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Starter Guide: Soulsborne

September 7, 2021

So you think you are ready to explore some of From Software’s challenges? Does the remake of Demon Souls have you itching to go clobber giant demons? Have you decided that you like dying repeatedly to the same knight whose algorithm never changes but for some reason you still can’t beat him? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is the guide for you!

To clarify, I am looking at the following From Software titles, specifically the ones Hidetaka Miyazaki worked on: Demon Souls, Dark Souls 1, Dark Souls 3, Bloodborne, and Sekiro.

I started my Soulsborne journey five years ago, right after the birth of my son. Babies are cute and all, but they don’t do much, so I had some free time. Combine that with having my abdominal muscles sliced open and sitting was about all I could manage! But I could interact with my PlayStation and fight some ill-intentioned knights who wanted my death. And I did die. Repeatedly. But, I learned about who I am as a gamer through the experience. And when I finally beat the game, with my son in my lap nursing, I felt pretty damn victorious.

I was later told that Dark Souls 3 wasn’t as hard as the others in the series by someone who, I guess, wanted to diminish my accomplishment. As I have now played all the other games in the series (and beat most of them!) I can say this person was wrong. Each of these games have their challenges.

This is supposed to be a starter guide so I should get to that, I guess. There is no reason you must play the Souls games in order, but if you start with Dark Souls 1 you will find it does not have the quality-of-life improvements that Dark Souls 3 has. But the story is essentially the same. You are unkindled ash, and your job is to link the flames. (AKA you explore sweet levels and kill bosses.) If you start with DS3 and then go to DS1 you may be frustrated by the fact that you have to manually travel from one region to another when you could use the bonfire and warp there in the latest game. But, whichever one you start with, I would say start with one of these three: Demon Souls, Dark Souls 1, or Dark Souls 3.

Demon Souls is shorter, with harder world difficulty and easier bosses. (I am not saying that all the bosses are easy. I’m looking at you Tower Knight.) The game features a mechanic called “World Tendency” which influences which doors are opened, which NPCs can invade, and triggers special events. It affects the difficulty of the area. This can make runs much more difficult.

Dark Souls 1 has some difficult areas and some difficult bosses. It introduces areas that Dark Souls 3 revisits, such as Anor Londo; even some characters show up in both, such as Gwyn, Unbrakable Patches (he shows up in many From Soft games), . The game length for the main story is about 35 hours of gameplay, depending on who you ask. Dark Souls 3 is the longest, with two DLCs as well as an expansive base game. There are optional areas and bosses that you can skip altogether if they are too much. They all provide a challenge though.

If you enjoy screaming at your television and rage quitting while a centipede-infested, headless white gorilla slings his own literal poop in your face, then skip these other games and go straight to Sekiro. PSA: I have not beat it. Nor do I plan on beating it any time soon. I feel that even if I were to start a serious playthrough it would still take me a while to master all of the elements of this game.

However, I have saved the best for last. My favorite From Software game is Bloodborne. The setting is reminiscent of Victorian England (at least how I imagine Victorian England to be…) but with beast men, tentacle creatures, giants, and, oh yeah, some blue blobs that look like aliens but are celestial emissaries… What I learned was that Bloodborne is the (second) hardest of these games, to me personally, and I loved it.

The lore is unquestionably incomprehensible, and I have yet to figure it out. I’ve no idea why things are the way they are. And no matter which ending you pick, they all feel wrong. Like, there is no good choice to be made, and it is futile to hope for something better for these poor characters. The game explores the use of medical procedures that appear, at first, to help, but have lasting negative consequences on the people. There is also exploitation for the sake of science and what happens to test subjects that didn’t turn out as planned. Each area of the game is more horrifying than the last, and no matter how much you try to protect people, they just keep dying.

From Software games are dark and gritty. There is a lot of tight combat and slashing, a lot of unsettling creatures and monsters, and a lot of dark stories and hinted at lore. Each of these games is exceptionally replayable in order to try out a new class or to pick a different ending. And while you will feel victorious after beating your first boss or beating the game, know that the celebration will be short lived because another harder area will loom ahead of you, and you will have to gear up and keep going.

*If you have questions about Dark Souls 2, just know that it had a different creator, and the game has a different feel, but it is similar in some respects to the other titles in the series that share its name. I have yet to beat DS2, mostly because I got bored halfway through.

If you are looking for another horror themed starter guide, check out "Starter Guide: Friday the 13th" by Captain Chris.

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