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Dark Souls: Challenging The Difficulties with Difficulty

/ Mar 24th, 2014 No Comments

Dark Souls 2 is out, you may have heard. FromSoftware’s original pressure cooked RPG (a spiritual successor to Sony backed Demon’s Souls) broke new, or rather, very old school ground with its impertinent rebuttal to offer much more than scraps in the way of waypoints, exposition and linear narrative. The idea of Dark Souls was to force the player to explore and figure out the world they were dropped into by a crow for themselves. Even directory sized FAQs and extensive YouTube video walkthroughs were no guarantee of safe passage to the quest’s finale or PvP supremacy. It rewarded concentration and persistence just as much as it punished the frustration and flippancy the game would often provoke.

The openness of the world and non curating exposition of NPCs or environments set it far apart from the hand holding, explicit direction-ering and moral clarity games have generally become comfortable with delivering. It also offered value for money. Some initial reviewers managed to clock up over 100 hours before release, a pitiable length compared to what many of the NG+++ players out there have clocked up in the 2 and a bit years since. The difficulty isn’t the only thing that sets the Dark Souls games apart. The sheer value of play time for those persistent enough is astonishing. Set that against the £20 for 2 hours of main campaign Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeros and you’ve got a maverick in a market where developers can be as generous or as stingy as they please.

Dark Souls is difficult, but it’s only difficult because games have more often than not been too reliant on telling us what to do and us gamers are used to that. Raised on this idea that reinforces dying or mission failures as a condemning sending off from the playing field, rather than merely being a penalizing hurdle. Basically, it’s an accepted misconception that makes Dark Souls hard, as it’s really a test of the players persistence and will, rather than purely skill.

More often than not. Dark Souls demands you figure out bosses and burgs alike by figuring out the best way to attack, cast or guard your way through these challenges – and come back stronger so the victory is sweeter. In an interview with the Metro during the Prepare to Die Edition’s release, Creator/Producer Hidetaka Miyazaki expressed some thoughts on difficulty; “I personally want my games to be described as satisfying rather than difficult. As a matter of fact, I am aiming at giving players sense of accomplishment in the use of difficulty.” Dark Souls throws up some lessons that are often true of life. If there is an easy mode in the game, it comes from playing online and together. It’s true that boss enemies are bolstered for these conditions, but numerous players using differing attacks from various fronts at once gives an advantage that isn’t possible without crushing a humanity.


Dark Souls II

Dark Souls II

What befalls our chosen undead is the freedom of exploration and the removal of linear narrative. Something more reflective of how events take place in real life – and not everyone has your best interests in mind. But Dark Souls presents us with no truly evil villains. No main antagonist. Only individuals with their own morals and incentives. You may get Sparta kicked down a hole by a merchant who’ll later sell goods to you. Or get useful hints and boss fight back-up from a sociopathic knight that will later murder a seemingly innocent maiden for their own unknown reasons, and meet you in battle if you decide to take revenge.

Figuring out your actions for yourself is a simple difficulty lifted from most games. Liars and moral ambiguity are also key threads in the fabric of Dark Souls. Let’s not get too carried away though, there are other games like it and Dark Souls only exists because of what was laid out before, and we’re not just talking about King’s Field. When comic actor and Dark Souls fan Peter Serafinowicz came on board for Dark Souls II, he dropped a rather enlightening sound bite in a behind the scenes video. That Dark Souls is what happens when Resident Evil meets Zelda, and that the game is fundamentally “Zelda in Hell”.

The Link (excuse the pun) is there. Limited key items (fairies, ammo), special items (weapons), giant bosses, moments of horror, implied but vague lore and a crushing sense of mortality. Think about the first Zelda for a second. An old man in a cave presents you a sword and then off we go. Cryptically, one of the world’s stair cases only appears after burning a seemingly random bush and every death sends you to the point you started from. Zelda was Dark Souls before Dark Souls.

Dark Souls takes us back to games without the sat-nav. Rather than abandon, it respects the player enough to figure it out in the order they want and see it through themselves. It’s many secrets will make players talk about the game with friends and online. This is why the series has the huge blood stain and chalk mark leaving fan base it does. Even if the game is seen by many as difficult, it’s appeal shouldn’t be.


Olly Jones
Olly Jones is a contributor to the editorial team at Gaming Illustrated. As an artist, Olly has created artwork to publicize games for Capcom, Ubisoft, Arc System Works and Grasshopper Manufacture.
Olly Jones

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