I find myself blogging about Dark Souls again, despite the fact that my journey with the series has come to a close (mostly… your time will come, Midir). The staggered DLCs, first Ashes of Ariandel, then The Ringed City, have served as an epilogue for both story and gameplay. Ashes was a fine romp, the most memorable aspect being the killer boss fight that caps it off. The Ringed City has served more as a “Best Of” compilation of all the touches that made the series so unique, revisiting the gameplay mechanics and challenges that made the original a classic. With the ramp up in overall toughness, one lesson has crystallized throughout my hours this universe:

If you want to win, keep your enemies close.

Now, granted, I have only ever played these games as a melee fighter, but I think the metaphor is apt no matter your class. A lucky shot or a killer spell cannot do all the work for you, and when it does, it serves as a special exception to the rules. For the most part, staying in close proximity to your foe, learning and understanding its attacks and patterns, and then punishing it when it presents openings, is the surest way to victory. There is no boss I remained stuck on when the prevailing change was normally “drop the shield, stop running away, and face these demons”. And that bit of metaphorical subtlety is why I fell for the series to begin with.

In the past, I have mentioned that Dark Souls came at a fortunate time in my life, when I had lost a friendship and the depression and darkness was overwhelmingly inescapable. Dark Souls created a outlet where, yes, the darkness and the challenges it presented were everywhere. And yes, it often seemed impossible to overcome. But that’s what made my ultimate conquering of its and my demons equally satisfying.

There was a sadness as I approached the final stages of the final DLC of the series. The franchise’s future is in stasis for the moment, not unlike the world of Dark Souls, where time itself perpetually shifts and changes, and the only guarantee is uncertainty. The difficulty of the game, and the emotional catharsis that resulted with each victory, do not need to be relegated to this game series alone. And yet, this farewell tour through my own past reminded me of how far I have come in my own life, in conquering my own demons. I played the original Dark Souls a little over 6 years ago, a blink of an eye in the grand scheme. And yet, it has been its own epoch to me, with valuable lessons of its own.

Don’t run away from your fears; face them.

Don’t cower at the size of your enemy; learn who they are, how they think and what they can do.

Don’t try to stop or resist an attack when you can counter it.

Don’t hang out with that guy with the English accent of dubious accuracy.

You are in the world of Dark Souls of your own volition. You can turn it off, never to return to the dying lands of Lordran, if you so choose. But getting one final chance to assail the darkness, to venture forth into the nightmare and strike back, reminded me of lessons that have become a core part of my being since Dark Souls first drew me in. That your enemies are scary, and powerful, and overwhelming. But they are not invincible. All you need is the courage to face them.