“Gaaaaaagh, fuck this game. Oh no, oh no, oh no. Don’t you do it, don’t you do it!”
These are the things I yell at my TV screen while playing Dark Souls III. It’s hard. Almost every enemy in the game is like a high school bully, towering over you and making fun of your Mossimo t-shirt until you stumble backwards into your locker and drop all your Souls.
The thing is, Dark Souls III is hard, but it’s not as hard as being a teenager. Both drop you into a big scary place, both are filled with things that are bigger and older than you are, and both will do whatever they can to make you drop all the shit you’re holding.
In Dark Souls III, your ‘homeroom’ is the Firelink Shrine. Your classmates there generally look pretty tired, slumped in the corner of the room with their hoodies up and swords resting next to them. It’s a safe place, and everything you need is right there. Gone are the days where your upgrade NPCs are strewn about in random locations all over the map, so you don’t have to knock on Mrs. Stenzel’s door on the other side of the Arts wing in order to use a pencil sharpener (Blacksmith).
It’s less hardcore, I know. But it’s scary wandering those hallways alone when all you need is an equipment upgrade and the janitor’s closet is locked and the key costs 15,000 Souls. You’ll still have to buy keys from that decrepit lunch lady, but at least she’s waiting for you whenever you return from class (believe it or not, this is not as creepy in the Dark Souls universe).
Unlike Dark Souls III, in high school you don’t really get to pick your class. I mean, you have some say over your classes, but your skills and attributes as a chubby 14 year-old with a bowl-cut were basically assigned to you in junior high. I was one of the those kids whose family moved in the middle of fourth grade, so by the time high school rolled around I was looking for every opportunity to reinvent myself, ditch my somewhat troublesome middle school friends, and level up my ‘freshman’ status immediately.
During the early stages of my Dark Souls III playthrough, it was my utter lack of confidence that shook me back to that frightened, freshman state of mind. Just like high school, everyone tells you that Dark Souls is going to be difficult. They try to prepare you, but it’s only when you pass through those giant doors on the first day that you understand the challenge ahead.
Fortunately, you can enlist the services of a senior helper to aid you in your struggles against rotting hell hounds and deteriorating bone warriors. They can meet you right outside your homeroom and show you where all your classes are. They might even drop valuable items (a TI-89 calculator, Jessie Scullari’s phone number, an ACT prep book) that you won’t know how to use right away, but you’ll get there.
An amazing thing starts to happen around the third or so level in Dark Souls III: You stop being afraid. Like most kids going through adolescence, you accept the hard fact that you will die a thousand deaths before you make it safely to lunch (the next Bonfire). You stop trying to over-think your strategy, whether it’s deciding which extra-curricular activity will garner the most friends, or figuring out how the hell you’re going to run by all those giant knights to get to the boss battle. You start using your instincts and learn to embrace each obstacle as a puzzle to be solved. And when you pass your first test (solo a boss), the elation is real, and the satisfaction palpable.
And just as your confidence mounts and you start to ease into your junior year, finally pushing ahead of the initial, steep learning curve…. BAM! A thirty-page research paper is expected of you in the form the Jr. Theme. The difficulty has ramped up. The stakes are higher. Dark Souls III is no different.
The ramping difficulty in the game, however, manifests in its level structure. As you progress, areas begin to trap you, causing you to move slowly through the muck and mire, forcing you to develop new strategies to take on old foes. It’s an exercise in frustration, and to be perfectly honest, I haven’t yet passed third year. After acing my sophomore exams and having a pretty decent summer break, I’m begrudgingly trudging back to school, knowing full well that with college acceptance on the horizon, every upgrade matters.
With my hoodie up, and my sword resting heavily on my shoulder, I once again push open the great wooden doors of Lothric High School. My teachers, the Lords of Cinder; my students, their undead army. I must study well, should I hope to get into a fine university and join thousands of students who have come before me, well-learned in the ancient arts, the graduates of Dark Souls.