It took me a while to formulate this opinion, but I finally figured out what bothered me back when Dark Souls 2 was coming out. And now that Dark Souls 3 has been announced, it seems wise to try and learn from the franchise’s history.
The original Dark Souls developed one of the most enthusiastic gaming communities of recent years, and it’s not hard to figure out why: it provides an incredibly satisfying combat system that punishes failure but rewards skill, and a whole universe of cryptic lore just begging for fan theories and debate. People love characters like Solaire, and they even love to hate the various monsters that had consumed hours of their free time before finally giving up their precious souls. While Demon’s Souls had been a cult hit a few years earlier, the Dark Souls community took off with a fervour not even the most over-funded marketing campaign could create.
Then along comes Dark Souls 2, with trailers prominently featuring a generic-looking knight whose most defining feature was a furry scarf, and people were expected to get so super-syked about this dude that they’d want to pre-order not only the game but a nifty plastic figure of him.
I’m not saying it’s somehow wrong of Bandai Namco to want to sell merchandise. Heck, I give them props for supporting a franchise that’s never going to be a mega-success like all the generic brown shooters with seventeen sequels. What I will say, though, is that selling a figure for a character featured in a game that isn’t even out yet should make our cynicism alarms blare, just like when Ubisoft took some flak for trying to sell the “iconic” baseball cap from Watchdogs.
Think about it. With Dark Souls, people played the game, found themselves loving the world and characters and were driven by that love to make art. Whereas this knight guy from the Dark Souls 2 trailers not only had yet to appear in a playable game when they started selling his likeness, but would ultimately turn out not to be a character at all but just a soulless marketing gimmick with literally nothing to him beyond a set of aesthetically bland armour.They tried to artificially generate the sort of admiration that the original Dark Souls achieved by letting the game speak for itself.
And what do you know, the general consensus is that Dark Souls 2 lacked much of the original’s atmosphere and charm. So they might have sold a few plastic figures off the marketing hype, but I’ll eat my uchigatana if Generic Knight Guy with Hairy Jumper ends up inspiring as much love or creativity as Solaire, Gwyn, Sif or any of the other myriad of standout characters from the original game.
Dark Souls 2 image rights: Bandai Namco