The lights are on
I recently dabbled in Dark Souls for the first time. I watched my wife play a considerable amount of Demon’s Souls, and I sat near former news editor Jim Reilly, who was obsessed with the Souls games. I know a fair amount about both titles, but had never earnestly tried to tackle either game until recently.
After playing Dark Souls, I understand why the games are appealing. The quiet, foreboding atmosphere and high difficulty make the world of Dark Souls an absorbing and scary place to be. It offers a different type of survival horror atmosphere where you are cautious and concerned for your well-being, and every move requires a moment of thought, down to the most innocuous swing of the sword. It’s an intense experience.
It was also an experience I didn’t particularly enjoy. The frequent deaths and unforgiving ammunition boundaries (I had used up all of my arrows by my third of about eight tries at tackling the game’s first boss) means you have to be careful with how you approach every obstacle. Every enemy is a careful decision of resources and combat skill, making it a frustrating game that generally isn’t the experience I am looking for when I sit down to play. After beating the first boss and exploring the first area, I put the game down in favor of a more forgiving medieval open-world fantasy creature beater-upper, Dragon’s Dogma. Dark Souls isn’t for me, or at least it wasn’t the game I wanted to play at the time when I decided to give it a go, but I love that it exists for the gamer who wants that grueling experience.
Increasingly, video game creators are trying to make sure their games appeal to everyone. Even one of my favorite developers, Valve, appears to spend the majority of its development time on play testing its games to make sure that its experiences are brought down to a common denominator where nearly no one will be confused or frustrated. Admittedly, I am part of the problem. I like games that offer a streamlined experience, but I love seeing games that aren’t concerned with being universally appealing.
Capcom’s Mega Men 9 and 10 are other excellent examples of a developer eschewing the idea of games for everyone. Both of those games were created for a very small, but specific audience: players that want a brutally nostalgic trip back to their childhood. I played neither of those games to completion (mostly because my heart tank belongs to Mega Man X), but I love that both games were catered to that specific audience.
The independent scene has become an excellent source of uncompromising titles like this. Games from small, focused teams (or individuals) unwilling to change their games based on the whims of publishers offer incredibly personal experiences that are clearly not meant to appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. It ultimately makes the game more fulfilling for the players that do embrace it. In art, it’s the personal projects that stand the test of time and become a showcase for what a medium can accomplish, and video games shouldn’t be afraid to try and elevate themselves to that goal.
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