In the last decade, From Software became a gaming household name. The Japanese developer met with its immense Western fame thanks to Dark Souls, which is renowned for its difficulty and obscurity. Though there have been two sequels since, and the separate but similar Bloodborne, the original Dark Souls has a special place in the hearts of many, myself included.
Look, a fair few of us are tired of the frequent remastered or HD versions of older games, since they take up resources that could be devoted to new IP’s or competent sequels. That being said, I can respect the idea behind Dark Souls Remastered: bring a classic that defined a new sub-genre of action RPG to modern consoles so that more people can enjoy it. It’s this same reasoning that I hope Nintendo uses and does a Metroid Prime trilogy HD remake for the Switch in preparation for Prime 4, but I digress.
Dark Souls Remastered hit PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 earlier this year, but the Switch version was delayed until October 19. The wait felt like forever, but my excitement quickly dwindled shortly after I launched the game and started making my through Lordran. Something felt off, and it took me a while to figure it out as I went along. I had a hard time picking up my Switch to play Dark Souls, since other games seemed infinitely more interesting.
By now, you’ve probably read reviews praising the Switch port of Dark Souls. It is, without a doubt, fantastic, whether you’re a grizzled Undead like me or brand new to the series. But it’s not all roses and rainbows; serious compromises were made to bring the game to the Switch.
A Classic for a new Generation
I won’t rehash the gameplay of an eight year old game, because not much has changed, which is my first point of contention. Later games, especially Dark Souls III, felt very fluid and overall better to play (minus the Adaptability stat in Dark Souls II). The original, meanwhile, is clunky and slow. That is part of its charm, I suppose, but many of the same mechanical annoyances that I had back in 2011 and 2012 are still there: not walking while your bow is drawn, no speed climbing/descending ladders, no omni-directional rolling.
If you look at the list of single-player changes, I wouldn’t blame you if you’re sorely disappointed; Vamos the blacksmith getting his own bonfire felt unnecessary. At least you can consume multiple items at once now, which is great if you’re in the Chaos Servant covenant.
Changes that I doubt were intentional – at least in the concept of improving the original – take away from, if not outright sour, the overall experience. Among the compression to keep the game file under 4GB, sound especially suffers. Dark Souls is primarily about paying attention, whether to your enemies’ attack patterns, visual indicators, and environmental audio cues to let you know if something is coming up behind you. But because of the Switch’s lacklustre speaker and the game’s compressed audio, things get lost. I got hit by a crossbow bolt that I never heard, the Gold Pine Resin on my Uchigatana would stop making noise even if the buff was still active, and so on.
In the original Dark Souls, when you hit a particular spot in Blighttown, one of the early and most annoying areas, the frame rate would drop drastically. Thankfully, that’s gone, but the game doesn’t chug along at 30fps at all times. Throughout my play-through, especially in open areas like Undead Burg, Anor Londo, and Izalith, I noticed several, random frame drops. These little skips caused input delay, which can be deadly in this game. It wasn’t frequent, but it happened often enough to catch my eye.
Furthermore to its original charm, Dark Souls cannot be paused. You can bring up the menu at any time, but the game does not stop around you. While that’s fun or frustrating depending on your perspective, it means that Dark Souls is not best suited to the Switch’s strength of grab your console and go. Games like Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are great, since you can chip away at something when you have a free moment, but Dark Souls requires some commitment. You’re either left to find a bonfire or safe area and put your Switch to sleep, or just quit the game and reload to your last area when you decide to play again.
The beauty of Dark Souls is, partially, in its world design. The remaster improves the graphics a bit, tweaking some of the textures here and there. At the same time, however, I noticed that most of the game looks the same as the original, sometimes to a degree that it felt like the 2011 version. Again, you could take that as either staying true to the source material or lazy for not stepping out and prettying things up.
To this day, the story of Dark Souls remains clouded and mysterious. The community has figured out a lot details in the last several years, but much remains up to educates guesses and elaborate theories. We’ve gotten a lot more context thanks to Dark Souls III: The Ringed City, especially with what happened after the war with the dragons.
I’m not going to go through the whole story, but if you’re new to the game, be sure you pay attention to the rare bits of dialogue, the flavour texts on every single item, and the environmental storytelling. And when you’re still lost, look up videos from VaatiVidya and EpicNameBro (his early stuff).
The fact that more people now have the opportunity to experience this game, or relive it, makes the Switch port worth it, assuming that you own only Nintendo’s console. If you’re on PC, Xbox, or PS4, then I think the Dark Souls experience is better on those platforms. Sure, the novelty of playing this game on the go or what not is great, but it quickly wore off for me — I’d rather have a more consistent gameplay/mechanical experience. One of the best parts about Dark Souls Remastered is that it’s just £34.99. I can almost forgive a lot of the oddities for that.
Whether you link the Fire or let it fade, just remember to praise the Sun.