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[Dark Souls] Final Day

I beat the final boss of Dark Souls on Saturday.

I’m so, so glad it’s all over.

According to my save file, I spent just shy of 58 hours playing Dark Souls. At no point during that duration did I ever really feel “comfortable.” That is presumably by design. Each new area has new enemies to encounter, bullshit traps to get Gotcha!’d, and just a general sense of subtle malice. If you make it far in exploration but then die, you respawn at a Bonfire and all enemies between you and your corpse respawn. If you make it far and find a new Bonfire, you have to make the choice to sit at it and respawn all enemies or continue onward but risk respawning much further away. None of the bosses had Bonfires near them, so you either had to run like crazy past guardian mobs or hack your way back and hope you could retrieve your corpse to make the otherwise lost souls worth it.

Oh and many Bonfires are just straight-up hidden, because fuck you.

Another fun aspect of the game was the simple fact that I never really found a weapon I liked, and this led me into wasting hours and hours farming for shit I never really ended up using. I used the Uchigatana for a large portion of the game, but it continued to get weaker to enemies over time. Eventually I got lucky with a Black Knight Sword (BKS) drop, which immediately became my go-to weapon for the mid-game. Unfortunately, I hated it the entire time. The Uchigatana moveset allowed for a quick strike to interrupt/kill charging enemies, and the power attack was a longish-range poke. Meanwhile the BKS had a slow regular swing, and a power poke attack that triggered after like 5 seconds of vulnerability. But, what the BKS offered was raw damage, and killing enemies in 1-2 attacks was much more useful overall than 4-5 attacks.

My final weapon ended up being the Gargoyle’s Halberd. It has good range, a relatively quick attack, and its attacks in general don’t cost much Stamina. The unfortunate aspect was the fact that I ended up leveling Strength all the way to 40 in an attempt to give all the dozens of other weapons – including the super heavy ones – a fair shake. Unfortunately, there is a point at which an unupgraded weapon is useless no matter how much baseline attack it brings, and thus you can fall into the trap (as I did) of farming and farming to upgrade weapons that you end up saying No Thanks to.

The combat system in general and most bosses specifically are full of outrageous jank, IMO. Having a shield up 24/7 is how I approached most of the game as I found dodge-rolling to almost be entirely useless. Everything I have read indicates you get i-frames by rolling, but those only seem to exist insofar as your character is at half-height during the roll and the attack may be directed higher. For example, if you dodge-roll backwards but the enemy is doing a poke, you get hit. If you dodge-roll right but the enemy is doing a side-swipe, you get hit. Sometimes you can dodge-roll between an enemy’s legs, but sometimes they shuffle two pixels to the left and you just roll into their feet. Sometimes you can just strafe out of the way of attacks, and other times the attacks will auto-swivel your way.

Perhaps this is all a “Git Gud” scenario. I mean, I beat the game, so… maybe not. In any case, I’m not sure “Git Gud” slaps as hard when we’re talking about QWOP-levels of jank.

Having said all of that, the world of Dark Souls was incredible. More specifically, the level design. You don’t get the sense of how interconnected each area is to one another at first, but by about midgame everything starts fitting together in extremely clever ways. You have probably seen a cave loop around back to its entrance a thousand times in other games, but Dark Souls has a degree of coherence that feels wholly unique. The game is also full of shortcuts that allows you to acquire powerful items much earlier in the game if you have the knowledge to do so. The average player is never going to be able to take advantage of that, but I appreciate the willingness of the developers to not throw up arbitrary barriers in a lot of places.

Overall, I am glad that I played Dark Souls even if it was not the most enjoyable experience. Seeing where things began (Demon Souls notwithstanding) gives you a greater appreciation for where things have gone in the meantime. Plus, it is an extremely boldly-designed game that took risks to stay true to the designers’ intentions, and I respect the moxie.

I do already own Dark Souls 2, but I think I’m going to take a break from the tension and play other things for a while. Perhaps something in which I don’t have to worry about instantly dying all the time.

[Dark Souls] Day 5-??

This will probably be the last “Day” post about Dark Souls.

I am still playing and enjoying the game… to a slightly lesser degree than before. The first crack in the façade came from the Bonfire hidden behind an illusionary wall. Up to this point, I had considered Dark Souls to simply be amoral. I wasn’t even mad that I missed the Undead Merchant for 10 hours because the stairs to his location was hidden behind some boxes. But a Bonfire? That’s just cruel. Who the fuck even discovered that in the first place? Were people just randomly rolling around and bumped into it?

Speaking of incredulity, who figured out being able to head back to the Asylum? Or Snuggly? I expected to get some kind of prompt from Snuggly’s nest based on what I had read, but there was nothing. I didn’t even realize that you could just up and drop things on the ground. Engaging with this mechanic is not required for game completion, but it is one of those things I would have never figured out in a million years. In Metroidvanias like Hollow Knight and Ori, I do spend a little extra time attacking walls in case there are hidden areas, but Dark Souls is a bit too large for that to make sense.

If you’re wondering whether you can be attacked while speaking to a vendor, the answer is ‘Of course.’

The third crack came from the Stray Demon in the Asylum. Technically, this was the very first boss that I died to and was unable to retrieve my souls, but whatever. After struggling (read: dying) for quite some time, I finally had to look him up a bit. What was I missing? I knew to avoid being near the pillars as their destruction seemed to remove 95% of my HP. But his fire(?) AoE attack took 55% of my HP and seemed unavoidable, and applying Flash Sweat (reduce fire damage by 45%) did nothing. What was I missing? As it turns out: nothing. Being behind the Stray Demon is supposed to protect you from the AoE but the positioning is janky. Near the tail? Attack goes through his legs. Too far away from his legs? Attack mysteriously wraps around like a backdraft or something. The true answer is… you can block most of the damage with a shield. Ah. Just press L1 and this AoE fire-but-not-fire attack that wraps around everywhere just zoink, deals minimal damage.

Honestly, this wasn’t the first janky boss encounter either. During the Gaping Dragon fight, I was minding my business attacking his tail stump and one of his legs just up and one-shot me. But… I wasn’t near his leg. I started wondering how hitboxes work in this game, and how i-frames from rolling are pretty opaque mechanics-wise. Perhaps having your character change colors would not befit the nature of the game – like characters do when dodging in Metroidvanias – but it’s hard to feel satisfied with your actions as a result. Dodge-rolling always feels like a huge gamble, as sometimes it appears enemies will still turn to track you even when they are midair in the the middle of a jumping attack animation. Part of the “fairness” of Dark Souls comes from the notion that everyone is playing by the same rules. If you let an enemy get behind you, they will backstab you for a ton of damage, just like you can do to them. But more and more it’s becoming clear that some enemies (maybe all?) don’t get animation-locked as you certainly do in the middle of an attack.

I dunno. Dark Souls came out 12 year ago, got two sequels, and then Elden Ring became a wildly successful cultural touchstone (20m copies sold after 1 year). Nevermind how many ancillary games were created in the Soulslike genre in that time too. Clearly they got something right. And I still feel it in there, despite the fact that the game looks like it came out on the PS2 and is locked at 29 FPS.

I just wish it was a little more consistent. On the other hand, I am… kind of ignoring the several times the game trolls me with traps. Boulders, barrels, Basilisks. It does somehow feel like a very Dark Souls thing to do to suddenly say “Illusionary walls are a thing now, deal with it.” So maybe it is consistent.