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Video Game Review: ‘Dark Souls’ Promises Death, Doesn’t Disappoint

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CHICAGO – Namco Bandai Games and From Software Inc. have teamed to bring you an adventure that warns right in the tagline “You Will Die,” and, trust us, you will. “Dark Souls,” the spiritual successor to “Demon’s Souls,” is a game that can easily be described as one of the most difficult adventures in the gaming world, but also a very rewarding one. It is not a game for the impatient or the easily bored. You must fight to get anywhere, and even then you will die several times.

HollywoodChicago.com Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0

Designed as an action RPG in a medieval setting, “Dark Souls” starts off with a brief history of the world into which you have fallen; a world previously at war between four deities and massive dragons, with the deities overpowering their fire-breathing opponents. The provided story is neither long nor all that important. It is a brief background that loosely ties your goal to the overall game. The real focus is the incredible difficulty and the unrelenting desire to defeat opponents that will defeat you so many times.

Dark Souls
Dark Souls
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

Your quest begins by deciding between ten classes based on gaming standards (knight, mage, archer, etc.) as well as some fusions of those classics (pyromancer is a fire based warrior/magician and depraved starts you off with no form of armor). The decision you make in your class does have some say in the abilities you begin with, but your decision is not the end-all, be-all. As you upgrade throughout the game by collecting souls of your fallen opponents, you can dictate what stats you wish to increase; a mage could add to their physical stamina, or a fighter increase their spell slots. In other words, your decision two minutes into the start of the game will not limit you to the way your personal quest plays out.

Dark Souls
Dark Souls
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

There is a good deal of character customization at the beginning of the game, such as body build, face, hair, etc. The option for the character customization is a nice touch with various options to choose from, but some of the choices don’t really matter. While you play the game, you watch from a third person point of view a majority of the time and you wear a helmet for added defense; therefore, choices such as your hair’s color or style end up not mattering too much.

The game world is beautiful, although sometimes dark. The landscapes and battle areas are widespread, but play route is generally dictated by enemy difficulty and player ability. The structures of the game generally repeat themselves in look (castles, towers, etc.), but never become repetitive or obnoxious. The map and route is very strategic, laid out to get you caught in corners, surprise you with attacks, and to guarantee you won’t just whip through a particular area with ease.

While there are large bosses found often in this game, each enemy you find on your quest has every capability to kill you in five-seconds time. The design is that you must slowly work through the area with great patience, both by fighting one opponent at a time and by carefully choosing attacks. Your stamina bar will drain throughout battles, causing your character to stand defenseless, so you can’t just hack and slash through enemies.

Dark Souls
Dark Souls
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

If you die, you have to work slowly to get back to where you were, as the enemies you have already killed respawn upon death. It is a true testament to classic games, with a composition that forces a struggle before success. This will inevitably bring constant failure to the player, but also will allow extreme relief and excitement when a major battle is won.

The controls for the game start off seemingly simple, but they turn out to be quite complex. The left triggers work as your shield maneuvers, while the right triggers work as the attacks. This is extremely awkward and difficult to get used to and, coupled with the design of the game, a major flaw. The lack of instruction in understanding how to go about the controls and strategically fighting is bewildering. As the game begins and you fight unarmed enemies in a dungeon, occasional help messages tell you how to use the shield or swing your weapon, but there is no rhyme or reason to any of it. The entire beginning of the game is a frustrating trial by error where players must figure out how to target enemies, defend attacks, and cause damage to their opponent. With a bit more instruction, the game would start much smoother and be much more enjoyable to get into. After a while, the buttons make sense, but the initial learning process is sure to throw a few death tallies on your name and may have players returning the game right away.

The combination of these complex fighting styles along with a layout that includes traps and surprises require the player to think out every battle they will partake in, from fighting weak skeletons to epic bouts against giant beasts. The strategy ends up being the key tool to the game, as the penalty for death is severe. Every time a player dies, they lose the souls they have collected from slain enemies. Souls end up being the currency of the game, allowing players to level up as well as buy weapons and items from merchants. If you can return to the place where you died before dying again, you collect all of your souls back, but if you die along the way, the souls are lost forever. This adds to the risk of each battle as death is imminent and could result in a terrible loss of time played and souls collected. Once again, this is the game requiring the player to fight with precision, instead of running through maps without punishment of death.

Dark Souls
Dark Souls
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

The game also works with a humanity system that changes your character between a human and an undead character. When you are a human, fallen enemies will drop items more frequently, allowing for upgrades and better weapons. However, just like the souls, when you die, you lose your humanity and can only get it back if you successfully return to your bloodstain without dying again.

The online elements that are integrated into the game allow for a feeling of camaraderie between players that share in the struggle of “Dark Souls,” as well as a way for players to co-op the map together; players leave other players messages that can offer help throughout the map, bloodstains along the way replay the recent death of a fellow player before your eyes, and co-op fighting allows for tough areas to become a bit easier with a friend’s help. While the online isn’t the essential element of the game, it is a nice touch for players and can occasionally give a bit of help along the way…as long as your co-op friend doesn’t kill you and steal your souls.

While “Dark Souls” may not be a game for everyone with its extreme difficulty and crushing emotional swings, the adventure is a great play for the gamer who enjoys questing RPGs that require careful strategy in order to succeed. Players will spend countless hours trying to get through a small portion of the map, but the struggle is rewarded with elation when finally breaking through. “Dark Souls” can be tiring and defeating, but it is worth it for when you finally outsmart your opponents and emerge victorious in each battle of the game.

“Dark Souls” was developed by From Software and released by Namco Bandai on October 4th, 2011. The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 but it is also available for the PS3.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Tim Martens

By TIM MARTENS
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
tim@hollywoodchicago.com

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