Hey everyone, Sutamen here. To celebrate the release of Dark Souls III, here’s a translation of Sakurai’s Famitsu column about the first Dark Souls game. Please note that this is not a new column — it’s from October 2011. Thanks to Soma for translation/revision help. Enjoy!
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It Can’t Be Undone
Originally published in Famitsu Vol. 385, 6 October 2011
I played Dark Souls. The game had some network issues right after it was released, so I started it up in offline mode. It’s a difficult game, where carelessness will result in a swift death. The consequences for mistakes are enormous, so you have to be extremely wary of ambushes or combat in cramped quarters, and exercise extreme caution**. In this way, every bend in the road becomes significant. What if there’s an unbeatable enemy lurking just ahead? Should I try to move silently? Do I have enough health? Are there enemies on my sides? Behind me? Things like that.
TN** The original Japanese phrase used here is 石橋を叩いて渡る which literally means “knock on a stone bridge before crossing it.”
＊The consequences for mistakes are enormous: If you’re human [when you die], you become hollowed, and you drop all of your earnings [souls] since your last save point in that spot. If you can’t retrieve them, they’re lost forever. All the enemies along the way get revived. Save points are far apart.
This high level of difficulty is built on a set of well-constructed rules. There are several, but here’s one example. In this game there are important points called bonfires, where you can restore your health. But when you use a bonfire, enemies and their positions are reset. Basically, the paths from bonfire to boss, or from bonfire to bonfire, are the “units” of this game. You have to keep that in mind when coming up with a strategy.
This is where the “Estus” recovery system becomes important. Resting at a bonfire gives you 5 sips (this gets extended to 10 as you progress through the game) of your Estus Flask, which you can use like a bento lunch along your journey. If you’re nervous about how many sips you have left, you have to decide between going back to the bonfire or pressing onward, so from a strategic perspective it’s a very important item. Between the bonfires and my Estus Flask, I had been making pretty good progress without dying unexpectedly. But then, I ran into a serious problem.
I had a really important-sounding item called a “Fire Keeper Soul”. The description reads, “Can strengthen your recovery.” I was having trouble defeating this butterfly boss, so I was looking for any sort of helpful item to give me an edge. Your recovery items can be the difference between life and death, so I decided to use it.
…But, it didn’t really have the desired effect. My humanity counter increased, but aside from that, nothing…
Then, after going back to the starting area, I realized that this “Fire Keeper Soul” item can be given to a character in that specific area to permanently boost your recovery. However, because of auto-saving, I couldn’t undo my mistake. I missed out on an extremely valuable opportunity.
This waste of a precious item had a tremendous effect on my play. From a mechanics standpoint, the recovery system influences everything you do, so every time I stepped forth, every time I got in a pinch, I kept thinking, “If I hadn’t made that error back then…”
＊The recovery system influences everything: The more bentos you have, the further you can progress.
As a result, that pressure got the better of me, and I decided to restart the game from the beginning. I was busy with work, so this was especially painful! But, the more I got into the unique qualities of this game, the more I became unable to continue playing on that save file.
Was my mistake so terrible that I had to go that far?
That’s what I thought at the time. However, this kind of thing happens surprisingly frequently in video games, particularly in RPG-style games. If you don’t know something, you miss out on an important item or an event, and you get trapped in this situation where you can’t go back and undo your mistake.
Personally, I avoid walkthrough sites and articles as much as possible so that when I cut the ribbon and see things for the first time, I get to fully enjoy a world that so many people have worked to create. But, that has a negative effect. Time and time again, situations arise where knowing about things from the beginning is a clear advantage. However, not being able to go back also creates interesting moments much of the time too. In this game, if I hadn’t gone in blind, it definitely wouldn’t have been as enjoyable.
Playing this game, the nagging sensation I felt — kind of like someone pulling the hair on the back of my head — was pretty refreshing. It really reaffirmed my feelings that games can bring forth emotions other forms of entertainment can’t, and next time I resume playing, I’ll keep at it.
Playstation 3 / From Software / Release date September 22, 2011
An RPG where you journey across a vast world that hides terrifying enemies, using your wits and strength to survive. Features network play, where players can cooperate, fight, leave messages, and see how other players died.
How to strengthen your recovery:
Give the “Fire Keeper Soul” to a Fire Keeper somewhere in Lordran, and they will reinforce your Estus Flask. By doing this, each sip will restore more health. There is a Fire Keeper in Firelink Shrine, at the beginning of the game.
Looking Back on “It Can’t Be Undone”
Sakurai: I didn’t do anything that deserved to be penalized so harshly!
Interviewer: As a casual observer, it’s hilarious, though.
Sakurai: Does my suffering entertain you? (laughs) Recently I played Dark Souls II, and I don’t think it was as hard as the first game.
Interviewer: I heard that the director changed.
Sakurai: I see. Even so, a fun game is a fun game! I thought the second one was better. Well, it might just have been my mood, though.
Interviewer: Would you say you got used to it?
Sakurai: Yes that, and also I was able to clear my mind and make progress, to a certain extent. I didn’t have any problems with bonfires.
Interviewer: Bonfires (laughs).
Sakurai: The charm of Dark Souls II isn’t its difficulty. A game being difficult doesn’t always make it fun. However, if Dark Souls was easy, it wouldn’t have this sort of fun. The game strikes a good balance between the player’s motivation to progress forward, and not letting them do that so easily.