As a long time fan of the Souls series, in light of the original Dark Souls Remaster, I would like to offer some words and analysis on why Dark Souls was and is still a great game that renewed the entire RPG genre, and why everyone who is interested should check it out, for the game truly outstanding and unique in a saturated genre.
Before we talk about mechanics, aesthetics, and the communities, let’s go over a little bit of history. Dark Souls is released on September 22, 2011 in Japan, following by a worldwide release the next month. Consoles like PS3 and Xbox 360 received the game initially, for the PC version was not launched until August 2012, under the name Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. The PC version contains additional contents that later made available for consoles as downloadable contents (DLC). Dark Souls is developed by FromSoftware and published by Bandai Namco Games. FromSoftware, Inc. is established in 1986 for the purpose of developing business application, however, the released of the first PlayStation by Sony in 1994 encouraged FromSoftware to venture in game software development, remarks by the 3D game King’s Fields. The success of 3D games on major consoles convinced FromSoftware to shift its entire resources to expand the new foundation of the company: video games. As FromSoftware goes, their games witnessed a similar trends in highlights the importance of exploration, challenges and trial-error gameplay.
Dark Souls consists of many different levels with variety of enemies that get progressively more complex, the player will learn how to deal with each type of enemies and the game mechanics as they go through the levels. As the player made their way through various levels, more areas open up and offer a new place to discover, new challenges, most importantly, more world stories and non-playable characters that emphasize the politics and plot of the world the player inhibits. With a plethora of action adventure role-playing game nowadays, it is arduous to nitpick and say how those game differentiate from one another, however, Dark Souls design is distinctive and offers features that enhance the gameplay experiences. For example, as an action game, Dark Souls utilizes its open level design to include bits of stories and lores in the world itself, without directly narrating a plot, the world of Dark Souls use the method of showing to tell the story. This intention of using the world as a portrait of plot shows even in enemies of each levels, in the first few levels, enemies in rural area will wear cloths and normal armors, while harder enemies are using shield and steel armor to create a challenge to players. As the player advances, more type of enemies that are native to specific area shows up, and the origins of enemies are displayed. A common feature of Dark Souls is that an area can be guarded by a boss that not natively from the area, and often than not, a boss will later become usual enemies in higher level areas. Dark Souls challenge the player’s understanding of mechanics, hand-eye coordination and reaction time, since the game required many trials and errors to explore a level, the game highlights on the statement that the character you are playing is undead and just a normal person in the world.The game surrounds its environments with a grim, dark overtone, for its plot is designed around the concept of the unending circle of entropy in the hosted world. The world designs feel ancient and vast, every buildings, areas appear to be for someone twenty feet bigger than you are. There are a clever distinction between areas as well, the beginning area looks abandon, filled with moss on wall and broken barriers, for this is the lowest area. When the player gets further in the higher up palace for royal family, everything is noticeably grandeur and protected by proper geared knights. However, every areas seem to possess an unsettling appearance. In small, abandon area, enemy could be in every corner, there might be ambushes await at every tower top. In massive area, the enemy can dangling on the ceiling just waiting for an unexpected prey. All of this creates a vast world, with every detail so well thought out to make the players feel helpless like a fly buzzing around an once great world filled with life and prosperity. The overtone grim overlay casts a depressing feeling wherever you travel, every accomplish tasks seem rewarding but ultimately led to a greater burden upon the players to fulfill their mission and prolong the inevitable dying ages of gods and wars.
FromSoftware has been famous for developing challenging games, often shows no more than basic mechanics and let the players have the freedom to shape their own playstyle. This concept proved success with Demon’s Souls, the predecessor of Dark Souls, which FromSoftware was not hesitated to implement in Dark Souls. The world-building in Dark Souls are heavily influenced by Western style with castles, towers, settlements and cathedrals. Many of the design concepts are inspired by real life structures like the Angkor Wat, Milan Cathedral, ... . However, the game user interface and combat are Japanese style with a more tactical approach, rather than relying on pure combat. The system works so that the players have to make a conscious decision on how to allocate their status points. Dark Souls created numerous community that engage in discussions about its gameplay, lore and world design. This includes the risen popularity of modification in the community, people want to modify the game for different reasons, but most commonly, they want to renew the thrill of Dark Souls, the sudden and unexpected surprises as well as dangers around every corners. The modification can be something as simple as fixing the frame rate for smooth gameplay to replacing enemies, items, increase A.I. aggression towards the players,... .
The way this game handles narrative is subtle, it does not give you a full story, however, throughout the game, there are many items contain bits and pieces of the full story. The game relies on building the environment and challenge to help the player settles in the atmosphere and speculate the true plot behind the early facade. The non playable characters (NPCs) are full of hidden stories and motivation, each of them offer an insight of how politics and society work in Dark Souls. The game does not force the lore or its story upon the player, instead the story is interwoven into the game by putting them into an item description, for most players would want to look at their new loot description to see what effect it has and suddenly they can catch a glimpse of lore in it and also know that the item gives them a boost in magical defense. Dark Souls let the player explore the context of the world in their own pace, they can choose to pursue it or not, and it will not break the game atmosphere for them. Since the game has its own way to handle narrative, the use of sudden cutscene just to fill a player with lore is unnecessary, thus avoiding impede the game flow. The placement of items can also benefit the lore, for example, you may hear an NPC talks about a legendary knight who has made it further than anyone to the capital of the world, then when you explore the grandeur castle, a set of armor of that knight can be found, which the players can interpret it as either a sweet loot or a tragic tale of a hero who has fallen while venturing. Dark Souls offer a true interactive narrative experience, a player needs to actively look at their items and its description to gain context of the world around them. It requires real engagement effort to appreciate the hidden story of Dark Souls, the more the players are invested in figuring out the story, the more they will explore and see more of Dark Souls.
Dark Souls required its participants to learn the mechanics and using their skills to avoid imminent danger. In a sense, the game teaches its players how to approach difficult situation and overcome it, for novice players will not be able to go through the game without fallen many time due to its learning curve. Video games have been proven to enhance cognitive function, physical and mental capabilities, and Dark Souls capitalizes on that attribute to create a learning environment that the players can immerse and develop the attitude necessary to defeat the game. While Dark Souls require its players to analyze challenges, it is also remained entertaining, every obstacles, bosses defeated are another way to proceed and unlock areas, so the players can explore to their heart content. The captivating experience and drive of curiosity are the reason players push through challenges, for they want to see what else the game, or rather the developers, can do to push the learning curve.
In my own opinion and conclusion, Dark Souls is a captivating game with more to it than a standard RPG. Everything is very well thought out, from the design, soundtrack, item placement to something small and simple as upgrading a weapon. The game offers a fresh experience in a saturated genre where most games try to do the same thing over and over, this experience creates a higher standard for the industry, thus giving the gaming community a new expectation for better games coming from the developers. However, it is imperative to point out that Dark Souls still has its flaws such as online multiplayer security, or inconsistent frame rate leading to unpleasant play time. The goods outweigh the bads, but we need to remind ourselves to not overlook the flaws and accept it as part of the experience. An influential community has to maintain critical and constantly push for improvement, nevertheless, it should also acknowledge a great game for what it is.