Modern games nowadays are often criticized for being too easy or offering no substantial challenges. But difficult games still do exist and typically cater to those who deem themselves as hardcore gamers. Dark Souls is arguably the most popular “hardcore game” of this decade and it earns that title in every right. Originally released back when the Wii was considered a current-gen console, Dark Souls has been ported to several platforms ever since its debut. The latest re-release is the Nintendo Switch version of Dark Souls: Remastered.
Dark Souls is set in a fantasy universe that’s been inflicted with a massive curse that affected all of its inhabitants, including the main protagonist. You start off by creating your own character by selecting a sex, class, physique and gift to aid you on your journey. While this may influence your playstyle early on, you eventually come to realize that your first decisions don’t really matter as you could mold your character however you’d like. Customization and the story are pretty basic based on today’s standards, but most of the focus is pinned on the gameplay.
As an action RPG, Dark Souls throws you in the shoes of a character who starts off with practically nothing. You’re equipped with a measly broken sword that is barely capable of doing any serious damage. The beginning does a good job explaining the fundamentals to you via designated markings on the floor that briefly tell you what to do, such as how to maneuver, pick up items, use weapons or approach your next target. But after that, you’re pretty much on your own. If you’re expecting an extensive tutorial to show you the ropes, you’re not going to find that here.
The game quickly puts you in the face of danger and it’s up to you to decide how you want to go about things. With whatever weapon you have equipped, you set off on a hazard-filled adventure to meet your fate. As you make progress, you’ll gain access to more weapons, abilities and collectibles. There are two main aspects that influence the player character – souls and humanity. Souls are automatically acquired when you defeat living creatures that stand in your way. Souls are a form of currency that can be used for things like upgrading your equipment or improving your stats. Afflicted by the aforementioned curse, you are a hollow that desires to be human again and that’s where humanity comes in. Humanity is a somewhat rare item that can be consumed to temporarily make you appear as a human. This enables you to get help from other players, but at the same time, enemies will be drawn to come after you in order to steal your humanity for themselves.
When you die Dark Souls (and you will die), you lose your humanity and more importantly all your accumulated souls. You have a single shot to return to your place of departure to retrieve your precious belongings, but if you die again in the process, you’ll lose them forever. On top of that, there are relatively few checkpoints scattered throughout in the form of bonfires. If you die, you’ll return to your last visited bonfire, no matter how far you’ve gotten. You can rest at a bonfire to regain your health, but doing so will also respawn most enemies, regardless of how many of them you’ve previously taken down. Bonfires aren’t as common as you’d like and therefore provide a sense of accomplishment upon reaching a new one. Likewise, defeating powerful throngs of baddies or ginormous bosses can feel really rewarding, particularly after failing multiple attempts.
As you can probably tell, Dark Souls can prove to be very frustrating and awfully unforgiving at times. While the controls are pretty solid, you can easily slip or accidentally roll off a cliff or platform to your immediate doom, losing all your souls and restarting from your last checkpoint. Similarly, after trekking carefully for a long period, you can get knocked out by a couple strikes from a powerful monster if you’re not exceedingly careful. A monster can seemingly pop up out of nowhere and manages to precisely strike you in your weak point and deplete all your remaining health. Non-player characters that happen to be your enemies seem to be too clever on almost all occasions. They are somehow always adept to sensing you, ambushing you and following you in every single step until they’ve succeeded in destroying what’s left of you. Sometimes there’s no escape and you have no choice but to give in to your relentless opponents. Furthermore, there’s no map to serve as a guide and you can’t pause in the game. You look through your inventory, swap items and equip different weapons all at your own risk.
All these points were implemented on purpose by FromSoftware, so you can’t exactly dismiss them as mistakes or design flaws. It wanted to make Dark Souls as hard as possible, and it has thoroughly prevailed. Despite going against the developer’s philosophy, an easier difficulty option would’ve been a welcome addition to newcomers and less experienced players. With that being said, the game actually isn’t impossible altogether. It just requires a lot of time and a ton of tolerance, especially if it’s your first playthrough. Fortunately, on Switch, the time issue is addressed thanks to the console’s handheld mode, allowing you to take it with you and play whenever you get a chance. Handheld mode works well and doesn’t emit frequent setbacks. There are some inconsistencies with the audio quality and frame rate here and there – but nothing too distracting from the entire package.
If you’re searching for a real challenge on Switch and haven’t played the original before, look no further than Dark Souls: Remastered. It’s going to be a daunting yet thrilling ride filled with frustrations along the way, but satisfying nonetheless in the end. Just be extremely patient, learn from your mistakes and you’ll eventually feel right at home.
A review copy of Dark Souls: Remastered on Nintendo Switch was provided by Nintendo UK.