by Kenny Tschida
Dark Souls, an incredibly loved but infamous game series developed by the Japanese game company, FromSoftware, has distinguished itself in the world of music. All three soundtracks were composed by Motoi Sakuraba, with Dark Souls 2 and 3 being co-composed by Yuka Kitamura. From the original Dark Souls to Dark Souls 3, each soundtrack is regarded as emotional and astonishing, setting the dark fantasy atmosphere amazingly, with it being a huge part of the game’s aesthetic.
The soundtrack begins with the Prologue track, a very eerie and anxious score. As it plays alongside the dialogue of the Prologue, it sets the stage for a drawn-out campaign of intensity and struggle. The mix of choir and orchestra leaves the listener worried, wondering what’s to come in the world of Dark Souls. The next track is the Firelink Shrine. The sound this track produces is also very eerie, like the Prologue, but in an entirely different way. It leaves the impression of hopelessness and sadness that any attempt to fight is in vain. It also leaves a taste of neutrality, a place that seems void of hostility but also filled with insecurity. The score is entirely instrumental, playing into the calm neutrality described before. The next score is for the first boss out of the Prologue, the Taurus Demon. Like the Prologue, this track is filled with intensity. It complements the urgency of fighting the beast as it barrels towards you, and like the battle, the score is quite short, resembling how you either defeat the boss quickly or fall to it quickly. The soundtrack continues to the first major boss fight, where you attempt to ring the first of 2 bells, a calling card against the demons of this world, but you are halted by the Bell Gargoyles. This track begins very fast, in correlation to the fast, recurring swings of the Bell Gargoyles halberds. It’s a mix of both choir and instrumental, high notes fastly recurring, and long horror-filled drum rolls. It perfectly complements the monumental battle. The score then ends as it fades out with the death of the two Gargoyles.
After the fight of the Bell Gargoyles, you enter into a new part of the game, a sub-terrain collection of dungeons and crypts where you eventually encounter the next boss and song, the Pinwheel. This score is quite different from all the previous tracks. A faint whispering can be heard alongside slow tempos and soft singing. The instrumentals seem to follow the slow burning of candles that inhabit the boss arena, complementing the somewhat underwhelming fight. After you defeat the Pinwheel, you delve deeper into the many dungeons where you next encounter the Gaping Dragon. This score abandons the slowness of the Pinwheel track, following in the footsteps of the fast-paced and intense sounds of the previous bosses. Loud crashes of symbols and ascending notes of stringed instruments and vocals keep you on your toes as you fight the eldritch monster. Swing after swing of the monster’s tail is followed by a complimenting playing of bass instruments and choir. After the beast falls back into the abyss from once it came, your descent continues as the scenery becomes more and more hellish. You approach the second bell, but like the first bell, it is guarded by the sinister Chaos Witch Quelaag. This track takes a mixture of fast and slow-paced tempos, with very deep low vocals that are followed by high-pitched as the spider-like witch spews fiery lava all over her domain. The score is quite demonic, which correlates back to the emergence of the hellish sights you begin to see. With the final swing of your sword, the demon is felled, and immediately a new track begins, the Daughters of Chaos. This score is calmer compared to its predecessor, focusing more on slow-paced choirs. The sounds are quite angelic, which contradicts your continued dive into a more and more hellish environment. You eventually seem to reach the end of your descent, so you begin your track back to the surface, beginning your journey to Anor Londo, the passed city of the Lord of Cinder, Gwyn.
Eventually, you reach Sen’s Fortress, the last obstacle in the way of Anor Londo. Atop the dangerous and massive fortress lies the Iron Golem, accompanied by its own boss track. The track is quite underwhelming for the fight. The orchestral and choir pieces are well performed and composed, but when compared to the preceding tracks, they blow this one out of the water. After you defeat Iron Golem, your path to Anor Londo is opened. Upon entering the magnificent city, you are shown to the central castle, where you begin your traverse over the heavenly roof tops. Once you reach the castle, you enter into its grand hall, and through its massive door lies your next bossfight, a duo, protectors of the castle, Ornstein and Smough. The musical piece that accompanies this fight is so fantastical, so amazing, it feels as if it’s the poster child of the Dark Souls soundtrack, filled with wonderfully connected orchestral and choir pieces that just make the fight so much better than it already is. After your long, heroic fight with the duo, you meet Gwynevere, daughter of the Lord of Cinder, Gwyn, God of Dark Souls. Though not a boss, she does have her own song. It’s a very pleasant, church-like sermon song, with soft and beautiful singing, and strong traditional orchestra. After your meeting with Gywn, she exclaims you must continue further through Anor Londo to discover the 4 Soul Lords, keepers of Gwyn, but during your trek, you find Gwyndolin, child of Gwyn, sibling of Gwynevere. You discover that the whole prosperity of the city is a lie, an illusion all cast by Gwyndolin, including the illusion of Gwyn, where then your battle begins. Gwydolin’s score is quite fitting, like their sisters. The piece is almost entirely choir, of high pitched and slow singing. The only orchestral bits are light harp playing to match Gwyndolin’s dark and ethereal nature. After you defeat Gwyn, it is revealed that the four Soul Lords do enchamber Gywn, so your journey is the same.
