Gitting Gud: Looking Back at the ‘Souls’ Series
If I’m going to talk about Dark Souls, it’s only fitting that I talk a little bit about Demon’s Souls, which was essentially the predecessor to the Souls trilogy. It launched back in 2009 on the PS3, was given tons of awards, and (as of this writing) sold around 1.8 million copies worldwide. With a new takes on the classic action-RPG, a steep learning curve, in-your-face difficulty, and lots of fresh ideas, it was an instant classic. Not only that, but it planted the seeds for what would become staples of the Souls trilogy, for better or for worse.
Fast-forward to 2011. Developer From Software had taken what people liked about Demon’s Souls, jacked it up to 11, and made sure to include a kick in the teeth with every purchase of the game. “Prepare to Die” was written right on the back of the box, and players everywhere clenched their butts and dove into the masochistic adventure that was Dark Souls. Exploding into critical acclaim upon its release, the community also blew up immediately. Griefers, Sun Bros, and everyone in between took their spots as staples of the Souls series. The game spawned its own memes that literally no one would understand unless they played the game. What the hell is Giant Dad?
Still, six years later, people are picking up the game for the first time and becoming fans of the series. Usually due to people like me who forces their friends to enjoy pain. Don’t take that out of context.
The first game gave us so many memorable moments that will give you fond memories of 2011…or PTSD from your romp through Lordran. Overcoming the Asylum Demon for the first time felt awesome, even though it was a mere sampling of what was to come. Lighting your first bonfire, meeting Solaire and Seigmeyer for the first time (praise the sun/onion, bro!) were such good feelings. Of course, I think we can all come together and agree that Ornstein and Smough were little more than a social experiment designed to push the human psyche to its limit. Manus was no joke, either, assuming that you were playing the Prepare to Die edition of the game, which included new quests, bosses, and gear (and way more). Fighting Sif for the first time was easily one of the most polarizing gaming experiences ever. If, like most people their first time through, you paid no mind to lore or story, you probably just fucking hated that stupid dog.
“How can he even hold that sword anyway? It doesn’t even make any sense, and it’s probably my controller’s fault that he keeps killing me.”
However, once you get some lore knowledge under your belt, and you learn the story of Sif, the whole fight gets even harder, because it’s hard to see your TV through all those tears. That was something great that Dark Souls did, and the rest of the games followed suit: the story was kept in the back seat. Yeah, you knew generally what you had to do. Kill these specific guys, then the final boss, then either link the flame/take the throne, or don’t. This was totally fine, because the gameplay holds up just fine without knowing every little detail of the many narratives in the series.
However, once you start reading item descriptions and learning stuff about who you’re fighting and killing, every boss fight becomes so much more emotional. Even small fights, like the one with Solaire become depressing, and you dedicate your next playthrough to figuring out how to save all of the people that you can. I was shocked when I learned that you could get Solaire all the way to the boss fight with Gwyn. I had no idea; I thought I had to kill him!
Speaking of Gwyn, that brings up one final topic before I move on to talk about the other two games: the music. The music in the Souls series is nonexistent until you go to the fire link shrine or get into a boss fight. The rest of the time? It’s just ambient noise. Frankly, that’s fine, because being able to hear baddies creeping around the hallways (and other environmental audio cues) is essential to survival, but it also highlights the emotion in boss fights. You get a feel for who they are (or used to be). Gwyn’s theme still gives me chills every time I hear it. It also makes dying to bosses not so unbearable because it always feels like you’re facing a colossal challenge that you have to plan around in order the beat them.
Defeating bosses in the Souls games feels great, it always feels like you took down something bigger than yourself; the underdog wins. Except for Pinwheel. We can all just point and laugh at Pinwheel.
e’s a silly bastard.
Dark Souls 2, although not a bad game (depending on who you ask, that is), wasn’t directed by the man at the helm of the first game, Hidetaka Miyazaki. A lot of the changes that came to the game were somewhat neutral, or were balanced out by a different change. One change was that torches had to be lit at bonfires. But they could run out, and you had to collect more torches to add to the timer. There’s tons of torches in the game, however, and only one or two areas specifically use it as a mechanic, so the timed mechanic is really not a huge issue.
