When Dark Souls launched in 2011, it set out to present a contemplative, challenging experience built off parent game, Demon Souls. What developer FromSoftware was not prepared for, however, was that Dark Souls would become a household name in the video game world, now infamous among any who play in these fantastic arenas, even garnering a speedrunning community around taking down a title that asks for patience from its players. Dark Souls rose to prominence with a ferocity that started as a low rumble, quickly followed by a cacophonous roar that would shake the foundation of games for years to come. Terms like Souls-like, Souls-lite and Souls-borne are as familiar to fans of the series as knowing the exact animations to look for when reading a particularly dexterous boss. Knowing the bonfire beckons once more is now the most exciting news of the new year and May 25 can’t come soon enough. Having come up through three games with multiple DLCs, the question becomes how will Dark Souls have grown and how much will it resemble its original self?
Like most that seem to cross its path, I had never even heard of Dark Souls until two trailers sold me on the thing. Dark Souls seems to have a way of doing that — showing up in lives when least expected (looks at Nintendo Direct Mini). The two trailers were only a month apart, both selling the game, not actual trailers from Bandai Namco throwing the Dark Souls name around. To this day those trailers cross my mind whenever thinking about Dark Souls as they set a tone for Dark Souls that is most likely not remembered, but captured a certain part of what makes Dark Souls a Souls game. When watching the trailers below, pay attention to the attitude conveyed, what is Dark Souls saying about itself?
The trailers not only get across the attitude and tone of what Dark Souls presents, but help set in stone the intensity this game has become known for. It’s not a product of the experience to be had from Dark Souls, but the way in which it eases the player in for the journey ahead with plenty of quiet moments and even a scene of restful thought. The trailers might come across as dark, brooding and brutal, but none of these things describe Dark Souls. These words applied to the game resemble a poor facade that mask what seems to be missed when talking about Dark Souls. The word of personal choice is patience; Dark Souls is for the patient. Inviting the player in to look around the house at their hearts content, while telling stories that can make anyone gasp with wonder and maybe a bit of hesitation. Dark Souls is a slow-burning learning experience that gives out rewards for stopping to study a situation. Nothing about Dark Souls says guns blazing. As for its sibling Bloodborne, that’s a different story.
What might come across as insanely difficult to some is a disservice to what Dark Souls has for a beating heart. Rushing headlong into any situation in a Souls title is a sure way to get killed, but studying that same situation will eventually yield the reward. Decades of game violence, with a baked in body count that is beyond genocidal, have trained an audience that thinks the best way forward is through, without reading the situation. Any problem can be solved in a video game by just killing everything in front of the player while constantly pushing forward. Until that same person blowing through Call of Duty comes up against Dark Souls. Sorry friend, not here. Dark Souls has some things to teach about study and critical planning. This could be seen when those who had only played Bloodborne moved over to Dark Souls III, with echoes of confusion bouncing off the hallowed halls.
It’s always a learning experience when going back through a series to see how far it has come. What systems have been abandoned? What has been focused on only to become a staple? How did this feature become so popular with fans? A plethora of questions being to show themselves when a series is going through the rounds. And with the first Dark Souls return comes this wave of thoughts that will be discussed for the foreseeable future. When looking at Dark Souls III against the original, it’s easy to see the growth the series has gone through. The best example being the discussion around Poise, an attribute for the player character. That essay isn’t alone either as there are thousands of hours of video, audio and writing all discussing Dark Souls, because it’s constantly changing itself while having changed a certain sect of games. Dark Souls, much like its player base, is fiercely dedicated to learn and do better, whatever the situation is.
Mechanically Dark Souls is beautiful. It’s possibly one of the easiest games to understand; learn an enemy’s animations, then take the appropriate steps to exploit them. Learn how to control the weapon of choice or build being played. Understand how the level design works with a spatial awareness any game designer would be proud of. Don’t worry, Dark Souls has plenty of time to see failure, and once that door is unlocked, Dark Souls better look out.
With so many changes having been made to the formula of the Souls series over the years, with even a sprinkling of Bloodborne, Dark Souls Remastered will prove to be a fresh experience. Much like memory, the pieces are there, but I probably don’t remember how everything went down. And of course, things will get completely changed, abandon or added. No new player of Dark Souls Remastered will remember when killing the Drake on the bridge was as easy as cheesing it from that same bridge. Nor will they know of the stuttering frame-rate when entering the Undead Burg. Much like the bonfire, the cycle continues, this is just one more iteration in a long-running circle. Dark Souls is living its own lore in the best way.
Knowing that a fresh experience awaits might put Dark Souls where it intended to be even more than when it originally launched. Much like people, Dark Souls grew and is not the same game it was when last seen. It will be a different sort of relationship, but still maintain its core principles that it originally brought with it. It wouldn’t be a Souls game without it and this is the title that started it all. The other note of importance is that audiences and critics alike still debate over what makes for a “Souls” game and having a remaster might be exactly what’s needed to get that fresh perspective. With many titles now having borrowed different pieces for what makes up a Souls game, getting back to basics could prove to be a lesson in humility. Letting audiences question all over again what exactly makes a game souls-like, if anything at all? Let’s be patient and find out.