So I love Dark Souls; I am a filthy glutton for punishment. I’ve loved Dark Souls since before it was Dark Souls. I remember when I was on my L plates begging a friend to supervise me driving to go get a copy of Demon’s Souls after hearing from Zero Punctuation that it was hard….. And oh god was it hard. I remember sinking hours upon hours into that game. My first time through the game I actually ‘cheesed’ about 30% of the bosses because I was so terrified of them; sadly I must admit that my first kill of the infamous Flamelurker was one such cheese. When I finally downed False King Allant, let’s be honest – the true final boss, I felt accomplished in a way a game had never elicited from me before. I read, many years later, that the Souls games are not games you simply beat; they are games you conquer and emerge bloody after one hell of a fight with. This was how it felt to have vanquished, what was being called at the time, ‘The hardest title in modern video games’.
I remember when Dark Souls was announced being giddy with excitement – I turned down a date with a girl who I was seeing at the time to sit and watch IGN’s first 24 hour live stream of the game pre-release. It took me 60 hours to finish my first journey through Lordran – most of that spent grinding in the Duke’s Garden to upgrade my magic spear…. And once again, after felling Gwyn, I was suffused with that elation that only besting a Souls title could bring.
Years later when dark souls 2 was released I was once again buoyed by the excitement of dying countless times and the feeling of mastery that I would achieve after I finally bested that game, conquered that mountain. Only this time something else happened. I got about 30% of the way through the game and I couldn’t do it, I was truly stuck. Dark Souls 2 bested me – and shamefully I put it down.
A few years later and Bloodborne had just landed this game was 50% of the reason I had invested in swapping to a PS4 from the 3 (the other 50% was Infamous). New console, new setting – surely whatever had plagued me in Dark Souls 2 would melt away as I stalked the beasts of Yharnam… Only it didn’t and this time I couldn’t even best the first boss…. I was truly despondent – I’d lost my hardcore edge, I was turning into a filthy casual gamer.
One final fast forward – to earlier this year. Dark Souls 3, the last hurrah for the team behind Souls. I didn’t get excited for it. I wasn’t up to the challenge. Souls had broken me and there was no coming back. Only….. I couldn’t give up I had to try. Had to have one more bite at the cherry. About a month after release, in time to be ganked by every pvp invader in the world, I picked it up. With trepidation I booted it up…… To my surprise I felled the tutorial boss with relative ease. I thought it had to be a fluke, a way to lull me into a false sense of accomplishment and security. But as I progressed I didn’t see that infamous ‘You Died’ screen for about my first 1.5 hours of play – not till a Dragon swooped in and roasted me in typical Souls fashion. But i had gotten a solid start, and so kept going. It was tough, like remembered form all those years ago, but just like in ages past I persevered, I gritted my teeth and pushed through the rage, the frustration and the gut wrenching loss of souls. Until I did it – I had finally beaten a new Souls title.
I was filled with that same intoxicating victory rush. I looked at my vicotry trophies -and thought back to the statement about conquering souls games, and to my shameful 50/50 record with the series…. If i had now tipped the balance 60/40….. It was time to really conquer this mountain, too vanquish all doubt and to finally prove that I was the master of fate and captain of my soul.
I decided I would ‘Platinum‘ Dark Souls 3.
So I did – 4 play-throughs and 95 hours later it was done. From this vantage I felt untouchable, invincible, omnipotent. It was time to get my ledger out of the red. My past failures would no longer limit me; I would not only erase them from existence by besting Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne, I would ‘git gud’ and platinum those games too.
It took nearly another 150 hours and countless deaths to Blue Smelter Demon trash runs and Winter Lanterns; but I did it.
I was reflecting weeks later on why I loved the Souls games so much; they were, after all, not particularly heavy in story – in the way of Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda and other RPG titles I had grown up loving. They were rage inducing and really not what I went to gaming for, abnegation. It wasn’t until i really thought about my complex journey to conquer these titles that it dawned on me. The Souls games are, in my opinion, the pinnacle of gaming’s ability to teach one of life’s most important lessons: ‘Inputs affect Outcomes’ what we do directly correlates with what happens in our lives. If something doesn’t work, doing it over an over again will not make it magically work, you need to find a new way to approach the challenge, a new strategy.
The Souls games were stripped of all other surface details, they were tight mechanically focused experiences that forced you to learn each and every second of them. They forced you to conquer their challenges through skill and absolute determination. Giving up was possible – you could walk away – but the task wouldn’t magically get easier or complete itself in your absence. Much like in the rest of life – you could ask for help, consult a guide and get directions to aide you in the task, you didn’t have to go it alone, you could summon a phantom.
The Souls games have really stuck with me because they are a wonderful microcosm of the challenging parts of my life, a series of seemingly impossible encounters and challenges that all require, patience, consideration and dedication to overcome. I will always remember the hard won lesson of the Souls games and how hard I fought to learn it.
Praise the Sun!