Dark Souls is, for all intents and purposes, one of the best designed video games of all time. Everything from level design, to combat mechanics and even the Souls series signature online component, fits perfectly within the context of the game itself. Much has been said about Dark Souls – be it positive praise or otherwise – but, from a sheer design aspect, it feels like one of the game’s most refined features often gets overlooked. The armor design found in Dark Souls perfectly fits the game’s aesthetic and serves to immerse the player into the world of Lordran.
Perhaps the best aspect of Dark Souls’ armor design is that it does have the ability to go unnoticed. All too often, games tend to feature armors that lean more towards the absurd then anything else. An overabundance of spikes, massive hulking pauldrons, or countless belts are nowhere to be seen within Dark Souls. Armor design in the game heads down a more minimilistic path, and even with some of the more over-the-top armors in Dark Souls, within the context of the lore, the armor makes sense.
Unlike virtually any other game on the market, the armor of Dark Souls tells a story. Each and every piece of armor shares a little bit more insight about the world of Lordran and the events that have led up to the catastrophic curse of Undeath that plagues the land. Many sets of armor that players come across in Dark Souls are taken from the corpses of NPCs that have perished after going hollow. Taking a moment to uncover all of the armor sets, as well as reading their item descriptions often shares deep insight into the backstory of the NPC and his or her life up to and during the events of the game.
For example, two of the most iconic armors in Dark Souls – the Elite Knight Set and Iron & Sun Set – are not only instantly recognizable for their simple yet stunning design, but also for the specific bits of lore they share about the characters who once clung to the armor for protection. The Elite Knight Set, easily one of the best designed armors ever seen in a video game, tells the sad story of Oscar, Knight of Astora, when examined.
“Armor of a nameless knight, perhaps an elite knight of Astora, based on the fire-warding heraldic symbol on its blue surcoat. Although he was loath to give up on his Undead mission, he perished at the Undead Asylum and went hollow.”
This description sheds light on the first, and most important person, that players ever meet in Dark Souls. The supposedly ‘nameless knight’, Oscar is the only reason the player’s character is freed from the Undead Asylum. In the game’s opening cinematic, Oscar throws the cell key down to the player, allowing for them to open the locked door and ultimately begin their journey and ultimate quest to fulfill the prophecy. Oscar is also the one to set your path in motion as you meet him, slowly dying, after he has been smashed through the Undead Asylum’s roof. Oscar is your savior initially, but also functions as your first guide to the harsh realities of the Undead’s existence.
Because of all of his help, however subtle, it makes reading the item description for the Elite Knight Armor hard to stomach. Oscar is the primary reason the player is able to solve the mystery of the Undead, but even his own armor refers to him as a nameless knight. The juxtaposition of the noble design and item description when looked at with the potential emotional footprint Oscar may leave on the player is something that is simply not seen within video games and a fine example of implicit story telling.
The aforementioned Iron & Sun Set’s description has perhaps an even larger impact than that of the Elite Knight Armor. The Iron & Sun armor belongs to none other than Solaire of Astora, beloved by Dark Souls fans and heavily suspected by many to be the long-forgotten son of Gwyn, Lord of Cinder. Throughout the course of the game, Solaire is never far from the player. He is easily summoned for many of the game’s bosses, and is frequently found throughout Lordran as he journeys to find his own sun.
Solaire’s dialogue and mission are symbolism-laden, often leading players to assume he is in fact the son of a god. The description of the armor however, seems to direct attention away from any possible connection.
“Helm of Solaire of Astora, Knight of Sunlight. Of high quality, but lacking any particular powers. Solaire’s incredible prowess must have come from rigorous training, for his equipment exhibts no special traits.”
“Armor of Solaire of Astora, Knight of Sunlight. The large symbol of the Sun, while powerless, was painted by Solaire himself.”
It is important to note that the item descriptions for the Iron & Sun set make multiple mentions of the fact that Solaire is inherently normal. To survive the world of Lordran, one must be exceptional talented or gifted by the gods. Solaire, by the admission of his own armor, is no more than a man dead-set on a goal. His entire life (or, Undeath) has been spent rigorously training and improving himself so that he may traverse the dangerous lands and find his own sun. The notion of Solaire being the lost son of a god is something only teased at. His armor is plain – much like the Elite Knight set, the beauty of the Iron & Sun set is within it’s relative simplicity of design – and has no bearing of power.
There are no definitive answers within Dark Souls, only a few stark lines of dialogue here, or vague item descriptions there. If there is one thing that is certain about those who have traveled through Lordran, it is that the armor they wore was still no protection from the countless dangers the land holds. A simple knight of a noble house was no match for the demons guarding the Undead Asylum, leaving him crippled and nameless – his indescribable good deeds to be forgotten, and a Sun-loving knight could not withstand the unending desire of his own quest, the lust for his own special Sun beceame too much and spelled his death – leaving the questions of his lineage never to be answered.
No one said Lordran was a happy place.
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