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.
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.
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.
I'd certainly argue that Dark Souls is the most influential game of the past decade.
Need to get back into this, got one-shotted by a gigantic water dragon down in the sewers and have never recovered....
If it weren't for Tim Rogers saying the same I likely never even would have given it a shot. But. Tim Rogers.
@LordMolecule Yeah, I think so too.
Great piece, Damien! I'm not a fan of extremely difficult games either, but like you, I really enjoy Dark Souls. Need to get back to it!
I can say with a big smile that this is probably the only game I finished last decade.
Even those of us who haven’t played Dark Souls (or dabbled but can’t get into it) can appreciate the positive impact of these games on our community.
Also, I appreciate the storytelling of this article. The colleague at work or playing the same game at the same time and the experience that brings in itself is special.
Yet another game in my backlog I haven’t gotten around to sadly. Originally I was put off by all the comments on how difficult it was (when it first released). I come from the 80s where every game was frickin hard, figured I’d paid my dues.
But then I read a bunch of positive stuff on it, saw some vid, and came to the conclusion that’s it’s no more difficult than a mix of NES and Monster Hunter. The one hit death stuff or getting knocked off a cliff is just learning and memory. No different than mega man games back in the day. And the dodging, partying, etc is no different than perfectly running something like Narga or Rajang on MH. After all that I was sold. Now it’s just a matter of finding time. 😂 Witcher 3 I must finish first though.
@Xylnox Ok, seen ya post on here enough to know we’ve got similar tastes in games. Your post is praise enough to warrant DS being my next adventure to tackle.
I feel there is too much emphasis placed on the difficulty of the Souls series. They're not THAT difficult (unless you're quite reckless), especially not compared to a lot of older games. I do think they're brilliant games, but for me it's more about the world-building and adventure if you like.
I never grew a personal appreciation for Dark Souls. But I can see the influence it has had on the industry and I'm glad to see the positive impact it has had on video games.
I feel like Dark Souls is the highest profile game that I have never played
Dark Souls is incredible. I'm in the middle of Jedi:Fallen Order and it's a total Souls rip-off in Star Wars clothing. Which makes it totally awesome.
Never liked Dark Souls. I like Bloodborne and Sekiro though, so I appreciate what the series has done for gaming.
I absolutely love this game, it’s my favourite one of the Soulsborne series. Me and my brother both played it at the same time, racing each other to finish it first. It was great fun seeing who could beat Quelaag or Bed of Chaos before each other and I’ve been back and played it quite a few times. I’d probably rate them in order of DS1, DS3, BB, Sekiro and DS2.
Only thing about this is that really Dark souls comes from Demon's Soul, but the series in general has been a very big influence, and sadly most people don't say it's a Demon's Soul like experience. When you are basically identified as a genre you know it's been very influential.
Besides competitive online games like CSGO and DOTA2 (which I sank 3k hours in each, oh how I miss my student years), the souls series were my favorite. DkS1 had me playing for almost 500h, maximizing pvp and even playing through it Soul Level 1. Amazing setting, amazing gameplay, amazing lore. Amazing game.
I seem to be in the minority, but Dark Souls is one of the worst games I've ever had the misfortune of playing.
@ShaiHulud people are reckless and that's because games have been heavily holding our hands lately...
I feel like Sekiro "perfected" the idea that death is your fault. With no stats governing equipment and armor, the only thing coming between you and victory are reflexes and strategy.
Sure, there are things you can do to help (increase Attack power, Health, and Posture), but all-in-all the game is fair across the board.
Dark Souls does have that strategy element too, but I feel like the game's Stats can prevent one from forming a proper strategy since gear is dependent on those stats. I feel like Dark Souls almost requires a second playthrough so you have the foresight necessary to form those strategies, where as Sekiro is accessible out of the gate.
While I personally prefer Bloodborne, Dark Souls is with no doubt a fantastic game. It popularized the franchise and lead to the term "souls-like". There is no arguing about the influence it had in the past decade on the gaming market.
The problem with Dark Souls is not the difficulty. The difficulty is brutal, but something anyone can conquer with enough patience. The camera is the tough part of the game. I was wrestling with the camera most of the time I played and getting it to focus on an enemy as I dodge roll. If the camera simply locked onto the enemy, like in Breath of the Wild, enemies would be so much easier to fight. Wrestling with the camera was the reason I stopped my playthrough
@ummyeahnintendo Click in the right stick to lock on to the enemy. It’s a lot more useful in Bloodborne but still might help you.
I would not have agreed in 2016, with games like Witcher 3.... but after playing through it, and seeing it's impact, I fully agree. Even though it killed me, I want to play through it again. Not many games do that for me, even Witcher 3.
I tried getting into it, but I died.
I agree... as I get older, super hard games generally become less appealing. But playing through Dark Souls for the first time last year on my Switch was magical (and addictive).
@Xylnox Really? That's surprising, do you just get bored of games easy?
