Ancient Dragon. Lost Sinner. The Last Giant. In Dark Souls II, these names are just a few of the terrifying enemies that have only one purpose: to end our lives. Fans of the Souls series know that its slogan, Prepare to Die, is not a suggestion but a promise; in fact, in less than a month of playtime, the game’s website proudly displays 216,239,497 deaths as a testament to the game’s difficult and overbearing nature. Yet hidden in that number is a theological truth that speaks to the deserved retribution of existing in a fractured world. While a game that glorifies death might seem masochistic and unapproachable, it is a strong reflection of the impossibility and isolation of attempting to live under the law without grace.
At the game’s outset, we’re presented with mythology that suggests that the law of Drangleic, the game’s fictional land, has been broken, leaving the world corrupted and cursed. The consequences of such a break even extend to our presence, as our nameless protagonist suffers from the same curse and desolation.
Unsurprisingly, though we’re named “the chosen” within the game, each death brutally reminds us that we cannot change or escape the fallen state of the world. Indeed, each death makes the game harder by a nearly irreversible reduction of health; perish once too often, and the game rewards us by breaking our character’s health and stripping our humanity. More depressing is that our fallenness disconnects us from possible rescue. As humanity is the only way to obtain help from other players, losing it entails traversing through extensive sections of the game separated from community. Death ensures isolation, leaving us alone to suffer the consequences of our unlawful and cursed existence within Drangleic.
It is in that separation and despair that we realize the game’s unmistakable truth – if the game’s law demands perfection, that same law also guarantees that we will fail time and time again. A glance at Romans 7 provides perspective to the certain failure of our physical exertions: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (ESV 7.17-18). Mirroring our own existence, the body faces an inevitable and lost end within Dark Souls II. Sin corrupts absolutely, and the inevitability of death creates a startling despondency and desolation.
Dark Souls II conveys our inability to change the judgment rendered in a fractured and hopeless reality. It is a reminder that while the law has come to judge, we desperately need another to stave the death that so easily ensnares.