Upon playing this game and not liking it many years ago, I endured incessant heckling about how I just needed to "git gud" and how my disliking the game for being a monotonous and dull experience meant that I had no credibility as a gamer. So, after having given it another chance at their behest and still not finding anything remotely enjoyable about it, it's time for me to do what I do best - throw out more caustic language about their god anonymous14884206669's favorite game ever and watch them bitch about how I didn't give it a "fair chance" and how they're a "better gamer than me" because they spent 1637 hours grinding out every last cheevo for their Xbox Live profile in the most boring pile of dung ever shat out and then at least forty times that long waging war in its name on the Internet just to prove to their sixth-grader god how "manly" and "cool" they are. Which is right up there on the pathetic scale with playing Grand Theft Auto constantly and watching Scarface twice a day to prove how "Gangsta" you are. Or beating up digital effigies of your enemies in Soul Calibur to prove that you're a "tough guy"...
I could do that. Or I could just explain why I don't think it's very good and get a much more vicious and hateful response when it becomes clear that I'm not just "being a contrarian troll". Because the society we live in apparently treats any kind of critique toward the shallow entertainment media one consumes as a grave affront to one's personal honor that must be avenged at all costs, up to and including abuse, harassment and physical violence. Yep, you're sure to change peoples' minds that way, guys! Bullying people into silence or brainwashed obedience to the will of your personal echo chamber means you're always right! Don't forget to heap on the character assassination while you're at it, too - by casually dropping buzzwords like "racist" or "casual" or "fanboy" or "hypocrite" or "biased" in reference to your
The game opens with a long, long, long cutscene explaining how a bunch of characters rose up against a dark dragon and that's causing the world to slowly end, or something. It all ends up being pretty inconsequential anyway because there's virtually no plot in the game itself unless you feel like going well out of your way to find easily-missed NPCs who fill in the story one tiny clue at a time (and considering how dingy and washed-out the graphics are, how monotonous the character designs are and how the overwhelming majority of other characters in the game mindlessly attack you on sight, you could easily mistake them for enemies and kill them before they say their piece). Not to mention the fact that by the time you've endured all the dozens of cheap deaths and gotten to a new area, you've most likely stopped caring that this game has a story anyways.
Spoony: This idea is apparently based on author's experiences as a child, where he'd only get to read partially translated passages of various books and have to guess at what led the story to that point. Fair enough I guess, but it really doesn't make for an interesting or captivating narrative when you just get random, out-of-context story fragments and the rest is filled in with pure guesswork in between long stretches of the same repetitive, tedious gameplay. I'm by no means opposed to stories having loose ends in order to leave the door open for expansions or sequels, or just leaving elements open to fan interpretation, but leaving 90% of the plot, lore and characterizations as a blank slate so fanboys can fill it all in themselves and spend the next 30+ years waging war over the fact that "Miyazaki never said that my fan fiction wasn't 100% correct so that means IT IS!" is a crutch for the hackest of hack writers to try and sell 'depth' where there isn't any.
Also, here's a thought: instead of reliving someone else's childhood frustrations and then bragging about how "smart" you are when you fill in all the gaps in their narrative with a novel's worth of unsubstantiated fan fiction, why not just put the controller down for a while, break out a pen and paper and write your own story instead? It'd certainly be a much more interesting experience, save you about $54 in materials and spare you from roughly 1,583 hours of arguing with pushy, hero-worshipping meatheads over "what it really means and why you're a stupid asshole for thinking otherwise"...
Not to get into conspiracy territory here, but there seems to be quite a bit of overlap between these kinds of people and those who endlessly brag about how some unaccredited test they found online said they have 133 IQ and the only reason they aren't a wildly influential millionaire with a huge mansion and a trophy wife and a huge cult of empty-headed sycophants all handed to them on a gold platter is because there's some kind of vast conspiracy by all the Jews and yellow heathens and brown savages and the traitorous PC crowd to keep them down and drive the glorious Aryan race to extinction. Which just makes me wonder why they're so strongly drawn to a medium of entertainment that has been predominantly controlled by Japanese companies for over thirty years. Well, I think I have an answer for that, too. They don't actually give one shit about the artistic merit or entertainment aspect of the medium, they just feign interest as a means to an end. There you go.
But I digress.
