Dark Souls Lore Part 2: the ‘Chosen Undead’

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My last post on this topic outlined the grand deception perpetrated by Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight. Namely, that the curse of the undead was created and unleashed by Nito on the orders of Gwyn as a means to ensure the perpetuation of the Flame, and thus the continued rule of the Gods. Additionally, the myth of the ‘Chosen Undead’ and the aligned prophecy is created by Gwyn, or Gwyndolin, and disseminated by Kingseeker Frampt as another means of controlling the undead and manipulating them into maintaining the Flame.

If you are interested in reading the full post, you can find it here.

Under this context, I decided to look for other clues that would suggest that you, as the player are actually not the Chosen Undead and that the whole prophecy is meaningless.

The stated goal of the Chosen Undead is to kindle the Flame and banish the Dark, and thus averting the onset of the Age of Dark. The game plays on our expectations as players; it is natural to assume that we are special in the world in which we play. This is paralleled in the desperate desire of the undead to find meaning in their cursed state. The game uses language like ‘light’, and ‘gods’ to suggest that we are on the side of right. Dark has always had negative connotations in story telling; so it is tempting to assume that light is good and dark is ‘bad.’

However, we know that the Age of Dark actually refers to the onset of the rule of humanity over the world, subverting and supplanting the rule of the gods, or ‘light.’ Indeed, this was a major driver in persuading Gwyn to link his soul with the Flame in the first place. As I have stated before, it is interesting to note that there are no non-human undead (another factor that suggests that the curse was devised by the ‘Gods’); why would an undead, with their roots and base in humanity be chosen to ensure the continued rule of the gods?

The game often uses the ploy of the unreliable narrator when giving information to the player via exposition. This means that we should be naturally wary and suspicious of any information that is volunteered to us; why should our status as the Chosen Undead be any different? The only reason that we think that we might be is because Kingseeker Frampt tells us that we are, and his motivations are suspect at best.

This brings us neatly to Kaathe, the other primordial serpent. His dialogue talks about opposing Frampt to help right ancient wrongs and find the true lord. This could be a reference to writing the wrongs perpetrated against the dragons by the gods, or it could refer to writing the wrongs of Gwyn in linking the Flame and subverting the natural order of the world and suppressing humanity. This would again suggest that the undead were never meant to be, so it is very unlikely that there would be a chosen undead.

Even if we do buy into the concept of a chosen undead, there is some awkwardness when considering exactly who is doing the choosing. Setting aside some higher power in Lordran that is never mentioned in the game, the natural assumption would be Gwyn, as the mightiest of the Lords. However, as the time of our imprisonment in the asylum, we know that Gwyn is languishing in the Kiln of the First Flame, his power all but spent following his linking with the Flame. It is unlikely that he would be capable of overseeing the process of empowering a chosen undead, and who else would have the power?

To my mind Kingseeker Frampt providers the final clue to the chosen undead being a false prophecy. When he greets you after the ringing of the first Bell of Awakening, he goes out of his way to praise you and convince you of your status as the chosen one. However, should you choose to attack Frampt (after placing the Lord Vessel) and inflict enough damage on him, he will choose to denounce you, claiming that you are not the chosen one after all and that he will sleep until one more worthy appears. Frampt’s capriciousness is telling.

If you truly are the chosen undead, you would be no matter what actions you took or how Frampt feels about you. The glib and fickle way in which he treats you may suggest that he knows that the prophecy is a lie and that the chosen undead does not exist. When he says that he awaits one more worthy, it is likely that he means someone who is more easily duped and controlled into doing the bidding of the gods, and being manipulated into linking the Flame.

It is also odd that there appears to be nothing particularly special about our character or abilities at all. Indeed, we would not even have made it out of our cell in the Undead Asylum were it not for the actions of Oscar of Astora, who tosses us the key to our cell.

I suppose it all comes back to the oft used saying “If it seems too good to be true then it probably is” (if the idea of being a sacrifice appeals to you that is.)

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Dark Souls Lore: Gwyn, the First Sin and Conspiracy!

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We are told that in the beginning there was the primordial, half-formed world which was ruled by the immortal Stone Dragons. They, like the land itself, were changeless and undying.

In the depths of the world there arose the progenitors of the humans, giants and other creatures of the world that we see scattered through the Dark Souls universe.

At some point (when is unclear, and a relatively unimportant question in a world that pre-exists time) the First Flame is kindled in the deepest reaches of the world. Within the Flame there exists the Four Souls which serve as fuel for the Flame.

