The End of Dark Souls

Last time, on Aether Plays Dark Souls… you know what?  Forget about last time.  Forget about all those last times.  Except don’t really, because those last times were great and they make the world so much better, but maybe forget them a little bit, because it’s all about what we have ahead of us now.

For we are at our moment.  This is it.  This is that moment upon which the fate of the world will fall.

How long has it been?  How many deaths, both mine and others’?  How many tears, conquests, falls and rises?  How many friends have I gained and lost?  How many times have I truly proven myself the best chosen one?

And all around me, how many other people on their own adventures, dealing with their own plague of the darksign, making their own quests?

Tonight, that all ends.  When dawn comes again, if it ever does, the world will be changed.

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But a man can’t change the world unprepared.  I have some things to do.  First step, make use of the rite of kindling and build Firelink’s bonfire as high as it can go, filling my estus flask to bursting in the meantime.

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Second step, use the soul of the darkmoon knightess to make my estus even stronger.  It’s not the best way to honor her death, and I feel I owe her more than this, but you know what?  She tried to kill me.  I don’t care.

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Third step, head up to Frampt and cut him in his big stupid lying…

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I mean, try to cut him, but fall down the giant gaping hole in front of him instead.  Boy, do I feel stupid.

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There’s some magic there, to cushion my fall.  Who left it there, I don’t know.  But for once, I don’t get hurt.  I could get used to that.

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And here I am.  That which I’d been seeking to open on this whole ‘murder everyone’ fool’s mission.

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The four Lord Souls I’ve stolen, I offer to the Lordvessel.

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It accepts.

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The door beyond opens.

There is never any way but forward.

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Gleaming bright light, crossed only by a stairway with numerous ghosts on it.  Looks like the disembodied souls of Geezer Zeus’s knights.  They don’t even notice me as I pass.  One even walks straight through me.  I get the feeling I’m heading to the origin of something big.  Which will soon be the end of it.

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Underneath Lordran.  This Kiln of the First Flame.  The land is scarred.  Pillars smothered in ash, buildings barely holding it together.  There was once something here.  It’s been burned and torn.

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I walk through a pathway in the ash.  Must have been a lot of fire to be leaving this much behind.  I’m not entirely alone here.

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A black knight pops out from behind a fallen pillar, and strikes at me.

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The first time I faced them, I spent so long in a failing endeavor.  Their strength, speed, and skill were more than I could bear.

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Now, they cannot touch me.  I have grown much.  Maybe that’s what the chosen one’s journey is all about.

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On the path beyond him waits another black knight.  This one with a larger sword.

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Like it helps him any.

I’m wondering, was it these knights who made the path here?  Who dug out this canyon in all the ash?  Doesn’t seem, with the way the wind or whatever seems to have blasted around those pillars, like it’d be arising naturally.  If so, to what purpose?  Where are they guiding me?

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To a big precarious walkway that was obviously never intended for that purpose.  With another knight on it.  Great.

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I’m not about to take him on right there, so I lure him to this section that has a bit more room to dodge.

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Kick his shield out of the way, stab through the opening, and it’s done fast enough.  I’m stronger, tougher, and sturdier than these black knights at this point.  The first one I came across was so far beyond me, I had to muster every ounce of technique I had to get past him.  Now, the scales are completely reversed, and I’m winning based on pure physicality alone.

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A ragged corpse hanging off the edge holds a full set of black knight armor.  As it turns out, all the other guys I’ve been fighting?  Their bodies were burned away long, long ago, when this very first flame was lit, leaving nothing behind but maddened souls animating empty armor.  Huh.

Doesn’t mean I’m going to be killing them any more softly.  The walkway leads to a staircase heading down.

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One black knight down that way.

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Then another.  This one is kind enough to leave his halberd behind.  If I had the time to slap some titanite on that, I might be exploring that as a viable combat option.  As it is, we’re ending this tonight.  I’m not going to be letting myself get distracted.

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I’m at the bottom of the stairs.  Nothing here but the fog gate.  Beyond, there is just one more, one final obstacle before the end of this quest.

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One last challenge before the tale of the Best Chosen One is over.  Before my fate, and the fate of the rest of the world is decided.  What lies before us here?

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Him.  It’s him.  The Lord Gwyn.  The Great Geezer Zeus.  Of course it’s him.  It was always going to be him.

He who linked the First Flame.  He who gave his soul to his fellows.  He who left the dying Lordran to his family, then disappeared.  He sacrificed it all to let himself burn as kindling, keeping the Age of Fire going.  Frampt, Gwyndolin, the whole Chosen One quest?  All to get me face to face with him.

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And he’s not about to let me do my business quietly.  He rushes in.  We trade blows.

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Neither backing down, we do so once more.  Seems that I’m going to have to kill a god a second time.  Good thing he already has a tomb ready.

The exchange of blows has left me worse off than him.  I back off to chug some estus.

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He takes advantage of the opening.

