Dark Souls 3: Narrative delivered through lack of Story

Dark Souls 3: Narrative delivered through lack of Story

This will be my final post concerning Dark Souls 3, but also the one I have been very interested in – namely, how the narrative is delivered throughout the game.

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Let me just say, this is not going to be a walk-through of the Dark Souls lore, as I in all honesty do not know enough about all of the games to justify such an endeavour. Lore runs deep through all three Souls games, and it it ambiguous to say the least. Instead I simply wish to touch upon how this lore, and the narrative is delivered to the player, and how this can affect our experience of the game.

Despite not being well versed in all the lore, the one thing I do know is that the player is faced with the games intricate storytelling right from the get go. We meet the first boss of DS3 not long after beginning our play-through, and his name is Ludex Gundyr. A quick name search solidifies his significance for the player, and the game itself. Ludex most likely comes from the noun iūdex, which means judge or decider. And, if we look at the name Gundyr, Gund is probably taken from old Germanic and therefore means war. We therefore stand face-to-face with a boss who’s name is “War Judge”. He is in a sense the gatekeeper, our first obstacle, and the decider as to whether we are permitted to progress any further. This goes both for the player and the character. Our character is an Unkindled, resurrected by ash. It is his or her mission to link the flames, but before this can commence, the character must pass the first test of Gundyr. Taking this up a level, this is the players first test. Here we get our first taste of what the game has to offer in terms of difficulty. You are judged. Are you not able to beat old Gundyr, you aren’t fit to progress through this game. I will admit, it took me quite a few tries to beat him – I didn’t find him easy at all, and as such I expect many people new to the franchise faced quite a few struggles already this early in the game.

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Ludex Gundyr (Credit: Matt Bain)

This is just a simple example, and I am unsure as to his link to the deeper lore of the game. The interesting case with the DS games is that they have all offered two very different experiences. You can easily play this game without paying much attention to the lore or general story-telling, which basically lets you buy in to the typical video game trope. This being you take on the role as the “hero” of the game, fighting the odds, becoming ever stronger and garnering the respect of those around you, until you reach the end of the game and relieve the game world of its threat. However, there is a deeper story hidden in this game, and it is only revealed if you take your time to explore the lore that runs deep throughout all three of these games. In short, DS offer you a story about humanity, corruptibility, struggles of survival, consequences of mistakes, and the cyclical nature of life. These are all very heavy subjects, and the are notoriously difficult to narrate in a non-cliche way, and that goes for any type of media. These topics are handled very well in the DS series, and I believe much of that has to do with the fact that the players must actively look for them.

Concerning the games narrative structure the creator Miyasaki said this:

Dark Souls is in a way incomplete,” he says. “I want players to complete it with their discoveries. I know that this makes it harder and keeps some away from the game.”

DS3 is littered with plot holes, and they are left there very intentionally in order to encourage player to fill them with their own theories and thoughts. In a way, this is quite a brave move from the developers From Software, as it places a lot of trust in the players of the game. It trusts them to play, explore the details, and actively discuss their theories with others on the internet. An example of this is the current debate going on concerning the endings in DS3 found on Reddit. Trust has been placed in the hands of the players ever since Dark Souls came out in 2011, and it has paid of in heaps. This trust in players intelligence and want to discover and explore is something we don’t see enough, as there can at times be a tendency for big games to hold the players hand a bit too much through many games. This way of presenting a story world is something other AAA companies could learn from – the audience is obviously there.

I seem to be praising this game quite a bit, but to be honest, it deserves it. At a time where many video game developers are experimenting with a more film like narrative structure to their games, such as The Last of Us and Until Dawn, and we even get games with barely any game-play but just a story; it is a joy to see a game such as DS3 that places major focus on the game-play and mechanics, and then weave the story into an immersive, atmospheric and detailed world, instead of simply telling it through the voice of a narrator. It goes to show that video games can still be very much about the actual game elements, whilst still delivering a solid storytelling experience. You get the story and the lore of the world through the environment, item descriptions, small pieces of dialogue, and even the fighting styles of the creatures you encounter! Even if you don’t spend your time in the game exploring every detailed item desription you still find yourself in a world that is clearly deep in lore, and just that feeling in the game, is a major contribution to the overall experience.

I would love to see more games like this in the future. And, I believe that if you as a video games developer wish to create this kind of strong community around a game that is in very large part a single-player experience, then this kind of world building is the way to go. Trust the players. Trust their passion for the game.

Now, if you are like me, and don’t have 100+ hours to play the game and tease out all the detailed lore, then luckily a lot of things are to be found on the internet by now. If you are interested I can especially recommend this Youtube channel by VaatiVidya. He creates some amazing videos all concerning the Dark Souls games, and if your go back in his video catalogue you can find videos on the game lore all the way back from the first DS game.

I wanted to keep this post relatively short, but I do hope you liked what you read. In the end it was mainly intended to highlight what DS3 does differently to many other games, and why this approach is much needed in the AAA industry.

Anyway, if you liked this article then I would appreciate it if you follow the blog, either through WordPress, or E-mail. It’ll give you an email reminder when I post new content, and greatly help the further development of the blog.

As always, thank you for reading.

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