These souls, as we are told, are discovered by four mighty beings who claim their power for their own. These beings came to be known as: Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight; Nito, the First of the Dead; Isalith, Master of Fire; and the mysterious figure known as the Furtive Pygmy.

The Lords rise up and use their power to cast down the Stone Dragons and usurp control of the surface world. They are aided by Seath, a dragon born without scales who therefore lacks the immortality of his kind, who is rewarded by Gwyn by making him a Duke and, eventually, giving Seath a fragment of his Lord Soul.

Nito retreats to the catacombs to become master of the dead and Gwyn and the Witch of Isalith go on to found their own mighty domains. The Furtive Pygmy chooses to remain in the shadows, repeatedly splitting its own Lord Soul, known as the Dark Soul, which he portions out to the emerging race of humanity who begin to multiply.

Eventually, without the power of the Lord Souls to sustain it, the First Flame begins to fade. This alarms the Lords as their own power is linked with the Flame. They fear that their dominion over the world will come to an end if the Flame is lost; they also fear the emerging threat of humanity who could, in time, come to challenge the Lords for control over the world.

In desperation, Gwyn decides to commit the First Sin by linking his own soul with the Flame. However, he is aware that his own soul cannot fuel the Fire indefinitely. Therefore, before linking his soul with the Flame, he comes up with a plan to ensure the continued propagation of the Flame.

Gwyn devises a plan which forces the emerging humanity to continue to feed the Flame through sacrificing their humanity as fuel. In order to achieve this, Gwyn enlists the aid of Nito, First of the Dead, to create the curse of undeath to afflict humanity.

The curse, which would be devised and unleased by Nito, only intensifies as the Flame fades. In order to avoid going hollow, afflicted humans must harvest humanity from wherever they can and offer it as fuel to the bonfires that are linked to the Flame. Not only does this help to fuel the flame but it also allows the undead to retain their sense of self and avoid going hollow.

As the flame fades, ever more members of humanity fall under the curse and become undead, become afflicted and begin the process of harvesting fuel for the flame to avoid the fate of going hollow.

This plan has the double benefit of ensuring the propagation of the Flame, and therefore the continued rule of the Lords through the line of Gwyn, who presumably contain a portion of his Lord Soul, but also has the effect of dividing and weakening humanity through the curse.

Although not explicitly stated, the curse of undeath makes more sense as being purposefully created and targeted at humanity by a hostile will rather than through a chance of nature or an unintended consequence of the fading of the Flame. The label of a curse is important as it does not act in the way that a disease would, which could be mitigated and quarantined. It is interesting to note that only humanity is afflicted by the curse. The only undead giants and other creatures that can be found in the Catacombs seem to exist only through the efforts of Nito and, to some extent, Pinwheel.

As the First of the Dead, Nito would be well placed and capable of creating an undead curse which could be unleashed at the bidding of Gwyn, in the same way that his powers were unleashed against the Stone Dragons. As a being who is only interested in spreading death, the curse of the undead would appeal to Nito as it encourages the undead to kill to further harvest humanity.

To further solidify the continued propagation of the Flame by humanity afflicted with the curse of undeath, Gwyn, or possibly his children, conspire with Kingseeker Frampt, one of the primordial serpents, to create the prophecy and myth of the Chosen Undead as another means of control.

By distributing the prophecy, and the myth of the Chosen Undead, it encourages the more powerful of the undead to seek more souls and link the Flame, framing it as a noble quest to banish the curse of undeath. The process does indeed do this, for a while, until the Flame begins to die down once more, re-starting the cycle.

Having devised and implemented a plan to ensure the continued protection and fuelling of the First Flame, Gwyn splits his Lord Soul with his children and several other important figures, and finally offers himself to the Flame, becoming the first Lord of Cinder. His loyal knights who accompany him are charred in the resulting conflagration, becoming the Black Knights that wander Lordran.

At some point before the linking of the Flame by Gwyn, the Witch of Isalith attempts to re-create the First Flame, but instead ends up creating the Chaos Flame the eventually spawns the demon race and pyromancy.

It is logical to assume that the events taking place in Dark Souls 1 happen just after the first waning of the Flame since Gwyn became the first Lord of Cinder (although it would seem that this is still a very long time after that). I think this is evidence most by the fact that the Nito and Seath are still alive (if that is the appropriate word for the First of the Dead and a now immortal dragon.)

I did wonder why Frampt (presumably with Gwyn’s permission) would push you towards destroying Nito, Seath and the other holders of the Lord Souls. The simple answer would seem to be that he knew that powerful souls would be needed for the re-kindling and no longer really needed the other holders of the Lord Souls for anything. The Flame would continue to exist without them.

