In an homage to the release of Dark Souls III a little over 3 months ago, and my past enjoyment of the immensely difficult game known as Bloodborne last year, I thought I would give a short opinion based review on my limited experience with the Dark Souls franchise through the Dark Souls II redux: Scholar of the First Sin.
After going through with Software’s PlayStation exclusive Bloodborne, I thought I had it down. I learned how to adapt to the speeds of different enemies, how to dodge, parry, and even how to recognize when I should just flat out run away. I was stabbed, smashed, and all around pummeled into a monster-slaying machine. It was tough at first, I won’t lie. I died quite a bit, and let out quite a few obscenities at no one in general, but I eventually caught on and cruised right through it.
After a while, I became interested in the Dark Souls franchise. The challenges that FromSoftware had thrown at me in Bloodborne were tough, unique, and completely depended on me learning how to adapt to each and every situation. It reminded me of the days of old, playing games that involved me getting my ass handed to me without any explanations or any available type of help, outside of the internet or some $30 magazine. So I decided to give it’s parent franchise a shot.
For those who know the Dark Souls franchise, you know how different it can be from Bloodborne at times. Both are extraordinarily difficult and make you pay for any mistake you make, but Bloodborne is much more focused on the slash and dash type of gameplay that implements the use of firearms and rewards aggressive moves and risk-taking. Dark Souls, however, is the exact opposite of that. And the only sort of projectiles you have come from a crossbow or a staff.
Unlike Bloodborne, Dark Souls focuses much more on patience and defense. Instead of relying on a pistol or blunderbuss in your left hand, you have the option to go with either another weapon or a shield. To make matters worse, even if you do block an enemies attack, you still take a bit of damage, at least until later in the game. Sure, there is parrying and the classic tuck and roll maneuver, but any sort of exaggerated use of aggression or risk taking will result in a serious, no holds barred, ass-kicking. It took me a good hour or two just to get the mechanics down while trying not to smash my controller to pieces.
There are also small differences in a number of other things, such as the use of save points. Instead of a lantern, your save point is a bonfire, and while in Bloodborne you can use these lanterns at any time and escape back to the Hunter’s Dream. Dark Souls only allows you to travel when you’re not in any danger. If you’re being chased, you can only enable the bonfire, but you cannot escape to any sort of safe place. You must find some way to defend yourself, escape, or die trying.
And as if dying wasn’t enough, if you lose your life in Dark Souls, you’re punished for it. In Bloodborne, you can die again and again and still start anew with a full bar of health, but in Dark Souls, each and every death is followed by the reduction of the size of your health bar. Infuriating doesn’t even begin to describe it. The only two things that truly makes this bearable are human effigies and the fact that you carry around something known as an Estus flask.
An Estus flask is the equivalent of Bloodborne’s health vial, except that it refills at every bonfire you visit. So instead of having to purchase health vials, you have an unlimited resource, as long as you can make it to a bonfire to periodically refill it that is. On the other hand, the amount of uses your flask has is extremely limited. You can upgrade it with shards that you find along your travels, adding an additional use each time, but they are few and far in between, and if you don’t pay attention you can even miss them. Of course, you can buy little things known as life gems, or hope an enemy drops one, but it’s a waste of time and souls after a certain point.
Human effigies are little voodoo-like representations of a human form, or more accurately, your human form. They replenish your health bar and appearance back to their original states by reminding your character of who they were. These items also tend to be scarce, so it’s suggested that you only use them right before a boss. The fact that these are even needed for your character to remember who they are brings me to another, obvious difference between Bloodborne and Dark Souls, the storyline.
In Bloodborne, you’re an outsider who has become a hunter of beasts during a seemingly unending nightmare, and while you may not fully understand what is going on at first, you are quickly introduced to the happenings of the game and realize what you have to do. Not only that, but there seems to be some sort of hope in the series. Hope that you can survive through the night, and even hope that you can save the disheveled part of the world Bloodborne takes place in.
Dark Souls on the other hand, gives the player very little explanation for what is going on, except for the fact that you and everyone else in the part of the world you are in are dealing with some sort of curse or disease that causes humans to become undead and go through a transformation known as hollowing. The act of hollowing is what happens to an undead individual when they lose their humanity entirely. Once their humanity is completely gone, they become known as a “hollow.” This happens slowly through each death the character experiences and shows through the reduction of the health bar and obvious visual decay. The only way to combat this decay is by gathering the souls of powerful beings and using human effigies to remember who you once were. Even then, it seems to only be a temporary detour to a certain end.
This game isn’t for eve everyone. Some give up and quit, and I don’t blame them, but those that stay and keep trying through each and every difficult situation they come across soon realize how insanely satisfying it is to defeat that boss that completely destroyed them the previous 20 times in a row, or finally get to that next bonfire. They realize how good it feels to scream the most obscene things they can think of at a video game and mean it, all while having a grin on their face. They learn to embrace the small victories and take a breath of relief, only for the next challenge to come and take it all away from them.
If you have never tried the Dark Souls franchise, whether it’s because you’ve never heard of it, are just unsure, or because you don’t like your blood pressure skyrocketing through the roof, I recommend that you at least try it. You might not think it’s for you, and maybe it turns out that it isn’t, but it also might end up being one of those games you just can’t put down. No matter how much it makes you want to give up and die, or at least consider trashing your console/PC.