You didn't think it was over yet, did you? You may have made it through Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2, but sweet summer child, the battle is far from won.
The Dark Souls games are well known in pop culture as being frustratingly difficult, and the next installment in the series - Dark Souls 3 - is set to release this month and bring back the struggles and soul sacrifices of players the world over.
Every time a new Dark Souls game enters marketing, arguments concerning the difficulty level inevitably get tossed around, with the proposition commonly being that there should be an "easy mode" option for new players or those who'd rather play for enjoyment than the high challenge aspect.
With IGN describing Dark Souls III as "the hardest Souls game ever made" (a high benchmark to live up to), it's no wonder that we're discussing this again. IBT presents a convincingly eloquent argument that an "easy mode" should be present as an option, differentiating between "playing to win" and playing for experience and engagement. Oliver Cragg writes:
"an 'easy mode' is not a sacrilegious feature; it is an olive branch to an excluded audience that may interpret its enigmatic lore and foreboding atmosphere in an entirely new way"
Conversely, Forbes' Erik Kain argues that an "easy mode" is not a necessary option for Dark Souls as a series,
"these are games designed with reasonable challenge in mind. The very structure of the game is designed to allow players to fail and then learn from their mistakes. Compared to games of the past—'Battletoads' and 'Star Fox' and various other old school titles—the 'Souls' games are actually quite forgiving. Adding an 'easy mode' would betray the core philosophy of the series, and it would give players a way to 'cheat' in some sense."
There's convincing arguments on both sides of this thorny debate, but there is common ground here. Something which both sides argue is that, despite what you might have heard in popular discourse, what makes the Dark Souls games so engaging isn't necessarily just their difficulty levels.
The fact that the Souls games are on or near the top tier in terms of challenge in a landscape where games are becoming more and more like interactive walkthroughs than actual challenges is a big part of what makes them so enticing. But as we all know the real draw of Dark Souls doesn't lie purely in its difficulty but in the complex lore and narrative, the rich aesthetic present in the world design, and unique gameplay. The challenge it presents is part of this though, no doubt.
Kain argues against adding an "easy mode" for "non-fans of the series" on the basis that "not every game should cater to as wide an audience as possible." His argument rests on the basis that adding an "easy mode" would betray the core concept of the games and alienate the existing fanbase — a viewpoint which makes perfect sense if that's how you choose to approach the games.
But the other side of the coin isn't wrong either; the auteur model of analysis is becoming increasingly redundant as audiences become more involved in the interpretation and creation of meaning across various forms of media. So while one person may view Dark Souls as having a difficultly level fundamental to its meaning, not every gamer will share this view.
It really comes down to a matter of perspective, and stepping into a debate which swings between gatekeeping and inclusionary is tricky at the best of times. As Kain points out, there's a whole wealth of games out there which cover all skill levels and are available for all players; but should we deny casual gamers the opportunity to experience the expertly crafted lore of Dark Souls just because we're worried about some belief we've constructed for ourselves about the purity of the game?
After all, if it was feasible for such a mode to be implemented (which is a whole other debate in itself, something which Kain covers in his argument), does it really hurt anyone if an easier mode was available as "an option, not an enforcement"?
The fact that the gaming community hasn't historically been particularly known for its inclusivity is a facet often raised in these arguments, and likely this is a debate for which there's no right answer — no way for everyone to be happy.
But when it comes down to it, the chances that Dark Souls will ever see an "easy mode" are slim, if existent at all. So if you're on that side of the debate, I wouldn't hold your breath.
In the meantime at least we can all agree that Bandai Namco just won the marketing game with their Sadfleck parody video, which sees Batman v Superman star Ben Affleck recounting the horrors of the Dark Souls' infamous difficulty levels.
Dark Souls III releases worldwide April 12, 2016.