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Like Artorias, Geezer Zeus’s combat style is all about the pressure.  Even when he whiffs, he doesn’t give you much time to press the advantage or recover.  On top of that, I can’t completely block him.  My shield is great against physical attacks and against magic.  The flames on his sword, however?  Even as clean a block as I can make, a good chunk of damage still burns through.

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In fact, that’s how he takes me down.  A barrage of hits, all blocked, but with enough flames licking through my shield to take my life from me.

So, first round, I did not do that great.  Usually, I like to try my basic fighting style a few times before making big alterations to strategy, but here, I’m remembering back to Red Metal’s recommendation.  Parries, and ripostes.  Given how overwhelmed I was last time, it might be worth a try, at least to see if it makes a difference.

Thing is, I’ve not relied on a parry for a long, long time.  I think the last time I actually used one effectively was back in my second visit to the Northern Undead Asylum.  I’ve spent the past while using a shield that wasn’t even capable of a parry.  I’m going to need a bit of practice.

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Luckily, the black knights are happy to provide the opportunity.  Man, this takes me back.  Way, way back in the first post I wrote on this, before I was even sure if I’d be turning this beyond just one of my stream of consciousness deals into a full run-through, the first real challenge I faced was in the black knight in the Undead Burg.  I ended up dealing with him in exactly this way, parrying and riposting.  It comes a bit easier to me now.

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Granted, it’s not quite second nature, and I take more hits than I’d like, but hey.  Let’s see how it works in the field.

Geezer Zeus leaps at me.  I dodge.  He thrusts.  I block.  I’m waiting for my moment.  He keeps the pressure on, thrusting, then winding back for a grab attack, then finally he rears up for his combo.  I swing my shield out as the first hit.  My timings a little off, and I eat the hit, but it’s not enough to stagger me.  The second hit of his combo comes, and this time, I meet it head on with my shield.

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I bat the point of his blade away, and match it with my own.  My blade pierces right into his abdomen, and knocks him to the ground.

I try it again, to similar results.  An added bonus, this interrupts his rhythm, and gives me some actual breathing room.  Methinks Red Metal was onto something here.

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When I break away, Geezer Zeus’s down to half life, and I’m not even breathing hard.

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It can’t last, of course.  He starts his combo again, and I don’t get the parry timing just right, and eat a few hits.  When I roll out and try to heal, he’s on me again.  Too fast.

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When I’m heading down for my third try, the black knights end up dropping a lot of loot.  I’ve got like five black knight swords now, the halberd and the greatsword, and just now, the shield.  I was going to just pass it up like I was the others, but I notice that this shield’s fire resistance is extreme.  Just how much a difference the chip damage from the fire is making, I don’t know, but it might be worth giving it a test run, see how it goes.

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Beautifully, as it turns out.  I can block Gwyns hits and lose only a sliver of life.  On the flip side, I haven’t upgraded it at all, so it’s not very stable, and it takes a lot of stamina to get through a combo.  I may want to look at fixing it up, after this fight.

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It’s light enough to parry with.  Just like it was with the first black knight I fought, I’m not confident in my timing of the first hit of his combo, but I can deflect the second reliably enough.

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I take advantage of this.  Block the first hit with my new, nearly impenetrable shield, parry the second, dodge the third if I screw that up.  I do take a few hits this way, but I am able to repeat my parrying success.

Riposting does knock him down at the end.  I start saving my heals for those moments, when I’m not nearly so open.

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This is somehow poetic.  This is exactly the situation I was in when I faced my first great challenge.  Gwyn even fights like the black knights.  Just like then, I’m physically outmatched, but keeping myself in the fight by learning proper parrying technique.  Waiting for the start of the combo, parrying the second hit.  Desperately scrambling for some great reward beyond him.  The way I succeeded my first challenge is the same way I am fighting my last.

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So this technique is an excellent bookend, showing on the cover as we close the tale on this quest.

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I was once the Best Chosen One.  Now I am the Godslayer!  I wonder at this.  He who brought man into the light, who took the world from the dragons, he who once ruled this land, now fallen before me.  Geezer Zeus has done a lot of great things in his life, has wielded a lot of power, but he’s given away parts of his lord soul, has burnt as kindling for the first flame for who knows how long, and, somewhere in the process, has completely lost his mind and gone hollow.  I was not fighting him at his best, and truly, against an undying foe like me, he never stood a chance.

So, I’ve slain the Great Lord.  But… what now?  Killing him was only the means.  Now, it’s time to work out what the end is.

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There’s a bonfire here.  The bonfire.  The seat of the First Flame.  The source of all fire, and thus disparity, and thus all the sort of life I’ve ever really known.  Once upon a time, this First Flame could keep the world going all by itself.  Keep the sun lit, keep the world from just… fading out, like a candle reaching the end of its wick.

That time is past.  Long past.  I was only ever born into this world as it was already dying.  Gwyn sacrificed himself to keep the flames going, burning here as kindling for it for untold millennia.  I slew him at the end, when he was pretty much exhausted.  That’s where the darksign came from, life becoming corrupted as the artificial extension to it started flickering out.  To keep this world going, the First Flame needs a new source of fuel.

