The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: On Dark Souls II’s NPCs
Coming on the heels of a new trailer, Namco Bandai recently released a fresh batch of screenshots for the highly anticipated Dark Souls II. While other screenshots have featured the game’s covenants, these reveal some of its NPCs, thus shedding light on the world of Drangleic and its inhabitants. Needless to say, speculation about the game—its world, its characters, the rich lore—has gone into overdrive. If you haven’t seen them yet, check them out in the slideshow below:
Sadly, as I don’t read or speak Japanese, the subtitles are a mystery to me. But if you can read them, please put the translations in the comments! I’m dying to know what they say.
Anywho, there’s a whole host of fascinating characters that I can’t wait to learn more about. These include: the proud “guide” of a noble covenant (Blue Sentinel Targay), an undead knight from the East seeking to undo his curse (Lucatiel of Mirrah), a merchant from the west who’s down-on-his-luck (Maughlin the Armorer), a survivor who’s slowly going insane (Merchant Hag Melentia), a badass-looking cursed blacksmith (Blacksmith Lenigrast), and the enigmatic Emerald Herald, a mysterious woman clad in a green shroud.
Some of the characters seem reminiscent to me of NPCs in the other Souls games. Blue Sentinel Targay, for instance, almost sounds like Solaire of Astoria: a proud, noble knight who, through the work of his covenant, seeks to aid others in “jolly cooperation.” Also, Emerald Herald reminds me of the Maiden in Black from Demon’s Souls: a woman who serves as a guide on your journey, and whose title happens to include the color of clothing she wears.
This is not to say that I think the NPCs in Dark Souls II are going to be derivative. On the contrary, I think certain tropes—the proud knight, the mysterious woman—will be developed further than in previous games. One of the biggest complaints about Dark Souls (not that there are many) is the lack of back-story to many of its NPCs. While characters like Solaire and Siegmeyer of Catarina have a fair amount of back-story (due mainly to their involvement in side quests), the back-stories and motives of other NPCs (such as Oswald of Carim) are less clearly defined.
This was a deliberate choice on the part of the developers, not a design flaw. Most of Dark Souls is left purposely vague: the story, its characters, how you, the Chosen Undead, fit into it all. Much can be gleaned from reading item descriptions, and lore-masters like EpicNameBro and VaatiVidya provide a great deal of insight, but Dark Souls reminds me of something the president of my alma mater (Bard College) said on our very first day: “You’ll get out what you put into it.”
Will your experience of Dark Souls be better for having delved deeper into the game’s lore? Absolutely. But can you have a good time playing Dark Souls without giving a shit about it? You bet. Honestly, it’s liberating. In an age where so many games rely (too heavily) on exposition, it’s refreshing that FromSoftware doesn’t feel the need to spoon-feed its audience a plot. They trust us to figure it out on our own.
“Figuring it out” is what every fan of the Souls series is trying to do right now, with these new screenshots. What I find most curious is the image of an elderly housekeeper named Milibeth, with what appears to be another woman standing behind her. It has a very cinematic quality to it, almost like it’s a cutscene. This stands out because of how few cutscenes there are in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Does this mean Dark Souls II will feature more cutscenes, or is this just part of the opening cinematic?
I’m also curious about whether the world of Dark Souls II, which we now know is called Drangleic, will be inhabited by more NPCs than, say, Lordran was. I can’t think of many moments, let alone cutscenes, where more than one NPC appears. Dark Soul’s lack of NPCs is one of the things that makes it stand out as an RPG.
It’s really striking just how lonely Dark Souls feels. The world is so sparsely populated that when you actually come across a non-hostile NPC it’s reassuring. And then, half the time, they go hollow.
I’m not complaining though; this desolation, this sense of loneliness, only enhances the game’s atmosphere and its motif that, no matter what, your quest is futile. It also makes what these few NPCs say all the more valuable. The above screenshot gives me pause: is Dark Souls II going to have more NPCs, and thus lose the lonely motif that makes the game so powerful?
I guess we’ll find out in March, but I can say that I have more confidence in FromSoftware than pretty much any other AAA developer out there.