Ever since the animated gif of a monster seemingly composed almost completely of teeth turned up on the internet, I have been dreaming of Dark Souls and how exquisitely punishing it might be. Demon’s Souls was an emotional ordeal all by itself; I bought it on the assumption that most people whining about the difficulty were just wet blankets who needed to grow a pair. Boy was I wrong! Suffice it to say that I spent many, many frustrating hours with my import copy until I decided that my fat, slow, pathetic knight could be put back in his box and left there as a lesson well-learnt. Problem is, I’m not one to be easily beaten, so when I heard that the EU version was coming with a guide I began steeling myself for another run, opting for a fleet-footed royal. I know, I’m adventurous like you wouldn’t believe, but my pride was bruised… Long story short: I overcame the difficulty with practice, some advice from the guide and, the first time round, a little bit of luck. Cut to some months later and Demon’s Souls is nothing more than a milestone on life’s great journey. Next up is going to be Dark Souls; surely they’ll make an effort to ensure that it’s as hard as, if not even harder than its spiritual predecessor?!
The day finally came; being resident in a country where I don’t speak the language properly yet is problematic when it comes to buying any form of media, from books to video games, so I had to have the game shipped in from the UK. This way I know I’ll get the English version, but more importantly, I can afford to play the bugger. Games here in Deutschland cost a staggering 70€, which is at least half as much again as a game costs back home, so I can ship from abroad and still have money spare. Madness. Anyway, back to that tingling feeling of anticipation and concern that comes with all sequels, direct or otherwise: Will the game stand up to the previous title? Will the developers have found that elusive balance between the old and the new? Will it be a toned down version so new blood can pick up the game and play? After that comes the unusual combination of fear and elation that seems to be unique to these games (I’ve certainly never felt worried I’ll be unable to complete a Sonic game!): Will the game be hard enough? Will it be too hard? Will I be broken by the game, chewed up and spat out like my first foray into Demon’s Souls? The latter seemed to be the most likely outcome…
I even decided to be brave and not touch the guide that came with the game this time around, deciding that now I’m a veteran I should be able to forge my own path through this desolate, violent land. Imagine, if you will, my ecstasy the first ten times I died (I opted for a thief-build, reasoning that it would be quick and reasonably balanced between magic and swordplay, my favourite way to fight), the incredible joy as I died for the twentieth time trying to force my way into Blighttown, the immense wave of euphoria as I crept up to a dragon’s body to pilfer some loot, only to have it wake up and take a fatal swipe at me. I was in heaven, gradually training myself against the pairs of skeletons in the graveyard leading to the Catacombs so I could reach a little further in each time, until I eventually reached a new checkpoint down in the darkness. And it was down there, in the darkest recesses of the dankest cavern that I hit the wall.
A stunning combination of traps, enemies and my own silly mistakes (don’t try and run along a ledge whilst petting a cat, it’s a terrible idea) conspired to grind down my spirit. Eventually I came across such an overpowered enemy that there was simply no way to continue, so I abandoned my efforts in the catacombs and decided to return to the surface and try my luck back in Blighttown. Only I didn’t get that far. I was poking around Firelink Shrine when I noticed a THIRD way to travel, up some steps carved into the cliff-face. Naturally, curiosity drives a man to explore as much as possible and, frankly, having already reached as far in as I was capable in the other two main directions I was willing to take the third road. This direction is where the awe, delight and joy all began to disappear from the game. I suppose it was my fault for not spying this way in the first place, but after the terrible skeletons of the graveyard, killing a few pike men and firebombers was like taking candy from a baby.
I forged ahead, downing black knights and monstrosities all the way. Panting, I arrived at a fog gate. Knowing what it signified I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the inevitable death spree that awaited me on the other side of that white mist. It didn’t happen. The boss managed to land a single glancing blow throughout the entire battle, while I hacked, poked, chopped and cartwheeled until the foul beast fell and expelled its last breath. Never mind, I thought, ahead awaits a greater challenge. And so it was, a winged beast was proudly awaiting my arrival on the battlements. Using the only tactic I learned against such animals from Demon’s Souls, I sprinted for cover in the middle of the bridge, avoided being toasted and climbed high up the battlements. This is where everything went wrong and the seed of disappointment blossomed into a great flower. I took a moment to admire the panorama before me and the majesty of the creature below (even deadly beasts are beautiful in their own way). This could be the beginning of a great battle, after all.
I removed my crossbow from my pack, wound and armed it and took aim. The bolt whistled as it left the crossbow, swallowed by the distance to the target. I knew I had aimed true when a great cry rose and tore the uneasy silence asunder. What happened next left me aghast. Instead of taking flight and burning me alive, the blighter fell through the bridge and died. Using nothing more than a single crossbow bolt, I had vanquished the fiend. A staggering 10,000 souls were mine, but the victory was hollow, like me.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where my journey with Dark Souls currently stands. I sincerely hope that next week I will be able to regale you with tales of failure, death and, above all, glee. Sadly, though, for now I must conclude that despite a promising start, the difficulty of this game is not something that has overshadowed the experience in the way I had hoped it would. I am, however, thoroughly enjoying myself so far (in all the normal, not-craving-sadistic-punishment ways) and cannot wait to discover more of this game’s secrets as I play on.
Video games were a part of Chris's life from the Mega Drive onwards. He has many happy gaming memories, including the first time he collected all the chaos emeralds in Sonic 2, collecting all SSBM's trophies (yes, all of them) and, more recently, collecting far too many platinum trophies on his PlayStation 3. In the real world, he has a degree in French and is currently living in Frankfurt, Germany. Follow him on Twitter @DPrime_Chris
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