Nature nurture heaven and home
Sum of all and by them driven
To conquer every mountain shown
But I've never crossed the river
Puscifer's song "The Humbling River" pretty much sums up my experience with Dark Souls. While I've cleared a few areas in one try, instances like that are countable on one hand. Most of the time, I approach something and fail numerous times.
Often times, my brushes with failure would lead me to a dark path. I would lose hope in the face of peerless strength. I'd ask myself, "Why can't I beat this fucker?!" It's tough to rationalize to yourself why you've been able to tackle gigantic wolves and minotaurs, but you make blunders in the face of a tree.
So while I've been around most of the world in Dark Souls, there are still certain areas where I tremble a bit. Every time I enter the sewers of the Depths, I fear that I'll run into the cursing toads. When I trek into the Tomb of the Giants, I become paralyzed at the thought of those giant skeletons (a closet fear of mine).
Brave the forest, brave the stone
Brave the icy winds and fire
Braved and beat them on my own
Yet I'm helpless by the river
Braving every kind of environment doesn't prepare one for the horrors of the bosses. While some areas are more intimidating in appearance, others actually prove quite deadly. Sen's Fortress is a prime example of a cautionary area. Walking too fast will see you slammed by a boulder or sliced by a swinging axe.
The Catacombs are also home to many a pit. Falling drops you into areas where you are surrounded by skeletons. What makes this worse is how the skeletons won't die until you find the sorcerer conjuring them. As if pitfalls weren't bad enough.
The Demon's Ruins are also littered with lava and flames, making travel extremely frustrating. Failing to take your surroundings into account will lead to a very untimely and disheartening death.
Angel, angel what have I done
I face the quakes, the wind, the fire
I've conquered country,crown, and throne
Why can't I cross this river
When times get tough, I sit and ponder my actions. "Why am I failing? What am I doing wrong?!" Dark Souls requires me to carefully plan my attacks and attempt different things each time. Repeating what is safe often ends up with wasted efforts.
I think back to previous successes and my rage builds. I will myself to continue and lull myself into a false sense of security. I tell myself, "This is it!" and I press on. When I see the boss, my heart begins to race and I start shaking.
I take a few hits and shrug them off. The adrenaline surges and my eyes widen. My grip tightens and my breathing ceases. I flinch every time an attack comes at me and swear loudly when it connects. I pray that this will be the time.
And then I lose.
Pay no mind to the battles you've won
It'll take a lot more than rage and muscle
Open your heart and hands my son
Or you'll never make it over the river
I rest my head in defeat, ready to give up for the moment. I then remember that Co-op is a valid option. Others must surely be having the same struggles as I, so why not lend a helping hand?
I drop my soul sign and wait. While this usually yields nothing, sometimes I'm summoned and the two of us hike forward. Upon entering a boss arena with another person, I calm my nerves and allow them to tank.
While they are going to town on the guy, I'll draw agro slowly and surely. As the boss winds up for an attack, I make a few quick jabs and draw its attention. I then retreat and allow my new best friend to continue his assault.
Still, he is only human as well and shares my same fears. He falters and takes damage. I see a dramatic drop off in HP on his bar and cry in fear! Unable to heal him, I desperately tackle the boss and give it my all.
I've failed again!
It'll take a lot more than words and guns
A whole lot more than riches and muscle
The hands of many must join as one
And together we'll cross the river
Nearly at wits end, I revive myself to human form and look for multiple compatriots. Three is always better than two, so I ease my own fears when I see an NPC and human coming into battle with me.
We sprint at the boss and begin to whittle his health down. Now that I have an extra ally, my own inhibitions are set free and I'm able to strike without fear. Nothing holds me back.
My actions become a second nature. No more guessing whether R2 does strong or L1 blocks. Instincts take over and impulses flow. Swords clash with flesh and blood sprays into the air.
My comrades are all on their A games and the boss begins to tremble. His health bar depletes faster by the second and we all close in. The three of us continue our assault.
We finally cross that river!
That ultimate victory is what makes Dark Souls something incredibly special. No game I've played give me this kind of rush. While the failures are strong and their impact often makes my question my skill, sticking to your guns and pulling through is a feeling that is unparalleled in gaming.
Still, since I'm not finished with the game, I will be staring at that river yet again. Nito, you're going to make me cower. I'll curse, I'll shake, I'll tremble and I'll doubt, but my strength will get me to cross that river.