Dark Souls, as a gaming experience, is difficult for everyone involved. It’s difficult for you, the player, it’s difficult for your controllers when they’re smashed to bits, and it’s difficult for your loved ones, forced to hear you curse at the TV when you lose a few thousand souls to a dastardly elevator shaft. But in the Souls universe, there are leagues of characters, bosses and NPC’s alike, who eat Shakespearian levels of tragedy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
With the release of Dark Souls Remastered on May 25th for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, now is as good a time as any to reflect on that fact that regardless of how many times you’ve died to the giant wolf with the great sword for a toothpick, you’ll never have it quite as bad as he did.
1. Reah of Thorolund (Dark Souls 1)
Reah, a priestess of the Way of White, and daughter to a prestigious family in her homeland of Thorolund, was sent on a pilgrimage, by the “honorable” Lord Gwyn, to seek the Rite of Kindling, a lost artifact used to kindle the many bonfires of Lordran. Sort of the “Snipe Hunt” of the Dark Souls world, this holy quest was mainly a tactic Gwyn used to quietly dispose of his Undead groupies. This suicide mission requires braving the depths of The Catacombs, fighting off legions of possessed skeletons, all for an artifact that increases the number of Estus Flasks you can carry from 10 to 20. Reah, joined by former classmates, Vince and Nico, and the cleric merchant, Petrus, embarked on this seemingly divine task, only to find that you, the Chosen Undead, had beaten her to the punch.
You receive the rite of kindling for dispatching Pinwheel, the Glass Joe of Dark Souls bosses. In the following area, the Tomb of the Giants, you encounter Reah on the business end of a trap (laid by renowned cleric hater, Undead Patches) at the bottom of a chasm. Her former allies, Vince and Nico, have hollowed, and after disposing of them, you clear a way for her escape. Left empty-handed and alone, Reah turns to the only thing she has left, her faith in the Gods. She heads to the church in the Undead Burg to pray to the Gods for wisdom. If you encounter her there, she has this to say, on the death of her friends:
“It is my ignorance, my frailty that has sealed their fates. Perhaps Petrus realized my weakness all along, and thus made the decision to abandon me.”
If you confront Petrus after hearing this, he snidely remarks that “[Reah’s] not worth her salt without her family name.” If left alone for long enough, Petrus will finish the job Patches started, and cut down the faithful maiden where she prays. Betrayed by her faith and her trust in her fellow clerics, Reah remains a dedicated priestess and offers you advanced miracles.
Despite her persistent hope, and your efforts to save her, her destiny remains unchanged, and after buying out her inventory of miracles, she will be kidnapped, transported to the Duke’s Archives, and left to rot in a cell, hollowed and unfulfilled.
2. Solaire of Astora (Dark Souls 1)
Solaire, the fan-appointed mascot of Dark Souls (he even has his own amiibo), is one of the first friendly faces you come across in Lordran. Sure, you meet the occasional merchant, and a crestfallen knight or two, but Solaire is the first NPC who is genuinely happy to see you. He gifts you the White Sign Soapstone, allowing you to summon help into your world from fellow players and friendly NPCs. He also reveals his personal quest, to head to the birthplace of the Sunlight Lord Gwyn, in search of his very own sun, whatever that means.
Throughout the game, you can reconvene with Solaire at certain locations pertaining to his personal quest and summon him to help you fight some of the most difficult bosses Lordran has to offer: The Bell Gargoyles, Ornstein, and Smough, even Lord Gwyn himself. Each successful battle fought by his side will net you a Sunlight Talisman, and a well-deserved “Praise the Sun!” gesture. Essentially, in a world where every other corner hides a blood-thirsty medieval monster, Solaire’s presence is a welcome respite from the norm.
From the home of the gods in Anor Londo to the depths of poisonous Blighttown, Solaire comes up empty-handed in his search for his own sun. This search leads him to the birthplace of pyromancy and demons, Lost Izalith. Like an unsupervised toddler, Solaire will travel into the depths of the fiery ruins and fall prey to a cat-sized insect demon called the Sunlight Maggot. If you encounter the demon before Solaire does, you can turn it into a stylish hat, but without your assistance, the Sunlight Maggot possesses Solaire and drives him to madness. If you encounter him in this deranged state, he will rave about the success of his mission, as he swings blindly at you.
“Hrg, rg…Arrrgh…Finally, I have found it, I have! My very own sun… I…am the sun! I’ve done it…I have…Yes, I did it…I did!Ohh, ohhh…Hrgrraaaoooogh!”
Given little choice, you take Old Yeller out behind the shed and put him out of his misery. Your old friend goes down with a soft whimper.
