Now, as I’ve said before, I was born right at the ass-end of the 80s. I remember nothing from the era, having spent all of my time in it either shitting myself, crying or crying because I’d shat myself. As a result, I had all of my earliest video game experiences in the nineties.
What did this mean? It meant that I have terrible memories of getting my ass kicked by games, that’s what it meant. Back in the day, video games could be damn brutal. If you look back at something like one of Disney’s Genesis platformers, you’ll find it much damn harder than its cutesy toontastic looks would suggest.
This is one big gripe that decrepit ol’ gamers like myself have about today’s titles. Often, they’re far too forgiving, too hand-holdy, with their auto-aim, tutorial missions and all of that BS. We’re getting achievements/trophies just for having completed the first simple-ass training mission, and that’s not the way of the gamer.
With all of that said, today we’re taking an ogle at one series that gives no effs about any of that, which has no mercy and will take your scrote clean off without a second thought. Probably the series most often given the ‘hardcore’ label. Dark Souls. Buckle up, Ego-friends.
Dark Souls –suck on this little doozy of a plot twist—wasn’t actually born as Dark Souls. From Software’s first release in the ‘series,’ Demon’s Souls, hit in 2009. It was a PS3 exclusive, an action RPG that immediately cemented its reputation as a ballbuster.
If you’ve spent any real time with these games, you’ll know the deal. You spend a couple hours designing a hideous lumpen man-freak in the character creator, choose your class, clench your buttcheeks, and head off into a dark fantasy world. A dark fantasy world that wants to kill you horribly at every turn.
Whether you choose to play as a hulking battle-ax-brandishing barbarian warrior or a quick, agile thief, you’re going to have a bad time. Still, you signed up to be a demon hunter, buddy boy, I’m not sure what you were expecting.
The story’s a familiar one: A shadow has fallen over the mythical realm of Boletaria, or rather a scary-ass fog like in that Stephen King story. The heroic do-gooder knights of the land have been corrupted and transformed into all kinds of monstrous lumpy things, and it’s up to your ass to put them down.
If you ever made it through Demon’s Souls, chances are you were good buddies with the You Died screen by the end. The dragons, skeleton-dudes and other fantasy stereotype enemies you’ll be up to your kneecaps in are vicious. The bosses even more so, natch; pretty much designed to be attempted and slowly learnt over a good couple attempts. If you remember memorizing the patterns of Mega Man encounters, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
And there it is, really. The Souls series is one of those that managed to get its formula just about right from the off, and hasn’t changed all that much since. Spiritual successor/sequel (depending on how much of a pernickety smartass you are) Dark Souls arrived in 2011, and critics and players who had such a boner for the first title were right at home here.
The second time around, the fog from before returned, and it led to cursed undead legions being reborn again and again upon (un)death. This sort of thing, as you can imagine, leaves fancy-ass government officials with all kinds of tedious paperwork to fill out, and so you, one of the cursed victims yourself, set out to stop the spreading scourge.
It was much the same deal with Dark Souls 2 and the spangly new 3, with subtle variations in plot and such. Along the way, there have been tweaks to online functions (which have, historically, centered around trolling fellow players with messages designed to screw them over), that sort of thing, but by and large… From Software are giants in the action RPG field, their games have an unmistakable style, and they’re stubborn ol’ bastards who aren’t changing their core mechanics for anyone.
More recently, a Souls spiritual successor became one of PS4’s first big exclusives. 2015’s Bloodborne was a darker, much more macabre and gothic tale, with a surprising twist. It seemed to be a fairly straightforward horror romp through a dark, smoky Jack-the-Ripper’s-Merry-Olde-England cursed town, but midway through switched it up. The whole Lovecraftian shitstorm of it all hit us later in the game, and secured Bloodborne’s place as one of the most critically acclaimed titles of recent years.
The Soulsborne devs have always struck me as being one of the most highly specialised game makers around. From stick to their guns, do one very specific type of game, and have a huge passion for it. Dark Souls ended, officially, with the last release in the trilogy, but there are always fans hoping for a surprise Bloodborne 2 announcement or the like. These guys have left a huge hole in our super-punishing-action-RPG-with-utterly-freaking-obscure-plots hearts. Damn you, Miyazaki.