Hiya TAY, it’s been a while. Life has it’s way of getting us down. In our darkest hour, we might find our strength - or crumble under the pressure.
Spoiler Alert - Many of them, big and small, also, this is quite long!
No game captures this sentiment better than Dark Souls. I had not heard of ‘Souls until the hype train hit for the second one, and as someone who considers himself somewhat of a gaming connoisseur, I was perturbed that it had somehow flown under my radar.
I was reading just about every article I could find on Dark Souls II 3 years ago,when the hype train was at full steam, and eventually decided to order a copy online. Dark Fantasy? Tense, technical combat? A strangely beautiful, yet mysterious and uninviting world? Filled with horrors untold? It had my name all over it. Same day delivery. I wanted to experience the game alongside the people writing about it, one of the few times in my life I had the disposable income to buy a new release.
Except, I had ordered a copy for the wrong console! Luckily, I went to double check my order, and called just in time to rectify my error. As a consequence of this negligent behavior, I had to wait until Monday for it to be delivered.
When it eventually arrived, I dived right in. Fortunately, I had a friend who had some experience with the series to give me a few pointers, and I was merrily on my way. I remember finding it quite humorous that I was awarded an achievement for dying the first time, little did I know what tribulation lay ahead of me.
I labored away at the game. I dont know how many hours it took me, but I made it all the way to the Shrine of Amana, a rather troublesome area for my heavily armored Knight character. I had to wade through waters, which slowed my character down, and the path wasn’t visible due to the water,so it was easy to fall into an abyss. Enemies constantly firing magic at me, with some critters popping up seemingly out of nowhere.. I wasn’t doing very well. The height of my frustration came when the next bonfire was withing my reach, and I was killed by one of those stupid bugs that I could usually oneshot. I quit the game, and gave it a rest for the day.
The next day when I had steeled my nerves to try again, I loaded the game in the Xbox, and lo, my save file had vanished! I was devastated! Apparently, because I had not exited the game properly (it does warn you) my save file was deleted. Atleast this is what my friend told me, after having a good chuckle.
Naturally, I was rather crestfallen. Hours of my life had vanished, due to my own negligence. I eventually restarted the game, and made it as far as the Looking Glass Knight, who I was having a hard time with this time around. I was playing other games that I had accumulated in the interim, and at some point shelved Dark Souls II, occasionally dusting it off and having another crack at the Looking Glass Knight. Eventually, I stopped trying, although I’m not sure exactly when.
I started digging into the original Dark Souls, which I downloaded when it came out as one of the free games on Xbox Live Gold, finding it much less forgiving than it’s successor. Even though the stories are only loosely related, I reasoned that I would try and play them chronologically. At the back of my mind, I knew it had more to do with the bitter taste that losing my first save file had given me, than chronological integrity. No matter.
This time around, I went with The Deprived as my class, nekkid and armed with only a plank shield and a club, I set out to ring the bells. This had a completely different feel to my slow, heavy Knight, and I began to favour this lighter build. I bested the Taurus Demon within a few tries, faced down the Gargoyles(that moment when I thought I was doing well, only for a second gargoyle to appear was priceless) cursed at the dogs in the Capra Demon boss fight, who often killed me within a few seconds of entering, pressed on through the Depths to face the awful Gaping Dragon. Blight Town definitely lived up to it’s reputation, and Quelaag was rather troublesome, but eventually I made it. Sen’s Fortress was rather sticky,but I persevered and made it to Anor Londo, where I hit a wall.
I just couldn’t hack this one part, and spent hours trying, where you have to trek across Anor Londo, take on a bunch of imp/gargoyle type critters, and then run up a narrow bridge with 2 knights raining arrows down on you, only to get knocked off every. damn. time.
Eventually giving it a rest. I reasoned, perhaps I should go farm some souls? That just wasn’t going to happen, since going back through all the traps in Sen’s Fortress seemed more difficult than coming through.
With my tail between my legs, I eventually decided to tackle the more forgiving Dark Souls II once more, now 3 years since I had purchased the game and had my first taste of bitter, bitter defeat. I don’t remember another game that humbled me to this extent, yet I kept coming back for more.
This time, determined, and somewhat more experienced, I sailed through the first few bosses without batting an eye. Some of the bosses that I had a hard time with before, like The Duke’s Dear Freja, I cut down with ease. Before I knew it, I was striding down The King’s Passage toward the Looking Glass Knight, who I felled with only a few attempts.
Wiser, I took on The Shrine of Amana, knowing that this was the furthest I had gotten, I pushed through with relative ease. The Undead Crypt awaited, once more I pushed through, now in uncharted territories. Aldia’s Keep took a few attempts. Dragon Aerie, which I had been warned about, posed little threat, and I made it through unscathed. I had a little trouble at the Dragon Shrine, but made it through, onto the Memories and eventually, the Throne of Want, and the Final Boss.
Nashandra, the queen, wielding a huge scythe and cursing my ass into oblivion. I was dismayed that even my Ring of Life Protection didn’t protect me, and I found myself back at the bonfire with half HP within seconds. I used up all my Human Effigies. So, I backtracked a bit, and farmed some souls and effigies using Bonfire Ascetics, which made areas somewhat tougher. I enjoyed the challenge, and took my time, not bothering to cure the curse that had left me with half HP.
Once I had stocked up a bit on Effigies, I decided, this is it. I had noticed that with 2 phantoms, my attacks were less effective, so I went in with only one this time, and unceremoniously cut Nashandra down, breathing a sigh of relief and victory as I watched the ending sequence, and the credits started rolling.
It took 3 years, but I finally finished Dark Souls II. Every failure had taught me something, and the game constantly challenged me to try again, and again, until “Victory Achieved” displayed across my screen.
This has emboldened me to have another crack at the original Dark Souls. Within a few hours, having experienced these parts of the game atleast twice, I am at the doors of Sen’s Fortress, determined to put this one to bed as well.
Much like life, Dark Souls always seems to have a new challenge, something coming out of the left field that can derail the most carefully laid plans. My only hope is that we can stop and take in the scenery once in a while, between getting hacked to pieces or ground to a bloody pulp by some or other vile creature.
It’s okay to make mistakes, that’s how we learn most of the time. This is very much evident in Souls - the more it hurts, the more you learn.