Northern Limit

A World Unseen

Although the Nexus Archstone is already broken by the time we arrive, the northern land of the giants was originally planned to be among our explorable areas. Cut content reveals that FromSoftware was developing a snowy mountain area internally named “Northern Limit”, (北限) which is consistent with the Japanese website prologue’s description of the hinterland north of Boletaria at the “limits of human civilization” — human, not any. Game Director Hidetaka Miyazaki likewise confirms in an interview with Game Informer that one of the areas closest to making it into the final game was the land outside the Nexus — again, consistent with the snowy northern mountains where the prologue situates the flying temple. While the internal name isn’t guaranteed to have even been included in the area’s final name, it is descriptive enough for me to employ regardless. The Northern Limit was undeniably going to connect to the Sixth Archstone. The only question is what the plans were for its history.

Unlike the other leaders who receive an Archstone, the last Monumental doesn’t single out a single individual but the “giants” collectively. It may be that she simply isn’t familiar with the specifics to giant society due to the race’s remote location. They were already considered a “lesser” people in her civilization’s eyes as is, and the giant depicted on the Nexus Archstone is dressed in little more than horns, leaves, and bracelets like the stereotypical “savage”. With the Shadowmen at least sitting between two well-inhabited lands, another barbarian society living beyond the limits of human settlement would likely be almost completely ignored by the magic superpower. If not for their location relative to the First Scourge’s destruction, the Monumentals might never have chosen them for an Archstone. Of course, it is also possible that the giants didn’t actually have anything resembling a leader in the first place.

The giant on the Nexus Archstone crosses his arms in ritual fashion, flanked by two armored warriors of considerably smaller stature. Combined with the tribal wear, and it is clear that the giants held some religious significance, exalted enough to be safeguarded by the sword. But since this land is supposed to be beyond human habitation, these soldiers with oddly-shaped helmets masking their faces probably aren’t human. Unused enemy models confirm that various forms of beastmen were being developed at one point. Like the Archstone giant, most of these enemies wear barbarian garb and jewelry, the snake and wolfmen in particular using curved swords similar to the weapons wielded by the Archstone warriors. All of this suggests that the giants were living side-by-side with other nonhumans in the northern mountains. Perhaps the giants were the leading tribe in a confederation of nonhuman peoples. Alternatively, their species was elevated within a singular nonhuman state, mixing all the races together in one big melting pot. Either way, the Archstone highlights their unique importance to the society.

Part of this status can be attributed to their size and presumed strength accompanying it. Bramd was implicitly created by a “giant killer” who used the hammer long ago to bash in the bodies of similarly oversized foes, hence the noticeable dent on one side. This indicates that there was once conflict between man and giant, one which apparently ended in the giants settling up in a region too cold and rugged for humans. But giants are the only nonhuman race brought up in reference to such struggles in the final game even though they weren’t the only ones to end up so far north. Most likely, humans were actually at war with nonhumans at large, the giants causing the most resistance among the races thanks, at least in part, to their physical abilities. Therefore, when all the nonhumans fled to the mountains, the giants were honored with distinction for protecting the other tribes. The oversized race were of similar enough strength to maintain a communal society among themselves while, both figuratively and literally, standing above the beastmen grateful to have their continued protection.

Although this fits with the Monumental’s dialogue, it still doesn’t answer why these tribes were targeted by humans to begin with. One obvious factor would be the fact that they aren’t human. Bramd requires strength beyond that of the average man to wield with even both hands, making it hard to imagine many who would create such a weapon to fight giants with any practicality. However, none of this would be unusual during the Mythic Era, when such supermen were commonplace and their weapons of equally inordinate power. Given that this is also the same era when dragons were hunted to extinction, monstrous barbarians would probably been viewed with similar derision and fear. Another element to consider is the fact that Bramd was designed to have impressive resistance to poisons and plague. That certainly explains why the Vinlands co-opted it for their holy knights, but why create a giant killer with these traits unless you believe them to be afflicted with something? In which case, wouldn’t that imply that the giants, and perhaps other nonhumans by extension, acquired their traits through unnatural means — in other words, that they weren’t always inhuman?

Our journey shows that the deep fog or magic can twist the human form into something beastly or otherwise alien. While the artificial attempts at this that we see are less than ideal, the same might not have been true during the Mythic Era. With all the other incredibly achievements accomplished by the soul arts during this period, making man part wolf, snake, bear, owl, or hyena wouldn’t be that unusual; it would definitely explain why these races are all bipedal. Of course, this doesn’t necessitate that everyone involved opted into such a transformation, or that the creation of each species occurred just once. It is possible that a bunch of similar nonhumans sprung up independently all over during the age — indeed, Makoto suggests that “giants” have also existed on an entirely separate continent. Likewise, outsiders could easily see these incidents as some sort of terrible disease or poison that has overtaken such people. For instance, it isn’t until one old man that Latria ever considered using means besides selective bloodlines to elevate humanity. Most find such radical alterations grotesque and unacceptable.

