Prepare to Die

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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In the beginning, during the Age of Ancients, the world was barren. Only fog, grey crags, towering Archtrees, and the undisputed masters of the land, the Everlasting Stone Dragons, were what inhabited this land. Suddenly, there was fire. With this First Flame came life, death, light, and dark. From this, pitiful beings came, with four of these finding the Lord Souls within the flame. Gravelord Nito, the first of the dead; The Witch of Izalith and her seven Daughters of Chaos; Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight, and his legions of Silver Knights; and the Furtive Pygmy, who faded into history. Together, the Lords and their armies fought against the dragons, and with the aide of the paledrake Seath the Scaleless, a dragon born without scales who betrayed his kind out of jealousy and spite, the dragons were all wiped out. Thus did the Age of Fire begin, beginning an age of prosperity. However, the First Flame will eventually fade, leading into the Age of Dark. With this, the Darksign ushers forth the Undead, branding them and heralding the end of the world.

The spiritual successor to 2009’s PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls and the core series of the “Soulsbourne” franchise, Dark Souls is developer FROM Software’s successful Action RPG series and is their most recognizable IP outside of the Armored Core franchise. The series is known for its challenging difficulty that encourages players to be cautious and recognize enemy patterns, vague storytelling that is told through item descriptions and limited character interactions, and an online component that allows players to either work together in jolly cooperation or invade the worlds of other players to hunt them down. The first game was released in 2011 for the last generation of consoles (PS3 and Xbox 360), followed by 2014’s Dark Souls II on last and current generation platforms, and culminating with 2016’s Dark Souls III, bringing the story to a close. A PS4 exclusive spinoff, Bloodborne, was released in 2015 and featured a different setting, aesthetic, and faster combat.

The player character of each game is an Undead, branded by the Dark Sign, but given an important task to fulfill. DSI had the Chosen Undead, who went from being left in a cell in a rotting asylum to being tasked with ringing the two Bells of Awakening so that their fate and purpose will be revealed. A long but unknown amount of time after the first game, the second game follows the Bearer of the Curse, an Undead that travels to the land of Drangleic to find a cure for the Undead Curse. Finally, after countless eons have passed and the Age of Fire that Gwyn started has been prolonged for too long, the protagonist of DSIII, the Ashen One, rises as a special kind of Undead known as an Unkindled, who is tasked with hunting down previous Lords of Cinder, mighty warriors that linked the First Flame during their time, so that they might do so one last time in a vain hope that either the world will be saved or that the Flame with last for just long enough for everyone to die before the Age of Dark and the Abyss consume everything. Along the way, they meet several very unique characters and can forge alliances with them, but it is never sure if or when they will eventually turn Hollow and attack the player.

The player will face many monsters and other foes on their way to their goal. Some are simply creatures following their instinct, some are desperate individuals trying to survive, some are trying to uphold an oath to a friend or their own honor, and others are tragic individuals that used to be noble but have been driven insane or would prefer not to fight but have no other choice. As such, it can be hard to label most of these characters as villains. However, there are a few malevolent or manipulative beings in this setting. The Primordial Seperent known as Darkstalker Kaathe leads the Darkwraiths, who want to end the Age of Fire and usher forth the Age of Dark, or as they like to call it, the Age of Man; The monster that is Manus, Father of the Abyss, may be mindless and animalistic, but seeks nothing more than the destruction of reality by spreading the Abyss across the world, and with his defeat at the hands of the Chosen Undead, his fragments continue to plague the world and cause problems ages later for the Bearer of the Curse; Even when the end of the world is nigh, completely evil people like Pontiff Sulyvahn, the leader of the Church of the Deep, and Aldrich, the Saint of the Deep and Devourer of Gods, only want power and are willing to commit horrendous atrocities to keep it.

The gameplay completely reflects the harshness of this world. Normal enemies can and will kill you, bosses will stomp you into paste in just a couple of strikes, and even the environment is out to get you. To level up and become more powerful, the player must collect souls, but every death drops your souls near where you were slain, forcing you to travel all the way back to where they are to retrieve them. Aggressive, unprepared, or impatient players will find themselves dying over and over again, but by learning enemy patterns, how to properly dodge and block while conserving stamina, and attack at the right time, they will have what it takes to make the long journey to the final boss. Attacking, dodging, and blocking uses up stamina, and when it hits empty, no action can be taken until it begins to fill up. There are also few items to properly restore health, which makes the trusty Estus Flask an Undead’s best friend, though they must take care of not using it all up when they are so far away from a bonfire, which serves as the rest areas of the game, giving the player a chance to heal up, rest, and travel between other activated bonfires. Other players through the online component can even be summoned so that they might aid you on your journey, but there are others that will invade your world, looking to inconvenience you in any way they can.

Despite the world being a very unpleasant place to live in, the games are very pretty, the music is amazing, and the boss battles can be very memorable, with favorites including the duo of Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough, the honorable Sir Alonne, and the complete powerhouse that is the Nameless King. The descriptions present in the items and the environment tells the story of the games, painting a melancholy tale of a land that was once great, but has become desolate from corruption and sorrow. Though the dialogue is limited with the few NPCs that are still alive and not insane, they still contribute to the somber feeling of the story.

With Dark Souls 3 serving as the grand finale of Dark Souls, it does not necessarily mean that this is the end for the Soulsbourne series. The world of Bloodborne could be further explored, Demon’s Souls has been talked about getting remade to bring it up to the modern improvements of the franchise, and there are still two sets of DLC coming to DS3. The first, Ashes of Ariandel, is set for October 25 later this year and the second for early 2017. For those seeking a challenge and aren’t afraid to test their limits, Dark Souls provides all of that and more.