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Shifting through the ashes: The last secrets of Dark Souls


In an effort to keep myself sane as I wait for the PC release of Dark Souls 2 (an idea that sounded good in my head a month ago, but has ended in nothing but jealousy and self directed rage since), I've been digging DEEP into Dark Souls, picking every last shred of meat from its undead bones. After playing for hundreds of hours, launching countless invasions, and banding with innumerable random strangers for the joys of jolly co-operation, you'd think there would be nothing left to learn about Dark Souls.

You'd be wrong.

The world of Dark Souls is rich and detailed, packed with sly references, loving homages, and even some cheeky gags. While some of the references From Software tucked away in Dark Souls are well known, I've collect a few of the strangest and most interesting references in the game (or in some cases, references that were ALMOST put in) that even the most ardent Warrior of Sunlight might have missed.

Please keep in mind that I've only collected this list. The credit for finding these hidden nuggets of gold goes to the widespread and industrious members of the Dark Souls fandom, who have been mining both the content, and data files of the game since its launch.

Berserk references are the low hanging fruit of Dark Souls trivia. Lead director Hidetaka Miyazaki has expressed his love for the manga series and cited it as an inspiration for him and his team before. It doesn't take a microscope to pick out many of the nods to the series they put in the game. The Balder Armor set is almost an exact replica (if a little worse for wear) of Berserk protagonist Gut's suit. The menacing Red Eye Orb used by bloodthirsty players to invade other worlds bears more than a passing resemblance to the cursed Behelit pendant worn by the big bad of the series. Not to mention the entire design of Artorias is a direct reference to later series Guts, complete with the handicapped left arm and feral wolf theme. Heck, the promo art for the Artorias of the Abyss expansion is nearly identical to a cover used by the manga!

Interesting stuff, but I'm going to bet a lot of you already knew about those references. So here is something you might not have come across.

Buried deep within deleted game files, uncovered and resurrected by fans with far more technical savvy than I'll ever have, is an alternate character model of the NPC Witch Beatrice that depicts her as a child. This is intriguing in its own right (there are no other child characters in Dark Souls), but for readers up to date with the Berserk manga, you might notice a striking similarity between child Beatrice and the young witch Schierke who accompanies Guts on his adventures. But the similarities go much further than the colour of her cloak and stylish hat.

Like many Dark Souls characters, there is precious little information available about Beatrice. What we are able to glean from the descriptions attached to her items and equipment, Beatrice is described as a "rogue witch". Unlike every other sorcerer in the Dark Souls world, Beatrice did not study at the Vinheim Dragon School. Her catalyst (wand) seems to have been handed down from generation to generation, implying she was taught by some kind of mentor figure that ceded their power to her, not unlike Schierke in the manga.

Oddly enough, there is a chapter in the manga series where Schierke summons a group of benevolent elemental spirits referred to as the 4 Kings of the World to protect herself and her companions. The second boss fight you can summon Beatrice to assist you with, and where she met her apparent demise according to her item descriptions, is the infamous 4 Kings. A far cry from the gentle spirits Schierke summoned, these 4 Kings are the twisted wraiths of the former lords of New Londo, banished to the Abyss for their heinous crimes. Pure coincidence, or a cheeky dark mirror of the manga?

So why was child Beatrice cut? We have only speculation to go on, but the deleted content seems to imply that Beatrice was a bigger character at one point in development. Maybe she got the axe due to time constraints, or perhaps like some other dropped plot points, the story evolved during development and her part no longer made sense. Or maybe From Software thought they were getting a little too close to the materials they were drawing inspiration from and decided to steer in a different direction. Who can say? Those answers, much like Beatrice herself, are lost to the Abyss.

From Software is a development house with a keen sense of their own history. They seem to enjoy sneaking small references of their previous games in every title.

Seath the Scaleless, the insane dragon who betrayed his own kind in anguished jealousy, seems like the kind of character that could only come from Dark Soul's grim world. But fans of the Kings Field series know better. Seath was plucked from that franchise where he existed as a creepy albino dragon/deity figure. I never played the Kings Field games myself, but apparently Seath is a major player in the series, present in every game and occasionally serving as the final boss.

I think that's super cool, but what really blew my mind was finding out Seath's counterpart in the Kings Field games, a huge, black, one-eyed dragon named Guyra, is a dead ringer for Kalameet, terror of the Artorias DLC. Compare some screenshots of the two and it's easy to see the resemblance. It's a wonder From Software could resist the urge to make him a direct reference to the Kings Field series as well, but I suppose they were happy with a subtle wink for observant fans. Who knows, maybe Guyra will get his time in another Dark Souls game.

