Release Date: October 4, 2011
Platform Played On: XBox 360
2018 Placement: #17 (-6)
What It Is:
It’s the Dark Souls of video games.
Why It’s Important To Me:
It took me several tries for Dark Souls to click. I played Demon’s Souls and thought it was fun, but fine. It didn’t blow me away. Then when I played Dark Souls for the first time I petered out around Anor Londo and set it aside in favor of Arkham City, which released around the same time. And then at some point I decided to return to it and the Ornstein & Smough boss fight just made everything fall together like Benoit Blanc solving the mysterious donut hole inside the donut. Suddenly…I got it.
I beat Dark Souls, I replayed Dark Souls, I made a character that I simply used as a summoning buddy to help people with Ornstein & Smough over and over again. Like many people, I fell in love with the Souls style of gameplay and it became one of my favorite genres. I’m not a huge high fantasy person but I love the apocalyptic dark fantasy world of Lordran. All the miserable characters (and one lovely onion knight) are just fantastic.
And I still insist that part of the reason I like Dark Souls so much is how similar its encounter philosophy is to Mega Man. Dark Souls is not more difficult than any other game – it’s all about pattern recognition and remembering enemy placement. Bosses have movesets that you just have to learn to avoid and get your hits in. (And when you beat bosses you get their souls/weapons, just like Mega Man!) Once you know where everything is and weakness the game becomes a dance of executing proper responses. Yes, quicker reflexes do help and yes you will die figuring out where the enemies are, but it’s difficulty has been overhyped and the fact that difficulty always is associated with these games is a disservice. Okay, off my Souls soapbox now.
My Strongest Memory:
The first time I beat Ornstein & Smough was exhilarating, obviously. But nothing compares to the pure emotion you feel when Sif starts limping towards the end of that fight. I feel so bad every time I have to face the Great Grey Wolf, especially if I’ve done the DLC section already and met Sif as a little pup. It’s such a great fight that stirs sympathy without any dialogue whatsoever.
Also fuck the Anor Londo archers. That section still plagues my nightmares.
Why It’s #23:
Like it or not, Dark Souls changed the face of gaming – both actual games and the discourse surrounding difficulty and accessibility. It’s a landmark accomplishment that is both wondrous and flawed. And I think that makes it one of the best games in the Soulslike genre because its design isn’t perfect. Instead, these flaws give the game character and a reason to come back to it to see what kind of nonsense you can get up to with a new build. It’s fantastic, it’s sometimes frustrating, and it’s definitely deserving of a spot near the top.