Yesterday I was reflecting about an interesting fact: in the list of “my favorite games of all times,” the top 10 is packed with games that share all a common element. The games are:
- Dark Souls
- Dark Souls II
- Well… every game of the soulborne genre.
- Hollow Knight
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- And more.
Can you guess what they all have in common?
Sure, they all have a decadent setting (the world is falling or is recovering after a cataclysm), but there is a way more common design element: narration through discovery.
What I mean for Narration Through Discovery
In all the above games, the narration is never explicit; instead, the story progress – yes, you guess – through the progressive discovery of story fragments in the environment itself.
The game story and lore then is narrated by heterogeneous elements in an asynchronous fashion: we learn about the story of the world by reading the description of an enemy, or the engraving on an old temple slab, or the cryptic dialogue of a mysterious NPC.
It is the player’s job to put all the pieces together to understand what’s really going on; that’s part of the great fun of these games.
We could talk about how the Dark Souls series popularized this narrative mechanic, and we could go deep on analyzing the pro and cons of it. However, many already did that, so I'll link a video instead.
Unfortunately, this engaging and mysterious narration style comes with a cost: after the first playthrough – when the sense of navigating the unknown fades away – the spell is broken. I mean, it is not a huge deal – Dark Souls 2 still gives me chills every time I speak with king Vendrik, and I’ll definitely bring Hollow Knight on a desert island – but you feel that something is lost forever.
There is fun beyond playing
But nothing is lost forever.
Since last week I am following one of my favorite YouTube series of all time: Side Quest, a simple Let’s Play of Dan Floyd (better known for his work on Extra Credits) where he plays through all the Souls games. Now, he is currently playing Hollow Knight, but I started following the series since the first Dark Souls time.
I love you little Bug Knight!
The fact that I enjoy the series so much may feel strange. I do not watch a lot of let’s play, and I played the games in the series a lot (someone could say “too much”). So why I wait for every episode like the new episode of my favorite TV show? I already know the story, I already know what will happen.
Sure, Dan is a really lovable guy, but the truth is that I love looking at people going through the same discovery path and emotions of my first playthrough. In their sense of wonder and exploration, I can revive the feelings of my first playthrough as vivid as the first time.
It is a wonderful experience that breathes a second life into my most favorite games.
Well, there is not really a conclusion, I just wanted to share my love for the genre and my experience with it. Narration Through Discovery is, by far, one of my favorite narrative experience in video games. It fills the world with mystery and wonder and makes me fill like an archeologist trying to bringing order to thousands of clues about events lost in time.
And when everything is over, I can watch people experiencing the game for the first time again and share the same feelings again.
What is your experience with these games? Are you feeling fewer emotions during the second playthrough? Do you like watching people playing blindly for the first time those games? Leave me a comment here or on Twitter!