From Dark Souls (PS3) to Remastered (Switch)

Dark Souls is a gaming icon. The words “You Died” (and the collective audible response of “No Shit”) are carved into the collective consciousness that is gaming culture.

Its reputation proceeds it, and I was primed to enjoy Dark Souls. On the surface this series has “me” written all over it, with its reputation for sadism. Ultimately on my first playthrough I came away pretty disappointed. “I liked [Dark Souls] but didn’t love it” was my ultra-brief summary in my Hollow Knight recap. I returned to Dark Souls in the form of the Remastered edition for Switch on a whim. An intended quick blast on my brother’s Switch turned into a full-blown playthrough from start to end. Now with my expectations set to reasonable levels, I can say I enjoyed it more second go around. It’s a very good game, with some strong reservations.

The second time through I came to appreciate the world of Dark Souls more. It’s dark and despairing, sure, but a lot of time and thought has clearly gone into it.

It’s basically the game I hoped Deathtrap Dungeon would be as a youngster.

Every single item has significance in the world, some connection to a deeper lore. Dark Souls doesn’t handhold you in this regard. There are mini plots and dramas that are easily missed – I saw different things this playthrough, I acted differently. There are also effective scripted moments that subvert your expectations and help the world feel more alive. The bosses are almost all hella intimidating, and plenty characterful.

Ornstein and Smough: an iconic double act, that’s for sure. And with a fun theme song to boot.

I still wish the story was more explicit. I wish there were more puzzles. I still think there are bullshit moments and tomfuckery engineered to make you scream and swear. I still think movement is too slow and checkpoints are too infrequent. On rare occasions the level design is frustrating. On the PS3 version, Blighttown was deeply unpleasant to play because of constant slowdown – the remastered port on Switch remedies this at least.

Despite these qualms, Dark Souls is a highly memorable title with plenty to recommend it to masochistic players with boatloads of patience. Being better versed in modern gaming than I was two and a half years ago when I first played it on PS3, I can appreciate better the influence Dark Souls has had on the games industry. Its famed old school toughness, first a meme and now a trend, has proven that there is a wide audience for challenging games. Personally, I consider that a positive. Would I prefer to play notable games inspired by Dark Souls – Hollow Knight, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – over Dark Souls itself? Absolutely.

Twice through is enough, methinks.

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8 comments

    • veryverygaming

      Ha! It’s funny how replaying can make such a difference to your experience. The Anor Londo stuff I found relatively straightforward this go around, but it was a major pain in the ass on my first playthrough. Bed of Chaos though, both times, my god. On my tenth attempt I’d successfully made that jump into the pit in the middle, and was hacking the trees to get to that dastardly root. Suddenly there’s fire and I’m dead. And to add insult to injury then it takes ten minutes to get back to the boss fight every time you die!

      • Van Rockingham

        No matter my level, class or whatever Anor Londo is a place I die 30 times. I think the 1st time I played I fat rolled passed the guy and made it. Ever since then I die endlessly. On new game +I’ll stand there and poison arrow them for 30 minutes as I have no stats in it.

        Bed of Chaos is just an awful luck cheese-athon with too many instadeath moments

    • veryverygaming

      Nintendo are sly about this stuff. “No we didn’t copy Dark Souls, Breath of the Wild was only inspired by the original Zelda” – sorry but I just don’t buy it. OK, you might argue that Dark Souls is inspired by Zelda (which it undoubtedly is) but Nintendo’s willingness to kill you repeatedly throughout Breath of the Wild has Dark Souls written all over it. It bucks the trend of basically every Zelda game from Link to the Past onwards!

  1. Aether

    I love Dark Souls and it holds a really special place in my heart. But yeah, there’s a lot of things it’s good in spite of, rather than being good because of, that have still ended up being baked into the format so many have followed. The checkpoint thing is the worst. Yes, I just died to this stupid huge challenge you put in front of me. You designed it that way. The whole point is that I lose, then learn, then get better. Giving me a ten-minute walk back every time I lose is just infuriating.

    • veryverygaming

      Yep, that is my biggest bugbear with Dark Souls. I’m quite happy to bash my head against a wall if a game requires it – hell I beat Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts! But when traversal is slow, combat is slow, AND the checkpoint is far away from the challenge… it quickly starts to feel like a waste of time.

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game. The fantasy setting and detailed lore seem interesting and I like that there are subplots subtly included in the game. The difficulty also makes the game seem interesting, although some of the reasons (infrequent checkpoints and annoying level design) do seem more irritating than challenging.
    What makes the difficulty masochistic? How does the game subvert expectations? Are the bosses interesting to fight?

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