deeper comparisons about the level and enemy design should come into play.
Bosses & Music
The bosses in the game have contributed to Dark Souls’ status as both a difficult and well-designed game. A majority of the bosses in the game are quite difficult, but very few seem outright unfair. A lot of the bosses, when you get the hang of them, are just plain fun to fight. Some bosses even have some emotional weight put onto them. Such as the final boss, Gwyn, with his somber piano theme. The bosses are all wrapped up in a neat package of music, mechanics, and art design. Some are so well designed that they have transcended the game itself. Take Ornstein and Smough for example. Even if you have never played Dark Souls you might still know that their fight is considered the hardest boss fight in the game, maybe even the entire series. Even then they do not seem unfair to me. They both clearly telegraph their attacks and are easily separated with some careful movement.
The music contributes greatly to the recognizability of not only the bosses but the game as a whole. The music is fantastically composed. From the quieter firelink shrine theme to Orstein and Smough’s swelling orchestral theme. The music adds so much life to all of the areas and conveys their respective mood impressively well.
The game has many recognizable aspects, whether it be the difficulty or bosses, which has made it a sort of gaming phenomenon. There are youtube channels dedicated to breaking the Souls games apart. Channels such as VaatiVidya, Limit Breakers, and streamers like TheHappyHob and LobosJr who do insane challenges. The game has reached a status that few games have. That is one that is critically acclaimed and has stayed in the gaming limelight for years, especially with the development of more and more complicated mods. I would not be surprised in the least if Dark Souls was still talked about and played a decade from now.