You Died: The Dark Souls Companion Review
Dark Souls is part of gaming’s collective consciousness. A creation of the old school; tough, unforgiving, and enigmatic. It was described, by journalist Keza MacDonald, as “a brutal and demanding third-person action-RPG set in a world full of monstrous, disturbing things that are trying their hardest to end your life as quickly as possible” in the first ever internet review back in 2011. Now, over half a decade later, this incredible, influential game has a book that aims to do it justice – You Died: The Dark Souls Companion.
If you haven’t played a Dark Souls game – and we’re including Demon’s Souls in this – stop reading right now, and go and grab a copy. And play it. If you survive, come back. Please come back.
That’s not to say you need to have earned your Souls stripes to enjoy You Died – far from it. But you’re reading a review of a book written to accompany a five-year-old Japanese-designed RPG, on a UK-based video-game fan site, written by a handsome, erudite but amateur hobbyist. We’re fairly sure you’re a bit of a geek. We think this is your kind of game.
Dark Souls is a special game. The utter brutality, the unwillingness to compromise, means it’s not for everyone. It won’t lead you by the hand. It won’t walk you through a tutorial filled with puppies and kittens. Stick with it, though, and you’ll be converted. But don’t just take our word for it.
“[Dark Souls] has left an indelible imprint on everybody who persisted with it long enough for their initial bafflement to turn to awe and, later, adoration. There’s just nothing else like it.”
~ Keza MacDonald
Dark Souls will take your ego, your experience, your swaggering bravado and beat you to death with it. Again, and again, and again. The casual observer would be forgiven for thinking unyielding difficulty and a requirement for extremely masochistic tendencies might be all the game offers. But Dark Souls has a rich and deep lore, complex themes and intriguing game design that’s often aped but never bettered.
It is utterly brilliant. And now, it has a book that’s worthy of the name. Co-written by Keza MacDonald and fellow journalist Jason Killingsworth, it’s a sweeping account of the history of Dark Souls (its roots lie in an early PlayStation game released in 1994) and, in particular, Keza’s experience of grinding through with the spectre of a review deadline hanging over her head like the grisliest sword of Damocles developers From Software could imagine. It’s gripping stuff.
At once guide, companion and shoulder to cry on, this chunky paperback is deeper and more expansive than your usual game play guide; fitting, as Dark Souls has one of the deepest and most remarkable stories in games, even if makes you work for every morsel. At every turn, on every page, you learn about the game, how to play it, and what each sword thrust, each faltering step, meant to the authors. For both, their love and respect for the subject matter is clear, and is communicated to the reader with passion and clarity. You Died is as far removed from the upsell fodder released alongside every AAA game these days as can be. Not that those are unworthy purchases, but this is a completely different beast altogether. This is an exploration of a game that has greater hold over its fans than any other.
“No matter how much time I spend away, I inevitably boomerang back into Dark Souls… It didn’t bother me that, after noticing Dark Souls in my console’s online status months after the game’s release, a friend once sent me a private message that read, ‘You’ve fallen off the wagon again, haven’t you.'”
~ Jason Killingsworth
This is a considered tome; while you might have the urge to dip in for help or background to a particular level or boss in the game, you’re likely to emerge a hundred pages later with a deeper understanding of the game’s Director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, or the psyche of those ridiculous fools who strive to beat Dark Souls without weapons or armour. This is a book that will grab you from the beautiful Paul Canavan cover and not let you go until the acknowledgements some 330 pages later.
You’ll learn about the game and the community that surrounds it. You’ll meet some of the personalities who are indelibly linked to Dark Souls, from those who revel in invading the games of others and ruining their nights, to the soccer moms who don’t play videogames really but have completed Dark Souls again and again.
In looking at You Died: The Dark Souls Companion critically we were watchful for signs of transference – after all, Dark Souls is a game of which we are extremely fond. In the end, though, it’s easy to separate the two. You Died might be about the game, but it stands on its own as a remarkable account of the impact a videogame can have on its fans, its creators and the very culture of gaming itself.
Maybe you’ve completed Dark Souls many times or maybe you’ve spent a few frustrating hours in Lordran only to give up in disgust, the game on your shelf taunting you forever more. Either way, this book is for you. If you’ve never played a Dark Souls game but want to understand the hold it has over so many, this book is for you. If you want to understand why a videogame, of all things, warrants 300 pages from two award-winning journalists, this book is for you.
We recognise that the profession of videogame journalist does not bring with it untold wealth, so we were loath to take £9.99 from the authors’ pockets. In other words, we bought the book, we read the book, we waxed lyrical so that you, too, might consider reading this book.