Dark Souls: Sadness

I’ve rung the second bell, the one in Queelag’s Domain. Queelag is an elephant-sized Lolth-like spider-woman who clogs up the battlefield with big blobs of lava, and her domain is a cavern covered with webs over egg-sac-like orbs. In its entrance are a couple of unfortunate souls crawling on the ground, moaning piteously under the weight of more cocooned eggs; on the far side, after Queelag is gone, there’s a multitude more. They’re not dangerous if you leave them alone — only a couple seem to pursue me at all, and they do it very slowly — but if you decide to put one out of its misery, the eggs burst into hostile worms as big as your arm.

In both mechanics and theme, these hapless fellows remind me a lot of the fly-infested children in The Binding of Isaac. But Isaac‘s vibe is one of childish gross-out humor, like a dead baby joke, and in Dark Souls, the main feeling these people provoke is sadness. Revulsion, but also pity and a sense that they’re not so different from you.

That’s a constant throughout the story. You’re Undead, and will presumably eventually become Hollowed, just like everyone else. Your primary enemies are people who were once like you. Some of them even attempted your quest, and their corpses bear equipment like yours. You’re meant to have sympathy for them even as you cut them down. The only thing separating you from them is that you’re the Chosen One, but the choice seems to have been rather arbitrary; there’s nothing special about you, really, but they had to choose someone.

There isn’t a lot of music in the game, but what there is, is mournful. One of the most powerful recurring enemy types — strong enough to function as a miniboss the first time you encounter it — is a large animated statue that’s missing one leg, dragging itself around awkwardly and clearly having seen better days. The main setting is ruins, which is cliché in games, and usually emotionally neutral, but this game does a reasonably good job of making them feel like a place where something of value has been lost. Partly, I think, it’s because the immortality of the Undead and some hinted-at time weirdness means it was lost within living memory.

And yet, when the game really decides to go for gross, it really goes for gross. The sewers are downright sickening, with their slowly-animating columnar mounds of slimy sludge that breaks into chunks when struck. As in Isaac, though, you get used to it.

2 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 28 Mar 2022

    I’m not sure you have been Chosen, per se, even. You are the latest to attempt the task before you, not the first, and you just happen to be the one that succeeds. If you tough it out to the end, anyway. I didn’t! My knowledge of the game is 90% secondhand, but I found it fascinating enough to watch multiple playthroughs and listen to much podcast discussion thereof.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 29 Mar 2022

    I have it on the word of a very large snake that I’m Chosen. If you can’t trust large snakes, who can you trust?

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