Heroes Week – Solaire of Astora

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My first meeting with Solaire was hardly what I expected. I’d finally delivered the killing blow to Dark Souls’ first proper boss, the Taurus Demon, a feat that felt Herculean at the time. Being a newblood whelp to the game, scaling the castle walls of Lordran and slaying the hammer-swinging minotaur was a thousand times the feat that it is now; it was something to be feared, and something that still gave that rewarding rush of blood to the head upon victory. While bathing in the euphoria of my success, I waltzed down the stairs to a bastion on the wall, and there he was.

Standing idle, as if unaware or perhaps untroubled by the hordes of undead just a minute’s walk away from him, simply staring at the sun – he didn’t even turn around when we exchanged words. But it was his choice of words that irked me most, the hundreds of video games I’d played before had conditioned me to expect something else.

‘Amazing! You did it! You really are the Dragonborn!’ Skyrim would have said. ‘Thank you for saving us! Now we stand a chance!’ Castlevania: Lords of Shadow would have cried. Solaire didn’t have time for such hyperbole. He knew what was ahead, that in reality the Taurus Demon fight was a playground in comparison to the rest of Lordran. He didn’t even make mention of the battle I’d just won, but instead befuddled me completely by waffling on about the flow of time, warriors summoning each other from different worlds, then ending it with that rather unnerving chuckle. I couldn’t think of anything to laugh about at a time like this, but clearly he didn’t agree. And then, after giving me a special white stone and telling me I’d be in need of it, he uttered that classic line:

‘The sun is a wondrous body, like a magnificent father. If only I could be so grossly incandescent!’

How odd.

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Solaire’s quirks might have seemed foreign and almost irritating to me back then, but they’re something almost every Dark Souls player comes to love. A small seed of happiness in an utterly hopeless world, that despite almost insurmountable odds never seems to falter; as Solaire resolutely reappears throughout Lordran, potentially right up to the end of the game.

He’s not the ally most video games want to have, taking no notice of your achievements and even having the nerve of saying you must have feelings for him due to your paths repeatedly crossing. Yet, amidst the snark, there’s hope, and there’s life. Solaire is living proof of the possibility of success, and a real friend to sit around a bonfire with and regale each other with war stories. He’s certainly weird, but in the words of Hawkeye Gough, ‘What is bravery, without a dash of recklessness?’

Of course, he isn’t just there for idle chatter. Being the leader of the Warriors of Sunlight covenant in Lordran, his pragmatic purpose in the game is that he can drop into your world and help fight bosses. There’s something rather profound about the existence of the Warriors of Sunlight, an entire way of playing the game that revolves around helping total strangers overcome Dark Souls’ toughest battles. Joining the covenant gives you a special golden summoning stone, making it much easier to connect to other people’s world, and it’s so popular that ‘Sunbro’ culture and Solaire-worshipping is rife in Dark Souls’ fanbase. In many hard games, adding a second or third player might be seen as a cop-out, but Dark Souls’ world makes it seem reasonable. The key to winning was always there provided you looked hard enough: in other people. Solaire often acts as the hand on the shoulder if you can’t find any online players, a summon sign that’s always there. And help he does, even with his rather paltry setup. A meager sword, shield and weak armour is enough for our friend Solaire. It’s almost like a reminder of when I hadn’t a clue how to make a half-decent build, a modest friend that wouldn’t make fun of your nonsensical armour/weapon combination.

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A good way through the game, and you think you’ve gotten to know Solaire pretty well, but in Lordran, no character, place or event is quite as it seems. Picking up new weapons and clearing areas will help you survive, but only sleuthing around for clues will make you truly understand the story, and uncover the cause of what is set in motion. Atop the mountain, in the city of the gods, Anor Londo, a few hints are dropped about a certain missing son of the elder god Gwyn.

Gwyn, the lord of sunlight, whose descent into madness has led to terrible things, was not always evil, and was not always the father of just two demigod children. A statue platform with nothing upon it, between two huge figures of the two known children, haunts as it meets the eye, a glaring monolith to what once was. We learn of a firstborn son, who was stripped of his deific status and cast out into the dying world.

Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is in the mausoleum of Gwyn, where we find the rites to the Sunlight Blade miracle left with a handful of flowers, and are told in its item description that it was left by the firstborn son as a parting gift to his estranged father. Sunlight Blade seems a rather appropriate miracle to the leader of the Warriors of Sunlight, does it not? The same man who uses the Lightning Spear attack in battle, a power once wielded by Gwyn himself? Of course, Dark Souls is Dark Souls, and nothing is set in stone. No deciding words on the matter are uttered, and some people continue to debate the certainty of Solaire’s relation to Gwyn. But Solaire’s unending adoration of the sun (like a magnificent father), his pursuit to ‘find his own sun’ – heck, even the homonym of ‘sun’ and ‘son’ – all seem to point to a different identity. Not as simply a soldier willing to serve others out of pure altruism, but on on a quest just like the player character. A journey for redemption, albeit a much more personal one.

Solaire’s end is just as meaningful, and Dark Souls pulls no punches when it comes to sheer tragedy. Between the dire fate of the Fair Lady, Rhea of Thuroland, or the Fire Keepers, it would be wrong to expect anything else. Nevertheless Solaire’s jolly demeanor acts as a red herring. The age of fire is ending, and everything is destined to fade. Pretenses can only be held for so long, and that includes the sons of gods, no longer wielding the power they once had.

You find Solaire deep in the Demon Ruins as the search for Gwyn comes to a close, huddling by a bonfire. He still can’t find his sun, and for once he seems forlorn. ‘After all this searching, I still cannot find it…’ There’s a way to save him, but of course it’s convoluted and requires a specific order of events that the vast majority of players would miss without online guidance. Solaire is, by the standard canon, doomed to end with the rest of the world.He either fades and crumbles in the dark if the flames are not linked, or continues down the hollowing road to insanity if the age of fire (and thusly the curse of the undead) is prolonged.

It’s sad, piercingly so, but it’s bittersweet and perfect. Solaire went to the end of the world with me. He helped, even though he didn’t have to. He carried on even though it was hopeless, and when my journey ended, so did his. We never really said goodbye, but this world was never one for pleasantries.

“It’s over. My sun, it’s setting…  It’s dark, so dark…”

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Cor blimey guvna, I believe I'm the only British gent writing for this good site. Apart from having crumpets with the queen and enjoying the bloody hell out of free healthcare, I play video games and am occasionally allowed to write about them. Woo!

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