Eventually reach the next obstruction on your path. Great Grey Wolf Sif, a large dire wolf, companion of Knight Artorias previous protector of Gwynevere. Sif holds a powerful ring that grants its wearer the power of abyss walking. A needed trinket if you are to fight the four Soul Lords. The score is filled with tragedy and sorrow. Sif has gone mad, waiting for his owner, Artorias, though he will never come. The orchestra and choir compliment Sif’s conflicting feelings, from soft to rough, fast to slow. The fight and song are full of tears. Eventually Sif will fall, and you enter the hellish tombs you once explored in an attempt to find one of the four Soul Lords, instead you encounter the brother of Chaos Witch Quelaag, the Ceaseless Discharge. His accompanying score erupts as if it were a volcano, matching his large fiery and magma cracked body. The whole song is very low, the choir is almost entirely baritone, along with the orchestra. The slow playing gets faster and faster with every slam of the monster’s fist. Eventually, he shall plunge back into the pit from whence he came, and your trek through Hell continues, where you encounter the Centipede Demon. The score, like the boss fight, is pretty unoriginal, taking aspects from a lot of the previous songs and battles. After its demise you finally reach one of the four Soul Lords, the Bed of Chaos. The song is quite psychedelic, with crescendos and fast harp playing, accompanied by harsh tempoed orchestra and choir, making the fight quite Eldritch, fitting for the horrific tree like demon. After its fall, you plunge deeper into the abyss, to fight our next Soul Lord, the Four Kings. A bass filled song accompanies the dark abyssal plane where you fight these four shadow kings. Every direction you look has no end, whether it be up or down,, left or right, with one of the Kings jumping out of the ethereal darkness, complemented by a tense orchestra and choir. After you finish off the Four Kings, you return to Anor Londo, to find the Duke Archives, the retreat of our next Soul Lord, Seath the Scaleless. Seath sits in his massive library waiting, where he quickly captures you and locks you up in his vast chamber of dungeons, but he underestimates you completely where you come back to ambush him, and begin the real fight. His song is as tense as the fight. Seath can only be beaten one way, and it’s by destroying his crystal heart that sits at the back of the Arena. The music keeps you pressured, with quick tempos of orchestra and choir making you feel as if Seath will attack any second. After finally destroying his heart, you can finally damage the draconic beast, leaving you to fight one more Soul Lord, Gravelord Nito. To find Gravelord Nito you must return to the Firelink Shrine and plunge into the catacombs that reside near it. At the bottom of those catacombs lies the last Soul Lord. The fight is entirely horrifying, Nito is a master necromancer, keeping you occupied with never ending armies of skeletons as he poisons you with his deadly magic. Nito’s score perfectly compliments his undead stature. The song itself sounds like a necromancer’s incantation to summon the undead, while a low and slow orchestra and choir pieces the entire fight. Eventually you exorcize the demonic mass of bones, and with it you have finished off the 4 Soul Lords.
All that remains is Gwyn, the Lord of Cinder. As you enter Gwyn’s forgotten domain, you fight his vast army of Black Knights, who protect him is sorrowful solitude. As you finish the last one off, you enter his secluded chamber, where you see the mad God, and where his beautiful score begins. Gwyn’s song completely embodies the feeling of Dark Souls, the only sound coming from a solo piano being a reminder of all the pain that inhabits the dark world you reside in. It perfectly complements Gywn’s millenia of deterioration, and the eternal solitude that he’d been placed in. The song has so much emotion, it really makes you want to cry. Gwyn continues to mindlessly swing his fiery sword of sunlight as he seems to dash in the blink of an eye all around you. When you finally finish off the miserable God, you enter your new throne of God-Hood, replacing Gwyn as the Lord of Cinder, and inevitably where the first game ends.
Overall, the Dark Souls soundtrack is filled with beauty, emotion, and horror. It was the final piece in helping create such a perfect ambience in the world of Dark Souls. Because of it the game, and its soundtrack has gone down as one of the best and most influential in the world of Gaming, being a reminder of how amazing traditional orchestra and choir ensemble can be.