I also questioned how the Flame could be linked in subsequent cycles of the process as the powerful souls of Nito etc would already have been used up in the players run in Dark Souls 1. However, this must be where the Lords of Cinder come into play. Just as you kill the first Lord of Cinder in the form of Gwyn, subsequent ‘chosen undead’ must vanquish all the other Lords of Cinder who are created through the process of linking the Flame before linking the Flame themselves.

This is yet more evidence of the cyclical nature of the process and ingenuity of the deception by Gwyn and Frampt. It is hard to shake off the feeling that you are being used when you play the game, and I know that next time I am faced with the choice, you better believe I will be choosing not to link the Flame.

I’ll Show You Who’s Boss! Top Ten Boss Fights

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Whether you love them or hate them bosses are an integral part of many genres of video games. There are many different ways to make a boss fight entertaining, climatic atmosphere, dramatic music, stunning visual effects or even just straight up difficulty (I’m looking at you Dark Souls.) In order to celebrate the art of boss battles, I have out together a list of the top ten boss battles from games that I have played. These are not necessarily the most challenging bosses that I have faced (although some are), but many are included in the list for their sense of drama, narrative qualities, visuals or, in some cases, out and out hilarity. Obviously, there will be many great boss battles from games I have not played that I can’t include in this list, but if you have any that you think rival or beat the ones in my list then let me know so I can give them a go!

10. Taurus Demon (Dark Souls)

As most of you know, this game is terrifying and unforgiving in equal measure, the slightest mistake resulting in swift death. This is doubly so at the beginning of the game when you are just getting used to the controls and the combat system and just the kind of combat technique that Dark Souls requires in order to be successful. So you fight your way through the first level (of sorts) dying many times until finally you reach the pinnacle of the keep with a bridge leading to sweet, sweet freedom. NO! Out pops a huge demon boss ready to smash your face in. And smash your face in he does. This boss fight is terrifying for those just starting out in the game. Not only is your foe huge and powerful, but the confined space makes it so hard to stay out of its way. The damn thing is as wide as the bridge and there is nowhere to run. Suffice to say on my first run through I died several times to this. It really is a hard boss considering how close to the start of the game it is. Very few gaming experiences will equal the triumph of defeating this boss though. You really do feel like a hero.

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9. Trevelyan (Goldeneye)

Trevelyan himself is not that hard to face down, but when combined with the rest of the level on the hardest difficulty, this can be a real pain. Trevelyan essentially runs around the cradle as his endlessly spawning minions shoot the crap out of you. They wear armour. They re-spawn. Their guns are powerful. It is actually all too easy to run out of ammo just trying to get near enough to Trevelyan to wear him down. Eventually, (assuming you live that long) he makes a break for the final showdown at the base of the level. There is a pretty good chance you will get shot in the back by minions on one of the narrow sections were dodging is impossible and distance makes no difference to enemy accuracy. Still, once you have him cornered its a simple enough task to shoot him off the satellite to his painful death. Unless your foolish enough to try and use the ladder to get to him. Then you die 100% of the time as one hit will see you off the edge. Beware.

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8. Krauser (Resident Evil 4)

This is one of my favourite games of all time, and Krauser is just a pretty entertaining, hilarious friend turned enemy. This battle is not especially difficult, but it is a lot of fun. The first encounter is done entirely through cut-scenes and quick time events, which at the time was very innovative, and is incredibly tense, one wrong move seeing Leon stabbed viciously to death. The dialogue between these two former friends is great and full of emotion. The second encounter sees Krauser morph into a powerful and quick mutant with a huge claw. Going toe-to-toe with Krauser at this point is great, using quick time events and doges to avoid his powerful strikes before catching him off guard and putting a few rounds into him. His attack patterns are varied and quick enough to catch you off guard many times. This is by far one of my favourite parts of this game.

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7. Fyrus the Fire Demon (Twilight Princess)

I think that this game is underrated generally, the visuals are great, the music is fantastic and the dungeon design is some of the best that I have seen. Yet people seem to have a real downer on this game and I can’t understand why. Sure it doesn’t have the same charm as Ocarina or the absorbing weirdness of Majora’s Mask, but it is still a well designed and entertaining game. The dungeons are fantastic and the bosses are very well done. My favourite though is the Fire Temple boss. A huge, possessed Goron elder this boss just looks so menacing and beautiful that it really deserves a place in this list. It also has more than a whiff of a Balrog about it which for me only adds to the overall awesomeness of this boss fight.

