This article originally appeared in issue 348 of our glossy magazine. You can get it delivered right to your door by grabbing a subscription, which will also net you special subscriber-only covers.
Whether you’ve played Dark Souls or not, you’ve likely seen the image of a gallant knight with a stern-faced sun on his chest, his arms outstretched towards the sun like he’s trying to give it a big hug. "Praise the sun!" His iconic tagline, beaming optimism and effervescent joy might be the most eminent iconography to come out of a series otherwise defined by its dying world and oppressive difficulty.
This giant goofball, Solaire of Astora, is arguably the point of Dark Souls. He’s a human-shaped reminder that other people are all we have. It’s Solaire that introduces Dark Souls’ summoning feature and Solaire that encourages the player to "engage in jolly cooperation!"
Solaire’s presence is why I so often rally against the ‘get good’ ethos that so many misguided Dark Souls players cling to. Dark Souls is meant to be a challenge, and that challenge is meant to nudge players towards humility, freedom from the selfish ego that clouds judgement and keeps us isolated from one another. Dark Souls is only difficult in the way that scheduling therapy is difficult. No one should have to face any challenge alone.
And Solaire is due an appointment, losing hold of his infallible optimism before long. He continually seeks his 'sun' or higher purpose, but loses steam when you encounter him at the bonfire just before entering Lost Izalith. "Why, why after all this searching I still cannot find it?" he says.
It’s a very familiar question. And I ask it often! Most people do. What’s the point of it all? And further down the line, once it is understood the bedrock of human history is built on an endless, iterative cycle of violence and suffering: why are we even alive in the first place?
Between a global pandemic forcing me inside and staring at a bright screen all day for work (I do love the job, but my eyes sure don’t), between calculating the decades it’ll take me to climb out of debt and maybe, potentially, purchase a van one day just so I have somewhere to sleep between inflated studio apartment leases, I’m having a hard time finding my own sun.
It feels like there’s a new tragedy or injustice to throw on the pile every day, to weigh against my ability to cope or affect change, and I’m tired. Solaire, slumped over that bonfire, lost and losing hope? I don’t know that I’ve ever identified with a videogame character more. Someone make a beer mod and crack a cold one open for him. Our guy is about to have a very bad day.
Fail to open a certain door from a certain side and kill all the parasites hopping around, and Solaire will end up with one of the nasty bugs as a perma-hat. No amount of praising the sun can help. That’s the system (of brain parasites in an analogue for hell), man. He’s such a pitiful sight, milling around in the dark alone and so far from home.
“I am the sun!” he says. And then he charges, moaning in pleasure. He’s a man rendered from pure ego, a meat puppet whose sole purpose is to subdue other specimens and create more meat puppets, ad infinitum. Sounds like a couple of people that I know. What a life! The most optimistic character in a drained hell world losing hope and, wilfully or not, embracing the parasite sucking on his head and controlling his mind is some extreme 2020 energy. I get it though. It’s like letting someone else take the wheel while I feel the breeze in my hair for a change.
But then Solaire dies, terrified of the encroaching darkness as the false light of the parasite fades.
Fighting through it
I love this ending not because I want it for Solaire, but because it’s a call to action. Dark Souls confronted me with the worst case scenario, a dark mirror of wasted potential and ignorant bliss, then forced me to strike it down. I had to take action. I had to say “fuck that” with a massive sword. It’s a protest against giving what little will we have to imposed interests and an acknowledgement of the irreconcilable tension between hope and despair. That’s just the way it is. But it doesn’t mean we can’t engage in jolly cooperation on our collective trip to the abyss.
I won’t go down like Parasite Solaire, that’s for certain. I’ll save him and bring him around for the final boss in the next playthrough, whether I let the flame die out or usher in a new age. By sticking around and sticking together, at least we have something like a say in what happens next.