Next come the mechanics, which are seemingly made as cryptic as possible to push the illusion that this game is a lot "deeper" and more complex than it really is. It's fairly simple to intuit what stats like Strength and Endurance and Intelligence are for if you're an RPG fan, but "Humanity" is given no satisfactory explanation in the game itself, nor is it even explained that it's a limited resource you can easily run out of your first time through. Also not immediately clear is what weapons/armor you find are better or worse than what you currently have, or what starting classes' advantages and disadvantages are so you can plan your strategies accordingly. You can't even easily find out what the requirements for equipment are as the game flatly refuses to tell you; you just have to grind souls, raise your strength stat point by point and hope that's enough to finally equip it without penalties.
Spoony: This stuff was excusable in early 1980s RPGs where they had to cram all the code for a game onto a handful of floppy disks and thus most or all descriptive text for classes, weapons, armor, etc. was relegated to the manual, but there's two key differences here. First, old games actually bothered to put that stuff in the manual, and second, this game came out in 2011. We live in the age of DVD and Blu-Ray; I shouldn't have to stop every two minutes and look shit up on a fan-made wiki just to figure out basic game mechanics. And that's assuming you aren't one of the first people to buy it on launch day, which would just mean you have to figure it all out yourself though blind guesswork and trial-and-error (and guess what: that isn't very fun!). Maybe I'm just some kind of asshole, but when a video game requires me to spend twice as long doing boring research and number-crunching as actually playing it, it just turns me off to the whole thing.
Anyway, we wake up as a zombie in a jail cell and soon escape, using a broken sword to fight our way through the extremely inspired gray castle dungeon and the one type of enemy within it - more zombies! Exciting stuff, I know. But you'd best get used to it, because that's the extent of the combat experience for a huge stretch of the game - the same one enemy type over and over again, each of whom can drain more than half of your health with a single hit. They usually die in only 2-3 hits themselves, but regardless, it really doesn't make the combat very interesting. Or entertaining.
Spoony: Dark Souls' combat is monotonous, predictable, and yet harshly unforgiving of a single innocuous mistake. Yep, A+ game design there. Do you think the people who "love" this game also insist that Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones is a worthwhile endeavor? ...Probably not, but only because there's no hipster cred in pretending to like that game anymore...
Not aiding matters are the janky physics and animations in the game, which, in addition to making everything look weightless and fake like bad CG animation from 1996, cause your attacks to stop dead if you swing your sword in narrow corridors and hit a wall mid-swing (and you will, since every press of the attack button results in a huge, wide sweep that looks utterly ridiculous and leaves you wide open if you miss), as well as causing enemies' dead bodies to ragdoll and glitch everywhere upon the slightest contact. Your character moves like they're coated in Crisco as they slip off platforms and ledges at the slightest provocation. Your dodge move is all but useless as it takes nearly a full second to respond after pressing the button, ensuring that anything you try to dodge will almost always just hit you instead. There are near-constant frame skips, input delays and stuttering, making timing dodges and attacks with precision unfeasible. The PC version seems to crash constantly, forcing you to redo even more work through no fault of your own. The lock-on system is also incredibly unintuitive, always seeming to target the most distant enemy in the area and giving any nearby foes a free shot at you in the process. Not to mention the fact that the control layout is so user-hostile that readying and accurately aiming ranged weapons is all but impossible, to the point where you might as well just not bother with them at all...
Spoony: I may not be a huge Ocarina of Time fan, but I can still tell you that that game had a much better lock-on system, crisper ranged aiming and melee combat, as well as more polished physics and a much more intuitive control scheme than Dark Souls does. And given that OOT came out thirteen years before this game did, that should tell you something!
Spoony: An element which was also present in early JRPGs like Phantasy Star 1 and Dragon Quest, and people instantly write those games off as "bad" for it. So why does it get a free pass here? ...Oh, right, because we live in the age of "Cheevos", where slogging through countless hours of grinding and tedious trial-and-error just to progress a little bit is now a "bragging right" and not the mark of someone who is extremely bored and has nothing better to do with their time. It honestly wouldn't surprise me if game companies came up with the achievement system as a cheap excuse to pad out games with dozens of junk missions and busywork, as well as leave in tons of asinine and outdated design tropes and call them "features for hardcore gamers". And again, if I wanted to spend hours upon hours doing something mindless and unrewarding, I'd work a second job; at least then I'd get something more useful for the effort than flipping an arbitrary flag on my "gamer card" that nobody but me ever looks at anyways.