At the end of the ensuing conflict, the giants and beastmen in the West vacated human lands to the icy North and united their disparate tribes; assuming that they didn’t cross the sea to join them, their counterparts in the East may still exist in small pockets across the landmass — though the true nature of Makoto makes it just as possible that they have all been wiped out. Regardless, it explains the beastmen’s continued hostility, as demonstrated by warriors’ prominence on the Archstone mirror its Boletaria counterpart. This nonhumans’ core concern wasn’t forging trinkets to sell, holding elaborate funerals for the dead, or researching magic through rational methods; it was training soldiers to fight. Boletaria defended king and country; the beastmen, their giant saviors. In fact, the layout of the Northern Limit might have been designed to subtly highlight this ethos just as is the case with the Boletarian Royal Castle.

The first zone would have had us traverse snowfields with the many slopes and steep cliffs leading us generally downward. This hazardous terrain eventually would lead us past half-buried ruins, the breadth of which clearly indicate that a stone city lies beneath all these layers of snow. Heading deeper into this city below our feet, we would have approached an enormous mountain cavern with equally enormous ruins, the added symmetry emphasizing their importance compared to the earlier buildings. Following a boss encounter at the cave entrance, we would have continued into the ruins and through a lengthy, if imposing, hallway taking us all the way to a series of stairs. After ascending up and around, we would head down one final hall, up one final flight of stairs, and take a turn into the next zone.

Unsurprisingly, we enter another ruined city half-buried in the snow. While the architectural style is the same, this zone would have been lit by large lanterns with blue flames based on their internal names and the shadows they cast. We would have also apparently heard heavy winds blowing through, indicative of the city’s higher elevation atop the snowy mountain we entered from the snowfield cave. The labyrinthine city itself splits into two main sections. On either side are towers with some oversized stairsteps we have to vault in order to climb to the very top, where we would find a variation of the aforementioned lanterns. Between them is a more or less straight path to the back of the city, where we would descend back down a staircase beneath the snow and into an ice cave for the second boss encounter. How and where we would progress to face the local Archdemon from there evidently wasn’t plotted out before the Northern Limit was cut.

In short, there are two cities connected by a long passage, the second seemingly much larger in scale and atop frozen water. This lines up perfectly with the map seen in the opening cinematic. To the far north stretches a broad mountain range, with the same general symbol used for the Boletaria and Stonefang capitals seated deep among them. Directly beyond this city symbol is a long thin line stretching across a lake until it connects to an even larger symbol at the center. While there is nothing analogous, the overall shape brings a towering city to mind. Put simply, we have a city fit for humans, or at least something human-sized, bottlenecking entrance to another city fit for something much bigger. The obvious conclusion would be that the beastmen lived in the snowy mountain city so as to more easily defend the giants residing in the even grander capital resting upon a frozen lake. One can even draw parallels with Boletaria’s outer gate leading to the Lord’s Path and then the Inner Ward plus Royal Castle. Like the Boletarian army, all of the beastmen would put their lives in the way of the giants they so revered.

With the Mythic Era seeing the nonhumans driven out from the world of man, we must also consider what role the soul arts played in the culture during the ensuing Classical Era. If the soul arts are responsible for the first generation, then their descendants might not have cared to use them — they already did the job. In that case, the focus may have also shifted toward the innate power of each soul. Who was liable to have the largest soul? A giant, in all likelihood. The race’s enhanced size and strength would theoretically necessitate greater soul power to make these qualities compared to the smaller beastmen. Indeed, the larger enemies we encounter do generally possess more souls than human-sized ones, so there seems to be some correlation. This fact would undoubtedly reinforce the giants taking on a religious significance, much like how magic tied into the pagan faiths of other societies. However, was it really to celebrate the most “successful” among them?

The frozen lake capital has a number of abstract pieces of wall reliefs. The first shows a large wraith-like figure standing above a bunch of smaller spirits with its arms raised, a rising sun in the background. The seconds sees that larger figure split into a bunch of smaller spirits, all flying towards the sun now at its highest point directly above them. Clear parallels can be drawn between the smaller and larger figures and the beastmen and giants, the former looking on as the latter performs some kind of ritual gesture. The texture for the giant looks as if the individual tiny spirits it broke up into were already separated but holding together. The circular depression in the head likewise brings to mind the concentration of souls in the head. On top of that, the “spirits” flying toward the sun is curious considering that the sun is the source of souls to begin with. Indeed, it is interesting that similar reliefs of wispy figures rising around a circle are featured on the tower lanterns — in essence, the lamps closest to the sky. It is likewise odd that this facility uses blue flames, the same color as magic like Soul Arrow or Soul Ray.

Taken altogether, the goal of these nonhumans’ paganism was to “return” the souls that the sun had given — that is, to undo the magic which made them so different from humans. If so, then the ritual acts performed by the giants, bearing the largest souls, were at least believed to somehow achieve that end. This might be why their capital was situated atop a frozen lake in the first place. The way the map layout is structured, we would have probably needed to reenact the rituals at the two towers — most likely lighting the lanterns — to unlock the otherwise short and direct route to the boss; anything else would be inconsistent with FromSoftware‘s design philosophy to progression throughout the rest of the game. In that case, there must be some ritual importance to the lake. What does ice do when heated? Melt. And after that? Evaporate. Basically, water rises toward the sun back into the sky, exactly like how the murals depict this civilizations’ hope for their souls.

