From Software’s Souls series has gained quite a bit of notoriety since its debut in 2009 with the PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls. It quickly shot to the upper ranks of gaming’s “Hardest Games Ever” lists with its unapolagetic and brutal approach to difficulty and garnered itself quite the cult following. It wasn’t until 2011’s spiritual sequel Dark Souls that the series would find wider appeal, bringing the original game’s taste for swift and sudden punishment to a larger audience, even snagging a spotlight on national TV for its sequel’s official announcement trailer.
With Dark Souls II just on the horizon and the interest in the Souls series continuing to grow, many of you out there still may be scratching your head and wondering exactly what’s the dealio with all this souls talk. There’s certainly no shortage of miscommunication and exaggeration when it comes to the games’ difficulty, genre, and play style, and you’d have to be a complete ninny to somehow miss the various wikis and guides dedicated to every excruciating detail of Demon’s/Dark Souls mechanics. Admittedly, it can all be entirely overwhelming, and some of the more vocal fans of the series certainly won’t make that easier while shouting at you over one another about it.
This is where I come in. See, I’m gonna let you in on a dirty little secret. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls aren’t quite as intimidating and unapproachable as they may seem. I’m not going to give you an intricate rundown of every mechanic or piece of lore each world has to offer. The fun of Souls games is getting your hands dirty and unraveling those mysteries yourself. I’m simply writing this to help break through the fog gate of misrepresentation that the series currently faces in hopes that you’ll at least come away with a better understanding of the series as a whole, and hopefully even give it a shot sometime.
So, are these games challenging, complex, and sometimes insanely obtuse? Absolutely. In no way, however, are they impenetrable or insurmountable as reviewers and some of the playerbase may make them seem. These misguided opinions only do a disservice to the series. All you need is the right mindset and a simple understanding of how these games operate. Understanding that, you’ll see that the Souls games are no more foreign to your game-playing brain meat than say, popping in a random NES game you’ve never played before and having no instruction manual.
With that said, let’s get your pretty little tushy off to Soulsology 101!
So What Is Souls?
Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls aren’t the unsolvable Rubik’s Cube foreign alien relic that reviewers and some fans may have you believe. If you’ve been playing videogames for any decent amount of time, you’ve played a game like them before, most likely. Let’s be reductive and just say that Souls games are awesome dude or dudette with a sword and shield games where you slashy slashy big meanie monsters and occasionally throw around fireballs or magic missiles. Now let’s add on top of that some pretty basic RPG elements such as leveling up, stats, and resource management. Finally, let’s plop you down in the middle of a world where adventure awaits in every direction you can go and there’s no minimap with waypoints or dialog boxes holding your hand and telling you where you should go. Starting to sound a lot like anything you’ve played in the past?
So, one of the big hurdles toward your understanding of the Souls games is now down. The series merely disregards a few decades worth of modern gameplay conventions in favor of offering you a real adventure full of things to discover and figure out yourself. It respects your intelligence by letting you poke and prod around with the world and in-game mechanics however you feel like until you find a play style that suits you, and there’s almost no way you can screw your character up bad enough that the games become unbeatable. You may not immediately understand the crafting system or what your weapon’s stats mean when scaled with your base stats for instance, but these are things that will make sense the more you play and poke at the system. If you make a wrong turn into Gettin’-My-Face-Splattered-By-A-Super-Strong-Monsterville, you’ll have ways to deal with the situation by either standing your ground and attempting to conquer, running away, and even dying isn’t the worst option.
The Souls games only seem scary and intimidating when compared to other mainstream titles of today. You’re smart. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls know that and merely want to play a game with you on that level.
Take Advice, Not Direction
When starting out, it’s not a bad idea to seek advice of veteran players. It’s in no way necessary, but it can help. There are lots of fans of the series that are more than happy to offer advice to fledgling demon slayers, so getting a little leg-up on what lies ahead isn’t the worst idea.
What you shouldn’t do however is let someone else tell you how to play. No matter how convinced they are that their opinions on the game are 100% fact and they’re the only person on the face of the planet Earth that knows how to play, just let these opinions go in one ear and straight out the other. The Souls games are heavily geared toward customization of playstyle and there are many, many ways to approach any challenge or obstacle in your way.
