22 April 2014

How I Came to Darken My Soul

So I spent much of last weekend playing Dark Souls.

I remember watching 'let's play' videos of this game already, like, a couple years ago, but for a long time I was pretty sure it was a game I was never going to play. It looked hard. It looked, frankly, a little monotonous. It didn't seem to have much of a plot.

I have largely the LoadingReadyRun crew, and Alex Steacy in particular, to thank for changing my mind. I think I've mentioned in recent blog posts I've been watching a lot of their material lately. Well, some time ago Alex got into Dark Souls and streamed a session of it. I figured it would be fun enough to watch. He also wrote this helpful post on Tumblr for people interested in getting into the game. Enthusiasm can be infectious sometimes, and sure enough, I was infected, and eventually went out and actually bought the game (since it's a few years old already, and the sequel just came out, you can get it for a fairly affordable price these days). Since then I've also been watching LRR's Graham Stark play the game, with helpful advice from Alex.

'Helpful advice'—those are fairly important words.The thing about Dark Souls is that it has a pretty steep learning curve. The game tells you very little about what's going on and how you should be playing it. The manual is pretty slim, as they tend to be these days, and makes basically no mention of many important concepts and techniques, nor does the game have much of a tutorial section, beyond briefly mentioning some very basic controls. Unless you're a lot more hardcore than I am about such things, you'll really want to do research online, watch tutorial videos etc. before getting into the game. This'll make the first few hours a lot easier.

But when you do get into the swing of things, I think it can be an interesting, entertaining and rewarding experience. I'm still not very far into the game, so I can't really make any final judgements, but I've had fun thus far, and been pretty excited to play it. Sure, I've died a lot, but that's part of the game. Just exploring the different areas is pretty cool.

Uh, yeah, so what exactly is Dark Souls, someone might be asking? It's and action RPG title from Japanese developer From Software. Not a typical JRPG, though—actually more reminiscent of later Castlevania games (those in the Symphony of the Night vein), or perhaps even Zelda games, featuring an open world of connected levels that you can explore with some degree of freedom, but will need to beat certain bosses or find certain items to be able to progress. There's a robust stat and equipment system that affects many aspects of the game.

The tone is quite dark. You basically play as an undead character in a world filled with other undead and monsters, most of which are trying to kill you. There's not a whole lot of plot, and the cutscenes and dialogue that you get... are not perhaps the clearest, so I'm not going to bother going into a lot of detail at this point. While I'm a big fan of strong stories in video games, honestly, I don't think it really matters in this game. It's just not really the point. A lot of plot might even get in way of exploring the game's desolate world. What's important is that the atmosphere of the game is delightfully gloomy and, well, atmospheric... (There's also some atrociously bad pseudo-archaic English in some of the dialogue snippets that makes the linguist in me just want to punch somebody.)

I may write more about this game once I've played more. In the meanwhile, I'm still writing those Breakfast Battles updates on Tumblr I introduced a couple weeks ago. I still haven't finished my Mass Effect playthrough, but in the very near future I'll likely be focusing on Dark Souls...

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