Is Dark Souls really “tough but fair”?

dark_souls_3_hr_gundyr_battles_player

A beautifully constructed game with terrifyingly difficult enemies

Dark Souls III
Released: March 24, 2016 (Japan), April 12, 2016 (worldwide)

Praise the Sun! Finally, the release of Dark Souls III (2016) has dawned upon the West and it’s all I can think about. I haven’t had the opportunity to play the game myself, because unfortunately the PS4 has left my university household with my housemate. My computer isn’t good enough to run it either, so I’ll just have to wait. In the meantime, I have been watching some gameplay videos and livestreams of the latest Souls game and I think it’s magnificent. I know that in my Bloodborne (2015) review I talked about how going in with just a little bit of knowledge of the game is the best way to go but I really couldn’t help myself. Having only played Bloodborne I know nothing about the lore in Dark Souls, but despite that it still feels as though it’s a game people can jump into whether they’ve played the previous games or not. Now, everyone who has heard of Dark Souls will know that it’s a game not to be taken lightly because of its notorious difficulty. I will go on to talk about the difficulty of the game, but firstly I want to express some of my opinions about the game itself. Prithee be careful, there be spoilers ahead for Dark Souls III.

I realised pretty quickly when playing Bloodborne that the game wasn’t messing around and both Demon’s Souls (2009) and the Dark Souls franchise are no exception to this. DS3 seems to have taken the middle ground between the original Souls games and Bloodborne by speeding up combat somewhat and including phases that enemies shift into during fights. The first boss had a definite Bloodborne-esque feel to it after its sudden and horrific transformation in the middle of the battle, and it definitely sets the game off to a great start. My favourite boss is undoubtedly the Abyss Watchers for many reasons that I will go into detail in a later post.

Several characters from previous games have made reappearances, such as Andre of Astora and Siegmeyer of Catarina, lovingly dubbed as the Onion Knight by fans. The players even return to Anor Londo, although the city has been robbed of its light after Aldrich, the Devourer of Gods has taken over. Many of these references went over my head but I’m still very interested in the lore, though it is mainly because of the change in pace that has made me consider buying DS3. One of the things I loved most about Bloodborne was how fast the action was and the encouragement of playing more aggressively, which was why I knew that taking out the shield in comparison to the previous Souls games would suit me a lot better. I may be cautious when I play games, but I’m equally just as gung-ho at times. This might also be the reason as to why I love the Abyss Watchers so much. Their lunge attacks launch them several metres towards the player from across the room and they just look so unbelievably awesome. I’m all for giant monsters but these forsaken creatures caught my attention immediately over many of the other bosses. Yhorm the Giant, the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, Lorian the Elder Prince and Lothric the Younger Prince all deserve an honourable mention though. Yhorm looked incredible, the Dancer’s movements had me in awe and the Princes made for an interesting fight.

Now, it’s this extremely steep learning curve that I want to address. The friends that I consulted prior to purchasing Bloodborne all told me that it’s difficult but gratifying once you start making progress. Similarly in DS3, when you’re faced with an enemy that is 10 times your height or a horde of them, you cannot help but feel intimidated, but the only way to progress is to get stuck in. Personally, I do stand by the view that the Souls games (including Bloodborne) are hugely arduous but they are also reasonable, although I do see why people would think otherwise. The prompt in writing this post was after I read a negative review of the game on Amazon on the day of the worldwide release. The reviewer does not state if this was their first time playing a Souls game but I can only assume this is the case as they do mention the game being brutal for new players. One of their concerns was surrounding this ‘tough but fair’ attitude towards the game.

I won’t shy away from the fact that none of these games are perfect. They each have their own flaws, some of which have bled into the newer games. I have noticed that during videos, many people will complain about the frame rate dropping and the fact that multiplayer has a fair amount of lag, which the reviewer on Amazon touches upon. Not only this, but a friend of mine who is a huge Souls fan was very disappointed that the PC version of DS3 had come with a ridiculous bug where the game would crash whenever the player would walk towards or rest at the first bonfire (checkpoint). Admittedly, From Software should have used the Japanese release of the game to find and rectify these issues before its worldwide release to allow for a smoother experience. I do agree with the Amazon reviewer that the game has its flaws, but what game doesn’t?

