Five Years Later, Does Anyone Really “Get” Dark Souls?

dark-souls-3

The first Dark Souls is five years old, director Hidetaka Miyazaki has said some things about his future projects, the first piece of downloadable content for Dark Souls III is coming up, and I just realized I’ve talked almost not at all about Dark Souls III here since before I started playing it.

I think I’ve said enough in previous posts about why I like Dark Souls or the “real” reasons why it’s good beyond just its unusual difficulty. I think this post and the last part of this one are the best summations. The only thing I can really say about Dark Souls III in particular is that it is a consummate video game. That may sound like a bland thing to say, but I think that actually makes it unique among the big releases we get these days. When I say “consummate,”I mean it in the most classical way possible for traditional Japanese console action games.

Dark Souls III has a fun control system, its potential unearthed by interesting level design and challenges. It not only maintains the franchise’s excellent, intuitive combat system, but kicks it up a notch with faster and more aggressive enemies. The level design manages to continually throw players new curve balls as soon as they get comfortable. That’s pretty much it, but these days that feels like a lot.

Let’s be real here: Most of the biggest games that get all the marketing in today’s world don’t have the same standard of challenge, gameplay balance, and level design that used to feel much more common in the console market. The most appealing features of these games today is often their presentation and production values. If your’e a fan of what people prioritized in Super NES or PlayStation 2 games, the last decade or so has probably felt like a big disappointment because of the priorities which seemingly changed for the standard-bearing game makers.

I think I’ve expressed here before that I think had Dark Souls been made circa 2002, it wouldn’t stand quite as tall over the competition as it does in today’s market. That’s because it plays by the rules of that time period, and plays well by them, in an age where other big-budget games don’t.

Ever since western developers thought regenerating health was the future and it set us on the path of making games less frustrating, mainstream games have been all about finding new ways to engage players, new ways to avoid problems, and in general acting as if the old ways of handling players are objectively obsolete. Dark Souls is, quite simply, one of the only games made with yesterday’s mentality but today’s technology. It communicates to players and engages them in basically the same way something like Super Metroid did.

The biggest indicator of why Dark Souls is good in this way is that all the criticisms I hear of the games are very minor balance-related issues. There’s never anything big wrong with Dark Souls. By the same token there isn’t any single thing big right with Dark Souls. People keep looking for a secret sauce in the formula to point at or even imitate, but I don’t think there is one. I think Dark Souls is just plain old good video game design, of a variety we haven’t seen for a long time.

BULLETS:

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