A Gamer’s Analysis: The Dark Souls Conundrum

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 16: Game enthusiasts and industry personnel walk past a 'Dark Souls 3' advertisment during the Annual Gaming Industry Conference E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Convention Center will be hosting the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) which focuses on gaming systems and interactive entertainment, featuring introductions to new products and technologies. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

This past week, I saw a picture on Instagram that really…struck me, even though designed completely in jest. This picture of a black shirt with writing on it packed a serious punch of scathing mockery. On the front of the shirt, the writing simply said, “I didn’t beat Dark Souls. The back, however, was where the picture really made me think, and it shifted my perspective.

The back of the shirt reads, “It has a lot of design problems that make it player-unfriendly and difficult to enjoy, but the culture surrounding it actively ignores these elements in favor of hyping it up as the hardest video game ever (a title it definitely doesn’t have a claim to), and claiming that anyone who takes issue with said problems must just be bad at video games in general.”

Alright then, well…let’s pick that statement apart, and see if the shirt was actually right.

A Gamer’s Analysis: The Dark Souls Conundrum

“A Lot Of Design Problems,” “Player-Unfriendly and Difficult to Enjoy”

When you get right down to it, Dark Souls is a lot of trial and error. Nearly everything in the game (and series as a whole) comes down to “Do you understand x thing?” and there are two main answers. That being said, is the game player unfriendly? Well, yes and no. By all objective analysis, the game runs just fine. Graphically, the series as a whole is stunning. Gameplay-wise, again, it’s trial and error for the most part. So where did this t-shirt get the idea that the game has problems and is user-unfriendly? It could be the gaming climate of the 2000s and 2010s.

Since the turn of the millennium, games have been more-than-noticeably easier. With the death of the platformer and the birth of movie-like games, video games have become…well, more like movies. But Dark Souls totally bucks that trend in each and every way. First of all, there’s basically no introduction or tutorial at all. The player is simply left to figure out the story and game lore by themselves. Secondly, the game is very hard, in comparison to nearly any AAA game we’ve seen this decade. So in short, we could be mistaking relative difficulty for actual difficulty.

“Hardest Video Game Ever (A Title It Definitely Doesn’t Have Claim To)”

Does Dark Souls have the credentials to be the hardest video game of all time? In my personal opinion, no. Why? Let’s take a proper look.

Remember those old 2D platformers on the NES and SNES? Let’s start with those. Maybe the best 2D platformer example of “Nintendo Hard” is Battletoads. While the comparisons and Dark Souls debunking could probably stop there, let’s go a bit further. Possibly Ninja Gaiden or Contra could take the throne of hardest game ever. In the same style, although released much later, Super Meat Boy has a claim.

Is Dark Souls hard? Absolutely. Is it as hard as any of those? Maybe not. The Souls games are hard…until you figure out how to beat a certain challenge. These ones were constantly throwing fast-paced challenges at the player with little to no reaction time. While Dark Souls almost does the same thing, there are many aspects to the game, rather than pure platforming. But sometimes, doing one thing nigh-perfectly is worse than having to micro-manage a few things. Being bad at the Souls games does not make you bad at video games. It does, however, force you to constantly be learning and to become better at trial and error.

Final Analysis

In short, this shirt (made as a meme) is, in classic meme fashion, blatantly incorrect. First of all, the design problems are few and far between in most of the Souls games. Additionally, the myth of it being “The Hardest Video Game Ever” has been thoroughly and wholly debunked. Along with that, one visit to the Souls community will reveal that almost none of them ever refer to Dark Souls as the hardest game ever. So, once again, this meme was just that: only a meme. Did it make some good points about Dark Souls? Perhaps. But was it completely right-on with its descriptions? In short, no.

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