How I understand Dark Souls

With careful poise, shield at the ready, Matthew Rorie stepped forward onto the crumbling bridge. It was a beautiful vista, an enchanting land devoid of explanation. I sat and wondered to myself, “what is this place, what is its purpose?” only to have that question answered in the next fifteen seconds.

As if ripping a hole into this fictional hell world, fire lit the screen. Rorie’s avatar flailed around the bridge, trying desperately to escape, but it was of no use. His avatar crumbled, dead, on the ancient stone bridge. It was only when the familiar Japanese text, “YOU ARE DEAD”, perhaps stating the obvious, that we finally saw the culprit. A gigantic, red, spiky dragon as if ripped from the nightmares of a young boy.

Matthew Rorie and his friends laughed, poking fun at the sudden death. Beneath that laughter, that joyful expression and digs at how “THIS is Demon’s Souls”, there was an uneasy tension. While it was fun and games, Matthew Rorie knew he’d have to reach that same spot and reclaim his lost Souls, and his Humanity. It was a tension filled trek back to the bridge, stabbing monsters and only engaging enemies when he had to. Matthew Rorie soon found himself on the bridge, and stopped strategize.

Bows only seemed to piss the dragon off. Running forward and back only seemed to reset the dragon as soon as it disappeared off-screen. The tension only mounted as Rorie strategized, while Brad and Vinny watched quietly to see if Rorie would succeed.

What followed was harrowing. Slowly but surely, Rorie figured out the pattern. He fell ghouls, out-witted the monster’s fire, and found himself on the precipice of the under pass. This is when I found myself actually wanting to buy Dark Souls. A game I was convinced by the Internet was a hard, unfair, grief-a-thon from the developer, From Software.

What draws me to this game? It isn’t the combat, which looks methodical and plodding. It isn’t the hardcore nature of the game, or the eerie monster designs. What draws me to this game is its world. It’s the ambiguous nature of it and the vague messages contained within. The tired, beaten down voice work I had only experienced in titles like Silent Hill 2 was back and in full force. For what few moments of respite there were, they were all too brief. Soon Rorie would be on the move again, walking slowly, shield in hand, waiting to conquer the next challenge that awaited his spear.

It soon struck me, between the ducking and weaving, the throaty bellows of “oh my God”, the awkward cheering from Vinny and Brad, that this was a game not often seen in today’s playing field. Played alone, I can only imagine how terrifying an experience it must be. It was all too easy to romanticize stumbling upon a black knight that was not only too strong for your level, but hunted you for as long as it could, before leashing back to its spawning ground.

Then Rorie found an armoured boar.

Through trial and error, careful plotting, and two bags of puppies for luck, Rorie somehow defeated the beast, and found himself hunted by arrows and skeletons with shields. It was an intense chase, from seemingly one end of the map to the other, Rorie was hunted, chased, hounded by these unholy creatures. Desperately seeking safe haven, there were nail-biting near deaths, pitfalls, and false finishes. And yet somehow, some way, Rorie found himself at the next Bonfire. It was a resting place that offered brief sanctuary. Somewhere the hellish beasts could not follow. It was then that they decided to end the engaging “quick look” of Dark Souls, and I found myself awestruck by the possibilities of the world.

The world itself is something mysterious, ambiguous, and all together enthralling. I want to wade deep into the world to see its nooks and crannies, to experience the terror of encountering an enemy too strong for you, to attempt to flee and find safe haven before the monsters hunted you down and slaughtered you. It always bothered me to think of the “Souls” games as action, or adventure, or even RPG. Those titles didn’t fit quite right. Now, though, I know why. Dark Souls is a survival horror game, in the truest sense of the genre.

The allusions to Silent Hill may not seem apt. After all, one is about a twisted town that takes your inner most fear and twists it into a psychological skull-fucking, and the other is about being dumped into a world that hates and wants to kill you. There is no reason. There is no moralising. There is only you, your arms and shield, and a hundred thousand monsters standing between you and sanctuary. Yet I can’t help but feel the same, intangible pull toward Dark Souls that I felt when I played Silent Hill 2 for the first time.

I knew nothing of that game when I bought it, only that a friend had recommended it for being a “scary game”. I find myself in much the same situation here, looking at Dark Souls. I know more about this game than I did Silent Hill, but I still feel as if I don’t know anything. I find myself unable to wait. The thought of fumbling through the dark. Shield in hand, wondering where the next danger might pull me. In short, I’m looking forward to being scared. It’s been a long time since a game scared me.

And perhaps that’s where From Software is coming from. Perhaps that’s why they chose to disable party chat, voice chat, and any kind of chat. After seeing the game in action, and gaining an understanding of what it is, I can’t help but feel this is a game tailor made to scare the bejeesus out of anyone who plays it. A kind of ambiguous horror that only grows more terrifying with more understanding. As it stands, my pre-order is ready, and I can’t wait to shit my pants on October 4.