I love the Dark Souls series. Longtime readers will not be surprised by this as I can natter about it for ages–and have. In fact, I have to bite my tongue from raving about OMIGOD HOW FUCKING AWESOME IS THIS SERIES AND YOU SHOULD LOVE IT AS MUCH AS I DO WHY DON’T YOU YOU FUCKING WEIRDO? Seriously, this game changed my life. It’s…OK. Calm down, Minna.
This post is not about that, though. It’s about the fact that I’ve been replaying Dark Souls II (the red-headed stepchild of the series) as both a caster and a melee character (both SO fun in their own ways) and something amazing happened. I was romping through Brightstone Cove Tseldora as a pyro and doing the Pate/Creighton questline (#TeamCreighton, yo!). Once I was done helping Creighton kill Pate, I finished the rest of the room, and then…
First of all, some backstory. I have played each of the Souls games several times and know them like the back of my hand. Of the games I’d say I know Dark Souls II the least, but I’ve still finished it at least four or five times (including NG+), so I know the areas fairly well. When I replay the Souls games, I like to switch up spells and weapons I use along with other equipment loadout factors, but I follow the same path of how I do the areas more or less. It’s to the point where I can go into a room and think, “OK, there are seven or spiders in this room with a bonfire. Then, I open the door and there are two bastard mages, five more spiders, and a basilisk that pops up from the ground. Then, Ornifex is in that room, and there are two spiders and one spider-man in the next room.” Sometimes, I forget the specifics of a room, but I know the general layout.
Anyway, once I was done with the Pate/Creighton questline, I finished up the other stuff in the room, and was about to leave when, wait. What’s that? There’s a hallway I’ve never seen before. I know it’s not a patch thing, but how the hell is there a hallway I’ve never seen? I was gobsmacked, and I was fucking excited! Another room? What? I went down the hallway, and then I was in a small room I’d never been, then another hallway, then outside trying to kill a spider-man, and then I fell, and there’s another room with two spider-men and a spider, and what??? I repeated the process with my other character to get a better handle on this new mini-area, and it just fucking blew my mind. How the hell did I miss this my five or six other times I’ve played this game? I vaguely remember seeing a video of this area before, but I thought maybe it was from the original version, and I’m playing the Scholars of the First Sin (SotFS) edition.
No, seriously. How the shit???
I needed a lie-down after that.
Even more, when I played the area just now to get a few screen caps, I noticed there was a shiny (item) I hadn’t noticed before, either. I figured out how to collect it, and it’s good shit, yo.
I can’t even describe how amazing it felt to me to find a new mini-area so long after I first played this game. THIS is what I love about the Souls series–the exploration and the discovery. I know they’re vaunted for their difficulty, and they are brutally hard, but that’s not the core of these games to me. Souls at its best is when I’m wandering around, exploring an area (fending off all the beasties, of course), marveling at the environment. Finding a secret, unlocking a shortcut–it’s such a high!
Some of the secrets of the games I’ve had to use the wikis to find, but the ones I discovered on my own have never failed to give me a, “Holy shit! What did I just find???” feeling. The joy of hitting a wall and watching it disappear in front of my eyes is the absolute best, and I feel really clever when I find a secret on my own.
There’s no way to find every secret on your first playthrough unless you’re EpicNameBro or VaatiVidya (and not always even them), and part of the reason they find the secrets is because they don’t have the wikis or official strategy guides to reference because they get pre-release codes. In the case of ENB, he actually wrote the official strategy guide for DS II along with A German Spy. I was very thorough (I thought) on my first playthrough of DS III, but when I was finished and watching Let’s Plays of it, I discovered a covenant I had missed while playing. Why? Because there’s an invisible path to get to the place where the leader of the covenant is. Really!!
In addition, many of the NPC questlines are so specific, it would be really hard to figure it out on your own. If you miss one aspect of the questline, you lock yourself out of the rest of the questline in many cases. And, in the case of Anri–who, by the way, is a man if you play as a female character and a woman if you play as a male character, which is interesting–their questline has two endings that are mutually-exclusive. Also, if you choose one of the endings, you can’t finish Yuria’s questline.
I love this aspect of the Souls series. I love it even more that you can ignore this part of the games and still have a satisfying experience. You can go as deep or as shallow into the lore as you want, and it’s completely up to you. You can do the questlines or not. The game works either way. I love the lore aspect and feel it makes playing the game a richer experience, but it’s certainly not necessary.
Also, I stand by my belief that DS II is a good if not great Souls game, and it’s still enjoyable to play. I know fast travel from the start is a divisive issue in the Souls community, but I’m an enthusiastic proponent of it. I do understand the complaint that it makes the connectivity of the worlds less necessary, and the elegant level design of Dark Souls is a thing of beauty. However, when I played the original, I nearly quit during the second half because I couldn’t stand all the backtracking. The fact that there was limited fast travel was the only saving grace.
Side note: We can all agree that the second half of Dark Souls isn’t nearly as good as the first half, right? Even Miyazaki himself admitted that he had to rush the second half to get the game out on time. Plus, they ran out of resources, but that’s neither here nor there. I will forever hate the Tomb of the Giants and the Bed of Chaos can kiss my flat yellow ass. I will say, though, that I like the idea behind the Bed of Chaos (weird-ass tree boss that’s a trick boss), but the unfairness of the branch sweeps and the crumbling floor easily makes it the worst boss of the game if not the series.
Anyway, finding a new mini-area in DS II was exciting because it reminded me that I can get into a rut when I play the Souls games. How the hell did I miss that hallway? It’s because I missed it the first time by not being thorough enough, and then on each successive playthrough, I just did what I did before. In other words, once I missed it once, I was bound to miss it again. Why I noticed it this time, I don’t know. I just explored the room more thoroughly than I have in the past, and there it was.
Oh! In addition, the spider-men (Parasitized Undead or Spider Drone) drop Tseldora armor pieces, and I got two of them today! I didn’t know they did that. It’s always cool to get new armor. I’ll probably grind for the whole set because I like having all the pieces to a armor set, and Fashion Souls is real, yo! I know it’s ridiculous*, but I love wearing full armor sets on subsequent playthroughs. First time I play a Souls game, I optimize the armor as best I can without getting too deep into the weeds. Then, it’s all about looking good, bay-beeeeeeee! This really is a thing in the community, so I don’t feel bad about doing it. I love cosplaying in the games, especially if I can get their weapon as well.
I love these games. I have the opportunity to get a PS4 on the cheap, and I’m seriously tempted solely so I can play Bloodborne. That would be a completely different experience for several reasons. One, no shield. This might be a deal-breaker for me, honestly, as I’m very shield-dependent. The aggressive, frenetic nature of Bloodborne is not going to be kind to these old eyes and reflexes. Two, no magic. OK, that’s not technically true. There are arcane spells, but from all I’ve heard, you don’t get the really good ones until the end, and you can’t really build a strong arcane build. There is a whip/cane weapon, but no bows. So, being a ranged character is not really feasible. Three, I’ve watched umpteen Let’s Play of the game thinking I would never play it which means the thrill of discovery won’t be there. As that’s one of the best parts of the games, I think it might seriously detract from my enjoyment of the game.
It’s a Miyazaki FromSoft game, and I’m going to play the hell out of it if I get the chance. There are three endings, so I would play at least that many times. It’s a testament to Miyazaki that even with all my reservations, I’m stoked as hell at the possibility of playing Bloodborne.
I need a new game. Ideally, it would be a new FromSoft game, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. In the meantime, I still have the Dark Souls series.
*Though it’s a big thing in the community.