Dark Souls released in Japan just last week and I was fortunate enough to play through some of the game. My intent was to make a very focused character that specialized in a single role. In Western pen and paper RPGs, a min-maxed character (or the player controlling them) is referred to as a Munchkin, since creating such a lopsided hero is perceived as childish and ridiculous. This was actually a pretty good tactic in Demon's Souls, as one could do absurd damage without having to horde a high amount of levels.
This is what actually made my starting class and focused stats very unorthodox. I didn't go with the destructive Sorcerer or elusive Wanderer. Instead I picked the feeble Cleric with the intent on casting powerful Miracles. Yes, there were some great Faith based spells in Demon's Souls: Anti-Magic Field, God's Wraith, and Regeneration to name a few. But you got those later on, making it much harder to start a Faith based caster. As predicted, the Miracles obtainable for my newbie Cleric weren't super impressive. A basic heal spell, a short force burst that knocked enemies back but did no damage, and some kind of buff that let me communicate with the dead (I have yet to purchase this spell, so its description might completely downplay its actual function).
A change from Demon's to Dark is the removal of MP and the implementation of "Spells per day". This is a classic staple of Dungeons and Dragons and was even a part of the NES version of Final Fantasy (They replaced it with MP in the remakes). It's slightly different in Dark Souls, as each individual spell has its own limit, instead of a single value for all spells of a mage's level. This means I could cast 5 Heals, 1 Greater Heal, and 25 Forces before resting. Still I couldn't cheese out as with Demon's Souls Royal and simply regenerate magic points. As my life blood of Miracles reached closer to zero, I knew I'd be forced to recover at a Bonfire. Using this resting point is a double edged sword: while it grants me more spells and heals my wounds, it resets and revives every standard enemy.
Each time I made some progress with a boss or unlocked a new passage, it also seemed to coincide with the need to replenish my Miracles. So I found myself fighting (or simply running) from the same set of dastardly undead over and over again. From hollows that rained down firebombs from high above me, a gang of rats that poisoned with two strikes, ghoulish archers backed by a fire breathing dragon, and thorned plantmen that could swallow me if I got too close. It was simply nerve wracking to battle these fiends a seemingly infinite amount of times. I was close to 12 hours in when it seemed like I just couldn't move forward with Faith alone.
To ease my mind, I decided to take a break from Dark Souls and play something else. I was still in the RPG mood, but wanted something that wasn't nearly as abusive. I enjoyed the idea of creating my own character, or better yet a whole team of protagonists. The first game to pop in my head was Icewind Dale 2. I try to never be a graphics whore, but with a vanilla CD install the game has not aged well. It looks a tad ugly and some of the visuals are straight broken. This brought me over to GOG.com, where I considered purchasing a game I already owned just so I could see what I was doing. But Good Old Games actually pointed to a different suggestion: try out The Temple of Elemental Evil. And so I complied.
I had never actually played TToEE and had kind of forgotten it existed (What's a Troika!?). It was pretty busted when it first released in 2003, and my PC gaming focused more on online trots like Diablo 2 and Final Fantasy XI. But after the hour download and install I was ready to get my feet wet as a clueless newbie. I've played Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition before, so I was already fairly keen on the rules. In hindsight, that's probably what made my first party such a ridiculous failure. My main "damage dealers" consisted of a feeble archery based Halfling Ranger and a Half-Orc Monk that couldn't hit the broadside of a bus. My Half-Elf Sorcerer and Human Cleric also couldn't really help nuke, as most of their spells consisted of buffing. There was a shining glimpse of hope traveling in my bag though: a Holy Longsword + 1.
