Power is a fickle little bitch, so sayeth Dark Souls III, the purported final entry in developer From Software’s unforgiving dark fantasy franchise.
Once again Dark Souls III drops you off in a decaying world devoid of both happiness and exposition and sends you off into battle against twenty or so juggernauts and leviathans with the power to utterly destroy you physically and emotionally. When you are inevitably destroyed you don’t respawn at your last save, you die and come back to life. It may seem like a trivial difference but no matter how many times you may have died playing Mario, Mario has never died. So far as the world and mythology of Dark Souls is concerned, when you die, you die. You just keep coming back.
Mechanically, you’ll lose any souls (the in-game currency used to upgrade your character and acquire resources) you had on you, but you’ll respawn to fight another day. You’ll die and come back over and over, your own patience the only truly dwindling resource in your character’s battle against the powerful. And when that patience finally pays off and you slay one of Dark Souls III’s many goliaths they, unlike you, will stay dead.
It’s one hell of an insight into the dynamics of power. All that is necessary for the destruction of power is the destruction of the powerful. You kind of have to be alive to hold dominion over anything. The power of your daunting adversaries depends on their survival. But you? You are the powerless, the subjugated masses personified in a single avatar. You control nothing, you have not castle or kingdom, but you can die and die and die. There will always be more of you. You’re older than even your most ancient opponent and you’ll long outlive even your most vigorous.
You’ll far outnumber them too. You are countless. You are everywhere. The status of your oppressors depends on their location, confining them to only the principalities and arenas over which they hold sway, but location means nothing to you. Whether you stand atop dizzying castle heights or slum through poisonous abyss your status remains the same.
You can be a lot of things in Dark Souls III. Lady. Dude. Fat. Fat on top skinny on the bottom. Magician. Magician with floppy hat. Fat on top skinny on the bottom dude magician with a floppy hat, two shields and a dress. But regardless of the form you take on your adventure into Lothric, you are in your very marrow, the 99%.
Those you defy stand taller and hit harder than you can, but where they are finite you are endless and ultimately shackled only by the limits of your own persistence.
Where the precise story of the latest Dark Souls remains characteristically elusive, the game mechanics and lavish art direction communicate a narrative of railing upward against bloated, corrupted power in a world that’s been poisoned by it.
As has become expected from the franchise, Dark Souls III is a piece of master craftsmanship set in a world as shallow or deep as your engagement with it.
As has also become expected from the franchise, Dark Souls III is a pain in the ass.