This game totally took over my life when it came out. When I didnt play it, I thought about it, read about it, strategized. But I agree that if it came out today, I dont think it would have hit me as hard. Have lost my patience for hard games. And maybe thats why I bounced off sekiro, or maybe it was the lack of coop, as that have been some of my favourite moments during my time with the soulsborn games. I just hope Im ready for elden ring.
I want to play and move on not play the same thing over and over and over and over. I got it I tried it. It wasnt fun for me at all.
@Chunkboi79 Sometimes. I have so much of a backlog that I usually play like 3-4 games at the same time. I just cycle thru them. Plus it doesn't help that I am playing co-op games with my brother all the time. Right now, I am playing the Witcher 3, Assassin's Creed Black Flag, Company of Heroes 2, Total War Warhammer II and Battletech.
I bought it more than a year ago but I'm still waiting for a patch... -_- I don't really have the time, anyway.
Just started my first ever play through
I’ve played the 2nd and 3rd but missed this one somehow
Never played DS, but ive been attempting to play Bloodborne. So insanely difficult. I want to know why people love these games.
It probably deserves the shout out, seeing how influential it is. But I've never really taken to these games. They feel... empty. Like the developers finished the level design and combat system, but completely forgot to add a story, interesting characters, quests, etc.
@daebiya One of the best things about going straight into New Game + is seeing how far you can go without hitting a wall. Made it to Sen’s Fortress easy peasy due to my love of the Black Knight Sword, which I can’t get until way later on first playthrough. Then I worked out you could knock Iron Golem off the bridge so I’m learning new tactics all the time!
@Ralizah dark souls actually does have a very complex story, it's mostly hidden within character dialogue and item description though
Also the game is supposed to feel empty because you're in a dieing world
That game sucks. Super Mario Maker is easily the best game of all time, that or Super Mario Maker 2.
I'm more of a Kirby/Yoshi kind of guy, but saw Dark Souls II for $2 and decided to give it a try and see what the fuss is all about. I'm a few hours in and, um, we ain't in Dream Land any more.
Exactly this. Dark Souls is amazing and one of my top 3 games of all time. I'm really hoping 2 and 3 get ported to Switch.
Staff has very bad taste!! Just kidding! I never played any of the souls games!
I love how the fire emblem GOTD post had so much more hate comments just because it's fire emblem and an anime artstlye, lol, but good choices for GOTD so far, staffs got good taste
You know what else is a hard but awesome series? ETRIAN ODYSSEY!
Played this game for the first time earlier this year. Excellent challenge, some great bosses and just a fun world to explore. Really hope they release 2 and 3 on Switch as well.
Great pick. Dark Souls is definitely influential and a great game.
I find the idea of it being the game of the decade personally laughable (of course, your mileage may vary). As for me, Dark Souls on Switch remains the only full-priced game on the system that I regret buying. I love the other western type RPGs - like Witcher 3 and Skyrim - and have put literally a combined 600+ hours into both of them - but, I hated Dark Souls. I wanted to love it because the great reviews and the hype around the series in general, but I couldn't. The controls felt stiff and the camera wonky. I felt like I was fighting with the controls more than I was the enemies. Just my two cents, not that anyone asked.
I can't deny that Dark Souls is a game that has a huge following. But almost everything I dislike about it seems to be what its fans DO like about it.
It lacks a traditional narrative, it's brutally and unapologetic ally difficult and punishing to the player, it's dark, dreary, and eye strain inducing visuals are a massive turn off. It's also got some of the rudest fans around. The "get good" meme/trolling was probably the most annoying thing online for at least a few years.
Different opinion. Feel free to hate me for it, but I really don't see any appeal of this game. You can hate me, but don't bother trying to change my mind, I've heard it all before.
@Heavyarms55 Not gonna hate. Everyone has different opinions.
It's very hard but it's also fair. There are no cheap shots or sucker punches in Dark Souls. You may be only getting an audio cue, but so long as you keep your shield up while checking corners or noticing that raised stone on the floor you should know something is coming. If that weak enemy is running into a hallway, you should have second thoughts about just blindly chasing him.
The game only punishes you if you messed up. People say the game is artificially difficult because they stepped on a trap. That trap was in full view, and your character lowered a bit when they stepped on it, and you heard gears grinding in the distance to let you know something was up before those bolts fired out of that wall.
But.... You've still got one more year to go for the decade. It isn't over yet.
@Heavyarms55 - Dark Souls is one of my favourite games of all time, but I'll be one of the first to admit that even at the time, it was a bit of an acquired taste, the murky visuals and slow, clunky combat not exactly presenting the game in the best light. It's the kind of game where, if you can put up with it's shortcomings, and push through the games' many challenges, it'll reward you with a satisfying experience. The problem is that this has subsequently been done better in later games, both in From's lineup and in others, making Dark Souls look a bit of a relic by comparison.
@LordMolecule - "There are no cheap shots or sucker punches" Tell that to the countless enemies laying in ambush, the dragon who comes out of nowhere to roast you, and the Capra Demon boss fight.
