Some Quick Tips For New Dark Souls Players
Video games have their own type of internal logic. FromSoftware has shown that their Souls games have their own unique, strange logic, that often subverts what goes for “conventional wisdom.” I just want to offer new players a few tips on dealing with the strange thinking that occurs in the Souls universes. There are more detailed discussions of Dark Souls combat, class system, internal mechanics etc. elsewhere (like here). I expect even more articles will be coming in the next few days (and some will probably be written by people who have actually played Dark Souls 2!). This post will just focus on some design and logical quirks of these games, as well as some nice general rules to follow. Of course, since From loves breaking the rules, you can expect them to throw a monkey wrench in some of these rules.
If It Looks Too Big To Kill, It Probably Is
The header here is self-explanatory. If you see something very big and very dangerous-looking coming at you, it’s probably both of those things. Creatures don’t tend to give you hugs in the Souls games, so look for some other way around them or come back later.
First watch this short GIF here:
Besides being hilarious, this is a classic and reoccurring setup that From uses. An enemy, usually with a ranged weapon, will be visible. As you focus on the enemy and rush in to hit him at close range, you’ll discover that this is a trap, and there is another hidden enemy ready to kill you. This simple trick is used over and over again in Dark Souls (and Demon’s too). FromSoftware are masters of controlling and exploiting your line of vision, so don’t just react to what you can see; react also to what you can’t see. Usually the unseen is more dangerous than the visible.
Bridges and Dragons
From has an odd obsession with putting dragons on bridges. Demon’s Souls had you run across parapets as a dragon streaked overhead with his fire; Dark Souls plopped a dragon that could one-hit you on a bridge after the first boss. Usually there is some way to avoid the dragon’s fire, but most often this involves running as fast as you can. Oh yeah, and usually the dragons can be killed in some way later on in the game, though it may take an hour of you shooting arrows from an odd angle.
A Tale of Tails
If an enemy has a tail, try cutting it. You’ll get some special items that way.
Bosses and Projectiles
In Dark and Demon’s Souls you would find yourself sometimes in boss fights not only with an overwhelming boss, but also his buddies raining projectiles on you from above. The good news is that there is almost always a way to get rid of these underlings in order to fight the Big Bad more effectively. Sometimes you can get rid of them before the boss fight starts, other times, such as the Tower Knight from Demon’s Souls, you need to rush past the boss himself to get rid of the others. Sometimes, as in the case of Sen’s Fortress, these cronies are non-respawning enemies in the level itself, and can be dispatched before even entering the boss fight. If you find yourself in a boss battle with arrows falling upon you from above, think of ways to get rid of those enemies.
What Ails Your Troubled Mind
Unlike many JRPGs, where status ailments are more minor nuisances rather than real dangers, in Dark Souls they can end your game. Quickly. Even worse, the game doesn’t really explain what each condition does or what’s the cure. The best advice is to buy at least one of any item you see from a merchant that will cure a status ailment. You’ll cover your ass that way, and usually you can return to the merchants for more of the same item.
Shortcuts to Certain Death
Despite its reputation for cruelty and forcing you “to start over,” the levels in Dark Souls are quite short. And even larger levels are broken up by shortcuts you can activate to reduce the distance between boss and bonfire. Explore everywhere.
Hit Walls With A Vengeance
Get into the habit of whacking any mildly suspicious wall with your weapon. There were some illusory walls in Demon’s Souls, but in Dark Souls FromSoftware became obsessed with them. Hell in Dark Souls a major game area is hidden behind not one, but TWO illusory walls. So prepare to hear your sword clanging against inanimate building materials often in the game.
Look Everywhere. Multiple Times.
The worlds of the Souls games are dynamic, and NPCs appear and reappear, often in the darndest places. Be sure to check every place multiple times throughout the game, no matter how out of the way or optional it is. An example: a merchant who hung around in the mid-game sewer in Dark Souls for no particular reason, and without warning or clue, decides to move out to the main hub area. Except he parks his ass down under the aqueduct, in a hard-to-reach spot with a special item that you probably collected earlier in the game and afterwards assumed you never needed to visit again. You’d think a merchant would choose a more bustling locale to peddle his wares, but Dark Souls isn’t exactly known for its realism. When I play Dark Souls 2, I plan to periodically revisit every, and I mean every, nook and cranny of each stage. Also make sure you try visiting places in both human and hollowed forms. You might find some things changed…
Another odd quirk of the series is the presence of semi-articulate crows that are willing to exchange with you. The rules of these “exchanges,” however, are far from clear. In Demon’s you had to drop the item you wanted to trade next to the tree the crow is sitting in; in Dark Souls you had to drop it in a nest nearby. Both required you to “Quit” the game and reload to make the trade happen.
Items and Lore
In Dark Souls item descriptions are one of the few ways of interacting with the world. Read them all carefully, not only for lore but for clues of what to use when and where. In fact the loading screen of Dark Souls, which showed descriptions of items (often ones you didn’t have yourself) almost acted as a set of hints for what to expect. Oftentimes Dark Souls required you to use items found in one area in another area far across the map; the only way to guess at these relationships was to carefully and thoroughly read the item descriptions.
Look very carefully at whatever merchants are selling. Often crucial gameplay items are hidden deep within the selection screens.
Run Like Hell
If a bonfire checkpoint seems far away from the boss, running like mad, even in heavy armor, is extremely viable. If you are stuck at a boss you have to fight ten or fifteen times and don’t want to spend ten minutes fighting the respawning baddies each time, run past them.
Keep the Devil Down in the Hole
A guy named Patches has in previous games had a propensity to kick you down a hole. Be wary of anybody named Patches or other guys standing next to obvious holes.
