Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on a wide range of topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this edition, editor Dom explores the viscous and empowering minutia of the Dark Souls phenomenon and how it's a match made in heaven/hell on Nintendo Switch.
If you’d told me this time last year I’d be playing Dark Souls: Remastered on a handheld platform - and a Nintendo handheld platform at that - I’d have laughed you out of the room. It’s not that such an idea would have been turned me off (hundreds of hours between DS, DSII, DSIII and Bloodborne will attest to the opposite), it’s the simple fact such a notion was simply inconceivable.
This time last year Nintendo Switch was untested and unblooded, a console with a titanic amount of expectation tied around its neck and the history of Wii U’s stumbles strapped to its back. Such trepidation was standard across the industry as we watched Switch launch and not stumble, but sprint with ever more confident strides. That cautious optimism soon turned to abject wonder.
That success, both in terms of sheer numbers Switch is selling by and by the breadth of the audience its amassing, has paved the way for a grander and more diverse library of software. It’s given us a new home for indies; a stable platform of annual sports sims; a place for well-known franchises to try something new; and now it’s the home to one of the most deeply devise yet inherently empowering games ever made. Now it’s home to Dark Souls.
If you’ve ever played, and come to appreciate, the genius of FromSoftware’s seminal work you know what that means for Nintendo Switch, but for many the words ‘Dark’ and ‘Souls’ often seem as impenetrable as the game itself. It seems, on the surface, like a game that actively wants to see you fail, eschewing tutorials and handholding for violent difficulty spikes and seemingly unbeatable bosses. But DS is so much more.
Every first impression you have is probably true, but there’s added dimension to every misconception. Is it difficult? Absolutely, but it’s difficulty distills the danger of fighting a horde of moderately challenging enemies into one or two devilishly fiendish ones at a time. It makes every fight a boss battle in itself, a crucible designed to make you fail until you learn why you failed. It makes every successful strike, dodge and parry mean something because if the ‘simplest’ of enemies can kill you in a matter of seconds.
In an age of endless retries and regenerative health, DS constructive difficulty curves are a refreshing tonic (with a bitter aftertaste, naturally). It’s empowerment earned not by perk, skill tree or upgrade, but by honest trial, error and good old fashioned hard work. When you overcome one enemy or area, you move to the next like a revitalised angel of death, only to be beaten senseless by the next challenge. The feedback loop begins anew, but now you know the basic principles. You fail, but you do so know with a virtual scar tissue that means you learn that little bit faster.
That doesn’t mean you won’t want to occasionally scream or turn the air multiple shades of blue with your language - even the most experienced of hollow knights feel the sting of DS’ nebulised brutality - but it becomes part of the aroma that keeps drawing you back to its bubbling pot of combat, exploration, discovery and elation. It’s the true gamification of the ‘love/hate’ dynamic, reduced down to a powerful, unmistakable flavour. Even your journeys between campfires (which serve as DS’ take on a save system) become odysseys in themselves as you hunt for souls and risk losing them if you die before your next save.
There are dangers around every corner. Enemies take attack from the darkest of corners, sliding blades into the blindspots of the uninitiated. Even narrow walkways and paths can be your undoing, as you attempt to roll and dodge dangers only to roll one animation too far and into oblivion. And we haven’t even covered the bosses. Each one is unique in its design, behaviours and attack phases and many will stay with you long after you’ve vanquished them and spent their souls. Being able to tackle these giant foes away from your TV won’t make them any less monstrous, but it won’t detract from the genius of their design either.
Oh, and did I mention how well it implements multiplayer? It’s PvP meets PvE, blending co-operative sessions (where you can request help from one or more fellow knights when trying to beat a seemingly unbeatable boss) and competitive skirmishes as players enter your world and attempt to slay you (usually at the most inopportune time). It plays into DS’ central theme perfectly - nothing is safe and everything wants to kill you. It might sound unattractive on paper, but in the midst of its moreish chaos, DS is anything but.
In truth, DS’ rich take on the fantasy RPG suits Nintendo’s heritage better than you might think. The Legend Of Zelda remains the blueprint from which all the greatest (and the worst) role-playing games draw their inspiration, and DS is no different. The open-ended levels; the shortcuts and secret pathways; the game world that tells as much story as its dialogue; the memorable bosses and tactics needed to overcome them. It's DNA is as plain as day, even after all these years.
Nintendo has always embraced a family-friendly mantra, but the arrival of Dark Souls: Remastered on Nintendo Switch marks a watershed moment in the console's lifecycle. It's a reaffirmation of Switch's solidified position in the modern gaming market, while proving an action-RPG such as this is as natural a fit as a new Smash Bros or a fresh Pikmin. Nintendo’s older generations have grown up with Zelda forming the foundation of their gaming, so it’s only right that Switch’s software library should mature along with them thanks to one of the most innovate games ever made. You’re going to die, again, again and again, but it’s going to be glorious.
That's Dom's take on the importance of Dark Souls and how its Remastered edition will only serve to empower Switch's legitimacy as a console. But now we want to know what you think about FromSoftware's classic offering and its new Nintendo home...