Dark Souls & Repeating the Same Mistakes

I have always equated Demon's Souls with absinthe. This potent pair seem like a good idea, until you actually try them. That hasn't stopped me from quaffing my fair share of the green fairy over the years, and it also hasn't prevented me from struggling through the waking nightmare that is Demon's Souls on multiple occasions.

I first braved Demon's Souls back in 2009, but I quickly came to the conclusion that it wasn't the game for me and abandoned it well short of the finish. I tried again earlier this year, and although I stuck with it longer this time around, it was always doomed to be shelved in favour of more forgiving, and enjoyable games. You see, I have never been very good at Demon's Souls. It is of course a challenging game, but it was not the difficulty that put me off, but instead the patience that it demands.

Learning from your mistakes and constant repetition are core elements of Demon's Souls, unless of course you are an uber-talented dungeon-crawler, which I most certainly am not. I quickly tired of ploughing through the same collection of lesser, and less challenging, enemies just so I could return to the spot where some super-boss had previously ended my vain hopes of banking some souls. Nine times out of ten, the boss would kill me in exactly the same way he did last time, only it would take him a little longer to dispatch me. However, no matter how many times I swore that i'd never play it again, and I was swearing like a docker with his finger caught in a car door, I kept going back to it. There was something that kept pulling me back in, no matter how desperate I was to be rid of it. It would seem that this mysterious and enviable property has carried over to its spiritual successor, Dark Souls.

Despite my better judgement, I am very tempted to pick-up what is widely regarded as a superior and harder experience than its bastard predecessor. Am I really such a gluton for punishment that I would once again subject myself to From Software's humourless take on the action RPG? I do like to be challenged by video games, but I would never play one for difficulties sake alone, yet I feel almost as if I am missing out by not playing. This feeling grows each time I see yet another friend on PSN playing it, or another blogger or tweet-person (that cant be the right word) waxing lyrical about a game that has both enchanted and enraged. I have always been one to make my own decisions, and am rarely drawn to bandwagons and trends, yet I feel like the unexpected success and popularity of Dark Souls is something so unique that I should share in it while I can.

Dark Souls is an unlikely candidate for mass appeal - a difficult sell for a market that craves familiarity and instant gratification - yet it seems many people have latched onto it, which is reflected in impressive retail figures and the sheer volume of mentions it's getting online. Reviews have been near unanimous in their praise, though most that I have seen have featured a disclaimer along the lines of "its great, but you might hate it". Imagine reading that on the back of a box!

Dark Souls has clearly caught the imagination of the gaming community, if such a homogeneous group exists, and is outshining its lauded predecessor. I really should know better, but I'm in danger of joining the crowd and buying a game that I don't have time for - I still have Child of Eden, a superhuman run-through of Resistance 3, No More Heroes 2, Castlevania and the ICO collection to keep me busy until Batman Arkham City and then the main event, Uncharted 3, come November - and if past history is anything to go by, I shouldn't even be considering. Clearly I have not learnt my lesson - the most unenviable of traits in the punishing world of demon and dark souls. Now where did I put that absinthe?

Have you been playing Dark Souls, and if so, how are you finding it?


  1. I picked up Dark Souls and the strategy guide the other day. Finding myself enjoying it a lot more than Demon's Souls. I dont think its because its that much better but because I know better what to expect now. In Demon's Souls I only made progress when I played co-op with friends but in Dark Souls I have been able to make progress myself (even before I got the guide) and that makes it that much more fun for me. Looks like you are going to be pretty busy with the games you are already into but if you do pick up DS I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  2. Racing games. Racing games are the best way to frame my problem with the Souls series.

    There's two kinds of racing games - type 1 - where other drivers race against you, and - type 2 - games like Mario Kart where you're really racing against a tempo, not other vehicles, because the NPCs all get speed boosts or handicaps depending on what you're doing. They're not racing you, they're just playing their roles in a story about a race that you're improv-ing for three laps. You've never actually won a race in Mario Kart (or any of a million games like it, I'm not trying to pick on the beloved karts), you've simply satisfied a highly abstract tempo requirement and advanced to the next one.

    The Souls series is 100% type 2. It's not insanely difficult because they've handed you a sword and sent you into the mountains to track and kill a monster the size of gymnasium. It's just difficult because they gave every cheap thug, skeleton, and wandering rat the ability to kill you in one hit.

    That's not good game design. It's just a lazy numbers tweak. You could recreate the Souls experience with a Game Shark and any game you've ever owned.

  3. @ Killa - Sounds like Dark Souls is a bit more user friendly to start with, but I wonder how long it will be before it ramps up the difficulty.
    I think I probably will pick-up DS, though its unlikely to be before Uncharted 3. Cant wait for November!

    @ Thirdrail - I can always rely on you to come up with something i have never even considered. I love the racing game comparison. Great!

    I would counter with saying that much of DS' appeal lies in its dark atmosphere, and the feeling of ever encroaching dread - something which a gameshark and any old game could never recreate.

  4. I own Dark Souls, but I haven't played it yet. I'm determined to beat Deus Ex first. I did watch my friend play it for 6 hours straight on Sunday. She really liked it, and I almost broke down and started playing it myself. It didn't seem too hard. She only died when she lost her patience or got cocky. I can see how this isn't a game for everyone, but I'm looking forward to playing it myself.

  5. I think my problem with Demon's Souls was that I often lost my patience, and would take ill-advised short-cuts and try my luck too many times in combat.
    Be good to hear your thoughts when you do get round to playing Dark Souls.

  6. With games like this I wonder if it's a tad too easy to be swayed by popular opinion. Just about all my friends have worshiped this game like a god as have the reviewer sites.

    It would be difficult to gauge if I would enjoy it on my own terms or simply because I'm tapped into the human hive mind collective on a subconscious level. lol.

  7. I think you are on to something. All the praise makes me feel like I'm missing out, yet I know from my own experience that I liked the idea of Demon's Souls far more than actually playing it.

    I think I probably will try DS, though it won't be until December at the earliest, when I finally have time and the price has come down a bit.


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