Further Thoughts on Narrative in Dark Souls

I said earlier that Dark Souls doesn’t have story, it has lore. That’s not quite true, it turns out. In the early-to-mid part of the game, you get a lot of lore as flavor text on items, and it really seems like that’s all it is, just flavor, safely ignored. But once you unlock the game’s final layers, two things happen: you finally get an explanation of what your ultimate goal is, and you start directly encountering the legendary beings you’ve seen referenced over and over, usually to fight them. Story and lore merge, as what you’ve picked up incidentally about these characters establishes the weight and stakes of these encounters.

It’s a peculiar way to convey story information ambiently without exposition dumps, reminiscent of environmental storytelling. I’m trying to think of other games that do something similar, and the best I can come up with is Magic: the Gathering, where you can see numerous flavor-text references to a Planeswalker character before encountering the card for the character itself. That’s not quite the same, though, because M:tG really does just have lore without narrative.

The downside is that, as you may have gathered from my posts, it really does make it easy to overlook what story is there. I’ve been trained by so many other games that lore is inconsequential, a sort of optional extra of only tangential relevance to what I’m actually doing, and it takes a very long time before Dark Souls does anything to contradict that assumption. There’s got to be a better compromise.

2 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 17 Apr 2022

    Warframe, the online game, achieves something similar. For the first 50 hours or so, all you get is lore, and then when you actually reach the point where the story kicks in, a lot of the names and words you’ve seen floating around get contextualised.

    In Warframe’s case, it’s to achieve a specific effect: to make you feel, when you’re introduced to these phrases, that you had known them before and forgotten them, as if waking up from a dream.

  2. matt w on 1 May 2022

    This isn’t quite the same, but Strange Adventures in Infinite Space delivers its lore through flavor text, and there’s one about two items said to foretell the return of an undead pirate. In Weird Worlds, if you find one of those items it triggers a quest to fight the pirate.

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