Dark Souls: Full Circle

The story of Dark Souls is at root a solar one, although this isn’t obvious at first. The lore, revealed mainly through item descriptions, heavily involves one Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight, a god who fought dragons and demons in ages past to create and sustain the Age of Fire. His time is nearing an end, which is probably why the whole world seems so run-down. The player’s assigned task is to unlock the way to his sanctum, the Kiln of the First Flame, a barren place filled with ashes, to defeat him and take his place, becoming the new fire of the world. Getting to that point, proving yourself a worthy successor, involves a whole lot of descending into darkness to symbolically pass through the abyss under the earth, meeting challenges on the way. There’s even an area specifically called The Abyss, a place of total featureless darkness containing nothing but screaming, anguished monsters.

Even the diegetic die-and-respawn cycle fits into this, if you think about it. The whole idea of returning from death is a big part of myths both solar and seasonal, and so it’s not swept under the rug like in most games, but made into the focus of the story. So I suppose it’s also fitting that the game just sweeps you directly into New Game+ at the end, starting a new iteration of the eternal cycle. It feels anticlimactic, though. After all that effort, you’re just told to do it all again, with no congratulations, no celebration, no credits. But then, this isn’t a celebratory, congratulatory story. It’s a story of decay and renewal, but with a strong emphasis on the decay. The great monsters you defeat are the previous age’s heroes, turned sour by the centuries, so even in the end, there’s still an implication that the same fate awaits you. “Hollowing” at a larger scale.

And with that, I think I’m done. There are still zones I haven’t visited, whose names I only know from the wikis, even an entire DLC expansion that I haven’t touched. But I find myself less motivated to pursue them now that I know that the designers never intended satisfaction. I’m told that the sequels come to emphasize the wrong elements, too — that Dark Souls had a (mostly undeserved) reputation for brutally punishing difficulty, so they leaned into that more. So I might give those a miss, too. But Elden Ring is being touted as a more accessible version, so maybe I’ll give it a try in ten years.

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