Don’t Keep it Real
Remember the classic Chappelle skit “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong?" Chappelle could have written a similar skit for any portion of Dark Souls. Whenever you hear yourself going, “Let’s keep it real…,” “Well it’s more challenging to do this…,” “Oh what the hell…,” don’t. Just don’t. At least on your first playthrough stay safe rather than sorry. To give an example, after defeating the first boss in Dark Souls instead of forging onwards, uncertain of when or where the next checkpoint would be, I returned back to an earlier bonfire, and fought my way back to the boss. I had already cleared Undead Burg of undead scum something like ten times before, so what was another trip? This moment of caution turned out to be a very wise choice: beyond the boss was a dragon whose breath could kill you in one hit. It was certainly a dick move by the Dark Souls developer, but one that should be expected. You don’t know what’s behind any door in Dark Souls; always act accordingly. Never, ever “keep it real.”
ATV, you blessed underdog.
Some Thoughts on Twitch Plays Pokemon.
There are some things that instantly and drastically improve your quality of life. For the last few days, Twitch Plays Pokemon has been one of these things. I have been somewhat obsessed with this crazy playthrough, and here are some quick thoughts on why I am so smitten with it.
In “playing” Twitch Plays Pokemon, viewers of the stream type commands in the chat window, and through some magical power of selection the hacked ROM chooses inputs out of the stream of noise. But because there is a 20-30 second lag, because some people troll, and because of the sheer cacophony of typing, the button presses become almost random. Twitch Plays Pokemon sometimes feels like what would result if the original @horse_ebooks played a Pokemon game. In many ways it fires the same cylinders for me as that famous Twitter horse, a strange mix of human and nonhuman coming together to make something strange and exciting. But this comparison with @horse_ebooks isn’t quite exact: through the chaos of typed commands, there sometimes emerges something close to “intent,” some line of action chosen by the collective will of the mob. To be sure this collective will is often sidelined and detoured by the general confusion of the chat window, but given enough time it peeks through. Even though events often happen almost randomly in Twitch Plays Pokemon, some guiding genius begins to manifest itself and slowly moves the game forward. The livestream is a volatile mix of randomness and agency.
And there is another factor: midway through the game, the creator allowed the crowd to choose between “anarchy” (the default mode listed above) and “democracy,” where, instead of choosing button pushes determined by some hidden secret sauce, the players get to vote on the next move. While some people were offended by this, the change was introduced when the game was stuck for 48 hours in a maze in Team Rocket’s HQ. It was only through a selective use of democracy mode that it eventually got out of that wretched maze. I suspect Twitch Plays Pokemon even in anarchy mode would have eventually gotten out of that maze , but it might have taken weeks and been boring as hell to watch. So “democracy” may compromise what makes the game compelling, but I think it is a necessary compromise. And players themselves appear to prefer anarchy; every time I have tuned in since the change, the stream has been consistently in anarchy mode. I think most viewers recognize that democracy mode is a last-resort, a fudge to make sure the game keeps going. Anarchy mode remains the soul of this livestream.
(One experiment I would like to see is someone hack a ROM of Pokemon Red that is completely random button presses. I wouldn’t want to watch a game being “played” (since it would be terribly tedious and dull and would take years to complete, if ever) but it would be interesting to see how it compares with Twitch Plays Pokemon.)
A Confederacy of Dunces:
The team in Twitch Plays Pokemon is of writing the following: there’s a Raticate named “AAJST(????” that mysteriously knows Dig; an Oddish named “x(araggbaj”; a Farfetch’d named “Dux,” who stands out more because of the sanity of his name than his moves; a Drowzee; and now a Gastly. The star of the team is an overpowered Pidgeot named “aaabaaajss.” I don’t think you have to know much about Pokemon to realize that this is not a good team. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a much worse team to play Pokemon with. Any “Scooby Gang” that Joss Whedon has cooked up pales in comparison to this team of misfits and fuckwits. Furthermore, the dated art makes the team sometimes look more ridiculous than they are. For example, the Pidgeot’s long-streaming hair has resulted in him being called “Bird Jesus.” But what is amazing is that these scrappy underdogs are somehow, in some way, progressing through the game. It ain’t pretty, but they are doing it. And that is what makes the livestream compelling. Because of the mayhem of the input system, even the simplest navigation of the menus become a Herculean feat. Accomplishing the most basic of tasks, like teaching a Pokemon “Cut” to take down some nearby shrubbery, feels like some victory over the forces of chaos and entropy. Visiting the Pokemon Center becomes a moment of danger, as it is the only time you can release Pokemon at a PC and lose them forever. And the randomness of the stream has produced its own hilarity: because of the unpredictable button-presses, players keep “consulting” items that they cannot use. The whole “Helix Fossil” meme plays off how many times the livestream has accidentally selected the Helix Fossil, an item that is worthless at the current point in the game. The game increasingly becomes a Comedy of Errors wrapped up in a Confederacy of Dunces, and that’s what makes it captivating.
It would be interesting to learn more about the makeup of the audience. Are these mostly nostalgic adults reliving their childhood vicariously, or people coming across the original Pokemon games for the first time? I assume most players have played some form of Pokemon, but it would be nice to see if others were interested in the stream, and how comprehensible it is to non-trainers.
Also, where is Nintendo in all this? I see ads every time I check the stream, so I know that somebody is getting ad revenue. Who? Twitch? The creator of this stream? And is Nintendo getting a cut? And if they aren’t, why is the stream still up? Nintendo has been notoriously against letting others monetize live plays of Nintendo games.