As always, a friendly reminder that this post may contain spoilers.
Dark Souls was one of my most anticipated releases ever when it came out. I didn’t want the sequel for the story (like with Mass Effect), but for the gameplay instead. I had borrowed a copy of Demon’s Souls (the spiritual prequel to Dark Souls) from my friend because I had heard it was a tough game. I thought, “I’m a pretty skilled gamer, I think I can handle a difficult game.” It was really challenging, but I persevered, and now Demon’s Souls is the only game on PS3 that I have a platinum trophy on (meaning I completed every achievement that there was to do). This included getting the Pure Bladestone material from the Black Skeleton in 4-2, which took me around 5-6 hours straight of just killing the skeleton and dying/respawning.
When the trailer for Dark Souls came around, I found myself counting the days:
Aside from my World of Warcraft expansions, Dark Souls was the only game I had skipped class to play (sorry, Natural Disasters professor.) I was enthralled and played for hours. Each death was a learning experience, showing me how the game could be tough, and yet totally fair. Every death was my fault in that it was either a lapse of judgment or not paying attention to my surroundings. It taught me to play carefully while observing my opponents moves and taking into account my own shortcomings. So when I beat it, I felt like a champion who had earned everything I had put into it.
The purpose of these posts, however, is not to look at the gameplay as the sole cause for my adoration. The soundtrack to Dark Souls is an emotional one, telling the story of the fights that go on. Instead of telling you about the world around you, the songs tell of the situation that you’re in. While most of the tracks in Dark Souls are relegated to bosses, there are a couple that play outside of battles, one of which is on the list of songs I chose. So let’s gaze into the abyss and see what the Dark Souls soundtrack has in store for us, hmm?
In the world of Lordran, most things want to kill you. Some would even argue that they do a pretty good job of it, too. However, when you get to Firelink Shrine, you know there is peace for the time being. It’s where the oppressive weight of Dark Souls lifts for just a second so you can get your bearings. It’s not peaceful in the same way that Vigil was, though, that’s for sure. It’s a peace you earned and you can tell that it’s not something that will last forever. The somber tones make you realize that the dangerous and depressing world of Lordran is just a few steps out, so don’t get too happy with yourself just because you found that one shortcut from the Undead Parish.
Firelink Shrine is the area that you start in when you leave the Undead Asylum and is basically your base camp for the whole game (where the vendors and spell trainers are located). I gotta say, when I found that shortcut from the Undead Parish, I was so relieved. I had been through so much just to get there and the music of Firelink welcomed me in with open arms. It’s like the song was saying to me, “Yeah, I know that channeler is kind of a dick, but it’s cool man. You can rest here for a second if you need to.” Really, that was all I needed from Firelink Shrine and the music conveys it beautifully.
Gaping Dragon earns its name thanks to its big mouth. Not a normal mouth, mind you, as when Gaping Dragon is sitting up-right, this is what he looks like:
(Image Courtesy of Dark Souls Wiki)
If you looked at the promotional art for Dark Souls at the time, you’ve seen this ugly guy. I was looking forward to fighting him immensely, so when I went into the depths and he showed up, I was very happy about it. The music of the Gaping Dragon tells a very different story, however.
When this music started, I went immediately from excited to intimidated. It presents itself as your first large challenge in the game; a huge dragon with a spiky gaping maw. Everything else you fought up until that point was big, but this guy was the biggest. You got the feeling that this creature would swallow you whole because you were small and weak. My hands were gripped tight on the controller and I made sure I stayed a comfortable distance away. This music immediately connected itself with me as the theme of an ungodly horror. Ask Dark Souls and you shall receive.
Ornstein & Smough
Teasingly referred to by fans as Pikachu and Snorlax, Biggie and Smalls, Fatboy and Slim, Timon and Pumba, and many other nicknames, Ornstein and Smough is the boss battle that mostly everyone regards as the one true test of your skills. It’s a one-on-two battle against Executioner Smough and the captain of the Four Knights of Gwyn, Dragon Slayer Ornstein. Both are clad in golden armor and neither is a cake walk on their own, let alone as a team. They stand as the guardians between you and Princess Gwynevere. They are the last challenge set forth by the princess to determine if you are truly the chosen undead.
As you walk in, the music sets the stage as Ornstein dashes and Smough lumbers towards you, respectively. What ensues is an epic clash. You go head to head with a warrior of finesse and a brute of indomitable strength, using your skills to match them. The song for Ornstein & Smough still rings in my head to this day because it captures the battle taking place outside the throne room in the grand city of Anor Londo. I died here… a lot… and so did everyone else until they got their groove down. I would go so far as to say that this fight is the biggest and most memorable battle in Dark Souls, and the music aids in that fact for me. It’s the music of a grand test with lasting consequences.
Gwyn, Lord of Cinder
You delve into the Kiln of the First Flame and battle through a number of black knights standing vigilant on the way to the center. You walk through the fog to confront the Lord of Sunlight after all this time of fighting his lords. The music that accompanied Gwyn told a story that I wasn’t expecting at all. I had talked about how the soundtrack to Dark Souls told the stories of the fights you were in, and that’s because lore in Dark Souls is hidden throughout the world in item descriptions and dialogue that you might never experience. You may not know why Gwyn is the way he is even after the game is over. Allow me to try and paint the picture I had in my head when I first heard his theme and fought him.
Gwyn’s theme tells the story of a man who is clinging onto something that is no longer there. He represented something before, but is now a husk of what he once was. He stays at the Kiln of the First Flame to try and regain the power that he once had, but he knows it’s unobtainable. He will fight you, but only because that is all he knows. This is the song of a man who is defeated, and whom the world moved ahead of long ago. Beating Gwyn gave me no real satisfaction other than the small satisfaction that I had reached my journey’s end. I didn’t fight a final boss whose power far exceeded my own. I fought a guy and put him out of his misery because Gwyn didn’t have anything left.
Sorry… that got a little depressing. Gwyn’s theme conveys a lot of emotion to me (as you can tell) and that’s why it found its way onto the list. It had an impact that no other song on the soundtrack had.
I still play Dark Souls every so often. My skills in the game (while not the best by any means) have improved to the point where the first half of the game is no real issue. At that point, sometimes the surroundings will lose the luster they once had. The shining city of Anor Londo and the crushing darkness of The Tomb of the Giants no longer sends the same message that they used to (except Ash Lake, that area is awesome as hell no matter what). However, that’s why the music of Dark Souls will linger with me for a long, long time. I can listen to the songs and immediately get the feelings I had when I first fought those bosses back then. Dark Souls 2 is coming out on March 11th, 2014. Once again, I find myself counting the days…
I’ll see you tomorrow, Sunbros.