Dark Souls Beyond the Grave Volume 1 Review – Fangasm
Author: Damien Mecheri, Sylvain Romieu
Publisher: Third Editions
Price: $29.90 (Official Site)
Release: 1st February 2018
A Digital Copy was provided by Third Editions
If there´s a series that taught me what games can be, achieve and become, it would be Dark Souls, without a doubt. When I first picked up Demon´s Souls at a local store, not knowing anything about it, I was sucked into this hard, frustrating but captivating experience faster than I ever imagined. Even so many years after its launch, the first entry in the Souls series is still loved by thousands of fans. So, why exactly did no one dare to finally give credit to this masterfully crafted series in a written form? Who knows. Yet, Third Editions’ Kickstarter financed first batch of translations finally brought us their volume of Dark Souls Beyond the Grave and why did I wait so long to finally take a look?
Opening with an introduction of legendary Souls lore youtuber VaatiVidya I wasn´t only baffled but seriously impressed by, it becomes obvious just how much love was poured into this book. Especially if this embracing of fandom is followed-up by an almost too extensive summary of Miyazaki´s past achievements, I got bigger and bigger expectations. While the first volume doesn´t cover Bloodborne, Third Editions delivered an otherwise magnificent book.
Divided into different chapters, the book tries to dissect and inspect the first three Souls games, basically, where it all began. Damien Mecheri and Sylvain Romieu thematise the reasons for nearly every design decision made throughout those games. The first chapters merely scratch on the surface, talking about the reasons behind the series’ unique aspects like their difficulty. How it´s not a tool to punish players but to present them with a challenge, that´s just right between frustration and motivation. In order to create a feeling of achievement everytime one dies. Deaths aren´t meant to motivate, giving you a tiny victory every run.
However, the true experience starts when the two authors begin to really dig deep into the universe. Even though it was immensely satisfying to have every basic aspect thoroughly analyzed in a superbly written form, the first third may not offer much new to people already well acquainted with them. On the other hand, the last two-thirds symbolized somewhat the meat of the whole book. Nearly every difference of those three games or how they stand out compared to their “brothers” is packed into one whole chapter.
Learning from an analytical perspective why Blighttown or other locations in Dark Souls, in particular, could manage to stand out even years after its release is pure joy for any fan. Having every possible facette broken down to their very core parts, which always boil down to simple human instincts, is unseen. At no point in my life did I find such a complete breakdown of a single location in a non-video form. Yet, despite the lack of visuals, Dark Souls Beyond the Grave Volume 1 can always manage to still invoke the feelings I felt when I first played through each area.
Even when more theoretical aspects are discussed, there never was a sole minute I felt bored by the book, despite the fact it´s basically a documentary. Mostly due to the masterfully crafted balance between dry, informative passages and atmospheric prose. With every chapter, I didn´t just learn more about the sound design in Dark Souls 2, or why the first and second game of the series are so different, I also relived all those iconic parts. It´s clear as day how much time was poured into researching all those things before packing them into a wonderful coat of engaging writing.
The last third, in particular, puts some of the most interesting things about the series in the spotlight. Probably due to the complexity, not many videos or things have been written about the ensemble of every little design detail analyzed in previous chapters. As a result, the whole book doesn´t only seem like an anthological explanation why those three games are masterpieces but like all of this was a set-up for one last punch at the end. Honestly, I can´t think of anything even remotely close to the sheer skill the two authors demonstrated at fusing all elements together to fully present the masterful work of FromSoftware and Miyazaki.
A huge part of this enjoyment, of course, comes from the quite amazing translation Third Editions did here. Originally being written in French, I had my doubts if a French company can actually manage a good localization, as broken as their English can be at times. Luckily, they truly did a superb job at transferring the authors’ love to detail into another English. There are nearly no typos, grammar mistakes or unfitting sentences. Everything about the English version´s writing is coherent and a joy to read. Combined with the illustrations accompanying every chapter, the Kickstarter money was definitely put to good use in Dark Souls Beyond the Grave Volume 1.
I had high expectations, too high maybe, yet, Dark Souls Beyond the Grave Volume 1 could surpass every single one of them. From the beginning to the end, it´s a book that celebrates one of the most iconic series of the past generations in a perfect way. Showing how each game works at a fundamental level before fusing it all together. There really is nothing remotely close to this fangasm in book-form. Truly the ultimate analysis for any fan and I can´t wait for their second volume.