To all those hardcore Nintendo fans that have only heard tales about Dark Souls but never got around to play it: I’m here for you. I have put in close to 1,000 hours between all versions of all the Souls games, including Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, and I still hold the first Dark Souls as the most precious to me.
So take a seat, grab a drink, and get this Firelink Shrine theme in your head, cause I’m about to tell you about my story with Dark Souls.
There was a time when Nintendo set a new standard for Action Adventure games with Ocarina of Time. Since then, a hundred game makers have iterated on its formula. But from all those, FromSoftware did it best with Dark Souls. When I played it, I felt many great things as I lost myself in its world, day in and day out for weeks.
There is what I felt after finally getting a hang of the controls in the Undead Burg. I learned to maintain my distance from a group of enemies swinging their swords at me, making sure I could engage them one by one while avoiding the arrows of a bowman that was perched atop a flight of stairs. I started sidestepping spear-wielding Undead so they would miss their thrusts and I could strike before they could defend themselves. I would dash past the firebombs of another Undead so I could quickly kill the mobs waiting for me at the other side of a bridge, and replenish my health with a sip of Estus if I needed it. I learned to kick the Undead guarding themselves with their shields, and kill them before they regained their balance. Because it took so much failure until I learned these fundamentals, I felt accomplished when I finally pushed past all the challenges the Undead Burg had for me.
And then I fought my first real boss – the Taurus Demon.
This was the first real wall the game had for me, and I died so often that I felt forced to go back and explore other areas and find more gear. But more importantly, I felt forced to learn how blocking actually works. Once I put up my shield and paid attention to managing my stamina meter, the Taurus Demon went down easy. Once again, I was rewarded for my efforts to get the better at the game.
But getting better at the game wasn’t the only gratifying part about it. Even exploring Undead Burg’s many rooms, claustrophobic alleys, and bridges felt rewarding. I don’t only mean that I would find a chest with some cool gear in them – finding a winding path that would circle back to the main path and sometimes even unlock a shortcut was inherently gratifying. It’s like that feeling of going on a long path in the Forest Temple of Ocarina of Time only to eventually return to the main room – but on a larger scale, over and over again.
With each item I obtained, too, I understood a little bit more of the game’s mysterious story. Some questions were answered and new ones arose. Here and there I would find a ring that belonged to some legendary dragon hunter of old, or a new spell that was invented by a wandering pyromancer. I thought, “ok, so I’m wearing the great sorcerer Logan’s hat, the gloves of some nameless thief, and the chest plate of the elite knights of some distant land – but I’m running barefoot. I need to find some boots.”
And finally, I would recall the Catacombs, where the Skeletons were so brutal that I could barely kill one or two before running out of healing items, yet I’d watch the Skeletons rise once again to kill me. Maybe now that I was stronger I could get a little farther.
And I did. I got all the way to the proper entrance of the Catacombs, where I was ambushed by mob after mob of Skeletons, until I was scared back toward the Undead Burg.
Later, this cycle would repeat with each new area: I would explore the level, collect new armor, weapons, and accessories, learn a little bit more about the game’s lore, encounter new enemies and bosses, be forced to get better at the game to push forward, and use my new skills – not just roleplaying stats, but real skills and tactics – to access areas that were too difficult before.
This time I’d learn to stay away from walls and corners when fighting enemies, or that this Artorias guy was some absolute badass that saved the land from corruption in a time long gone, or that I was supposed to cross the poisonous swamp to progress through the story, or that the reason the Skeletons kept coming back was because of a damn Necromancer, and that there were half a dozen more Necromancers throughout the catacombs and that even on a good run there was that jerk Patches laying a trap for me so there was absolutely no hope of getting past this hell.
And every time, I’d make a mental checklist of things I could be doing: defeat that Undead Dragon; go down that tree where there was a secret wall behind a secret wall; get rid of this curse so I can have my entire health bar again; try out that new spear I got because some of these enemies are too much for close range battle; make some money and buy that armor set from that weird guy in the Depths; upgrade my Estus flask.
With every thing I checked off the list, and with every new area I discovered and every boss I’d beat, I’d feel a sense of relief and a rush of dopamine, and I wanted to keep going.
And when I finally beat the final boss, I thought, “let’s do that again, but this time with the Katana. This time with a Great Sword. This time with pyromancy instead of magic. This time naked while avoiding all the optional areas and bosses.” And so on and so forth.
I must have put about 500 hours between the original Xbox 360 version and the Prepare to Die Edition on PC. And you bet I’ll put in another hundred on the Switch.