I had been growing bored with single-player video-games for a long time. A couple years ago I had landed on the League of Legends bandwagon, and then Hearthstone, and then Smash Bros. for the Wii U, etc, etc. Everything was multiplayer. There was no point in playing single-player titles. They didn’t give me that rush anymore. My opinion towards single player games had soured. I still liked older titles like Half-Life 2, Legend of the Zelda, Mass Effect (1 and 2) FTL, FEZ, Bioshock, etc, etc., but I hadn’t truly enjoyed a single player experience since Bioshock Infinite. Nothing since Infinite had come close in terms of capturing my imagination with its amazing design and complex story. I had been burned too many times by main-stream developers and I had also lost my appetite for the indie side-scrollers that were pushed as “games” by the indie community. Sure I enjoyed Don’t Starve, Bastion, and Limbo, but they were the exceptions.
Fast forward a couple of years. I’m playing Legend of Zelda (Twilight Princess HD), becoming slowly bored by the lack of variation in my gaming diet. Zelda is the only single player game I had been playing (besides a little bit of Pokemon and Super Mario) and the pure childish nostalgia (while enjoyable) was starting to overload me in terms of… sweetness. Like too much candy in one sitting, I was beginning to have an existential crisis. “Maybe I don’t like video-games anymore,” I thought to myself. “Maybe this is the end of childhood. Nothing has that magical touch anymore that gets me excited without it being a gambler’s rush or a competitive experience.” I refused to let these thoughts ruminate, and I immediately went to my local Gamestop and did what I had been meaning to do for a long time.
I had never owned a PS3. As a child I had played the Nintendo 64, GameCube, PS2, Xbox 360, and PC. I had never experienced the post-golden age of Sony’s gaming console, and I had resolved to try it out. I imagine the employees of Gamestop were surprised that I was looking for a PlayStation 3, being that the latest iteration of the PlayStation 4 had just been announced. With demand comes supply, and the higher the demand, the higher the price. The originally $600 console was now 1/6th of the price. I bought a PlayStation 3. It was just over $100 and the average game price varied from $2 to $11.
At the top of the used games pile was a copy of Dark Souls. I had heard rumors and rumblings as to its legendary reputation, and I threw it on my bargain stack of cheap games (including one of the early Ratchet and Clank titles for the PS3 and some other PS3 exclusives) and checked out around $160. “Not a bad haul” I thought to myself as I made my way to the car. “I’m experiencing an entire generation of a critically acclaimed console at less than 25% of the cost.”
When I got home I immediately began playing the first Dark Souls title. The initial reveal that my character was undead threw me for a loop, and like that I was on board. It didn’t take me long to delve into the lore (which is surprisingly deep yet paradoxically sparse and vague), and become completely immersed in the Dark Souls world. The gameplay is nothing less than amazing. While completely unforgiving, Dark Souls is fair. If you “git gud” and learn the enemy attack patterns, you will be rewarded with easy fights that are extremely satisfying. Hilariously, the fights are rewarding because I died probably 20 times against that particular enemy type before I understood how to beat them.
The feeling of oppressive dread that oozes out of every structure in the world of Dark Souls reminds me of the Adult Link Timeline in Ocarina of Time, mixed with a bit of H.P. Lovecraft, or Poe. I was surprised to learn that despite the western high-fantasy atmosphere, Dark Souls is a Japanese game. Once I realized this the parallels to Shadow of the Colossus (another single-player Japanese fantasy game) became solidified in my mind, and I fell in love even more. Similar to SotC, Dark Souls is a puzzle game. The combat is the puzzle, and figuring out how to defeat the seemingly insurmountable and unchallengeable gods, demi-gods, demons, and monsters of Dark Souls with just your sword and shield is a mental exercise, and your death is a failure to skillfully unlock the simple secret to an otherwise impossible boss fight.
My love for single-player gaming was rekindled like the bonfires spread across the land of Dark Souls, a game I had written off for years as being a simple Skyrim clone, now one of my favorite games of all time. At the time of this writing, I am resolved to finish the entire series and seek out other games with a similar level of quality and complexity.