Further compounding this problem is the game's online multiplayer functionality, in which anonymous players can either ally with you to defeat a boss, or (far more likely) pop into your game uninvited when they're 60-70 levels above you and kill you in one hit for cheap lulz, thereby causing you to lose all of your progress yet again through no fault of your own. Moreso because the game's terrible netcode ensures that they constantly land backstabs on you even while you're facing directly toward them on your screen. And unless I missed an option somewhere, there is no way to disable this feature short of pulling your system's LAN connection. Which, if you're playing on the XBox 360 and have a digital copy of the game, also prevents you from playing the game at all. Truly wonderful.
Spoony: And people still write off the PC as a viable gaming platform for having DRM in some games in spite of that boneheaded decision by Microsoft. The very same Microsoft that wanted to ban all used games from the XBox One and only repented after countless retail stores told them it would cut into their profits and they'd refuse to stock XBox One games as a result. They're always quick to recite a convenient, pre-packaged excuse about why it's okay on their platform of choice, but when it happens on yours, it's pure evil and corporate greed. Ah the joys of cherry-picking and narcissistic platform bias. Not to mention another way for gaming to co-opted from "entertainment media" into "another endless self-serving holy war led by snake oil peddling assholes and fought by the most gullible people alive".
Throughout the whole experience, you're accompanied by a dreary, washed-out landscape of gray bricks, decayed gray and brown buildings, a cloudy gray sky, a flat gray landscape, and plenty of pitch black caves and sewers. Always coated in gray fog, too. This game is about as appealing to look at as goose shit...
Spoony: The story tells us that the world is dying, but would it be too much to ask for something other than the usual "gritty" game color palette to look at? I paid a lot of money for a high-definition television capable of displaying over 16 million colors, and yet every major game developer seems to insist on putting nothing but the three most unappealing ones to the human eye in their games. We have the technology and the talent to make beautiful games sporting captivating and imaginative world design, heartfelt and passionate storytelling on the level of a world-class novel and dazzling visuals that can give Steven Spielberg himself a run for his money, yet every AAA development team is so devoid of imagination or personality that they ignore all of that and instead model their gameplay entirely around nihilistic, unsatisfying busywork in barren environments based on the most destitute stretches of North Korea...
Brutal and reclusive military dictatorship devastated by famine and disease, or From Software's latest blockbuster hit? Click the picture for the startling answer!
The franchise as a whole also features some truly inspired audio design by immersing the player in the dulcet tones of completely silent dead air! Not even a speck of ambient noise anywhere most of the time. Between this, the drab, lifeless visuals and the monotonous combat, it doesn't take long before you start falling asleep from sheer sensory deprivation. I also have to say that for all the praise this series gets for being "epic" and "revolutionary" and "the best, most important games ever created"*, it's severely underdeveloped in some very key areas...
*Yes, seriously; people have said this to me without a hint of irony. So Takashi Tezuka, Shigeru Miyamoto, Yoshio Sakamoto, Yoshinori Kitase, Hideki Kamiya, Hideaki Itsuno, Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, Will Wright, Sid Meier... forget those losers, they're all talentless sellout hacks compared to the one true god Miyazaki, apparently.
Spoony: I'm also not saying every game has to have an amazing orchestral score by Hiroki Kikuta or Yasunori Mitsuda, but can we at least have, you know, something interesting to listen to while we play? It might lend a little bit of an adventurous/foreboding feel to the proceedings instead of just compounding the dullness and monotony...
The worst part is that they actually could have used this design decision in an interesting way. In games like Thief: The Dark Project and Metal Gear Solid 3, the lack of music lets you listen for subtle audio cues that you need to gauge enemies' positions, either to avoid them or plan a stealth attack that won't alert a mass of enemies to your presence. Hell, since most of the enemies in the game are either undead or freakish aberrations of nature, it even could have added perfectly to the horror of the scenario; in a game where one enemy is a significant threat and trying to take on a whole group at a time will usually result in your death , adding a stealth element could have easily helped to convey a tense mood. But since all of Dark Souls' enemies remain inactive and completely silent until you're close enough for them to attack you and opportunities to backstab unaware monsters are extremely rare, the lack of sound design here just feels like it was done out of laziness. And I'm sorry, but if you're going to sell me on the idea that any game is the "best ever created", then it had better be pretty damn amazing and well-oiled in every respect, sound design included!
