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Dark Souls.... One of the greatest games ever to exist, in my humble opinion. Even with its treacherous difficulty, the game has become a cult classic for gamers all across the planet. With such difficulty, why would someone play a game that is overly challenging? Is the game actually THAT challenging? Is it really as much of a classic as people would have you believe? Let's take a deeper look.
With many games, especially RPGs, you have a story that gets established right at the beginning, you meet your character, and the game begins. In Dark Souls, you are told of the origins of man, demons, dragons, and beasts. But, that is it! Next thing you know, someone is dropping a key into your dungeon cell and you start the game. You have no idea who it is that gives you the key, you have no idea who you are, and you have no idea of your goals as an individual of this tortured world. You begin your pilgrimage through this asylum only to be met with a giant demon wielding an even bigger hammer, within the first few minutes of the game. Awesome right? At this point, the death tally begins. At this point the player has 2 options. Continue playing, or smash their controller and never play the game again. When I first played this game, I did the latter (didn't break the controller, but I did quit.)
Several months later, one of my good friends reintroduced me to the game. After watching him play the game with ease, I was determined to do the same. From that point on, my love of the series has continued to bloom into a miasma of frustration and satisfaction.
After defeating the first boss, you progress to Firelink Shrine, the game's main home base. From here you start interacting with others in this world, and from what you gather from these NPCs, you now have an objective. Ring the Bell of Awakening. For what purpose, who knows? You're just a guy/ girl with a sword and a whole bunch of things to kill.
As you face peril in these beautifully chaotic lands, you come to realize, you still really do not know whats going in the story! It's not until your second play through where you realize the story is being told within the environment and the characters you interact with. Every thing in Dark Souls has a reason for being there. From the placement of enemies, to placement of items and weapons, to placement of bosses and mini bosses. The game does not need to give you all the answers, it is your job as an adventurer to figure out what happened in the twisted world of death and rebirth. And even then, just because you have the pieces to the puzzle does not mean the puzzle is solved. You have to put the pieces together.
Aside from the lore perspective of things, let's talk a little bit about the gameplay itself. It controls like most RPGs, with a few exceptions. Left analog moves, right analog is controller. The face buttons are used to dodge, switch from a one handed fighting style to a 2 handed style, interact, and items. The triggers are for each hand. The right triggers control the right hand, the left triggers control the left hand. This small detail changes the way the game functions. Each character you create can have many variations on build types. You can be a cleric, a pyro, a knight, a thief, and much more. Each build has weapons that can be beneficial for the build, or be a detriment. Not all weapons fit all builds. And with that comes the wide variety of weapons, shields, and combinations of all those things. In your left hand you could be carrying a staff that shoots magic, in your right arm you could be carrying a gigantic greatsword that could pummel a colossus. Or you could have a small parrying shield and a quick dagger to go in for those stealth/ assassination kills. The game can be played thousands of different ways. Which brings us to our next point.
In most RPGs, you can get away with what we refer to as "mashing." You keep hitting the same button over and over and over until you kill the enemy. In Dark Souls, if you try to mash, you will die. Strategy must be employed in this game. The key to strategy in Dark Souls is dictated by a little thing called the Stamina Bar. If you run out of stamina, you cannot attack, block, or dodge. This adds a whole new layer of depth into the game. It forces you to be resourceful and smart with the way you play. In comparison, most other RPGs just let you spam your favorite combo over and over again without consequence. There is nothing wrong with that formula, but it's been done, and games that have that particular mechanic are not much of a challenge in comparison.
Now let's talk about the boss battles and enemies in this game. As I've said before, placement in this game is on another level. That goes for the enemies and bosses as well. The variety of bosses always leaves the player wondering "what the hell am I going to have to fight next?!" From humanoid bosses, to demons, to dragons, to a giant wolf wielding a giant blade, to death itself, the bosses of Dark Souls are memorable in their own ways. Some bosses are easier than others, but overall the challenge is more learning the move sets of each boss, and responding to it properly. There have been very rare occasions where I died due to the game. Almost every time I died was because I panicked, or I responded poorly to the attack. Same goes for regular enemies, and the environment. If I fell off the edge, it's probably because I didn't have enough foresight to see the giant chasm beside me. Or I didn't see the enemy waiting to push me over the edge.
So with all that said, lets come back to the question, is the game really that hard? First time playing, yes. It's going to kick your ass over and over again. After that, you somewhat know the land around you and you are better equipped to deal with such problems. So is the game ACTUALLY hard, or is it perceived to be difficult because we have poor decision-making skills? I recommend you play the game and determine that for yourself.
Let's answer another question, why do people play such a challenging game? For myself, I play it because it stimulates my gaming experience like no other game has. I like a wide variety of games, from Assassins Creed, to Sonic 2, to Stardew Valley. None of those games gave me the same satisfaction as beating Dark Souls did. With almost every other game you're the protagonist. In Dark Souls, you don't know what you are. In every other game, the story is laid out for you. In Dark Souls, nothing is what it seems. It's a game for true adventurers, and thus answers the last question.
Is it a cult classic? Yes, it is. People are still discovering new things in the Souls series. People are still competing for speed run records. People still just play it to have fun and be immersed in a world like no other. If you feel the need to let your inner adventurer out video game style, pick up a copy of Dark Souls, and the rest of the series. They are all great games in their own ways, and I honestly can't recommend the series enough.
Thank you for reading my post! I hope this sets people down the path of becoming more involved with the games they play. The people who create these great games are deserving of the highest respect. They put a lot of time and effort into them so that we can do the same by enjoying them.