The Immersive Story of Dark Souls 3
May include spoilers, though I try to avoid them.
I'M A CASUAL GAMER. I have been since I got my first gaming console. It was a Sinclair Spectrum (48k!) And yeah, that might just have revealed my age to those of you old enough, or informed enough, to know what that is.
For the longest time I've been an "easy" gamer. And I still am. I choose "normal" difficulty all the time. And I've actively avoided games because people have told me they are hard.
Demon Souls and then Dark Souls series was at the top of that list. People kept telling me "you'd love the story, but it's HARD,-" and so I'd stay away. There are other games to play, I don't need the rage quitting grief in my life, surely?
Then one day a few months ago I (and I believe I spoke of this, perhaps in my take on the easy-game vs hard-game entry where I already went through this) I bought Dark Souls 3 on a whim.
"Fuck it," I said to the kid, "Let's go bowling."
Ok, I didn't actually say that but you get the sentiment. And so I bought Dark Souls 3 for my PS4.
And I believe it may have changed my life.
When I first sat down with it I immediately understood what people were talking about. You start off in a cemetery. The open grave behind you. You've just made this character and you immediately start dying.
Now character driven stories usually have a pre-made character. When the option to make characters (a popular thing, it's fun to make your own character) is present you often start of as a nobody and your job is to play this "nobody" who will become somebody, hopefully a hero. When there's a pre-made character it is often easier to involve the character more in the story as the developers already know his or her gender and can decide every aspect of the person, to a certain degree at least. Not giving the player any options isn't good practice, but they can control those severely.
This game has you make your own character. You can have blue hair, a beard and breasts. It adds to the fun.
But apart from other such games this one is largely character driven. It does't matter that you don't quite know who you are or what you're all about. In fact that becomes a big part of the story. And though I'm sure this has been tried before none have succeeded in this way.
You are just one soul in a long line, trying to do what others have done before you, assumably most have failed, though some have succeeded and to large extent those are the biggest heroes and the biggest foes.
When I first read Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (is it a coincidence that both are made in Japan?) it kind of knocked me off my seat with its different take on things. It's story that is "same", but so different and in such a fundamental way that it hit my heart heavily, and this game has done the exact same thing.
It's taken the fantasy element and merged it with other elements that usually don't share camp and it's done so in a way that's absolutely stunning.
And the storytelling? Amazingly quiet and stunningly visual. Every detail is used to tell a story. Every element of the game is a part of the story. There is not one bit of it that isn't. And I haven't played this games predecessor, Dark Souls 1 being the most important.
And once you realise that the YOU DIED screen isn't the same as the old GAME OVER screen you're used to, but a part of the story the difficulty kind of becomes bearable, fun even. It's a part of this life you're leading, it's a part of the struggle and not an end to it, not an end at all, just a setback. Once you realise that? Then you are really getting your feet in the game. You die and hit setbacks, but death is a part of life and so you get back up and you try to find your soul(s) and if you don't then you've really lost something, but there is a day after this one, however hollow it may seem.
Even the items are used to tell a story and there is so much story to tell, the legends of this world never end and each boss you meet has a story of his or her own, but you're not going to get it served to you on a silver platter. You have to look for it, search for the small details in various places, put two and two together and make theories of your own. (And I'm sure this is a WHOLE other thing when you know the real back story from Dark Souls I - I didn't find I missed anything, but am eager to get to explore the pre-history).
It's a stunning piece of writing, this game. And the best damn story I think I've experienced this year, hell for a lot longer than that even.
And to think I missed all that because I didn't want to play "hard" games? In fact - when I wrote that the difficulty of the game was a part of it? I meant every word of that, because the struggle to finish a boss - and it took me a LONG time to get through The Twin Princes for example- but that's a part of what makes the game what it is. The satisfaction you feel when you finish off the boss - finally - wouldn't be the same if you had the option to use an "easy" mode. In fact I remember going through Witcher 3 and sometimes lowering the difficulty. I love that game too, but in a very different way than this one. This one would have been nothing like it is had here been an opportunity to make the bosses easier.
When you finally defeat the Lord of Cinder you do feel you've earned your rest at that last bonfire. And when the flickering embers, the almost dead flame, run through your body you get filled with an existential anxiety, questions about life and the universe and everything serving through your brain like flame.
And then, when you get the option of either starting a NG+ (A new game with benefits) or continuing with this game, my answer was immediate and strong.
Hell, I have a long way to go in this story before I am finished with it and want to re-live it in a different, more difficult, way, as this nobody I created when I first started out and called Auron, as a nod to my favourite video game character ever. How fitting that was, though now I feel the most adequate name would have been STRANGER.
It's triggered something within me this game that I feel the need to explore further. I won't go into the details yet, because I haven't decided where this will lead me yet, where I will land, but that is where it started. On the cliff, in game, after managing to beat Ludex Gundyr. I had decided for myself that I would AT THE VERY LEAST get through the first boss. And boy was that decision worth it. I stood on these imaginary cliffs and I decided for myself that something was going to happen if I managed to finish the game. I promised myself that I'd start exploring something I haven't before.
It's taken me months! Not just because it's difficult, but because I rarely play video games for long stretches at a time and dying fifty times to one enemy in a row can be taxing on the rage-nerve.
But now I'm here and it may be time find out where this is leading me. I'm still mentally standing on those imaginary cliffs, wondering where to go - but I'm not finished. Not by a long shot.