Fittingly, the weapon you can claim from chopping off Seath's tail, the Moonlight Greatsword, cutsits way between From Software franchises as well. A recurring item in the Kings Field series, it shows up in Demons Souls and both Dark Souls, baring it's distinctive wide blue crystal blade in each game. That seems rather matter of fact, a little Easter egg between fantasy RPG series. What's more fun is that the Moonlight has also made appearances in the futuristic sci-fi world of the Armored Core series.

Wielded by a knight or strapped to the arm of a 50 foot tall mecha, the Moonlight is a force to be reckoned with. Since the first Armored Core game, a version of the Moonlight laser-blade has been a bonus weapon hidden away for intrepid pilots to discover. This isn't the kind of gear you can just pick up at the garage along with an oil change and a cockpit air freshener. Similar to Dark Souls making you clip it off of a dragon's tail, the Moonlight blades in the Armored Core series are always squirrelled away in a secret location or require some kind of special effort to unlock them.

It tickled me to realize that the Moonlight in Armored Core 2 had the exact same special ability as it has in Dark Souls, casting a crescent wave of destructive blue energy after a swing. It seems magic really is indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology.

The infamous Yellow King makes a deadly and bizarre appearance in the game, but most people probably never realized the significance of the character until it was recently popularized by True Detective. Taken from a collection of short stories by Robert Chambers, the King in Yellow (who would later be folded into Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos) is described as a menacing other worldly figure who lives in a forgotten land, wearing a tattered mantle of yellow cloth and hiding his alien face behind a mask. His corrupting influence is spread through a stage play; merely reading the script is enough to turn one mad, while an actual performance of the play may just be a dark summoning ritual.

Thankfully, he lives up to the image better in Dark Souls than True Detective's creepy groundskeeper.

Players who explore the optional and other worldly land of the Painted World while in human form run the risk of being invaded by the dark spirit Xanthous King Jeremiah. "Xanthous" is an obscure term for yellow, so his name could be read literally as "Yellow King Jeremiah". This disturbing invader attacks the player with a barbed whip and master level pyromancy, a rather unique (and nasty) combination. His yellow robe is described as tattered and his face is hidden under a towering turban of yellow cloth. Despite having the same look when worn by the player, concept art of Jeremiah implies that his face really is concealed under that enormous head wrap, supported by a giraffe like neck. Eww.

Coincidentally, I can't help but notice there is actually some thematic overlap between True Detective and Dark Souls. Rust Cohle's famous monologue about time being a flat circle, where tragic events endlessly repeat, seems like an amazingly succinct explanation of the world of Dark Souls and the undead curse. The dead rise to suffer the same agonies over and over, while the twilight of the gods' is staved off by endless repetitions of sacrifice. It's all coincidental I know, but tell me the idea of the Yellow King appearing in two works with similar themes doesn't give you a shiver. Plays are out of vogue these days, maybe the Yellow King has found new mediums to spread his influence. I hear his robes are back in Dark Souls 2...

Or maybe he's just a reference to the Old Monk in Demon Souls and I'm being silly (hint: I'm being silly).

While looking all of this up on various YouTube channels and message boards, I ran across more than one person who said that finding out about the Berserk references, or other nods and references ruined the game for them. The fact that the developers took some inspiration from other series somehow made the game less unique or special to them. I couldn't disagree more. Nothing is made in a bubble, not even the lands of Lordran. We are all shaped by our experiences, the people we know, and the media we consume. To deny that, or to insist that what we create must be entirely free of those formative experiences, is ludicrous.

I love that From Software wears their heart on their sleeve. It brings me joy to know that they have reverence and respect for their past works, that they are taking this just as seriously as their fans do. I think it's wonderful that they managed to sneak in the occasional nod and wink to what shaped their creative process. Dark Souls is an inscrutable game, and even years after it's release there are still open ended questions about what it all meant. When I'm able to catch a reference they made, and get a peek behind the curtain into the dev team's head space, I feel like I'm better able to understand what they're trying to communicate.

If Dark Souls 2 has even half of the original's command of subtlety and and world building, I can look forward to being a happy Undead for years to come.
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About Nic Rowenone of us since 7:50 PM on 05.05.2010

Nic (formerly known as Wrenchfarm) has been an active member of the Dtoid community since 2010. After toiling away in the Cblog mines and Recap Team workhouse for years, he made the jump and became a staff member in 2014. He likes robots, coffee, and pictures of robots enjoying coffee.

Xbox LIVE:Wrenchfarm
Steam ID:http://steamcommunity.com/profil


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