Anyway, it doesn't take long before you realize that there's really just not much to Dark Souls beyond what it shows you in the first ten minutes - generic, desolate environments with copy-pasted enemy battles every five steps, pure trial-and-error guesswork on what path will take you to your next goal and which one will take you to instant death by a cheap trap or enemies far above your current level, and the occasional boss you'll have to stop and grind out souls for several hours for just to stand a chance against. And what's your reward for figuring out an easy loophole in their AI, outlasting their absurdly long health bars and insane damage output and eventually beating them? ...You get to go to another equally desolate, uninteresting maze full of the same one repeated enemy and instant death traps and do it all again! Yeah. After the first couple rounds of this, I'd had quite enough and shut it off for good.
Spoony: Do you recall my earlier nutshells and reviews where I rambled about how mediocre games like Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Dishonored and Dragon Age got tons of acclaim for stuff that PC games had already done better years prior simply because they were released on consoles and their fans had never played anything like them before owing to platform bias? Same idea here; Dark Souls may have some of the elements of a good nonlinear adventure, but it's lacking the most important one in that there is no hook to the game whatsoever. In fact, I'll even go so far as to say it's one of the most overhyped, obtusely designed, pretentious and dull games I've played since Valkyrie Profile. An open-ended adventure tailored toward "hardcore gamers" is all well and good, but when the controls and physics in the game are such a chore to deal with, the aesthetics are so unappealing, there's no decent puzzles or narrative whatsoever, the whole combat system the game builds itself on is so one-note, janky and unforgiving, and the entire experience is just nihilistic grinding toward a vague promise of something interesting eventually happening, you really have no desire to keep playing it after the first few hours, let alone see it through to the end.
...Unless, of course, you're motivated by factors almost entirely unrelated to the game itself and think you have something to gain by grinding out points and items for 1,538 hours to unlock a flag on your "Gamer Card" that nobody but you ever looks at anyway. But if you're not swayed by the fleeting promise of "prestige" that arbitrary digital trophies at least 48,611 people have already earned will allegedly bring you, Dark Souls just comes off as a completely forgettable experience that only got as much attention as it did because its publisher bought tons of advertising and glowing press coverage for it. And since we've already seen that most people will unquestioningly treat anything that their top-secret repository of infallible wisdom, the very first search result on Facebook, says as gospel... well, draw your own conclusions there.
Oh, and I just adore the fact that this game's fans go around claiming to be "old school" and "hardcore" while shunning actual old-school and hardcore games like Wizardry and Cataclysm and Bard's Tale and Dwarf Fortress because "lol real gamers only play games that are 15 years behind the graphical curve not 30 get with the times grandpa". They also conveniently ignore the fact that the Souls franchise itself is a "dumbed down" reworking of an actual old-school game franchise they can't even name without checking Google or Wikipedia, let alone honestly claim to have played. (By the way, literally none of these people cared about that earlier franchise when it was new or even cares about it now, but as soon as big name publishers like Sony and Atlus and Namco Bandai start publishing the exact same style of games From Software is suddenly the fucking messiah? Give me a break.) Hell, they can't even name a single reason why their "favorite game" is so great that isn't an empty platitude taken word-for-word from one of the top reviews on Metacritic or a smarmy talking point from some 4chan hyena about who the "real gamers" are. So why is Souls the one and only franchise they ever need to
Not to put too fine a point on this, but at the time of this writing I'm one of 416 people in the world with a platinum trophy on Disgaea D2 (100% completion being reliant on scammy DLC I refuse to buy) and one of 165 who has 100% on Mega Man Legacy Collection. Do I put myself on a pedestal and go around bragging about how my achievements make me an "elite gamer" and how other people should "get gud or bow before my mighty skills"? No, I don't. Because I know that they're video games - electronic media created for the purpose of entertainment - and nobody of any worth anywhere is going to sing my praises over a video game, no matter how good I am at it*. Sorry to tread on your dream of putting your Gamer Card on a resume as "work experience" so you can leverage a job at some hack gaming publication where you get paid to pretend to have your own opinions about things, but that's not now it works; as corruptible as they are, those people got their jobs by earning degrees and having actual work experience in the field of journalism. So you might as well quit trying to earn the respect of narcissistic nine-year-olds on the GameFAQs forums by sucking on their assholes constantly and doing anything they tell you to without question (because that's how respect works... right?) and refocus your efforts on getting a real job already; if you put a tenth as much effort into that as you did into being an arrogant, sociopathic kiss-ass on the Internet, you'd probably go a lot further in life. Fuck, even earning minimum wage working at Taco Bell is a much more dignified use of your time compared to signing it away to someone whose
