Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Emerald Herald Or How I Learned To Love Dying So Many Times

In the hardcore gamer circles, there are several games that are legendary for their difficulty; Ghosts n' Goblins, Mega Man, the original Castlevania...and the Dark Souls series.

To most, the idea of dying multiple times before getting any sort of reward is an instant turn-off.  Why trudge through a game with such a painful and brutal learning curve when you can hack and slash multitudes of enemies in games like Dynasty Warriors or Lord of the Rings: War in the North?  If it's known that a game is going to make you want to slam your fists through the wall and send your controller sailing across the living room, why bother?

Well, for me, it's the love of a challenge.  The trend with games has been seeing a larger casual audience, and so, must be playable to a wide variety of people.  In ye olde 8 bit days, you didn't get a choice from "Beginner" to "Hard", you just played the preset difficulty.  Patience was a requirement, since most games had little instructions on how to defeat a boss, or what upgrades you could potentially get.  You invested not just money, but time into these well crafted levels, memorizing enemy patterns and hidden dangers while losing lives and restarting from square one.  And when you defeated the final boss, you were excited to brag to your friends.

This is where Dark Souls comes in (more specifically, I'll be making reference to Dark Souls 2).  You're given a chance to customize your character's appearance and class, choose a few starting items, and get to go through a brief tutorial level.  After that, you're on your own.  Things like stats and equipment aren't explained, and you have to know how you want to play in order to effectively level up.  Even if you know that, you must collect a large number of souls: which, if you die (and you will, many, many times) you lose them all.  You're given one last chance to revisit your death bed to regain them, but, should you die again before that point, they're gone for good.  Enemies aren't dead forever, like in most games, and they will respawn many times to kill you in gruesome ways (one of my first deaths was by an ogre, by the way...grabbed me and bit off my head).  Even if you get good, and you go through and attempt to farm enemies for souls, the game will eventually take out enemies, meaning the total number of souls you can gather has a cap.

To the casual gamer that may be looking into the series, consider this your warning: you're going to rage.  And you're going to rage many, many times, because you ran right through a door that happened to have three undead soldiers that jump you.  Or you opened a chest that happened to sprout teeth and killed you in one shot.  Or you fell off a bridge because you didn't see that well placed hole.

To the hardcore gamers, the ones that do things like play Gears of War on Hardcore solo, or Zelda with only the starting hearts, this game is for you.  The level designs are amazing, the traps are delightfully evil, and the ever present chance of being invaded by a random gamer will keep you on your toes.  At the time of this post, I've personally invested over 55 hours into the game, and I'm nearing the end (I probably have another 5-10 to beat it, not including extras).  I've literally obsessed over this game: my wife is wondering if I'm going Hollow or not myself.  But my mage is fairly fearsome, and there's a large sense of pride and satisfaction when you defeat a boss and become that much stronger as a character.

 It's not like other games, where you feel overpowered from the get go.  The game constantly reminds you of your place: you're a human, afflicted with a curse that no one ever cures, fighting off evil wizards, swarms of giant spiders, and the awesome dragons.  Other games would let you kill such creatures with a few simple button commands or a flurry of sword swings, but Dark Souls makes sure to keep you grounded by killing you off with moves other games would let your survive (like that ogre biting my head off...I was also destroyed by a mimic, and a giant that stomped me with his feet).

I'd also like to take a moment and suggest the strategy guide if you're going to invest time into the game...I rarely buy one for anything other than my collection, but this one is a must if you want to discover everything post game and for New Game + and ++ (and the guides to some of the boss battles are handy, I must admit, but I at least give it a few tries before resorting to the book).

If you're the kind of person that rushes into the heat of battle, flailing your sword or casting spells with reckless abandon, then skip this.  If you're willing to practice the sacred art of patience and aren't afraid of learning from death, then you should, nay, NEED, to pick up this game.  But be forewarned: once you get into the Dark Souls games, you're going to be disappointed with most games afterwards, and there's no turning back once you're hooked.

"For the curse of life, is the curse of want.  And so, you peer...Into the fog, looking for answers."