If you read my post from last week, you might remember that I said I’d be playing through Dark Souls and using the Trial of Mana remake to cool down whenever it got to be too much for me. Well, I’m sorry to report, but I’m giving up on Dark Souls. At least for now. Though I can’t really justify going back to it anytime soon tbh. It’s not because it’s too hard, or I can’t beat a certain boss, or anything like that (well, I just got to Blighttown which was kinda the catalyst for dropping it, but it’s more than just that). Instead, I don’t like how Dark Souls makes me feel when I’m not playing the game. That’s right, it’s GAMER PSYCHOLOGY TIME!!
When I stop playing Dark Souls for the day, whether I'm frustrated or it's just getting late, it lives in my brain until the next time I play it. I'm thinking of strategies on what to do next, or whether I've had enough and wanna call it quits, or the bizarre difficulty curve of the game (the gaping dragon feels like it came out of a different game I swear). Now, it's not the first game to dominate my headspace like this, but it's the first one in a while where I'm not thinking about the world, the art, or the lore. Which sucks! If there's anything I wholeheartedly love about this game it's the world I get to
die live in, with it's dilapidated gothic castles, empty cathedrals, infested sewers, and my personal favorite, the water-logged and literally haunted New Londo Ruins. The sense of brooding loneliness this game gives me is unlike any other game I've played before, and recalls the barren horror games on the PS1 more than anything I can think of. If there was a walking simulator version of this game I'd play it 15 times in a row, just to explore every little nook in the rubble. These images are what I want to have living in my head all night long, not strategies and enemy layouts and questions of whether or not I'm even enjoying myself. As it is, it reminds me of a post Melos Han-Tani wrote about roguelites and gacha games (here), calling them treatmills for the way they take advantage of your brain's reward functions to keep you playing longer, and longer, and longer, until you’ve spread the game to everyone you know by virtue of it being your whole life. Now I don't think Dark Souls gives me these feelings as on purpose as gacha games do, or even as much as roguelites, but it sounds like the same feeling I get.
In fact I’d argue that this is in part why Dark Souls got to be such a juggernaut franchise. It’s a great, effective piece of art, full to the brim with nigh unapproachable mechanical depth, and those don’t usually sell well at all, let alone become runaway successes. Even Demon’s Souls didn’t sell particularly well at first, and it’s got pretty much the same mechanics as Dark Souls to a T. But it started the “accidentally making an extremely addicting game” train, and Dark Souls turned it to o v e r d r I v e. The more modern iterations, namely Sekiro, DS3, and Bloodborne, seem like they’ve been more about taking the old school mid-budget FromSoft “jank” out of these games while leaving the rest intact, and their success speaks for itself. These are games that by all accounts should not appeal to, and in fact seem explicitly designed out of hatred for, the general public.
Some might just say that the game is addicting because it's so good, and that's definitely part of it. It's a very good game that does exactly what it wants artistically, but it's also all consuming in the way that WoW can be for some people, and that's not something I personally like feeling. I'm not exactly sure why I play games, somewhere between experiencing cool art and weird worlds probably, but it's definitely not so I have something to think about all day, an addiction to nurse. If I wanted to be mildly stressed all day I'd go to WORK. WHICH I DO. AND DARK SOULS IS WHAT’S DISTRACTING ME FROM IT.
Again, I'm not calling Dark Souls bad! Like I said in the title, I really genuinely love it! I just hate what it does to me, and I don't think it's really for me. The world and the story are, but the "death through education" basis of the game and the way that it occupies so much of my mental capacity throughout the day are very much not. I still plan on playing some other FromSoft games, especially Echo Night, Ever Grace, and Metal Wolf Chaos DX. All of these are super weird, kinda clunky (so i've heard) and super super unique, which seems to be FromSoft’s M.O.. The big difference here is none of these games are nearly as interested in player punishment as a core design tenet as Dark Souls is.
Anyways, I'm gonna focus on Trials of Mana for now. It's maybe too far on the other side of the ARPG spectrum from Dark Souls (too easy, even on hard, and the world is not exactly labyrinthine), but it also doesn't occupy my entire brain all the time, and it's a great game in it's own right! The bright Dragon Quest-esque world and pretty standard ARPG combat for today make for an interesting combination with the SNES structure behind the game, leaving a lot of compelling strangeness in it’s wake. I was definitely short shrifting it by using it just to calm down.
I'll end this off by saying I'd love an easy mode in Dark Souls (and that’s not even taking into account the accessibility argument for a more forgiving mode, some people don’t even get the option to “learn through death”), or even just a different type of game from FromSoftware with their modern budgets and atmospheric environments. I mean, can you imagine a big budget Echo Night type game? Or something weirder???? Something with Kota Hoshino on OST again??????? Goddamn I’d preorder that in a heartbeat. FromSoft’s pretty obviously one of the best in the biz right now and probably one of the best to ever do it, it's just the core design tenets of Dark Souls that don't mesh with me, personally. Honestly I'll still try to come back to it every once in a while, whenever the mood strikes me, and see if I can get to a point where the exploration becomes more prominent than the death. Hell, I’m finishing up Trials of Mana pretty quickly, so who knows? Maybe I’ll get through Blighttown this week, Sen’s Fortress the next, and have the whole game beaten baby the end of February! Either that or I start up Onimusha Warlords or Vagrant Story or Echo Night. That’s the plan! What’re you guys’ thoughts on this? Am I pulling at straws to justify my frustration? Let me know in the comments!