Memory loss is a bitch. It can be an impossible burden to handle, as your mind or the mind of your loved ones slowly fades away in front of you. For the undead of Dark Souls, this is par for the course, on top of slowly becoming a piece of chewed up beef jerky.
The most notable sufferer of this aspect of the Undead Curse is Lucatiel of Mirrah. The Dark Souls 2 equivalent of Solaire of Astora, Lucatiel follows you throughout your journey in Drangleic, helping you fight countless bosses, and posing against walls near various bonfires as if she really couldn’t give a damn. She’s cold at first, but eventually becomes your companion, and opens up about her past, though she struggles to recall it.
She says that she’s fully aware that “the curse is doing its work upon [her]” and she worries that she may soon forget about her older brother, one of a few reasons she came to Drangleic in the first place. He was “the most decorated swordsman in all of Mirrah” and despite her efforts, she never once bested him in battle. After he disappeared, she left for Drangleic in search of him, as well as a cure to her curse.
Visit her again, and her memories have begun to fade away entirely.
“If I were told that by killing you, I’d be freed of this curse, I would draw my sword without hesitation.”
Visiting her a final time in a shack near Aldia’s Keep will reveal that she has lost all but her name. She vaguely recalls who you are, wishes you a safe journey, and leaves you with a final, lucid thought.
“My name is Lucatiel. I beg of you, remember my name, for I may not myself…”
If you decide to give her a warrior’s death, her final words are, “Oh… My dear brother…” Advancing past the entrance to Aldia’s keep while human will summon a hostile invader, Aslatiel of Mirrah, Lucatiel’s brother, a few yards from her grave. Dispatched, the two can finally rest, although never reunited.
4. Great Grey Wolf Sif (Dark Souls 1)
Tragedy in the world of Dark Souls is not reserved for humans alone, and that is certainly the case with the Great Grey Wolf Sif. The companion of the great knight Artorias, Sif fought valiantly at his side, at the beck and call of their Lord Gwyn. When Gwyn ordered his knights to seal The Abyss surging out of the ancient town of Oolacile, Artorias took point, hoping his just cause and a pinky ring would protect him from the corruption of supreme darkness.
Artorias was known as The Abyss Walker and could traverse the dark plane without fear of corruption. He achieved this by making a covenant with the beasts of The Abyss, most likely the primordial serpent Kaathe, who may or may not have been responsible for the spread of the abyss into Oolacile, to begin with. Double-crossed by the serpent, when Artorias and Sif ventured into The Abyss, they were outnumbered by the beasts there, and Artorias sacrificed himself to save his puppy companion, erecting a magical barrier around the wolf.
Sif was left, protected, but alone, as Artorias became fully corrupted, subsequently becoming a torturously difficult boss the Chosen Undead is left to face. After (eventually) defeating Sif’s corrupted master, if you stumble upon Sif in The Abyss, he can be saved and comes to your aid in the battle against Manus, father of the Abyss, the source of Oolacile’s abyssal plague.
After defeating Manus, the Chosen Undead time travels back to the present (time is weird in Lordran), where, years after your encounter with Sif in The Abyss, the great wolf still remembers you when you meet. Tasked with guarding the grave and greatsword of his master, Sif is forced to turn against his new friend for Artorias’ sake. You can even see the torturous duty reflected in his cute doggy face. Towards the end of the battle, with a sliver of health left, a dying Sif hobbles towards you, weakly clutching Artorias’ greatsword in his teeth, honor-bound to fight until his last breath, earning him the well-deserved, and posthumous title of man’s best friend.
5. Anri of Astora (Dark Souls 3)
Anri is the physical embodiment of the gesture and notion of Quiet Resolve. An Unkindled, gender-swapping knight (Anri is the opposite sex of the Ashen One) offered up in cannibalistic sacrifice to Aldrich the Devourer, she escaped with her silent friend, Horace, with the intention of returning Aldrich to his throne at Firelink Shrine. She relies on Horace for strength as her last living companion, and if you’re cruel enough to kill Horace on the Road to Sacrifice, Anri will collapse, having lost the will to live.
Later in their journey, a trap in the Catacombs of Carthus separates the two, and Horace hollows, at the bottom of a chasm (A recurring theme in the series). Anri is left to carry their burden. You encounter her again in Irithyll, the Boreal Valley, where, after a long journey, Anri faces her greatest challenge alone. But she persists, in Horace’s memory, to fulfill her duty. She thanks you for your company, and gives you a ring, and the Quiet Resolve gesture.