And the only thing left, with the power, the will, the ability to endure being used to keep the First Flame going…

Is me.

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Exactly as Frampt, as Gwyndolin, as the whole stupid Chosen One network intended, and manipulated me into.

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I don’t have to do this.  The First Flame’s life is already extended far beyond it’s natural span.  And for as much as I’ve been told it’s my fate to succeed Gwyn, that was the choice of those I’ve come to learn I can’t trust.  If the First Flame was meant to live forever, it’d never have burned out the way it did.  Perhaps it’s time for this world, along with mankind and the old lords, to simply fade out, make way for the new land of darkness and whatever will people that new land.  This world is already dying, and my sacrifice here will merely extend how long that will take.

In the end, it’s never really a question for me.

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I have come to hate this world.  Hate the constant fighting.  Hate how often I get murdered.  Hate constantly watching my friends go insane and die.  But I’ve seen what happens in the absence of the Flame.  I’ve been to Oolacile as it fell, I know the Abyss first-hand.  I know the darkness that lies in wait after the light fades.

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I’m not Geezer Zeus.  I don’t have any idea how long I’ll last as the kindling for the first flame.  I doubt anywhere near as long as he did.  But, in that time, how many new lives will be made, free of the darksign’s taint?  How many people will be saved, just by having this extra bit of time before the world fades?  One thing that kept me going, no matter how many times I fell, was that constant quest for life.  Life above all else.  With this, I’ll be giving countless others the same opportunity.

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My tale is over here.  But countless new ones can begin.  With time, the light will begin to fade again.  I’ll be burnt out, and have gone hollow, just like Gwyn.  This whole cycle will begin anew.  But mayhaps someone yet to be born can find a more permanent solution to the first flame’s fading.  A sorcerer more powerful than the Witch of Izalith?  I genius beyond Seath?  A warrior beyond myself?  I can only postpone the world’s demise.  I cannot stop it.  But I will open the way for someone who can.

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I had stared doom, death, darkness in the face.  I had been stamped down so many times.  I never quit.  I always persisted until I overcame.  Now, I will give this world the chance to do the same.

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Oh, this is going to suck.

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But here is where my book closes, only to open many more.

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7 responses to “The End of Dark Souls

  1. Well, that’s it. You have achieved victory and completed Dark Souls. Congratulations! I know I felt a moment of great triumph when I saw the final cutscene. Speaking of which, one name stuck out to me when I watched the credits roll: Motoi Sakuraba. That’s right – the composer of the Golden Sun games (along with Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, interestingly) scored Dark Souls as well.

    As I said, what I like about Dark Souls is the sheer number of perfectly good strategies available to the player. I played as a knight named Zane, and what I did at one point was grind levels in the forest until he had 40 vitality and 40 endurance. After doing that, my character had exceptionally good defense (especially once I got the Black Iron Armor and upgraded each piece to the highest level) where anything short of a bottomless pit wouldn’t be enough to kill him, and he was also surprisingly mobile. As my character wasn’t much of a spellcaster, my weapon of choice was the Raw Halberd +5, which I know isn’t the best way to upgrade a weapon, but it worked for me because I had more of a steadfast strategy where I just tanked all the hits and wore down the enemy through attrition. Then again, I noticed in most action-RPGs, I tend to gravitate towards fighter classes – usually, though not exclusively, ones with high defenses.

    • I know, that really threw me. I largely know Sakuraba from his work with the Tales and Baten Kaitos series, where his music is all big, bombastic, not subtle at all. With as understated the music in Dark Souls is, I was really surprised to find it was Motoi Sakuraba behind it. Dude has some serious range.

      Yeah, I don’t know that anyone I’ve been talking with has had exactly my fighting style. Like you, I gravitated towards my usual action-rpg class, an aggressive fighter with at least decent mobility, and that worked really well for me, but there are so many other viable options, viable fighting styles. That’s a really hard thing to design for, allowing so many options, but they seem to have kept it balanced perfectly. That’s really to the strength of the game, that you can tailor your fighting style so specifically to how you work, and not have to worry about being a lower tier or falling behind the game.

  2. Great story! Nicely narrated, it felt nostalgic. I played Dark Souls as a knight, but didn’t complete it with that character. I beat the game with a spell caster. I remember using lots of spells against Gwyn, trying to back up and roll away, having him struck by my casts. Lots of tries and frustrated moments, trying to find a good tactic until I finally beat him. Good times..

    • Thanks! With the way he keeps on the pressure, I can see it might be a little difficult to keep your distance and safely get spells out. How’d you end up working that out? Any tactics to mitigate that?

      • Well, I tried to walk back most of the times, just push your stick back. There’s also a pillar in the arena if I remember correctly, I used that as cover to absorb some of his strikes. I used the homing soulmass spell and hoped it would strike him when he was standing still, soul spear, and spells like that. Besides that, try rolling and locking on to him. There’s also a bit of luck involved.

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