Hope, Dark Souls, and “Seriously, it’s not that bad.”

Yes, I am saying that the grim and often grueling adventure series… isn’t not hard, and that it’s a terrifically positive game. No, I’m not claiming to be “that good”.

For the unaware, there is a series of video games, the “Souls series” that is lauded as being the epitome of difficult, punishing, hardcore gameplay. Each entry follows a single undead protagonist through beautifully sprawling ruins and varieties of opponents and giant foes, acquiring magical weapons and armor and spells, meeting interesting characters to help and hinder their journey… and ultimately, possibly saving the world… by some definition, for a moment more.

To me, it’s got a lot in common with Zelda games. You know Ganondorf is going to rise again in the next Zelda game. But nobody claims those games are grim. They’re about courage triumphing over evil power. And hookshot acrobatics. And treating each boss as a puzzle until you figure out how to actually damage it without getting stomped into dust.

Failure in Zelda means… you have to walk back from the start of the dungeon… but you’ve already opened the doors, and solved the puzzles. Then you start the fight over again and try not to lose again.

Dark Souls, you’d lose your rupees in a wee sack in the boss room. So you’d run back and usually manage to retrieve it. Once in a while, you might get killed first, and you’ve lost them all, and have to collect more at some point.

But in Zelda, if you lost all of your rupees… that was not a big deal, was it? You spend most of the game either saving up for one or two big upgrades… or running around with a purse so full you can’t fit anything more into it… because there wasn’t anything to spend it on.

Dark Souls games… you can buy better stats, improved weapons, spells, equipment… and that way, losing the currency does have a sting to it. But… you don’t lose things… only currency is at risk.

And like Zelda, if what you’re doing when fighting a boss isn’t working… you should probably try something else. Try out that magic wand you got a while back, load it up with something dangerous, and give that a fling. Or maybe keep the foul beast at spear’s length… or get a big shield… or dance so close to the devil, he thinks you’re his own bad knee, and fears to step on you.

Many games have those bad moments though. Those frustrating times when you can’t quite tell when to move where to not die… or something you didn’t expect trips you up and you’ve got to try again for the 47th go around… now, in Zelda, or Mario… you have extremely limited options. You don’t get to head off to another castle to save up and buy double fire flowers. You can’t make the fireballs a little bigger. You can’t change into lighter boots and jump away farther. I can do that in Dark Souls. I can make the things I’m doing more effective even while I develop the skill to use them better. Or to try something else that doesn’t involve trying to circumcise a dragon from between his toes.

Every time I fail in Dark Souls (when I’m not falling off a cliff or something) I get back to what I dropped and I’m in the same place… with a few more souls saved up. Or I get a sharp lesson to go a bit slower, prepare a bit more carefully. But I can get through. Eventually, I am going to win. I can wear down the mountain.

Now, whenever I get killed in any Mario game? I could be back at the start of the level, with nothing. If I came in with a powerup, that’s gone now. I’m in worse shape, and facing the same obstacle. That’s brutal. Anybody remember getting thrown off the mountain in Mario 64? Having to not only climb back up, but having that boss at full health again? And knowing, no matter what, it wasn’t ever going to get easier?

Dark Souls isn’t half that bad. At least when it puts a dragon in turtle shell armor, it doesn’t ask you to do it barehanded.