There is no wrong way to play these games. If someone tells you that choosing the Royal class in Demon’s Souls is “baby mode” or that grabbing the Zweihander or Drake Sword in Dark Souls isn’t how the game’s meant to be played, pay no mind. It’s your game to enjoy however you want to.
Soul of the Mind, Key to Life’s Ether…
Souls, souls, souls. If you’ve ever been around anybody talking about the Souls series for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt heard their tales of woe when it comes to players “losing their souls.”
“How many did you drop? I just lost 75,000 to that boss!”
“OH MAN, I JUST DROPPED 220,000 SOULS, HOW COULD I BE SUCH A DUMMY?”
It all sounds really intimidating, doesn’t it? Initially it is when you come to understand that your accumulated souls are EVERYTHING in a Souls game. You use souls to level up your character, upgrade your equipment, and buy new spells and items. Everything revolves around your soul count, so the prospect of losing all those souls so easily may not seem so inviting.
The way it works is that you kill big mean monsters to accumulate souls. If you die, you then drop all the souls you currently have and are respawned at the previous checkpoint or level entrance. With all enemies respawned, you must now make your way back to your bloodstain to recover your souls somewhere near where you died. If you die again while trying to retrieve your souls, the souls you initially dropped are now lost forever.
That sounds REALLY stressful, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be though, because I’m going to teach you a new word that’ll help relieve that stress from your worried little head.
Fuuuuuuungible! Go on, say it. Really stress that first syllable. See what I’m doing here (besides being the most clever girl to ever write an article about a videogame?) While the worlds, boss fights, and exploration of the Souls games are certainly the meat and potatoes of the experience, it’s the way the soul system works that keeps things FUN as well as subtly nudging you in the right direction when it comes to approaching each encounter or area.
Souls are a fungible, infinitely renewable asset. You will ALWAYS be able to obtain more souls, be it from killing monsters or the various consumable soul packs you’d have to be completely blind to miss just laying around all over the place. The games are balanced well enough that failure to recover your souls may indeed suck, but it’s in no way a game breaker.
Here’s why the system works. The fact that your soul count is always at risk puts you in the correct mindset for tackling challenges. Souls games reward caution, memorization, and observation, so the better your senses, the more souls for you! Oh no, you just died and have to reclaim those souls though! So, you hack and slash and fireball your way back to where you were, collect those dropped souls, and now you’re even richer than before because you learned something. Corpse runs are some of the most tense and satisfying moments the series has to offer, and they’re probably where you’ll learn from most of your mistakes. Take death in stride and don’t worry so much about the numbers. Focus more on what you learn trying to protect those numbers and you’ll be well on your way to swimming in grotesque amounts of otherworldly ether.
Watch Those First Few Hours. They’re A Doozy!
Alright, champ. There’s no easy way for me to say this, so I’m just gonna be straight with you. You’re gonna die a lot. Your first few hours in a Souls game are at some point likely going to feel as hard as everybody said, but again, that’s not the case. You don’t suck and you’re not bad at the game, you just haven’t learned the ins-and-outs yet. There are probably dozens of games you’re good at now, but you didn’t start out that way. You’ve gotta just let go and accept that death is a large part of a Souls experience, and it isn’t a failure as long as you’re learning something from it.
Where most modern games indulge instant gratification and power fantasy, Souls games aim for something a little more long-term: That feeling of gradually getting better with every encounter you face. As you inevitably die and commence that run of shame back to your lost souls pile or another shot at that boss that just straight-up laid you out, you’ll notice that the time it takes you to complete these tasks becomes shorter and shorter. You’re getting more competent, more efficient, and hopefully more confident at your ability to survive the more you play. You’ll die less and less the more you progress through each area, and you’ll be more prepared for new challenges based on how you overcame previous setbacks.
Don’t let the first few hours in the opening areas of either game tell the tale. Death is only the beginning, dear reader.
So, we draw to a close in hopes that through this massive pile of typed characters I’ve been able to help new Souls players go into any game in the series with a mindset less influenced by exaggeration of difficulty and more with a sense of adventure. There’s a cold and desolate wasteland of a world out there just waiting for newborn demon slayers to have their hand at uncovering all of its mysteries. Will you be the next to go beyond death?