The mystery of the big dumb crabs infesting Dark Souls 3

Dark Souls 3 has big crabs and I don’t know why. I’m not angry about it or anything. It’s just that the President of From Software and director of the original Dark Souls once asked an artist to depict a dragon with “... the deep sorrow of a magnificent beast doomed to a slow and possibly endless descent into ruin.”

And in Dark Souls 3, we’ve arrived at, ‘Make the crabs, but also make them large.” In a series lauded for attention to detail, and which tells its stories almost purely through world and character design, why are there so many big-ass crabs running around?

The ecology of Dark Souls crabs 

The Crucifixion Woods are a gaseous rotting swamp quietly portraying a story of spiritual practice gone straight up heretical. Hence all the dead folks and crucifixes and mangled lycanthropes nailed to them. In the heart of the swamp, a shallow pool covers the center third of the area. Great Crabs patrol the water, doing that nasty thing they do with their wack mouths, which comes off as the crab equivalent of licking one’s lips. Have I mentioned that I think crabs are gross?

Crabs are gross.

An otherwise innocuous cameo, the Great Crabs’ appearance in the Crucifixion Woods works for me. It’s a classic vignette: the ruins of knowledge and civilization consumed by natural forces. Oh damn, we’re all going to die, and it’s the trees’ fault. Check out all these dead folks and turned over buildings, and the crabs are big now, which is irregular. Over time, they probably grew to fill out all the free space and defend themselves from angry werewolf men. Nature is a persistent crab, scuttling sideways like a low budget Exorcist cosplay and pooping wherever the heck it wants.

But further into Dark Souls 3, From Software shakes up the crab meta. Beneath the Catacombs, the Smouldering Lake hides another civilization lost to time and excess. The chaos flame is fading, and so the demons it created are fading with it. For those unfamiliar with the lore, it’s a big magic candle someone powerful lit a long time ago that accidentally made hell. Now crabs live there. In a pressure cooker underworld. Crabs.

Despite all of time and space converging and colliding, a ballista shooting arrows the length of a minivan, the presence of an aggressive Dune-worthy magma worm, and the above average temperatures produced by lava and demon magic, Great Crabs can be found roaming the magma plain hungry and dull and gross as ever. How they maintain their chill, I have no idea.

I figured they wouldn’t show up again, but in the Ashes of Ariandel DLC, an icy wasteland pocket universe the ‘forlorn’ call home, what else wanders the icy plain at the bottom of a crevasse but some Great Crabs? It’s unlikely that crabs can be forlorn since they’re always roaming in packs, so I prefer to imagine them wandering through a cryptic interdimensional portal by pure chance. Just walking sideways through a magical scrap of painting into a rotting ice world. Normal everyday crab stuff.

Gif source: GamingWithSwift

Imagine Miyazaki, fingers steepled and head bowed in deep thought: “Make the crabs, and make them large again, yes, but this time,’ he pauses, looking up. His eyes widen, ‘This time, make them cold.’

Crabs in other games 

We’ve been cracking crabs open in games for decades now. In Skyrim, Mudcrabs pose a decent threat early on, territorial and coordinated as they are. In Metal Slug 3 we mowed down hundreds of huge crustaceans, and in Everquest 2 a supersized crab pinched players to death regularly. The archetype was cemented during Sony’s 2006 E3 press conference when a presenter showing off Genji 2 pointed out that the key to defeating a giant crab enemy was to “attack its weak point for massive damage” with overbearing press conference sincerity. Crabs and weak points go well together.

As ridiculous as it sounds on a stage in front of a live audience, crabs really do make great videogame enemies. Their thick carapace functions as a shield without the need for silly magic logic, and it implies you’ll need to take them down through pure attrition or by finding a chink in their armor. Their two huge claws are intimidating—no one wants to be pinched—easy to track, and can be destroyed independently without killing the crab outright. Great for boss stages.

Meet Claude, your new crab boss.

Crabs are also quick, capable of moving in erratic and unfamiliar patterns, which bolsters the potential for a surprising move set. And of course, they’re monstrous. Eight legs, eyeballs on stalks, grimy algae coated shells—nature did the concept art for us. Do we need to see the mouth video again? I’ll do it.

But Dark Souls 3’s crabs don’t evolve the archetype or comment on it in a significant way. Their inclusion in the game feels like an in-joke. Check out this dumb videogame enemy in Dark Souls, a series people swear isn’t dumb.

We all had that friend that quoted Austin Powers just a few too many times a day. Dark Souls 3 is that friend, but crabs.

Using the crab cliche as a playful jab in the ribs of fascinated lore hunters as a gesture that means 'not everything needs explanation, nerds' would be endearing, especially three games in. But the ice crab appearance in Ashes of Ariandel is so blindingly hamfisted that it irreversibly inflates the joke from elbow jab to kick in the pants status. We all had that friend that quoted Austin Powers just a few too many times a day. Dark Souls 3 is that friend, but crabs.

