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Dark Souls Explained

The Dark Souls series (and its spiritual predecessor Demon’s Souls) are action RPGs which are known for their difficulty and old-school design philosophy. When starting a Souls game, you will be asked to choose a character class. Whether you pick a classic “sword and board” warrior, an agile, dagger-wielding rogue, a spell-slinging sorcerer type, or pretty much anything in between, you will shortly be thrown into the fray against the many and varied undead and demons that will be lining up to take your life. Over and over again. As you learn how to conquer your enemies, you’ll progress farther into the haunting world of Dark Souls.

Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll

Violence: Games in the Souls series are action RPGs, but the RPG part is pretty much limited to deciding how you will go about killing your foes. However, although many of the enemies you will fight look roughly like people, none of them are actually human, strictly speaking. The vast majority of human-like enemies have a decayed, zombie-like look to them. That said, the main point of these games is violence, medieval-style.

Horror: In addition to zombie-looking warrior types, you will also encounter dragons, basilisks, giant spider-people, cyclopean bipedal hippo-like… things… You get the idea. There are a lot of freaky-looking creatures in the Souls series, and they have a nasty habit of jumping out from behind corners and doing bad things to you. They aren’t really horror games, but I there’s no shame in getting a little jumpy while playing them. The degree to which you’re punished for dying in these games only adds to that.

Sexual Content: None.

Strong Language: None from NPCs, but as with any game that has online interaction it is always possible for other players to send you explicit messages and such.

Nudity and Costuming: If you take all of your character’s armor off, you will see them in their underwear.

Player Interaction: While it is impossible to directly communicate with other players through the game itself, it is of course possible for other players that you have recently encountered to send you mail through Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Steam, etc.


The game autosaves extremely often as a way to stop the player from attempting to reload the game when something bad happens. It is possible to quit the game (which also triggers an autosave) any time that you aren’t actively engaged in combat. The option to quit the game is disabled when you are invaded, but invasions are usually over pretty quickly, and invasions seem to automatically end after about 10 minutes if neither player has died. Of course, if you’re in a hurry you can just jump off a cliff or something to end the invasion.

Story & Themes

The Souls series seems to be pretty big on being cryptic. Much of the story isn’t really spelled out, instead being merely hinted at in scraps of information gleaned from item descriptions and conversations with NPCs.

In Demon’s Souls, a mad king has used a dark ritual to gain power and bring prosperity to his land. Although it works for a time, eventually it brings a “Deep Fog” to the kingdom, cutting it off from the outside world and summoning demons which begin to consume the souls of his subjects. Many try to break through the fog, and many are lost. The player character succeeds, and finds that in order to save the kingdom, they must slay the demons’ lord: the Old One.

Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 have very similar stories for reasons that can’t be explained without spoiling some plot points. In both games, basically the player character has been cursed with Undeath as many others have been in each game’s respective era. The Undead can never truly die, and are forced to feed on souls in order to maintain their sanity. It is said that in a far-off land, there exists a way to put a stop to the Undead curse. And so, feared by humans, the Undead are drawn there like a moth to a flame…

The Creators

Demon’s Souls was developed by From Software and SCE Japan Studio. It was published in the US by Atlus USA, in Japan by Sony Computer Entertainment, and in Europe and Australia by Namco Bandai Games.

Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 were developed by From Software and published by Namco Bandai Games.


There was some controversy about the release version of Dark Souls 2 having lower quality graphics than earlier builds of the game, which the developers say was done for resource management reasons.

Conversation Starters

  • Do you think the violence in Dark Souls is less disturbing because the characters in the game are not strictly speaking human?
  • How does Dark Souls relate to spiritual and religious traditions in the real world?


The Dark Souls community is rather interesting. The lack of direct communication options means you’ll almost never hear from other players unless you make such a strong impression on them that they feel the need to send mail to your account on whatever network you’re using to play the game on. Players can leave messages on the ground which will randomly appear in other players games, giving others generally helpful hints. The messages are composed of pre-written sentence fragments, so it’s impossible to give anything too specific away or to write anything lewd that is very explicit.

Sometimes, the messages are deliberately misleading in a way that will lure the player into dangerous or deadly situations. It can be kind of fun trying to figure out which messages inciting you to jump off a cliff will legitimately lead you to treasure, and which will just lead you to jumping off a cliff.

It is possible to engage in cooperative play, being summoned to other players’ games in order to help them defeat a boss or progress through a particularly difficult part of the game. Summoned players tend to be genuinely helpful the vast majority of the time. The phrase “jolly co-op” seems to be used a lot on the internet when referring to this part of the game.

It is also possible to engage in PvP. There seems to be a widely agreed upon code of honor for PvP in Dark Souls:

1. Do not heal during a duel.
2. Bow to your opponent before starting the fight. Give them time to do the same, and to buff their weapon if they so choose.
3. Try to make it a fair fight. Don’t ambush your opponent, don’t engage them while they are busy fighting something/someone else, don’t try to lead them into groups of enemies or environmental hazards, etc.

However, it seems as though a good portion of players completely disregard these guidelines, and there are sections of both games which seem to be designed for underhanded play. In Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2, there are NPCs which will reward you for defending their territory as part of a small army of attacking NPCs. In Dark Souls 2, it is possible to booby-trap these areas, giving the defending player an even greater advantage.

This article was written by

Chris Jaech is a voice-over actor and writer. His voice-over work is featured in HER Interactive's video game Nancy Drew: The Silent Spy. He lives in Seattle.