It's dangerous to go alone! Like, for real, you'll die
Everyone talks about Dark Souls being a breath of fresh air, but ever since I first got my hands on it, I got this unwavering feeling that I'd played this kind of game before. The hardcore difficulty, the exploration, the intense battles--the Souls games reminded me of something. Then it hit me: Dark Souls was giving me the same experience I had playing Zelda for the first time.
But that couldn't be true, could it? Those two games series are completely different! One's a whimsical adventure about a green-garbed hero on a quest to save a princess, and the other is a suicidal battle of attrition in order to relight a huge fire (or something). But there's more to the games than their tl;dr description. I've broken down all of those little bits that tie the two series together and found that Dark Souls is a lot more like Zelda than you might think.
The only clues you get are obscure messages
Back in the day, there were no fairy partners holding your hand with a novel's worth of tutorials, or characters leading you through the game. The original Legend of Zelda had an open world, and you needed to figure out what to do on your own. The only help you would get is from some crazy old people that lived in caves, telling you things like, "Eastmost peninsula is the secret" and "Digdogger hates certain kinds of sound." What? Yeah, go figure it out, Link.
Dark Souls does the same kind of thing; you're given a few scraps of information, then left to figure out what to do with it. They could be descriptions of items, a repeated phrase from an NPC, or a short, scribbled message left by another player lending aid (or telling you to jump off a cliff). Both series make you figure things out on your own while guiding you with riddles, which makes the moment you figure out the puzzle that much more rewarding.
Shops are set up in the most inconvenient places (and are run by bad guys)
Who says location is one of the most important concerns of a successful business? Well, not the shopkeeps in Dark Souls and Zelda games. They seem content with finding a dark, dank cave or the most out-of-the-way location to set up shop.
To top that off, both games often have common enemies selling you stuff. Moblins and Deku Scrubs often sell Link the essential items he needs to get through a dungeon. Dark Souls' shopkeepers are no different--half the time you walk up to an NPC ready to cut it down before the talk prompt shows up and you know it's safe. Whew!
That moment just before a boss encounter produces heart-pounding tension
In the Zelda series, I always get a feeling of anxiety whenever I know that I am stepping into a room that contains the dungeon's boss. It doesn't matter if it was the original's Dodongo, or Ocarina of Time's Ganondorf--the first time you enter that room, you're ready to scrap. The big door (with its equally big lock) becomes a sign that shit's about to go down.
Dark Souls has that same experience, replacing giant, locked doors with fog gates. Only, unlike Zelda, that anxiety happens much more often, and the game trolls you with fog gates that just open up to a new section of an area where there's no boss at all. But just like the old school Zelda titles, where you'd hear the vicious monster roaring through the wall from the other room, opening the door to a boss is just like leaping off a diving board into the deep end. It's horrifying, but you gotta do it. Just hold your breath and take the plunge.
You're always breaking everything in sight
As Link, you just have a compulsion to smash everything in every room. Pots, crates, blades of grass--nothing is safe from your wrath. Most of the time you'd get something from your inappropriate destruction of other people's property, be it a few rupees or a handful of deku nuts, but those little rewards (and sheer joy from breaking stuff) is enough make it a habit.
Dark Souls offers the same destructive satisfaction. Not only can you whack every pot, crate, and dinner table with your weapon of choice, but experienced Dark Souls players know well the enjoyment of rolling through objects like a bowling ball. And as if that weren't enough reason to break everything in sight, you might actually find an item or two during your rampage. In Dark Souls, that could mean the difference between life and death.
Completing the first objective is only the halfway point
Pacing-wise, both series send you on not one, but two quests. The first, no matter how arduous it is, that first quest is never your final mission. Ocarina of Time has you travel Hyrule to gather the Spiritual Stones, Wind Waker has you sailing everywhere to nab Pearls of the Goddesses, and in A Link to the Past you wander the entire world of Hyrule looking for three magic pendants to get the Master Sword. But after you do all that, another world opens up, doubling the size of the explorable world and adding six more dungeons to conquer.
Dark Souls handles pacing in about the same way. You think ringing two bells was somehow going to cure your undead curse? Sucker. That's just the beginning. You think finding the four great souls was going to grant you an audience with the king? Nope. You still got a long way to go. The "end" is only the middle.
Enemies invade from other worlds
The Dark Souls series is famous for its unforgiving difficulty, but not all the grief comes from within the world itself. Other players can invade your world, kill you, and totally ruin your day. Many Zelda games have you crossing blades with a dark, shadowy version of Link. This foe, cast in darkness and swirling shadows, is tantamount to an evil spirit invading Link's world. Just like in Dark Souls, when you see him standing across from you, you know that you're about to face an equal. Hell, the most recent Zelda title, A Link Between Worlds, actually takes this feature directly from Dark Souls, with other players sending their doppelgangers to attack.
The Dark Links that jump into Hyrule and challenge your Link are other player's avatars. They'll stand around your StreetPass tree and stalk the world's landmarks, daring you to challenge them. Once you enter into combat, you won't be facing off with an actual player behind the controls, but you still totally get that same need to rid your world of all invaders that you do in Dark Souls.
There are secrets everywhere
One of the most familiar feelings you get from wandering the dangerous world of Dark Souls comes through the exploration. There are things to find everywhere, and many of them are not that easy to discover. In Dark Souls there are illusionary walls that require you to bang on the rocky surface to reveal the way through--you could spend hours smacking every wall in the game for these secrets, much like you could spend burning trees and bombing rocks in Zelda.
But to find all of the secrets in either game you'll have to do more than that. Often, the best treasure requires you to follow clues given by NPCs and environmental tips to solve complicated puzzles. But once you decipher the mystery, open a giant chest (yeah, Darks Souls does the chest thing too--minus the music) nothing feels better than whipping out your brand new great hammer or Biggoron's Sword.
Patience in combat is rewarded, and you should prepare to die
Sure, you might not run out of hearts that often in Twilight Princess, but Zelda games were super hard at one point. I'd like to see you play through the original Zelda, The Adventure of Link, or A Link to the Past without kicking the bucket a few dozen times. The early Zelda titles were tough--but fair--and they were difficult in the same way that Dark Souls is.
Dark Souls asks you have to study your enemy, prep for boss battles, and make sure you don't fall into any traps. Combat isn't as simple as running up to enemies and swinging your sword like an idiot; you need to plan your attack and use patience to destroy your foes. This is the same in both games--Dark Souls and Zelda enemies can take you out incredibly fast, so you need to know their attacks and weak areas to come out of combat alive.
Is Dark Souls a spiritual Zelda?
Really. Is it just me or does Dark Souls feel like it totally could be a Zelda game? Agree? Disagree? I want to know what you think. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Also, be sure to check out our Dark Souls 2 review other articles like 10 punishing games that were totally worth the pain