A Date with Dark Souls
Thirty-five hours into my Dark Souls adventure I sat back and laughed. It was the laugh of a madman; borne of sleep-deprivation and a stomach lined only by potato chips and fizzy drinks. My eyes, dilated and red, needed a rest, but I couldn’t quite give up. I had to restore parity.
An hour before, I was enjoying myself , having finally defeated the infernal Queelag. It took two hours of dying, restarting, dying, amending my tactics, and dying again before she was no more. Each time the game-over screen appeared, I felt no upwelling of anger, rather a cool determination to succeed. Finally, when luck and skill coalesced, my faultless performance produced a victory.
I traversed the murky waters beyond Queelag’s lair with a new destination in sight: The Hollow. Thanks to the FAQ bookmarked to my phone, I knew it was a dangerous endeavor, one not necessary to completing the game proper. But I was in a fatally confident mood.
The Hollow consisted of a vast, sprawling tree. Its branches gracefully descended downwards and twinkling riches lay in the nooks of its arms. I helped myself to them and descended, methodically retrieving one item before proceeding further into the depths of the earth. And then I came face to face with the frogs. Anyone who has played Dark Souls knows the monstrosities I speak of: frogs that leap into the air and fill their abdomen with noxious gas, before exploding forth their sickly, ominous odour.
I’d read about being cursed in Dark Souls, but I had no appreciation for what it meant. It was simply a word that seemed to be ushered in hushed tones, a la He Who Must Not Be Named of the Harry Potter series. But when the frogs surrounded me, abdomens swelling, I knew I’d soon find out. Powerless to defend myself, I died, and the game restarted with a cool message atop the screen. I’d been cursed, and I was doomed to half my health until I found a cure. In a game this difficult, you take any amenity afforded to you. And now I would be forced to make a trek to the other end of the map with half my health in tow – a swathe of enemies (respawned, I might add) between me and sanctity that had been challenging enough with all my health intact.
Belligerent, I decided to brave The Hollow once more. I couldn’t get cursed again, I thought. The frogs re-appeared, as I knew they would, and I took them on, all three of them, before rounding the corner to find two more in waiting. Unprepared, I hastily turned and ran. But it was too late. The gas enveloped me. When the game flashed back to life, I sat back and laughed. It was a laugh both hollow and depraved. My body shook. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. I was in the clutches of a game so sadistic that I’d have to make the trek back with a health bar fixed at a quarter of its full amount. One hit and I’d be dead: I had been cursed again.
Of course, thirty-five hours into Dark Souls and there’s no going back. Stockholm Syndrome is firmly in affect. The game, with seemingly no effort on its part, goads you back. I found room to forgive my tormenter, determined to, at the most, restore equilibrium. I knew even with the curse lifted, the scales would never be in my favour.
And that’s Dark Souls, a game that makes you cherish every undisturbed step. The backdrops are often beautiful but you hardly dare take a look. The castled walls of the Undead Parish give you a peek at a paintily world beyond, replete with lush green forests. The Firelink Shrine is your safe-haven, and tranquility reigns, if only for a moment. The labyrinthine reaches of Blighttown are packed with dangers. One misstep and you can fall to your death, an hour of hard work gone to waste.
“The backdrops are often beautiful but you hardly dare take a look.”
Lesser games would be instantly discarded, but Dark Souls is the ultimate thrill ride. Simplicity incarnate, it’s a game of few frills. The action is focused. Timing, skill and decent armaments are a must. Even the story is minimal at best. Yes, there is a backstory, but the game waits for you to search it out, rather than foisting it upon you.
I’ve never played a game like it. True, I’ve yet to play its spiritual predecessor, Demon’s Souls, but it will be years before a game makes as much of an impression. There’s so much I want to talk about. Dark Souls is a game that dominates your thoughts. During moments when you’re away from the game, your finger itches towards your mouse and keyboard as you peruse yet another forum covering the game.
I will freely admit I went into Dark Souls expecting very little. I’m not a fan of medieveal RPGs on the whole, nor did the idea of a difficult game hold much promise. I don’t like dying, and if a game proves too tough, I rely on cheats. Yes, cheats. But I quickly realized that no cheats exist for this gem, and that dying is the best medicine of all: it teaches you to be quick on your feet, and to learn the game’s skill set.
Moreover, I’m remarkably willing to forgive it. During a battle with the Capra Demon, a boss that is as close to unfair as any in Dark Souls, my controller died not once, but twice. The game didn’t pause. Instead, Capra continued to pound me. I was soon dead — my death met by the ominous overture that could be counted as perhaps the most ubiquitous melody throughout the game. I’m positive that 99% of the games in my collection would pause if my controller died, but not Dark Souls. In fact, Dark Souls never pauses.
As such, you’re constantly on edge, and this disquietude leads to being rash. Rounding a bend in the Undead Burg, for instance, I came across a merchant who looked remarkably like an enemy. I took a swipe at him, and within a matter of seconds, a stable source of bows and arrows had gone. Disasters like this can be averted in other games by simply switching off the console and loading from the last save, but Dark Souls saves at the point at which you quit. Thus, I was left to rue my mistake.
Games like Mass Effect and Heavy Rain have toyed with the idea of conveying a weight to your every action, but no game does it as well as Dark Souls. This is your adventure, and thirty six hours in, I was back at parity, having sought out a merchant who could undo my curse.
Truth be told, it was all too much. I had to write it down. Like an old adventurer, I recorded my thoughts meticulously. And so here I am, thirty-six hours in, with dozens of hours lying before me. I’ve browsed forum after forum, walkthrough after walkthrough. I can recite, practically in order, the locales I’ll be visiting next. But knowing is just half the fun. It’s the getting there that’s the other half.
…More to come soon.