Why Souls like narratives feel so engaging

A trend in video games that has been developing over the years is that developers are hiding the story of their games instead of simply delivering it to players directly.

Games such as the Souls series, Destiny and even the recently released Hyper Light Drifter, are making players hunt for the bulk of their story through in-game assets like item descriptions or collectibles. At first, I felt that this was a poor way of conveying a story but it wasn’t until I played Bloodborne the day of its release when I realized why it’s so engaging.

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Stepping into a Souls game day 1 is an opportunity to join a growing community of lore decipherers. Nothing about the story is set in stone and everything is speculative unless the developer says what are the exact facts. Picking up an item that is ambiguous in meaning at first can become the key to discovering the secrets or backstory of some of your favorite characters later.

I’ll never forget the story of Father Gascoigne’s family in Bloodborne and how I dealt with each member over my various playthroughs just to see every variation. Each time I felt like I did something nice for his youngest daughter I truly believed this would be the path that would allow her to stay alive. I gave her the red brooch belonging to her mother, I told her to leave for Iosefka’s Clinic and have told her to go to the church in the Cathedral Ward. There was no way to keep her alive and every result I achieved felt I was making her suffer an even crueler punishment.

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What makes this kind of story telling so engaging is the sheer amount of discussions that take place. When I play a cinematic based story that gives my friend and me the exact same experience, the discussion is brief, only touching on memorable moments and unique gameplay sections. It’s so much more exciting to find out that your friend discovered a unique secret item that you couldn’t find and discuss it’s meaning or purpose in the overall plot in an attempt to put the pieces together. The experience becomes so much more valuable because it’s a collaborative effort instead of a delivered script. It reminds me of when I was younger and my friends would help instruct each other on the “right” way to beat a difficult boss or how solve a challenging puzzle.

It’s also entertaining to view videos based on speculative lore. Everyone has an opinion on a popular character and it’s interesting to see how those feelings change after they see all the pieces re-arranged by someone else. I was always interested in the Alonne Knights in Dark Souls 2 because of their samurai knight designs but it wasn’t until I watched VaatiVidya’s video about their leader, Sir Alonne, that I got to hear the backstory about their relationship to The Old Iron King and why they served him. It made me want to play that section I skipped before in order to experience it for myself and to see if I had any different feelings.

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Hearing about characters or enemies I never bothered to research and why they exist in the world is such a unique feeling you don’t get from many video games. Mario is known for stomping on goomba’s and Link is known to mow grass with his sword in order to find rupees from time to time but do any of the games explain what goomba’s exactly are or why jewels found in the grass is the main economy of a Zelda game? Not every game fully explains its universe or needs to but I always find it a treat when games give me pieces of backstory to find because if I really enjoy the game then I want to have the most enriching experience possible.

All this being said I don’t want traditional story driven games to disappear. Everyone has their preference of how they game and this is just a more unique type of story that I wanted to highlight. More games are incorporating souls like elements into their narratives but not every type of game does it right. I’ve always felt Destiny did this style wrong because it never presented me with enough potential of an interesting story for me to care about the world or it’s inhabitants. I would’ve preferred being presented with a more fleshed out narrative in Destiny’s campaign to keep me immersed over time. This would have made me want to discover and learn more about the things I interacted with during my adventures and could have been a much more effective way of using the Grimoire cards when I needed to take a break from the action.

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For people who haven’t tried out a souls like narrative adventure, you have another chance to step into a world of mystery and horror alongside thousands of new players with the release of Dark Souls 3. The difficulty may be hard to get used to but the experience of discovering new and interesting things has always been well worth the trouble.