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6. Mr Patch (Banjo Tooie)

If i had to try and list my top 5 favourite video games ever, this game would almost certainly make the cut. I love it that much. Its one of the best adventure platformer games out there. The boss fights are all good, but I have chosen the fight with Mr Patch as the best of them. The witty dialogue between our heroes and a self-important, smug inflatable dinosaur is hilarious and there is something inherently fun about flying around inside a big top circus tent shooting egg grenades at a dinosaur. There is also a certain degree of satisfaction in watching the boss slowly deflating to a humorous paaarrrp noise before exploding.

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5. The Bounty Hunters (Metroid Prime 3 Corruption)

This game is brilliant but, way, way too short. That being said the boss battles are beautifully designed, a visual feast and always challenging. My favourites though are the battles against your former bounty hunter allies. I absolutely love seeing the way that their Phazon corruption has altered their forms into twisted, energy charged versions of their former selves. The friends you knew are gone, time to take them out and give them peace.

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4. Ganon (Ocarina of Time)

So, you have fought your way through Ganondorf’s keep, killed his minions, climbed his tower and beaten the crap out of the evil sorcerer and freed the princess. You are feeling good at this point, just starting to relax after a job well done when suddenly a huge monster erupts out of the wreckage of your enemie’s ruined castle, wielding two enormous swords and angry as hell. Oh, and he takes your sword away and traps you in a ring of fire. Great. This boss battle looks fantastic. The figure of Ganon was designed so well, he looks evil as anything and really is huge and threatening. More than that, though, is the feeling of pressure which comes along with this boss, the feeling of being suddenly put upon and attacked is very real at that point. When you finally retrieve your Master Sword and drive it into the King of Evil’s face…..priceless.

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3. The Star Magician (Golden Sun 2 GBA)

In my opinion, this is one of the best RPG’s ever made, I love it so much. I may do a separate post about this game so I won’t say too much here, but suffice to say that it does so many essential RPG elements well creating an absolutely fabulous game. It was a toss up between the final boss and the Star Magician for this spot on the list. The final boss certainly feels dramatic and climatic, but I have gone for the Star Magician because it really is just so challenging. He possesses numerous attacks and spells that can wipe out most of your party’s health in one go, but he can also summon familiars to aid him. Some of these attack you with magic, others just straight up explode for huge damage; but worse than these are the healers. They can heal almost all the bosses health back in just a few turns of combat, making all your work up to that point useless and essentially restarts the combat. This means that you have to really fight tactically and oh so carefully. You need to strike the right balance between attacking the boss, killing the familiars (he can summon these many times) and not leaving yourself vulnerable to counter attack. You definitely need to have at least one party member spamming party heals every turn just to stay alive. This sounds frustrating; it isn’t. it’s very fun, and the sense of reward is proportionate to the difficulty of the task.

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2. Bowser (Super Mario 64)

Earning enough stars to climb the endless staircase and confront Bowser for the last time is a hugely fun journey. It was, and remains, one of the best games ever. The level leading up to Bowser with its dramatic and tension building music is just perfect. It really creates the atmosphere of a reckoning, an evil doer about to face justice through a final confrontation. It manages to successfully impart the feeling that every action in the game so far has been leading to the pivotal moment, this final clash. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

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1. Ornstein and Smough (Dark Souls)

This is probably the most intense moment in a video game that I have experienced so far. Cliche as it sounds, this boss battle really will have you on the edge of your seat as you desperately try and stay alive. Either one of the two enemies alone would be manageable, but together they are a brutal and remorseless boss fight. One huge and powerful, the other quick and deadly. Focusing your efforts on one of them while avoiding the other is the only way to go if you want to survive. You kill one of them and think “Success! One down, this is going to be easier now!” Wrong. The surviving boss pulverises the body of its former ally and absorbs its energy, mutating into a massive version of itself. It’s debatable which one is worse to face as a mega boss, but I always ended up with Smough, and it was hard. Its so nerve wracking, knowing that if you fail (chances of that are pretty good) then you will have to do the whole thing all over again. Even killing one of these foes can be health sapping. Then there is just mega Smough to deal with. Already big and powerful, he becomes only more so, and is quicker than you would expect, with a huge reach using that giant hammer of his. A tough battle then, but its hard to get anymore enjoyment out of a video game than this boss battle offers.

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Honourable mention: All the bosses from Jet Force Gemini (N64) they are all just hilariously fun.