Early on in Dark Souls I was in an area called the Undead Burg, attempting to make my way to the Undead Parish (creative naming is apparently not one this game’s strong suits), and had three areas that I hadn’t fully explored yet. One path was filled with skeletons that would spring to life and kill me, one path was guarded by a menacing Black Knight that would kill me, and the final path was home to a gigantic club-wielding demon who, you guessed it, would kill me. Three choices, all of them bad – a trilemma (hey, you just learned a new word).
That I kept dying wasn’t the problem. When a game prints “Prepare to die” in giant letters on the back of the box, and critics everywhere praise it for its brutal, unrelenting difficulty, you have a pretty good idea going in that you’ll die frequently, get stuck at times, and generally have a rough go of it. That’s actually a refreshing change from most games today, which tend to be insultingly easy, as is the fact that the game doesn’t make it obvious which path you’re supposed to take, or how certain aspects of the game “work”. Figuring things out for yourself is part of the fun, and this is another refreshing change of pace from the norm. By contrast, I had played through Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood prior to this, and that game’s idea of difficulty is occasionally including a few moments where you don’t hold down the right trigger.
No, the problem was that, true to its name, the Undead Burg was full of zombies, and every time I died the zombies came back. Some will argue that this is part of the challenge, but the zombies weren’t particularly challenging. In fact, they really weren’t challenging at all. The only way fighting them over and over again made the game any more difficult was in the sense that it makes the game less fun, which eventually led to me not wanting to play the game any more. In that sense, I suppose this one of the hardest games since Revolution X.
How is it that in a game built around having an insane difficulty, it was the least challenging parts that I ended up having to play over and over?
Was this supposed to be the game’s way of punishing me? For what exactly – not figuring out right away that the gigantic, building-sized demon was actually easier than the Black Knight or some skeletons? For not instantly being really good at a game that was intentionally made to be incredibly difficult? For buying it in the first place? That last one seems like the only thing I probably should have known better of ahead of time.
From my brother: “Nothing about this game is a good idea.”
I would have fought that Black Knight 100 times if that’s how long it took me to get good enough to beat him. But I got bored with killing those zombies after the eighth time or so. A game can be really hard and still be fun, but it can’t be annoying and repetitive.
Imagine playing a fighting game with a really hard boss, and you don’t get any continues. Every time you lose, you have to go all the way back to the beginning and do ten easy fights before you can try that boss again. Jesus, Namco, I thought we got this shit figured out back in the 16-bit days.
Oh well. I did eventually get through that area only to learn that the rest of the game wasn’t going to be any better. Somewhere just outside the Undead Parish is a gravestone marking the place where my desire to keep playing this game finally died. The inscription reads “Here lies Brad. He had better things to do.”