Best of the Best: The Souls Series
Let’s talk about one of the best video game series of all time!
In a day and age where video games seem to have become an easy and boring sell for corporate America to cash in on, the Souls series reminds us of what a video game is supposed to be, all while being great pieces of art.
What has been referred to as “The DarkBorne Series,” The BloodSouls Series,” “The Dark Blood Series,” “The Dark Souls Series,” and “The Most Frustrating Series” has always been simply “The Souls Series” for me. It’s the easiest to say, and it pays homage and respect to how far this series has come. “Demon’s Souls” is where it all started, but the first “Dark Souls” is where the series truly began to shine. After its release, these excellent games gained an immense amount of popularity and the beginnings of a cult following. Its main reason for skyrocketing in popularity comes from the games’ intense boss battles and unforgiving difficulty, but is that all the Souls games have to offer its players?
Far from it, my friends. Very far from it.
Playing your first Souls game goes a little something like this: run around without having any sense of direction or purpose while fighting mean mobs of enemies and haunting bosses. Doesn’t sound like too much fun, right? I agree, especially when most recent video games give you an objective and overbearingly guide you towards it. If you’re used to that kind of play, like I was, then you’ll be in for a surprise with the Souls series. With only very vague descriptions of your ultimate goal and where to go, the Souls series requires you to search, explore, and discover every crevice of the map. Once you find every crevice and every dead end, then you’ll quickly learn, “Oh, there are really only two ways to proceed forward.” Once you’ve defeated one boss at the end of one path and find a dead end, you can go back and take the other, where you’ll most likely discover two or three more paths to travel down.
While traveling as a vagrant throughout this journey, you’ll start to find that not knowing where to go can be difficult but very entertaining at the same time. There’s a certain appeal that comes with not exactly knowing what waits around a corner or how exactly you found yourself in a dark dungeon when you were in the forest no more than five minutes ago. The classic question asked during a video game, “Am I going the right way?” doesn’t really apply to the Souls Series. Sure, there is a “correct” direction that leads you to the end of the game and the “final” boss, but half the fun comes from getting lost and finding all of the optional and hidden areas, which are there to prepare you even more for the game’s finale.
Another portion of the fun comes from fighting the games’ enemies. From the smallest mob to the hardest boss, every single enemy in a Souls game is dangerous and powerful. There’s a reason why the special editions are called the “Prepare to Die” editions. You will die in a Souls game. I’m sorry; it’s a true fact you need to accept before you even start. Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it annoying to have all the enemies you just killed be revived after you die? Very, but that’s where much of the pleasure and appeal for the series comes from. FromSoftware and Bandai Nomco Entertainment make you work for accomplishments in a Souls game. There have been times where I’ve been stuck on a boss or a section for days, even weeks. There were times I was ready to give up and quit, saying goodbye to the Souls series in general. But… what always brought me back were the memories of defeating previous bosses. The ones that took me more than six tries to bring down. The ones that made me throw my controller, breaking one of them. The struggle, journey, and difficulty made defeating these incredibly intense bosses and sections of the game very rewarding and wonderful.
Winning or completing your goal in the Souls series is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have playing video games. They sometimes make you actually backtrack to strengthen your character or practice your dodging/attacking skills on some easier enemies, so you can last longer and do better during your next attempt on the boss that has been killing you for days. They make you PLAY THE GAME. The Souls series keeps the definition of a “game” very much alive.
Definition of “Game:” a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.
To be successful in a Souls game, you must follow the rules, master your skill, build your strength, and pray for luck. That’s why they are some of the best games… ever. They make you work for your reward, which sweetens the final experience and pushes you to do it all over again. It gives you the choice of just following the “path” to the final boss or searching every crevice of each level. A sense of choice and mystery immerses the player deep into the experience and makes you care about establishing your own goals and discovering every secret about these mysterious lands.
It’s funny how a story-drive man like myself has gone this long without talking about the lore of the Souls series. Well… that’s because I saved the best for last.
To be honest, you most likely will not understand a lot of the lore or backstories after your first playthrough of a Souls game. It’s not because you didn’t do enough, it’s simply because all of the lore is presented through vague and cryptic snippets of dialogue and item descriptions. There are no books or ledgers that lay everything out for you. Conversations with NPCs, brief cutscenes, letters, and item descriptions are the way a player discovers the lore of these wonderful games. It will take multiple playthroughs to figure out exactly why a boss happens to hate you and want to kill you or why some NPCs are bad and others help you along the way. It’s all there; you just have to find it and listen. Listen very carefully, and even though I say its all there, the beauty about the vague and cryptic nature of the lore’s presentation is that it leaves a lot of the stories and characters up to the players’ imagination and interpretation. Some stories are concrete and factual, but a lot of them are complete mysteries, like our own world’s history, so it’s up to us to build the story, which has become the subject of several discussion boards and forums in the Souls community. It’s like FromSoftware wanted to give the player the reigns to create their own story, which only adds to the story they’ve already created.
Is that an intelligent paradox? Yes, but it’s also the very reason I love these games, other than the fact that I love screaming for joy after defeating a valiant foe. Discovering the lore of each enemy, location, and boss is my main reason for playing the Souls series. I usually just play casually my first time through, trying to discover every location and defeating every boss, but then I take my time with all of my other playthroughs. I listen to every conversation I can have with an NPC, and even eavesdrop on some others (those hidden conversations are some of the best!). And while that’s how I like to experience a Souls game, there are too many other ways to do so, making them playable by anyone and everyone. Yes, some of you will get frustrated and quit before the first boss. While I could say, “Oh, well a Souls game is not for you,” I’m not going to. These games are for everyone over the age of 18 (M rating), you just have to be patient and work for your reward, just like the real world requires us to do to survive.
Some may love being a warrior that just destroys everything in his path, others may like being a light thief/rogue that sneaks his way through the journey, even more might like to cast spells and fight from a distance, and then other’s might be there to destroy other players in PvP. There are too many options and paths people can take, but no matter which one you choose, you will be PLAYING a game when you dive into a Souls series installment, not just breezing through it like you would with “Call of Duty” or “Grand Theft Auto.”