Dark Souls GOTD

Following on from our reader-voted Top 50 Games of the Decade, Nintendo Life staff members will be picking their personal favourite Nintendo games between the years 2010-2019. Today, Damien tries his hardest to remember where the nearest bonfire is before he runs into another angry skeleton...

Games are supposed to be fun, entertaining and – within reason – moderately challenging, so I’m not entirely sure why I fell so badly for FromSoftware’s brutal and almost sadistic Dark Souls when it launched back in 2011. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that my tolerance for difficult video games has all but evaporated – there are too many other distractions in my life to contend with titles that require superhuman reflexes, extreme memorisation and saint-like reserves of patience, if you ask me – but Dark Souls, for some inexplicable reason, proved to be the exception.

I’d dabbled in the almost fatally obtuse and convoluted Demon’s Souls a couple of years previously, drawn in by its Berserk-like grim fantasy aesthetic and haunting atmosphere, but it was, if anything, too daunting; there were moments – such as the utterly terrifying Tower of Latria – which almost proved too much for my feeble resolve, especially in the total absence of the ability to save your progress mid-level. I trudged on nonetheless, respecting the game’s rewarding mechanics but utterly down-beaten by its stern, gleefully harsh gameplay.

Dark Souls, however, would ensnare me totally. Full disclosure: I played it on Xbox 360 on release (it would have been rather hard for me to obtain the Switch version in 2011, after all), and it consumed every moment of my waking life. I played it prior to shifting into my full-time position on this site, but I happened to be working with someone else who had bought it at the exact same time.

"Come and 'ave a go if you think you're... oh."

We’d convene on our coffee breaks to discuss progress in hushed, reverent tones; one day, I’d be able to offer advice on how to defeat a tricky boss, whereas the following day it would be my co-worker who had overtaken me and had tips to share. This back-and-forth exchange went on for weeks. Dark Souls deliberately left a lot for players to discover on their own – hence the brilliant in-game messaging system, where players leave helpful (or not) notes for fellow adventurers, warning them of traps or pointing out safe routes – and having someone else to bounce tactics off of was a real boon, especially during those early days when online guides weren’t quite as expansive as they could be.

I think a lot of the best video games are based around a very clear ‘risk and reward’ mechanic; the thrill of putting hours of progress on the line and knowing you could lose everything, but then overcoming the odds to emerge victorious... that, in my opinion, is one of the best feelings you can get from a game, and the Dark Souls series nails it perfectly. The flip side, of course, is that you’ll fail just as often, if not more. However, while Dark Souls is undeniably brutal, the fault always lies with you, the player. You failed because you didn’t react in time to repel an incoming blow; you didn’t look for the tell-tale sign that an enemy was about to strike; you didn’t prepare properly for a tough battle. It might delight in rubbing your face in the dirt, but Dark Souls is never truly ‘unfair’ – you just need to make sure you even the odds as much as possible, and take your time.

The other big reason I absolutely adore Dark Souls – and FromSoftware’s other titles – is the fact that the lore behind the action is so fully-formed and dense; even the smallest, most inconsequential item in the game is blessed with a lengthy backstory, filling in gaps and building a unique and foreboding world that arguably rivals the best the fantasy genre has to offer. I fully admit I was totally enraptured by Lordran and its many varied locations and inhabitants; I wanted to know everything about every environment and every character. The thing that makes this grand narrative so incredible is that much is left up to the player when it comes to joining the dots and fitting all of the plot strands together – if, indeed, they actually do fit together in the first place.

That's one big club

When Dark Souls was confirmed for Switch, I literally leapt for joy. I didn’t need an excuse to play through the game again, even if its punishing nature did bring back some bad memories (Blighttown, I’m looking at you); if only I’d had the ability to take the game with me on the road back in 2011, my progress – and that of my intrepid co-worker – would have been much more swift, and perhaps a little more collaborative, too.

I hope now that Bandai Namco will find some means of getting the oft-overlooked sequel onto Nintendo’s console, and perhaps even move mountains to bring Dark Souls III to the system. Being able to play the entire trilogy on the move would be a revelation for me personally, and I’m ready to admit that while my time is precious, I’d be more than willing to put my body (and mind) on the line once more to experience these absolutely incredible games.

While a great many games have had an impact on me during the past decade, few stick in the mind quite as strongly as Dark Souls – and that’s why it’s effortlessly the best game I’ve played during the past 10 years.