How I Learned To Respect Dark Souls Then Returned It

The design of difficulty has changed greatly since the early days of video games. Arcade games were intentionally difficult in order to provoke the player into spending more money to play the games and to try beating them. Many NES games are notorious for their difficulty – from Ghouls and Ghosts to Mega Man. But as we near the current generation of games, many features have been introduced to make things easier and gentler for gamers, such as: regenerating health, an abundance of save points, and in-game hint systems.

Dark Souls is not like today’s games.

Dark Souls is, no doubt, a success amongst consumers and critics alike. But there will obviously be a vocal demographic of players who absolutely hate the game for its seemingly unfair difficulty. Even I was scared off by the fact that the game prides itself on difficulty that harkens back to a time when beating games was about memorization of enemy spawns that were downright brutal to deal with the first time through.

I can safely say after a day of playing Dark Souls that it is a great game. But Dark Souls isn’t your equal. It is an intimidating and powerful beast. You must respect the beast and learn how it behaves. For every challenge you overcome, the simple feeling of accomplishment is reward enough to push you further along. But for every mistake you make, Dark Souls is unrelenting in its torturous retribution.

Even by the first stage, which is formally the tutorial stage, you will most likely die if you decide to play without a guide. In fact, I died numerous times on a stage that’s supposed to teach you the ropes.

In the first level proper, I died over 10 times before learning I was going in the wrong direction; while this particular path had tons of valuable loot, it was filled with enemies that you’re not meant to fight during your early career in Dark Souls because of how incredibly tough they are.

In between my first real bonfire, which acts as the game’s save points, and the second boss encounter, was an entire gauntlet I had to run filled with fire bomb throwing, ax wielding, shield brandishing undead. And if I wanted to go back to heal at the bonfire, they’d respawn so I’d have to do it all over again.

And the first time I actually managed to reach the second boss, I was mashed into an unrecognizable skid mark on the wall.

At this point, I was about ready to give up. My only experience with challenge driven games was Mega Man 9. I didn’t want to fail again and lose the souls and humanity I managed to scrape together; but by some miracle, on my third try against the second boss, he fell off the rampart, dying instantly! The feeling of accomplishment was literally all I needed to continue on! My faith in Dark Souls was restored and even though I was still wary of booby traps ahead of me, I was convinced I could at least approach future problems intelligently after dying so many times. All the leveling up I had been doing in between was going to pay off.

After a minute of walking through empty halls, I was incinerated by a dragon.

This game has an amazing way of prodding you into appreciating the challenge it presents to you. After dying 10 times within the span of a half hour, I had incidentally farmed and grinded extra levels when I decided to retreat rather than continue. I had picked up somewhat rare drops, such as a new shield and a spear. And after countless retries, I managed to luck out a win against the second boss before being utterly destroyed by a new, insurmountable obstacle immediately afterward which would burn me to a charred husk if I so much as sneezed in its direction.

I was not angry at Dark Souls. It was at this point where I realized what Dark Souls was doing to me. It expected me to learn after every death. Just like Mega Man, there’s always some sort of pattern; but beyond that, I had earned a few rare drops and managed to level up whenever I decided to be prudent. And after realizing the solution, probably after several deaths, the game rewarded me with souls, a brief respite, and then told me to do it again and to have fun with this new challenge, which was harder than before.

Certainly not everyone is going to like how Dark Souls handles. Newer gamers who grew up on Halo and New Super Mario Bros. Wii probably won’t understand the charm of this kind of difficulty. But remember that Dark Souls is not a bad game. It’s a technical marvel that reminds us that games are supposed to challenge us down to our most basic instincts. Instead of throwing endless waves of enemies that you have to flank or monsters with predictable patterns of attack, Dark Souls gives us monsters that are just much more powerful than us and then it simply waits for us on the other side of the finish line before unveiling the next obstacle course.

And that’s enough for me. I rented the game for only one day and died perhaps over 50 times by the end. But when I decided to return it, I understood what Dark Souls is all about.

Someday soon, I’ll play it again, eager to pass that last impossible challenge, fully expecting another impossible challenge after that.

striderhoang (20 Posts)

One day in 1994, a child traveled to Fresno to visit his relatives when, on his birthday, he was given a Sega Genesis. Thus started a chain reaction that began a life of video gaming and skyrocketing oil prices (probably). In all seriousness, Strider has been reading video game journalism for the better part of 17 years of his life and what does he have to show for it? A BA in journalism and contributed articles everywhere from Bitmob to Destructoid. Currently looking for his dream writing job.


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