Anri carries on, naïve to the fact that her path to Aldrich is guided by Yuria of Londor, through a pilgrim who sends her to Anor Londo. Should you become Yuria’s Lord of Hollows, she will suggest Anri as a candidate for marriage. Marriage isn’t usually an option in Dark Souls, and Anri’s an eligible bachelor, so you decide to tie the knot. However, Dark Souls being Dark Souls, when you arrive at the wedding ceremony, you’re launched into a cutscene wherein you “marry” Anri by sheathing a sword in her face hole. No, that isn’t a euphemism.
Having just impaled your new spouse, you’re left to wonder what her final thoughts might have been, after escaping one kidnapping, only to walk right into another. Did she know that the room she died in was directly beneath Aldrich? Her fate was never hers to control, and she died, with nothing but her “Quiet Resolve”.
6. Greirat of the Undead Settlement (Dark Souls 3)
Greirat is one of the few truly selfless characters in the Souls universe. An uncommon quality for a lowly thief, but Greirat has a strong sense of principle and dedication. When freed from his cell on the High Wall of Lothric, his thoughts turn immediately to an old friend, Loretta. He tasks you with checking in on her and bringing her a Blue Tearstone Ring, a defense ring. You, instead, find her in the Undead Settlement, flayed and hanging from somebody’s balcony. Returning Loretta’s Bone to Greirat will stun him with the sad realization that, “Heavens, she was already dead.”
From that moment forward, Greirat dedicates his life to you, fearlessly setting off into the most dangerous areas around Lothric to find you treasure. During Greirat’s trip into the Boreal Valley, you can pick up on more of his good nature from recurring douche-nozzle, Unbreakable Patches. Despite dedicating his life to punishing the greed of the undead, Patches has a soft spot for Greirat, who “did him a good turn in Lothric Dungeon.” Patches inquires about his thieving friend, and after hearing Greirat set off to the Boreal Valley, Patches, with Siegward the Onion Knight’s stolen armor, sets off to protect his thieving friend. Greirat even mentions that he may have died, “if not for that peculiar onion knight.”
If Greirat survives up to this point, he will set his sights on the perilous Lothric Castle. Aware of the danger, Greirat assures you that he “knows Lothric like the back of his hand.” However, in his final remarks, there’s clear indication that it’ll be his last trip.
“I-I’m aware of the danger. That castle is a death trap. Not a single man has returned from the castle unscathed, even back in the day. But I don’t want to sit around and die a petty rat. And I consider myself your friend.”
Greirat sets off to Lothric Castle, where he meets his end, as a friend to many.
7. Siegmeyer of Catarina (Dark Souls 1)
The OG Onion Knight, Siegmeyer cemented himself as one of the most interesting characters in Dark Souls 1, namely for being the guy who regularly takes naps in poison swamps. On the rare occasion that he isn’t asleep, Siegmeyer can be seen diligently strategizing how to handle puzzles and enemy groups throughout Lordran. When you encounter him, he’ll usually remark on the “pickle” he’s in, and how his rotund stature has left him in need of assistance.
When you clear out a room full of silver knights in Anor Londo while he waits on the sidelines, strategizing, he’s thankful of your help and offers a ring, and a piece of advice, “Be warned, gallantry entails great risks. Next time, give me a chance to come up with a plan.”
His most fateful encounter occurs in Lost Izalith, overlooking a room full of Chaos Eaters, the mean older brothers to Ocarina of Time’s Like-Like’s. After helping him countless times, Siegmeyer sees the opportunity to return the kindness you had done him. He offers his life to fend off the beasts while you make your escape. If you dispatch the enemies without giving Siegmeyer the opportunity to fight, he will curse his own inability to help and will disappear from the game, seemingly hollowed by his shame. If he survives, his story continues with his daughter, Sieglinde.
Sieglinde’s in search of her clumsy, globe-trotting father, and wants to deliver her mother’s final words to him. Exhaust Sieglinde’s dialogue at Firelink Shrine and she will reveal that she finds resolve in her father’s devotion to his “final adventure” but that she has a duty to fulfill, and she will kill him “again” if he goes hollow. Talk about daddy issues. If you’ve intervened enough times, seemingly saving Siegward from an untimely end, he will continue his adventure in search of Ash Lake, hollowing along the way.
Though he may have searched for a more valiant and noble conclusion to his quest, you intervened and denied him an honorable martyrdom. Without it, he hollows on the beaches of Ash Lake and is put to rest by his own daughter. Despite his clumsy and cheerful appearance, the onion knight carries a silent, heavy burden with him that could only to be released by his death.
Dark Souls, as a series, takes on a very nihilistic worldview, where nearly every character with a developed arc dies a horrible, ironic death, leaving their wishes unfulfilled. Even the player character in most games is left with Sophie’s Choice of either submitting the world to darkness or self-immolation. So, the next time you get flattened by a boulder or backstabbed by an invader, just be thankful you at least have the privilege to turn the game off and go watch Netflix.