Ever since the release of Dark Souls back in 2011 I’ve enjoyed picking up the various game guides released by Future Press, and later the absolutely *fantastic* Design Works series, which I would also love to review at some point. These books are great because they collate together information about the game design and lore of the ‘Souls series, and the precious interviews they contain provide rare snippets into the mind of their creator; Hidetaka Miyazaki. Well now two long-time ‘Souls devotees and videogame critics have gone one further and created a love letter to the community in the form of ‘You Died: The Dark Souls Companion. This is an unofficial book described as being about “one of the most extraordinary video games ever conceived, Dark Souls, and the world’s communal experience of playing it.” Written by Keza MacDonald and Jason Killingsworth, both of whom I’m very familiar with from Eurogamer and Edge magazine respectively, it’s a small format paperback book of 333 pages and contains some absolutely wonderful articles relating to not just Dark Souls but also often Demon’s Souls too.
For reference, here’s a list of the contents provided by the website:
The structure of the book is like a compilation of magazine and journal articles written by the two authors, although I think Keza provides the majority of this material, with Jason separating each chapter with a guide to Lordran; focussing on a different area for each segment. There are some real gems here and the book is fantastic at giving an insight into games development as well as journalism. An early chapter, for instance, provides a look into the initial review process that critics went through before the release of the original Dark Souls, with the servers being offline and without a knowledgebase like a wiki or guide to help them. It’s hilarious now to read their emails and tweets to each other, as you can read the despair they’re going through before suddenly coming upon an epiphany. It’s also like watching the birth of the shared community that ‘Souls has become known for – as eventually one or two of the critics manage to beat the game and start to provide advice and tactics to the others who are struggling, as well as insight into secrets and easily-missed optional parts of the game. Another article interviews the localisation team behind the Japanese-to-English translation work and voice recording, and provides some insightful comments about the subtleties of writing dialogue or item descriptions that would later be picked apart by ‘Souls fans down to the tiniest turn of phrase. This is great stuff!
Then there are the articles focussing on members of the ‘Souls community, including some big names like VaatiVidya, who have become famous (or infamous) for the work they have done in dissecting the lore and mechanisms of the game. The interviews here do a great job of letting you know the man behind the commentary, and there is another article with LobosJr and his crazy speed runs, as well as a look at the “Twitch Plays: Dark Souls” phenomenon. Some of this stuff I had no clue about until I read through the book, as I don’t watch Twitch, and have subsequently gone and watched several videos and recorded streams. One of the great things about this book is that even if you think you’ve seen or read it all there will be several articles where you’ll learn something new and are introduced to some crazy stuff that the ‘Souls community has dreamt up and subsequently dedicated ungodly hours to achieving! Unfortunately, in a book of collected articles like this, there will always be some that just don’t resonate with all readers and for me it was the anecdotal stories; such as accounts of people who have met and married through Dark Souls. Articles like this simply weren’t as interesting to read as the nitty gritty deeper pieces they are sandwiched inbetween, and are overshadowed by heavy-hitting sections like interviews with Miyazaki himself, or a history of From Software and the evolution from Demon’s to Dark Souls.
The book ends with a substantial appendix, in which the story of Dark Souls is recapped and all characters are discussed in good detail. Again, you may already know all of this if you are an avid community member and watch a lot of lore videos on YouTube. But, it is very welcome to have it all assembled in one place, and it lends the authors the audacity to call it a complete ‘Dark Souls Companion’. It really is an excellently written and insightful book, and one that I would *HIGHLY* recommend to all fans of From Software’s seminal videogame series. If your interest has been piqued, head over to Freight Books to buy a physical copy (roughly £10 and ships anywhere AFAIK) or onto Amazon for a downloadable Kindle edition.