Another huge change that not many people were keen on was the fact that every time you die, you hollow more and more. Your maximum health gets smaller and smaller every time you die (you can die a lot), and you can only restore it with a Human Effigy. Of course, there’s a limited number of those in the game–a huge pain in the ass–and you end up shooting yourself in the foot by trying to skirt by without full health. You could argue that enemies tend to stop responding after (somewhere around) fifteen deaths in an area, but that’s a little much for the pride of most Souls players. Also, if you’re dying that often in an area, perhaps you should be rethinking your strategy.
Weapon degradation is also pretty bad in this game. It’s quite obnoxious. Your shit breaks down so fast it’s like it’s made of cardboard.
It’s also worth noting that the story of the second game is somewhat unrelated to the first and third game. There are connections, but they’re few and far between, and a lot of the characters we knew and loved from the first game were all but absent. It definitely feels like the odd one out in a lot of ways: story, gameplay mechanics, visuals, setting–everything. It’s not a bad game, it’s just not as good as the other games in the series, and it’s definitely considered the black sheep of the trilogy.
Now, we’re onto Dark Souls 3, which is a bit polarizing in terms of its ranking in the series. Some people, like me, think it’s the best game in the series. Some people, the more hardcore fans of the series, tend to gravitate towards Dark Souls as the best entry. They both have their ups and downs, but Dark Souls 3 took a lot of things from previous games–including Demon’s Souls–and made them work well together. It brought back the magic bar, and gave players the option to divide up their Estus Flasks to replenish either health or magic. Most of the weapons have fancy weapon arts that also use up that magic meter, and they ranged from power-ups to sword lasers. Weapons also stopped being made out of wet paper like they were in the second installment, and the game as a whole felt like the true sequel to the first game that we hadn’t really got yet.
The boss battles, including the optional ones, are pretty much all awesome. This game really toned down the bullshit sections from previous games. It’s still stupidly hard to the average player, but it all feels fair rather than just frustratingly annoying. I personally feel like this is by far the most polished, fun, and well-explained game in the series, with all of the lore and item descriptions. This game’s side quests kick ass, too, and usually lead to some seriously memorable encounters.
It should be noted that the DLC for this game holds two of the hardest, nastiest bosses in the entire series. Sister Friede and Slave Knight Gael are badass, but holy shit are they a couple of the meanest mugs you’ll ever see in a Souls game. They’ve got multiple forms–three in Friede’s case–and their fast-paced move sets will constantly keep you on your toes while chugging your flask.
There’s a great online PvP mode in the game thanks to updates that allow you to just fight people in free-for-alls or team matches. It’s actually quite a bit of fun, but it does take a little of the magic away from getting invaded in the game. Outside of invasions, I usually don’t participate in a lot of multiplayer fighting because, well, I’m not very good at fighting other players. But the option to hop right in matchmaking and fight people is a really cool addition!
The Dark Souls series is supposed to be over for now with all of the third game’s DLC officially released. Bloodborne was originally just a spin-off game, however, the multiple endings of that game have left From Software open to show us a new game at E3 this year. I have a funny feeling that they might re-release Dark Souls (1) on Xbox One and PS4, maybe with updated graphics. Since it’s not technically a new Souls game, they wouldn’t have been lying about the series being over. I’d buy the hell out of that, to be honest, but only time will tell.
For those that have been playing the entire Souls series since the beginning, or at least for a while, you probably share my pain in not ever getting a Dark Souls 4. It’s sad that the story ended, but it did end well. They didn’t drag it out and mash it into the ground. They took their time with every game, made sure they were all awesome (each one for different reasons), and that’s why we love From Software the way that we do.
In the mean-time, there are tons of Souls-like games that have come out lately to tide all of us masochists over until they give us something new themselves. The Surge and Nioh come to mind; I highly suggest giving those games a look if you’re looking for something to scratch the itch.
Let us know what you thought about the Souls games below! Love ’em? Hate ’em? What was your favorite memory from the series?
And never forget to Praise the Sun, my incandescent friends!
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