Dark Souls Review Part 2
A small update on Dark Souls, which I still haven’t completed due to the sheer length of the game if you hop around reading everything you run into. This will not be my final word on Dark Souls, but rather a discussion of ludic narratives and how a narrative world can be presented in the context of a video game as opposed to a traditional stable narrative format.
It’s no secret at this point that Dark Souls gets a lot of lore discussion. I’ve discussed previously on its nature of narrative archaeology as opposed to story-telling, and at this point I feel comfortable expanding on that. First, it’s important to establish that, in my opinion, Dark Soul’s narrative is simple. There is a cause-and-effect chain that constitutes a plot:
- You ring the bells to awaken Kingseeker Frampt and open the doors to Sen’s Fortress
- Frampt sends you to get the Lordvessel to “link the Fire, cast away the Dark, and undo the curse of the Undead”
- To activate the Lordvessel and get to the kiln, you must “fill the vessel with powerful souls” which he lists
- And then you either link the kiln or put it out
But this is, in the end, not much more complex than Jack Post’s actantial narrative breakdown of Tetris. You lack motivation, but motivation isn’t necessary for a plot, only for a realized concept of character. Dark Souls instead spits in the tradition of JRPG’s faces and denies character nearly altogether. I argue that Dark Souls does not tell a story, but rather gives you the source materials to build a story from. The story is inherently ‘play.’ This is an interesting approach to ludic narratives, as it blurs the lines between what is narrative and what has narrative. That is to say, it blurs the line between what is pre-built script meant to be accessed as a story, and what story is generated mentally by the act of playing with the pieces of story the game’s performance text gives you.
I have a lot to say about the item lore that I’ll cover in Dark Souls Part 3, but for now I want to simply talk about how the team of Dark Souls builds connections between creatures and identities, and how that feeds into the meaning of the Dark Souls experience. The game is entirely about things on the cusp between two states:
- The first flame, which powers all the fire, is going out. It is not burning brightly, nor is it out. It is suspended between the two states
- The creatures of the world, including the main character, are undead. They are fixed between two states: living and dead
- The ancient world is crumbling and deep beneath the ground, above it is the crumbling “fire” world, above it is the dark of the night sky
The only thing about Dark Souls that is obvious is that it presents a world in transformation. The demons and dragons of the ancient world are shoved into the recesses underground, and the Lords and the men they created live on the surface. But the flame that the gods lit is dying, and the player is faced with the quest to re-ignite it and remove the curse of the undead (man will be reborn, but subservient presumably to new Lords) or snuff it out and the dark seeds of Humanity flourish and enter its own age. These are transformations, and this world is one wherein the history is being erased and the future is unsure. The entire universe exists in this miasmic “what will happen” state that the narrative world of the game very aptly reflects: motivation, meaning, items, etc. are all described with the same transitive and unsettling quality.
A final note about transformation and transitive state that I want to discuss: the moonlight butterflies. The Moonlight Butterflies are connected directly to Seath the Scaleless by the Crystal Cave. One butterfly made its home in the forest, but many nest in the Cave near to Seath. Looking at the ancient Everlasting Dragons, to Seath the Scaleless, to Seath in Crystal, to the moonlight butterflies… well, there’s an interesting visual progression. A dragon (ancient) shed its scales, but then encased itself in crystal. The natural defenses it once had it lost, and in this loss it gained the ability to mix with the new generation (as shown by Priscilla), but had to adopt tools to survive. It coats itself in crystals where its scales once were. Butterflies are similarly the result of a transformation: they cocoon themselves, hide, and transform. Look at the butterfly’s name: moonlight butterfly. It’s both in the night, and in the light. It is a creature of transformation, as Seath is a creature of transformation. They are shards of the ancient world allowed to exist in this world of Fire.
The lore tells us that Seath created the moonlight butterflies. Seath created the embodiment of existing in a transition between darkness and light, and yet he’s also the closest emotionally to the opposite path. He betrayed the other Everlasting Dragons: Seath knows too well the transition to extinction, and the transition to life. Butterflies go through this dual transformation themselves. They are almost Seath evolved, from scaly horror, to scaleless transitive state, to beautiful flying, singing creature.
Rambly, but that’s the only way you can discuss Dark Souls. I just have to spill my thoughts, and then you can take them and play.