Monday, October 24, 2011

Dark Souls: A study on challenge and thanatophobia (Game Review)

Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to the 2010 PS3 exclusive game Demon Souls, is a hearkening back of sorts to the games of old where you'd play a game for several days before moving past the first level. It's an action RPG type of game that touts itself as being the hardest game ever made. The producers even once considered making the game unbeatable.

Remember when beating a game meant something? When getting to the 8th level of Mario Brothers (without skipping levels or cheats) was something to be prideful of? When beating a game wasn't imminent? I do. I remember spending 1 year playing Ninja Gaiden II, shelving it for another year, pulling it back out and spending yet another year completing it. I remember spending 4 years playing Batman Returns for Sega Genesis before beating it (damn that game was hard). Games like this just don't exist in the volume that they used to. I'm not trying to sound old here, I'm just saying that I miss being challenged when playing a game. All too often games are dumbed to in order to "introduce the next generation of players to the field." But what about the seasoned veterans of the gaming culture? Dark Souls is the answer. 

Allow me to restate: Dark Souls is one hell of a difficult game, but only in comparison to the relatively easy games of today that tell you were to go, when to go, how to go, and only require you to press one button to do EVERYTHING (Yes, I'm talking about you Arkham City). That being said, for all of Dark Souls' difficulty, the reward for overcoming obstacles is awesome and great. As a game I praise it, but there's something more to the game than just playing it. I think it makes an important statement about life and death itself. As I mentioned before the producers didn't even want to make the game beatable at one point. What does this really say about the game?

Dark Souls is set in what is considered to be the "Third World." A world between life and death. An alternate dimension where souls travel to once a person dies. The Third World, to which light (a perversion of death) was brought long ago, is going dark. Ultimate death will soon consume all of the land.

Many of the souls/personalities that inhabit this Third World are twisted and corrupted because they have not been allowed to die - they are undead. Even the character you control is not immune to this effect; which incidentally makes for an interesting game-play device (when you die, you're revived at a checkpoint with all armor and weapons collected, but none of the experience collected that's needed to truly progress and become stronger). The true goal of the game is to die for good. But to achieve death you must not only beat the game, but beat the game under a certain condition: do not activate the last checkpoint in the game before the last boss. For if you do, you still fear death.

The game tries everything in it's power to psychologically break you down, to make you give up, to keep you "living". They want to "corrupt" you as they have stated in past interviews. The producers even hope in some way that you "keep living, wondering the world [they] made forever." As stated before, the goal of the game is death. The tag-line of the game is: "You WILL Die... Over and Over Again."

The game makes and interesting point in making this the ultimate goal of the game: The only way to PROPERLY die is to face death with confidence. They also make an interesting subtle point: To claim mastery over anything, you must suffer... repeatedly.

Death should not be feared, for it's a natural process in life. Perpetually living is the true thing to fear, for you will lose everything, even yourself eventually, if you do. In death, the promise of new life lingers. Death is life's change agent - It's needed to keep the world progressing, and in some sense it's also needed to progress through the game and ultimately "win."

I give this game 5 Sickles out of 5.


  1. Will you be doing other games?

  2. I'll try to do one's of note. But yeah, you can expect more.

  3. I didn't know they had these types of games in Communist countries. I never made it through Ninja Gaiden II, I gave up on one of those really awful boards where flying things keep killing you.