Artistic License

Safe from their perch, the channelers harass us with soul arrows cast from their tridents, but take that sorcery catalyst for yourself and you are only lugging around an ordinary pole arm — such is the divide between gameplay versus lore. While developers try their best to make us forget during the experience, we are ultimately playing a game, which tries to codify and thereby simulate a reality similar but distinct from our own. In doing so, there is an inevitable disconnect between the possibilities presented in the narrative and the options afforded to the people actually playing it. Some are idiosyncratic stylistic choices, others are unquestioned traditions in gaming, and yet more are necessary barriers for the game to be enjoyable if not possible; this doesn’t make them any less arbitrary.

A more obvious example is our health and stamina points, (HP and SP) one reflecting the body’s hold on life; the other, the temporary reprieves needed between exerting great effort. It is absurd to think a giant dragon actually dies from having its toe poked, but that is what an HP system enables. The same is true with statistic (stat) requirements for weapons or spells. It makes sense for certain arms to require relatively more strength or dexterity to wield than others, but no character would frame it with the exact numbers. A similar disconnect arises in how we interact with NPCs. Their dialogue would suggest that we are in fact calling out to them, asking questions, making the occasional interjection, and so on, but we never say a word — to be fair, they are just as statuesque despite being so chatty. And does anyone look at identical generic enemies and think they are all twins or clones? No, these are all clearly creative liberties taken within gameplay limitations, with the concept behind each of them intuitive to the average player.

What then if the underlying premise is not immediately obvious? We can carry an infinite number of items in our inventory, far more than is realistically possible, but only become encumbered by what we equip. If we choose to sort these items, we must buy a Bottomless Box for storage. Yet in order to store them, the mouth of the box would need to be large enough to fit even the largest weapons, at least the size of the in-game chests. But we don’t see ourselves dragging around a box big enough to be our coffin. It is simply considered part of the same hammerspace, defeating any purpose of even owning a container. Similar contradictions arise with wielding weapons. We can backstab a Black Knight to death before it can even attack, loot its greatsword, and somehow instantly know its unique sword technique. Requiring certain stats to master a weapon is reasonable, but that goes beyond even being a savant. In short, certain mechanics are rooted in the logic of reality or the game’s setting, only to be rendered nonsensical in conjunction with other, less reasonable gameplay elements.

And then there are those with no such logic behind them. We can only see summon signs or be invaded while in human form even though messages written with the Orange Guidance Soapstone appear regardless of our form; the same for Dusk’s summon sign. (later games don’t hesitate to tweak the mechanic further) Even with messages, the only ones to exist outside online play are for in-game hints or tutorial. Likewise, we might see NPCs with certain weapons and armor, but we can’t simply kill them and loot the equipment. Instead, we have to kill them after a certain point in their personal quests or loot it from an unrelated corpse or chest. Similarly, we unlock a singular pathway to an area just to discover that someone somehow got ahead of us, apparently finding some secret, alternate route. NPC size is probably the worst offender: encounter a Berenike Knight and he is about our size, but meet his Hollow and it is twice that. That doesn’t even mention how some can ever enter or leave the rooms they are found in, like Gwynevere — learning that she is an illusion doesn’t change the fact that the illusion is supposed to be believable.

All of this is to say that there is a clear wall between interfacing with the player and the integrity of the setting. The resulting oddities and inconsistencies are a product of artistic license — decisions the developers at FromSoftware made to suit their vision for the narrative or gameplay experience. Some may be rooted in realism, but they are all clearly decided upon without that consideration in mind. No one at the studio would be protesting a mechanic just because it isn’t literally how it works in-universe. Why would they? Players have become so accustomed to these artificial rules pervading gaming that most no longer question many of the basic absurdities when actually applied to their world. Nonetheless, we cannot have any serious analysis without first separating the wheat from the chaff.