This ICHF was written by Sir K, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/sirkaijuofvaudeville. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
Earlier this year I was on vacation in San Francisco. I was taking it namely as I was on the verge of having a near mental breakdown (which happened regardless) but for the most part it was nice. However, during the vacation I received news in the early morning hours from one of my oldest friends… news that I’m still emotionally ravaged by.
Kentaro Miura, author of Berserk, had passed away. Leaving his seminal work unfinished on the cusp of the veritable climax of its thirty-year narrative. I seldom cry or get emotional over celebrity death even those I hold fondness for such as Sean Connery, but Miura, Miura’s passing was like a close mentor, teacher or family member dying in my life. A man in another country who I never met, who didn’t even know I existed, had such an emotional impact on me that his passing was like watching a close-family member go.
His work helped me through life in my early adulthood, and how its subject matter and struggles of its protagonist literally carried me through some of my darkest moments. And the reaction to his death would have nearly sank my entire vacation… if not for a certain community. In any event, in memoriam of the man, the myth, the legend, and since I have already covered Guts and Griffith both, let’s look at one of Berserk’s biggest successors and who wears its inspiration its sleeve.
Dark Souls is arguably the biggest Berserk inspired IP on the planet, eclipsed by only Final Fantasy. However, unlike FF, Dark Souls embraces the entirety of its forebears’ tone and themes. Its not just about giant swords… but the struggle against adversity in a wholly unique dark fantasy world. The world of Dark Souls is fantastic one of the most intriguing and compelling RPG settings I engaged since early Bethesda games and pre-ME3 Bioware. It’s a Dark-Fantasy setting that is on the verge of collapse and its full of rad monster designs, boss fights and a difficulty curve I find engaging.
Now, Dark Souls LORE is a subgenre in of itself. With many creators making entire youtube careers by regaling their audiences with the bit-by-bit elements of every detail or speculation of the missing gaps and pieces of the mythos of any given Souls Game. From the final bosses to the single solitary NPC in a corner somewhere to a figure who is only mentioned in text of a single item you find somewhere.
But to me, all those lore and all those characters… ultimately don’t matter. The thing with Dark Souls, and one of the most fascinating aspects with the story… is that the story has ended. All these big, larger than life characters, all these heroes, gods and monsters… they are just shadows of their former selves. You are informed of their feats second-hand. And the people you do meet, their goals be they selfish, lofty, altruistic will all inevitably let them meet the same fate as the gods that inhabit the land. Solaire isn’t the most meaningful character, nor is Gwyn, nor is Seath, nor is Artorias the Abysswalker, nor the Furtive Pygmy (so easily forgotten…) the most important character… is a character that at any point could no longer matter in the narrative.
That character is you.
Like most RPG characters, the Chosen Undead is a blank slate for the player to put their face onto. And immediately you have the games prophetic destiny thrust upon you as you awake in an Asylum for other Undead. You are one of the accursed undead, branded by the accursed dark sign with undying life… until you go mad and feral, losing your entire sense of purpose and being. Like so many before you. You are given a vague backstory of the world, saddled with a destiny by a friendly knight (who bears the armor of the character on the cover of the game and promotional material) before he dies and almost immediately thrust with your first boss-fight, barely after you learned the controls. And almost immediately you learn a valuable lesson: your death does not matter… in fact, it is inevitable. You will die. And die again.
Death in Dark Souls for the player is mechanically, just a setback. You just get sent back to your last checkpoint (bonfire) only losing whatever level-up material you had and even then, if you make it back to your last death site before dying again you can retrieve your materials. Just you, and whatever things are in your way…
I know I’m going on a lot about mechanics here, but there is a method to this madness… as the mechanics are a key point to the story and character of the chosen undead as a whole. As you progress through the world of Lordran, you find bloodstains and the transparent phantoms belonging to other players… who are all going through the same thing you are. Each bloodstain being a place where another player, somewhere, had died. This gets real ominous when you walk into a room full with such bloodstains but see nothing there, thus really increasing the tension, ready for some horror to pop out of the woodwork and render you another of those stains.
And at early points in the game, in the distance you hear the bells you are supposed to ring to progress being rung by other players in their own games. This is compounded by all non-boss, non-monster characters you meet in your journey… all of them are undead just like you. But unlike you… they all have their own causes.