@Nintyfan - Because excluding 2020 from the 2020's makes sense...
@Xylnox Very cool! I haven't touched any of those games, might need to check them out. However, I know what you mean in regards to the backlog. I am currently playing through King Knight, Code Vein, Dark Souls 3, and Control. Scary think is that the only game I would considered to be apart of my backlog is Dark Souls 3 lol.
@FullMetalWesker ambushes in dark souls are very predictable and when you walk on the bridge where the dragon ambushes you, their are burn marks on the ground across the bridge, it's very subtle but it's their. Other then that Capra demon is the only ambuse in the game that is completely unfair. At least the dragon doesn't one shot.
@Chunkboi79 I really like Dark Souls 3 but I got stuck around 80% of the way thru. I didn't really like Dark Souls 2.
@FullMetalWesker You mean the dragon that you knew was around and the dragon that made a roar before the fire came? You mean the enemies you could easily find by checking corners? You mean boss behind the obvious fog wall with completely noticeable enemies?
You made no point. No cheap shots or sucker punches. Pay attention and it isn't a problem.
@LordMolecule - Knowing he's around doesn't help, and that roar doesn't give you much time to get out of the way, especially if you're busy fighting enemies.
Easily is a bit of a stretch, and unless you stop and check every corner, you have no way of knowing which one has an enemy and which doesn't. Even then, it's not always possible (and that's only keeping to enemies who ambush you from corners)
The fog wall does nothing, and good luck spotting the tiny dogs over the large demon wielding two giant machetes standing right in front of you. Neither of which are that relevant anyway as the fight itself is still one of the cheapest in the whole series.
Not really. Your points seem to be under the impression that a sucker punch = one that's impossible to avoid, when actually it's just one that's unexpected. Now obviously if you've already beaten the game, or you've just played enough, you'll know where everything is, and how to prepare, but if you haven't, then there are a few things that are likely to blindside you or, in the case of the Capra Demon boss, are just cheap in general.
And if you're still so sure the original Dark Souls has no cheap encounters, then explain the Bed of Chaos.
@FullMetalWesker "Knowing he's around doesn't help"
"that roar doesn't give you much time to get out of the way"
It gives enough time.
"unless you stop and check every corner, you have no way of knowing which one has an enemy and which doesn't."
Just check your corners. Check every corner. It's common sense after the very first corner that hurts (which really doesn't hurt that much).
"good luck spotting the tiny dogs over the large demon wielding two giant machetes standing right in front of you. Neither of which are that relevant anyway as the fight itself is still one of the cheapest in the whole series."
Just open your eyes and pay attention. Not being attentive isn't an excuse.
Nothing should be unexpected after the first boulder roll (which you could see by paying attention), Dark Souls un-teaches years of hand-holding in game development.
"And if you're still so sure the original Dark Souls has no cheap encounters, then explain the Bed of Chaos."
Don't just run blindly ahead (which is a lesson taught multiple times over the course of the game) and it isn't and issue.
"Your points seem to be under the impression that a sucker punch = one that's impossible to avoid, when actually it's just one that's unexpected."
The game absolutely teaches you early that you should expect the unexpected and is completely fair from that point on so long as you pay attention to everything. You can't just mash your way through this one. It's not a press start to win game.
@LordMolecule - "so long as you pay attention to everything" Yeah, this I think is the problem. Outside of having unrealistic expectations (seriously, 'it's okay as long as you predict everything'?), you seem to think that, if you can theoretically predict or avoid it, then it can't be cheap, which is ridiculous. If that were true, no video game could be considered cheap, as long as you just 'predict everything', at which point what's the purpose in saying "Dark Souls has no cheap shots/sucker punches" as if it were something special?
@FullMetalWesker You make it sound like "predict everything" to mean randomly guess which is not what it asks you nor is it what I said. Don't put words in my mouth.
If you've just been randomly guessing then I can see why you might think Dark Souls is unfair. If you hear a dragon roar, perhaps you should take cover instead of just running out on to the open bridge and then blaming the game because you got burned.
@LordMolecule - (not sure where you got 'randomly guess' from, but okay) What I was saying, was that you seemed to be saying "You can never be sucker-punched, if you expect everything" and then tried to make it sound like it was something special that Dark Souls does, when really, you could take that and apply it to practically anything and have the same effect. You see what I'm saying?
Also, I never said Dark Souls was unfair, just that it had it's fair share of cheap shots thrown in.
"You can never be sucker-punched, if you expect everything"
Nope. That's just you putting words in my mouth.
There are no cheap shots, I've already explained why. Literally all you have to do is pay attention and react. It's just that simple. It unteaches years of bad gameplay design.
Not only is Dark Souls completely fair, but is far from the hardest game that is also completely fair. Celeste is the hardest while also be completely fair. It's not like it is a rogue-like which will beat you with dice rolls, or some other game that actually has cheap sucker-punches.
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