Dark Souls pt. 4
1. a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage
2. advancement in general
2. advancement in general
What I’m about to tell you flies in the face of everything you have heard (and, indeed, everything I have told you thus far) about Dark Souls.
Are you sitting down?
(Whisper it.) The game isn’t actually that difficult.
Stopped spinning yet? Good, because no matter how much you protest, how indignant you are, it is true – you’ve just got to adjust the way you think about things.
The trick here is what do we mean by “difficulty”? What makes a game “difficult”? Well, in gaming, “difficult” is often shorthand for dying a lot. It can mean going over the same bit of the game again and again or having trouble getting past a certain point. It can mean a lack of progress, or being unable to finish the game. All of these apply to Dark Souls except, crucially, the last one.
You WILL die a lot in Dark Souls. There is no getting away from that. In another game this would mean that you are not progressing, that you are stuck. This is not the case here. In Dark Souls dying is all part of the process, and this is down to the function dying performs within the game. Normally, when you die in a game, you are returned to the last save, or checkpoint or whatever and your progress since that last checkpoint is reset. In Dark Souls you are returned to the last checkpoint but, crucially, all your progress is not reset. You still have any items that you may have picked up. The traps that you triggered remain triggered and won’t get you again. Any bosses or sub bosses you killed remain dead. Most importantly, the knowledge you gained of where enemies are and what lies ahead is still there, in your brain. The only things you have lost are the actual physical headway that you made into an area, and any souls or humanity that you may have earned (and you can get all of those back.) Souls are readily available. Enemies are constantly respawning, their souls are infinite. All it takes is time and, well I’m not even going to say effort because it’s so enjoyable, to get more. Losing souls is a smokescreen to make you feel that you have lost something by dying. You haven’t, it’s just an illusion. Dying doesn’t matter, that’s the truth! It’s difficult to accept, because it goes against everything that you have learned over years of playing video games, but there it is. Death is meaningless, it’s irrelevant. Embrace this fact! Set yourself free!
Similarly, you will also often find yourself going over the same areas again and again, or having trouble beating certain bosses. This can make you feel that the game is “difficult”, but the important thing is that you are constantly improving both yourself and your on-screen character. Let’s take the bosses as an example. The first few times you encounter a boss it is likely that the encounter will last less than 30 seconds, and end with you smeared all over the environment. However, the next time you fight them you might last a little longer (but still die.) A couple more times and you’ll notice the little signs that tell you which attack is coming up and, eventually, you’ll work out the best way of beating them. Once you’ve played the game for a bit start again and go back and fight Asylum Demon. You will be astonished at how easy he is. Your character is the same starting character you fought him with the first time but you, yourself, have changed. You know what you’re doing now. You know what he’s going to do. How on earth did he ever beat you? And this is the same right across the game. Something that took you 20 hours to achieve the first time round can now be done in 5. Nothing about the character on screen is more powerful, but you are. You’re trained, you know exactly what’s coming, where you need to go. You, yourself, your actual physical, real self has progressed.
One of the game’s greatest strengths is that you aren’t told where to go or what to do. You get some vague pointers from people but nothing that makes much sense. There certainly aren’t any flashing green arrows above people’s heads, no signs on a map - in fact there isn’t even a sodding map. You are left to work out where to go and what to do and it can feel overwhelming. But, once again, you are constantly learning, constantly progressing. You can’t avoid it. It’s inevitable. This isn’t “difficulty”, this is exploring! This is fun, isn’t it? Try one direction. If it doesn’t work out then try another. Nothing bad is going to happen. You’ll die if you pick the wrong one but the game will stick you back where you started and we’ve already worked out that death is meaningless, haven’t we? You’ve still progressed, you know not to go that way again.
If you think of everything in terms of progress then suddenly the game becomes easy. Anything can be progress, and this is as true of you as it is of your on-screen character. If Death itself, the great leveller, can be progress then what can't? Learning the way an enemy attacks is progress. Triggering a trap is progress. Fighting, and being killed by, a boss is progress. Improving a weapon is progress. Getting a new shield is progress. Going the wrong way is progress. You just need to learn how to value every little thing that you learn. You are always steadily advancing towards your goal of finishing the game.
So there you go. Stop thinking in normal video game terms. The greatest achievement of Dark Souls is that it subverts the standard conventions. Death is a slight inconvenience, not the end. There’s no “game over”. If you keep plugging away then you will find the way forward, and all along, in the background, there is progress.