They aren’t given a destiny; they are drawn to Lordran for their own reasons. Solaire for the goal of finding his own sun, Siegmeyer of Catarina who is having the Undead equivalent of a Midlife Crisis, the Way of the White and their holy pilgrimage, Big Hat Logan to unlock the secrets of Seath the Scaleless… all these characters with loftier goals and ambitions then you… just another lowly undead.
Any one of these characters could be heroes, could be what this dying world needs to survive. Yet most of them, just by following the basic logic of it being a video game… will meet cruel ends by letting them try and accomplish their goals. And even if they survive, some of them will be so crestfallen and broken they are shadows of their former selves whose friendship with you is the only thing they have left. Their destiny is oblivion. Just like everything else in this world.
Then there is you. You who have a grand destiny saddled on you… or so you are told. Despite your lofty supposed goal of surpassing the gods themselves and reigniting the fire that continues this world… your deaths become more and more numerous. This is where Dark Souls’ infamous difficulty and mechanics go hand- in-hand… as if you just rage quit and never pick up the game again…
You become just another hollow who lost their will in a dying world. You. The Player. Do. Not. Matter. For something as lofty as the “Chosen Undead” … any corpse can take that mantle. And even those who at one point praise your destiny, such as Kingseeker Frampt, the moment you go against their wishes, renounce you as the Chosen Undead.
The World and its grand adventures, its glorious golden days are all but over. All that’s left is a nihilistic string of undead drawn towards completion, with any number of undead able to fill that destiny. Not just you.
And that… is where the horror in Dark Souls lies.
Not the horrifying monsters, not the cruel and horrible acts of malice or greed by those wretches still clinging to life… but the inevitability of the end. Lordran is a dying world, and ultimately… you are just a spectator to its plight. Your achievements of killing impossible monsters and bossfights? You’re just giving them one last mercy and putting them out of their misery. And the Chosen Undead is indicative of that.
Their blank slate in this horrific world is that of a silent spectator with a destiny thrust on upon them seemingly unable to choose their want while either mindlessly marching to the end… or do you?
This is where the Chosen Undead as a character really shines… by breaking away from the ‘destined path’, breaking sequence, exploring and following the guides of other players and NPCs, you can join various covenants in various hidden places. From finding the last of the Ancient Dragons in the last vestige of their domain, to joining the Way of the White in their mission, or assisting Solaire as he has assisted you in “JOLLY COOPERATION” and assisting other players in their struggles, or assisting the blind sister of a boss you fought in easing her pain and nursing her back to Health (which in turn can help you save your friend) to inflicting justice on those who cause grief to others or in one case… fully embrace the anarchy of the dying world and prey upon others…
The Chosen Undead despite seemingly having no choice but giving up in their destiny has a lot of hidden depths to their choices. From reuniting Father and Daughter, to sparing the Crossbreed in a Painted World, to even saving a valuable friend or avenging and resurrecting an innocent victim… or ending the charade of a god and ending the cycle of gods and their illusion of the world all together. These choices are never prompted or put in a quest journal, but simply something you make by exploration or by trial and error, or through the tales and experiences of other players.
Despite the nihilistic world Dark Souls is initially presented with… and how little your player character matters… you realize over and over… in the game you are never alone. The Chosen Undead does not carry their burden alone, which is where the community aspect of Dark Souls comes into full play. The Dark Souls community of Chosen Undead, while at points are as elitist as any gamerbro… are also one of the most wholesome and helpful communities on the net.
Their Chosen Undeads range from cosplaying anime characters to characters in game, to wacky ridiculous builds with their own memetic clout influence and, well, character. From the LEGEND of the Giant Dad build to the irritating Havel Monsters. Then there are the naked speedrunner builds who beat the game in under twenty minutes or the helpful invaders who drop useful loot to newbie players to help them through the game. To the magnificent bastards who write “EPIC CHEST AHEAD” in front of certain… busty characters in game for other players to see. And speaking of those messages, the messages pointing out hidden loot or secret doors or the locations to bonfires are lifesavers to new players.
