Bearer of the Curse

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Death is an unpleasant thing to think about. It is often described as being very cold, dark, and lonely. Death is also severely painful. Anyone who has ever tried to imagine their preferred mode of death can probably agree that there really is no nice way to go. If there is any single consolation within death, it’s that it will all end in a peaceful rest. Soon all of your pain and worry will end.

Except when it doesn’t.

In the lands of Lordran and Drangleic, death has lost its most prominent feature: its finality. When the bearers of the curse die, they merely lose their humanity and continue to exist in much the same way they did prior to their “death.” As one might expect, robbing people the release of death has left many of the land’s inhabitants broken, either wallowing in despair or giving in to madness.

But you are not one of them. You are different. You, the bearer of the curse, take it upon yourself to throw yourself into the midst of danger and certain death, never losing hope that eventually you will triumph and rid the world of its curse. No matter how many times you face the excruciating pain of death, you never give up. You persevere until the very end.

This concept is why the main character(s) in Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 is probably my favorite character in video gaming. The Dark Souls games are rather unique in that all of your deaths throughout any given play through are canon.

Most games in which you can die/lose/ game over/ etc. have checkpoints that you return to, and anything that happened between the time you arrive at said checkpoint and the time you die is rendered null and void. It’s like none of that ever happened. After all, how is Mario supposed to save Peach if he died falling down a bottomless pit or stubbing his toe on walking fungi? In order to make sense, the “canonical” sequences of events in those games are only those in which you succeed.

The Dark Souls games are not like that. There is a physical change in your character’s appearance after dying, turning you from human into some sort of zombie. Back to back deaths without restoring your humanity result in a decrease in you maximum health.  There are persistent consequences to your character’s death, suggesting that the character comes back to life knowing full well what he had just been through. He remembers the pain of getting crushed under a giant’s foot or stabbed by a massive sword. He remembers the fear of plummeting thousands of feet to his demise. He remembers, but he continues on his quest to put the curse, and those suffering under it, to rest.

One thing that I always thought was odd throughout all of the “Souls” series was how crazy all of the other characters were. For such an otherwise bleak series, nearly every character you come across that don’t try to kill you are laughing. Most of the merchants that cross your path have some line similar to “Try to be careful out there. Oh, who am I kidding, you are going to die. Keheheheh.” Those who aren’t crazy are given over to despair or blatant pessimism. And why wouldn’t they be? They live in a world full of pain and a death that offers no rest.

It’s that madness and despair that makes your character that much more amazing. Sure, at first you might chalk it up to being new to the curse, but as you die more and more, that persistence just becomes that much more amazing.

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2 comments on “Bearer of the Curse”

  1. Great post! While I haven’t played the Dark Souls games yet, I fully intend to because I loved Demon’s Souls so much which also does a similar thing. That’s also one of the things I like about Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Sure in that game the death didn’t happen, but it’s addressed by the narrating protagonist, “That’s not what happened”. It’s not the same thing , but it’s addressed as being something that would ruin the story otherwise and I appreciate that.

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    1. Thanks! I was actually thinking about Prince of Persia as I was writing this. Both the line you mentioned and the fact that you can reverse time to avoid the death altogether were really unique and interesting ways to address dying in the game. I love seeing basic game mechanics get special attention like that.

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