The parts of this person’s review that struck me were their complaints of being one-hit-killed, the ‘deliberately obscure and obnoxious design’ and how bonfires were hidden behind false walls, etc. Honestly, while reading this I couldn’t stop laughing. Everything the reviewer listed as being unfair has been present since Demon’s Souls, and as such it’s safe to assume these features will continue on throughout the franchise. Not only this, but it’s common knowledge within the gaming world that Dark Souls is ridiculously difficult. If someone should pick up this game, not knowing absolutely anything about it then I do feel the utmost sympathy for them because they will not know what hit them. This reviewer, however, sounds as though they had an idea of what they were getting themselves into. But in all seriousness, the most I knew about Bloodborne before delving into the game was that it was made by the same creators as the Souls franchise and so it was going to be very challenging. I may have picked up the keys quickly but the experience was tough, but one that I was happy to endure because, if anything, the difficulty of the game made me feel more determined to win. I’m not the greatest gamer out there, I never claim to be, but if I can do it then anyone who has the drive can as well.

What it seems to me is that this reviewer knew very vaguely about Dark Souls and thought they’d give it a try because the game is known to be challenging. They were clearly met with graphical issues and the like, which I know is exceedingly frustrating especially after my experience with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015). Alongside this, they most likely also found that the difficulty of the game is nothing to be trifled with but pinned their unsuccessful attempts at DS3 on the game being unfair as ‘fairness isn’t part of this game’s world’. There are several games that I have played where if I die I can wholeheartedly blame the game. In Assassin’s Creed, for example, I have jumped off so many buildings that it should run like clockwork but instead have somehow managed to miss the haystack below me and plummeted to my death. That is a clear example of the game failing the player because of whatever reason. An NPC jumping out from a cell to push you down into an area filled with enemies? No, that’s just Dark Souls.

‘The designer of the game is a self-proclaimed masochist and has the classic Japanese military/corporate mentality where you have to be broken and punished just for being new to the game, to “prove your worth”‘ The Amazon reviewer goes on to write. It’s no secret that Hidetaka Miyazaki has called himself a masochist and channeled his want of an excruciating game experience into Dark Souls. However, this wasn’t because he wanted to punish the players of the game but simply because no other developer had brought out a game that he himself wanted to play. This then culminated into the Souls series, and fans of the franchise are thankful for it. I too think that games have become easier over the years, but this is most likely due to the growth in popularity of video games and so the need to appeal to a wider audience was necessary. The Souls games are quite the opposite and are a series of games for those who want something more challenging than most triple A titles that are currently being released. I’m sorry, Amazon reviewer, but being new to the game isn’t a good enough excuse. It’s the third game of the Dark Souls series, you’ve had more than enough time to become acquainted with it. I know it’s hard, but a few words of complaint isn’t going to lower the difficulty of the game.

(NB: The reviewer that I have been making reference to throughout this post has also left negative reviews of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (2015) and Bloodborne. In the latter, they express many similar grievances as that in their DS3 review. They also go on to claim that with ‘no checkpoints before the brually [sic] hard bosses’, the game goes out of its way to ‘deliberately troll the player’. They also wrote that From Software use ‘cheap tactics’ in an attempt to make a difficult game. It’s pretty clear that this person heavily dislikes the Souls franchise and Bloodborne, and yet they continue to buy and play the games. Just sounds like they’re a little salty in my opinion.)

Of course, this reviewer is completely entitled to their own opinion. If they didn’t enjoy the game, then that’s perfectly fine. It’s their loss in the end as they’re missing out on a brilliant game. It could just be that they didn’t have enough perseverance in them. Unfortunately, Demon’s SoulsDark Souls and Bloodborne aren’t the types of games to hold the player’s hand and walk them through the entire thing with reminders of the controls or hints of how to defeat bosses. This is not a game for ‘casual’ players as it does require a lot of time and patience to get through it. It’s a harsh process of trial and error while you roam through the various breathtakingly beautiful and horrifyingly disgusting environments. And when you’re met with the crimson text across your screen to remind you of your fate, you awake at a bonfire anew and run straight back into the action.

Call me a troll, but to this reviewer I simply say: git gud, son.

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