The local minister of Saint Cuthbert, Terjon, seeks to convert as many townspeople from the Old Faith to this new religion. As long as you're not flat out evil (Or simply don't tell Terjon you blew up his home chapel) you can help him recruit followers. These may include a leatherworker, miller, or agreeing to marry a loudmouthed fighter. After aiding the priest, Terjon can be convinced to covert the carpenter's apprentice Marek back to the Old Faith. In turn the apprentice will marry Althea and build a barn for her father Filliken. With your good standing with the family, a high charisma male (Sorcerer, Bard, Paladin) can flirt with Filliken's other daughter Meleny. Upon proposing marriage to the young lady, Filliken will present a dowry with the powerful divine blade.
While my Half-Elf Sorcerer and Meleny were happily wed, no one in my party was actually competent enough to wield such a weapon. Its very presence perplexed my Sorcerer, Cleric, Monk, and Rogue. My Ranger at least was trained to use swords, but was so weak that carrying the weight of the blade encumbered her movement. It seemed as with Dark Souls, my party in Elemental Evil had hit a roadblock. So in typical D&D fashion when the going gets tough the tough reroll. Yes, after about 8 or more hours of play, I restarted The Temple of Elemental Evil.
This time I went with a total Munchkin party: a 20 strength Barbarian, a Cleric that was simply Half-Elf and non-Evil for his War and Good Domains, a Bard that could talk his way out of hell itself, a Druid that skewered with a spear just as well they summoned an army of wolves, and a Wizard both tough enough to tank and could render enemies inert. This team rocked the radiant Holy Sword + 1 and caught up to my first party in half the time. This boosted my morale enough to switch back to the daunting Dark Souls.
I was actually holding on to something similar to Elemental Evil's Holy Sword. When you first escape the Undead Asylum and arrive at Firelink Shrine, the NPCs direct you to head up the long stairs on the right and into Undead Burg. However, ignoring this advice, you can instead travel into the cemetery on the left. The graveyard is obviously not a place you should be roaming around at such a low level. The skeletons lurking around are powerful, fight in groups, and worse yet drop no souls upon death. But hurting them isn't the goal here. These reanimated dead are guarding a few wonderful treasures scattered about: a Wing Spear, Zweihander, and nearly 1200 worth of large souls. The two-handed greatsword has incredible attack power at 130, making it an excellent addition to those that braved the grave.
My Cleric lacked the strength to use this massive sword. But I had learned my lesson from Elemental Evil and said sayonara to my Miracle worker. Yes, after 12 hours of hard work, I restarted Dark Souls as a brutish Warrior. With a bit of knowledge and much more tenacity, it didn't take long to build up my strength score. After only putting in about 6 points towards massive muscles my Warrior was able to hold the Zweihander in both paws (It will probably be a good log while before I can use it in one, though). And boy howdy did this beast make a world of difference. Everything in the Undead Burg died in one hit, including pesky hollows armed with heavy shields and spears. The first boss departed with only two dives to his noggin. Even massive stone giants that took forever to bust with my Cleric could only survive a few swipes of my Warrior's sword.
While I managed to reach my Cleric's position in just 2 hours, that still doesn't mean it was a brisk journey. In true Munchkin fashion, my Warrior is a glass cannon that can't take as well as they give. HP is still at the default level and without a shield blocking is almost useless. The greatsword might hit hard against several enemies, but it's very slow. I've destroyed five enemies at once, only for a sixth to catch me off guard and deplete a chunk of my health. In fact I'd say most of my Warrior's deaths have come from sheer cockiness.
You'll eventually run into knights that brandish rapiers, and while they might start with their buckler forward, they also goad with a fencing riposte. I made the error of judging that there was no way they could parry my two-hander. But in true Raphael vs Siegfried flair, my miscalculation backfired. With my Warrior's guard down, the knight inserted his sword into the bank of left thigh, withdrawing 500 hit points, several thousand souls, and all the humanity in my account.
Min-maxing within Dark Souls can help boat loads. However, it's really the knowledge of your enemies and environment that will save you. You'll be going in blind and fighting many strange opponents. While many games--even The Temple of Elemental Evil--use death as a punishing end to failure, dying in Dark Souls will simply make you more aware of your situation.