*And before some wiseass decides to call me out on my "ignorance" of the professional gaming circuit: This statement applies to professional gamers as well. Whether it's Justin Wong or James Rolfe or TMR or even Markiplier or PewDiePie, any one of them will tell you that they're entertainers first and gamers second. No matter how they do it - competing in tournaments to show off their skills, playing games blindfolded for charity, speeding through games using clever glitches, or just having an interesting personality to watch while they play games and react to the events therein - their livelihood is reliant on drawing in an audience and keeping them captivated. If they're not drawing a crowd, they're not getting sponsors and donations. If they're not getting sponsors and donations, they're not getting paid. If they're not being paid, they're not professional gamers anymore. It really is as simple as that. Not to mention that the quickest way to fail at being an entertainer is to take one's audience for granted, throw them under the bus at every turn and generally behave like a disgusting cretinous psychopath; I'm sure Phil Burnell and Noah Antwiler and Chris Bores can tell you all about that. Or rather, they might if their self-destructive narcissism didn't constantly blind them to actual reality...If after reading of this you're still hell-bent on making your name as an elite gamer, then consider this: maybe try to do something that hasn't been accomplished by literally tens of thousands of people before you. Make Grandmaster grade in Classic mode of TGM3 (a feat which, as of 2015, has only been accomplished by six people in the world). Set some speedrun records on Ninja Gaiden or Ghosts n' Goblins or Battletoads or Strider or any number of other hellishly difficult games.
That's all I have to say about that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to play another "hardcore" game that features a palette comprised of much more than muted greys and browns, far more inspired and varied audio design, and an overall level of polish that ensures its gameplay is crisp, well-paced, intuitive and legitimately challenging, rather than simply being "difficult" because of the shortcomings of its design:
And rather than doing so to engage in meaningless dick-waving and winning the fleeting approval of a bunch of internet-dwelling sociopaths, I'll be acting in the interest of an "outdated" concept to today's gamer culture: for my own entertainment. "Heresy!" did screecheth the Cult of Miyazaki, their only sudden movement in weeks kicking up their bedrooms' settled miasma of grease-soaked Cheeto dust and stale urine, "Real gamers work thankless, unfulfilling second jobs in front of their parents' TVs FOR FREE!"
Oh, and if I want a good game based around intense combat, exploration, fragmented storytelling and battling the occasional enormous boss monster, I'll pick up one of these instead:
Thank you and good night.
PS: Tracking down my contact information so you can parrot glib talking points from the Gamespot forums about how I'm "not a real gamer" for not playing underwhelming junk solely because your hipster god said to, or that "you just hate the game because you suck you whiny bitch lololol", or how "Whoeverthefuck Miyazaki is a GENIUS* on par with Shakespeare or Mozart or da Vinci or Stephenie Meyer and you're just too stupid to understand his BRILLIANCE not me tho I have 397 IQ according to MasterRaceEugenics.biz lolololol" or especially "I respect your opinion kid but you'd better delete your entire website and disappear from the internet forever before 'someone' shows up at your junior high with my daddy's AR-15 and 3D-printed silencer and bumpstock and ultraextended magazines from the dark web loaded with tank-piercing cyanide-tipped cop-killer bullets and makes an example of your kike nigger faggot ass and everyone you know too Heil Jontron lolololololol" will only make me like 'your' favorite game less, so kindly abstain from that. Thanks in advance!
* Probably mistaking him for the other Miyazaki - the one that actually has talent and creative vision in his works and a broader view and appreciation of humanity than some arbitrary fucking number on a stat menu, not just a death cult of fame-worshipping narcissists that insists he does and if you ever so much as imply otherwise you're a fake gamer who needs to be silenced through any force necessary in the name of "objectivity" and "ethical games journalism". And Jontron