A more likely answer is that From Software is stretched too thin on their near yearly Souls schedule and couldn’t afford the time to create more enemies or invest millions in crab lore development. Miyazaki must have a Crab Origins notebook somewhere.

Without much recourse or energy to puzzle out the crab infestation myself, I turned to the Dark Souls lore experts, who all have better things to do.

Investigating the lore 

Who better to ask than VaatiVidya, arguably one of the best Dark Souls YouTubers whose Prepare to Cry series delves into individual character stories with scholarly precision and pseudo-ASMR voicework.

VaatiVidya could not be reached for immediate comment, though I’m certain Prepare to Crab is in the early outline process and that this work will no doubt serve as the foundation for any further lore theories coming from Vaati’s direction.

Famed Dark Souls streamer and Let’s Player EpicNameBro did reply to my initial tweet, confirming that he agrees there is an abundance of crabs and that the amount of water and overbearing wetness might be a clue.

However, when asked to elaborate that if, indeed, the excess of crabs in Dark Souls 3 is "like a day at the beach, I mean, c'mon," EpicNameBro did not reply. From Software must be paying these guys to keep their mandibles shut.

Dark Souls wikis didn’t reveal much either. They note the crabs’ locations, their hit points, their weaknesses, and make the same reference to “massive damage” I eventually will, but there’s no theories as to why they crop up all over. The Dark Souls 3 subreddit is as mystified as I am, though they used their collaborative power to at least put out a bonkers theory (and some good jokes).

Click for the full thread.

IAmKickSix’s theory draws a connection between where the player runs into crabs with where they meet the powerful characters who found the Souls of Lords within the first flame before the original Dark Souls, which led to the creation of man.

What I’m saying is that some angry old gods gave birth to crabs and they’re pissed off.

I’m reminded of the first Japanese folktale that came up when I googled “crab japanese folktale.” In The Crab and the Monkey, a monkey makes a trade with the crab for a persimmon seed. The monkey plants a tree, promising to share the bounty when fruit eventually grows. Instead, the monkey chills in the tree and eats all the fruit and the crab dies of emotional trauma, but not before giving birth to a vengeful litter of baby crabs. I won’t spoil the ending.

It’s possible to draw parallels between the monkey as man draining the world of its resources, or persimmons, despite the potential for balance. Got to keep lighting that fire guys, right? And the crab, a stand-in for Dark Souls’ demigods, falls due to this imbalance, but not before giving birth to an army of baby crabs that swear revenge? What I’m saying is that some angry old gods gave birth to crabs and they’re pissed off. Such is the life of a lore hunter.

Crabs may not fill out the Dark Souls lore, and it’s a tough truth to swallow, but perhaps it’s about what the crab represents, not what it literally is.

Crabs: astrological doombringers? 

In astrology, Cancer is a crab sign that commonly represents water. Yeah, it’s where crabs live. More interesting though, is that according to historian Farrin Chwalkowski, Cancer was considered a “dark sign” in ancient times because it was typically hard to make out in the night sky. In the Dark Souls mythos, the Darksign represents an accursed undead, the player.

YouTuber AGRcactus flies into the Darksign eclipse.

Near the end of Dark Souls 3, a Darksign appears in the sky signifying the fire fading, the convergence of all of space and time. In that sense, crabs are a symbol for the undead curse, the promise that eventually humanity will fade and a new era will begin, the promise that we’re all going to die someday. And as we only just found out, the Darksign also represents The Ringed City from the final DLC, an ancient civilization toward which all the timelines are converging. I suspect a crab cameo. Maybe a final boss? It’s totally possible.

In Greek mythology, Hercules killed a giant crab during his fight with the hydra, one of the more intimidating creatures in the original Dark Souls. Hera sent the crab as a distraction, it pinched Hercules’ foot, and he crushed it without much issue. Here, the crab represents the helpful sidekick, the proto-henchman, and for such an underdog to go from a weak side character to one of the biggest, most dangerous creatures in Dark Souls 3 is one hell of a reversal.

Crab conclusion 

In tandem with the Darksign association, From Software is attempting to evoke an apocalypse event in an implicit, nearly subconscious way by pulling from popular mythologies. The natural order has been flipped, the end is nigh, check out these huge crustaceans.  

It fails. They’re crabs.

But I do appreciate propping up something as mundane as a fancy dinner people pull from the abyss on the daily. Despite Dark Souls 3’s annoying fondness for the big suckers, their lack of contribution to our precious lore beyond serving as an apocalyptic symbol, and their failure to evolve the crab videogame archetype at all, crabs deserve a chance to crack our shells for awhile.