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With the coming and going of April 25, 2014, Dark Soul II has finally come to PC. After 16 hours of gameplay time I had an epiphany about why I love this series. The Dark Souls and Demon Souls games boast a high difficulty, revel in the amount of deaths that occur in the game and how difficult this game is. There’s even a monument in Majula, the first town/area/place with blacksmith of Dark Souls II, which keeps count of the deaths in game worldwide. A game that is incredibly difficult, unforgiving, punishes relentlessly, revels in your suffering, online multiplayer with no way to actually play with who you wish and seems to have no story as well as a system in which randomly and from my experience with no balance of level other players can walk into your world and basically do this. All in all this sounds like a horrible experience, but for Dark Souls and From Software it works. Is it simply somehow this cluster of horrible experience mashing together to magically make something that people enjoy, or is actually calling back and unknowingly subconsciously playing on our nostalgia.
My Dark Souls experience has been quite similar to many others. Dying… a lot. Other than dying there was a lot of learning, a lot of experience and a lot of victory. Dark Souls Director Hidetaka Miyazaki mentioned that Dark Souls has a core and that “Solitude and desperation are key components of that core”. Oddly enough these are two words used to describe gamers when I was a youngling…. However I feel my Dark Souls experience has really captured this core. Although I’m not that far in I’ve hit a wall of sorts, in every direction a boss and feeling that I’m not strong enough to take them down. Yet I know that there is something in each of those battles that I have to learn in order to destroy these staggering blade wielding obstacles of absolute death. I’m in the position of a desperate struggle to kill this thing in my way of progressing… I mean I could call it evil, but really there is not good or evil in this story. I’m a dead dude turning deader, trying to keep my humanity on my way to a kingdom some witch told me to go to. Really, I’m trudging through this place where dead things live? dead? wander around as animated undead that attack things in their way, and I’m basically doing the same. Attacking whatever gets in my way because I know there’s a place I have to get to and I don’t know the fastest route to there. I’m simply learning the monster’s patterns to take the least damage, die the least amount of times possible and keep whatever points I can as I constantly learn, memorize and experience the tricks, patterns and terrain of this world I know little about… kind of sounds familiar.
All in all, it really sounds like Mario, Zelda or Contra, if broken down in the most basic of basic terms. Really just sounds like the fundamentals of gaming in a way. Although I will admit it does feel like the gaming experience has gotten easier in some respects as time has gone on. Granted its not as easy as “poke a sandwich, you family dies TOP SCORE!” (HAWP anyone? no? fine…) But there are some aspects of gaming where I don’t feel that old sense of accomplishment I used to when finally figuring out how to kill a boss and continuing on in my journey. Back in the days before saving was everywhere and death meant having to run through levels all over again. Dark Souls doesn’t look like the games that inspire this kind of nostalgia of devastation. I mean I love indie games and platformers for all this reason, but many of these are meant to inspire that nostalgia in a way. Calling back to these worlds, references to old games and art styles that remind you of those days you sat in front of the old 10 inch tubular TV sets using coaxial cable and RF adapters on channel 3. Dark Souls doesn’t really bring back those days right off the bat. Where it really brings in nostalgia is in a feeling, at least one that I get when I play.
Dark Souls has a sense of accomplishment through the unrelenting and devastating odds that has just enough of a ray of, for lack of a better word, hope that drives me to continue through the various denizens which lie ahead. Hope isn’t really the word I want to use, but really it’s a belief that I can take on anything that is out there or die trying… because I will certainly die trying. I mentioned having an epiphany and that moment came at the beginning of a boss battle. I had the “I knew this was a boss dammit… what the fuck do I do here?” moment after walking through some mist. Which is a feeling I knew all too well from various doors, gates, pipes, tubes, portholes and other portals that locked up behind you. That moment in which you stand there for a second and realize you are most likely boned but hey, you’re there, he’s there and just maybe you’ll figure out how to kill him before he kills you. In that moment I realized the constant death, the patterns and those moments standing in front of bosses, cursing because you messed up slightly costing you majorly and the sense of accomplishment figuring out how to kick the ass of a monster nigh impossible to pass are the nostalgic feeling I get and is why I grew up loving gaming. Either that or I’m still in desperate solitude.