Dark Souls does not hold your hand, the world is cruel… but also beautiful and more so by the people in it. The Chosen Undead, in spite of being ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things, as any other corpse can fill their role, is defined by the community of other Chosen Undead who help make their character have weight in the world. Even outside of game. Whether or not you engage with the game’s endgame, or just play with other players, all that matters is your own journey and the Chosen Undead’s journey through you. And the community of hundreds of other chosen undead the world over experiencing the same thing and engaging and loving the same world.
And I think that’s why out of the three, the second game is my favorite. Beyond just the best fashion souls, best weapons (Santier’s Spear is best, don’t @ me), and the most stable meta (any build is workable!), it has a hub of weirdos you steadily accumulate. People you find and meet on the way who fill up your decayed and abandoned little village ruin on a cliff overlooking a ruin sinking into the sea. And despite everything, even a world seemingly in decay, people hold it together and community pulls through. Which for me is indicative of the player base for the Souls Games, and their respective Chosen Undead, as the player base is why I keep coming back to Dark Souls. The videos, the lore, the memes, and the sheer amount of character each player brings.
For me, the Chosen Undead is, as a character defined by the community who plays as them. And for me, I can’t help but to see a wholesome helpful idiot doing his best in a world, who by all accounts, should not have an idiot like him. I mean, why else would you spare Patches (besides Patches being the best NPC in the game of course) if not for being a naïve wholesome weirdo? In spite of everything telling you, that you do not matter… the community of other weirdos make the world worth living in, and in some way, worth saving and staying in. If the world of Dark Souls, be it Lordran, Drangliec, or Lothric, was inhabited by the same weirdos who play as the wayward protagonists… then it is a world worth saving and playing in, which I think is very wholesome. Despite the horror of the dying and cruel, unforgiving world full of monsters, the most inhuman of inhumanities, and a world seemingly doomed no matter what, there is a beauty in Dark Souls, an apocalyptic bittersweet beauty in its decay. All further highlighted by the one weird undead who is either tasked with saving it… or joining the rest of their feral brethren in rotting until the end. After 2020… a community of weirdos just existing in spite of a world falling apart is very, very familiar to me, and I imagine to all of us.
In Dark Souls 3, there is a weapon that looks identical to the Dragonslayer found in Farron Keep. And when Kentaro Miura died, that location had hundreds of messages of support, grief and memorial for the man who started it all. And all over all three games, Guts cosplayers were roving around in Coop and invasions and fights in memorial of Kentaro Miura’s influence on the game they all loved. The Dark Souls community legitimately helped me process his passing and influence and helped me enjoy my vacation that would have otherwise been tinged by tragedy. The Chosen Undead is no Guts, but unlike other Guts knockoffs, the Chosen Undead community understands one of the most crucial lessons Guts learned:
It is you who make your own purpose and the people around you who matter most. While the world of Dark Souls is chock full of engaging lore, amazing monster design, and horror for me personally, I would not come back to it over and over again if not to meet the characters there again, take the shoes of my Chosen Undead and engage in the wacky community of other Chosen Undead, Curse Bearers, or Ashen Ones who make the three games homely and inviting. From trolling people with the Rat Covenant in Dark Souls II, to becoming a DarkWraith and invading other players, or just joining the Warriors of Sunlight and engaging in “”JOLLY COOPERATION!!!!” in helping other players take down bosses that give them a hard time, or in my hours of need, calling for help and being assisted by a Guts cosplayer to take down a renegade god atop his dragon in a long-abandoned ruin or dueling a Saber (from Fate Stay Night) cosplayer on a bridge in a friendly bout (complete with bowing!) in a fight club.
And for me, that is what makes the Chosen Undead and why the Chosen Undead is a perfect protagonist for their world… they can be an impartial observer, a heroic knight, a merciless executioner, or just a weirdo running around naked in an old man mask throwing dung pies at other people or just another wretch who gave up. Ultimately… Dark Souls is all about Humanity and what it means to be human and retaining one’s humanity is a literal game mechanic. In the horror of its world… and the recent horror of our world, being a wholesome weirdo and surviving in a community of other wholesome weirdos… is very poignant especially in today’s world.
As such, keep on struggling my fellow Chosen Undead, and for those who still wander through the Doors of Pharros, who knows, maybe you’ll be summoned into my ratty deathtrap for a good ole fashion gauntlet 😉