Put simply, the giants’ ritual would have been to use their souls to create magical blue flames which would transfer to all the lake water they would evaporate back into the atmosphere, perhaps aiming to eventually make the sun take all water and souls in this frozen wasteland. They believed that this would somehow slowly purge them of their inhumanity. Their religion was, in short, characterized by shame in their history and lineage. Whether this was true from the very start or simply evolved to be the case over time, the First Scourge had arrived whilst a bunch of beastly barbarians viewed their ancestors’ work with souls to be a mistake, wanting to reintegrate into the human societies which they constantly feared would exterminate them. This definitely helps explain why the giants were willing to cooperate with humans in restoring the lands lost to the deep fog: they always wanted peaceful coexistence. The First Scourge, however, proved that nothing good could come of messing with souls, so the giants accepted both the Archstones and the ban on magic, ending the pagan era.

What happened with the giants afterwards is an open question. The cut models affirm that the beastmen would survive until the First Scourge, but we don’t find any evidence of giants. Some point to the “yeti” (イエティ) as proof of their survival since the enemy is internally named “nil giant”. (無の巨人) However, the term “giant” is very broad and can easily be referencing the beast’s enormous size rather than species. Indeed, the white-haired creature with indistinct head and gaping maw for a belly — presumably the reason for the “nil” descriptor — looks nothing like the giant depicting on the Archstone. Cut content also confirms that more than one would have jumped out of the snow to ambush us in the first area. Given that location, this so-called giant is more likely to be a beastman-turned-demon than anything. It is therefore possible for the giants to have gone extinct well before the Second Scourge. Perhaps the beastmen felt betrayed by the giants losing their ritual purpose and wiped them out, similar to the Shadowmen and their priesthood. But even if the giants avoided death, their society undoubtedly changed.

With their Classical Era cities half-buried by the time we arrive, the nonhuman tribes likely followed the same pattern as other nations in evading the soul arts, abandoning their old homes and leaving magic to be forgotten along with their history. If their religion didn’t survive this event, then any shame associated with their inhuman appearance likely went with it. In that case, the tribes would just be wild barbarians living in the hinterlands — perhaps hunting the unused injured white wolves in the fields — and cutting down all outsiders, any last shred of their humanity slipping from memory. This would have been convenient to the Monumentals, who moved their temple there expecting humans to keep away. But even assuming that those immortals of the Nexus knew not of what was transpiring on the ground, the beastmen still likely helped to stave off Boletarian expansion that way for the next few centuries. The only Boletarian who might have tried exploring the Northern Limit is Rydell, the legends of the frontier lord potentially including his interactions with the beast races.

But Rydell’s adventures soon led to the soul’s rediscovery, which led to yet another Scourge. By the time we enter the scene years later, the Northern Limit seems to have already been sucked dry of souls and lost to the fog, hence its corresponding Archstone being reduced to rubble — the product of a magical backlash to the land’s erasure. While any rationalization for why the Northern Limit fell first among the six areas would be hand-waving the fact that it was cut during development due to extraneous factors, some have argued that the demons focused their attention in the North before spreading to Boletaria, pointing to art in the introductory cutscene of massive demons battling human armies; some of these demons even resemble the yeti. But, much like the connection between the yeti and giants, the links between this art and a giant war with Boletaria are tenuous at best.

The residents of Boletaria are rather forthright about King Allant’s leave for and return from the Nexus heralding the Second Scourge, with his accompanying demons massacring or soul-starving everyone with ease. At what point during the implicitly small interim that he was gone is there time for the Old One to have spread the fog to only the Northern Limit, “conquer” it, and then bring the demons over to invade? The Diffused Vanguards prove all the preceding steps unnecessary. Likewise, the deep fog prevents anyone from even entering, so how could Boletaria, without any forewarning, mobilize large armies to combat demons marching just behind the thing as it spread — all while the King was still absent, his best knights at the castle? The postulation just doesn’t survive scrutiny.

In truth, the introductory cutscene is probably not depicting any particular event. Aside from the map, all of the art used doesn’t comport with the world as we experience it. For example, numerous phantoms are portrayed surrounding the Old One, gargoyles from Latria flying in the background or perching atop the ruins. None of the parties present in this piece are known to interact with one another in-game, and the scenario at best vaguely aligns with a general concept — the Old One creates demons and collects souls. Compared to the later cutscene accompanying the last Monumental’s monologue, there is nothing revelatory. When the narrator is referencing the world of man, the cutscene shows a city. When she discusses the horrors of demons, it shows them battling people. When she lists people traveling, it shows a hooded figure in the middles of overgrown forest, next to a deer. All of this indicative of early concept art cobbled together to provide visuals with a general feel, much like the game’s opening cinematic. If the giants do hold any more secrets, it has been lost with their area.