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Thanks to Hollow Knight I Finally Understand Why People Like Dark Souls and Other Extremely Difficult Video Games

Those wins really are satisfying
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My experience with the Souls series of video games is rather brief. I gave Demon Souls a shot back when it was originally released in 2009 and proceeded to set the controller down and go about my business. It was way too hard for me, but being hard was the point, and it’s always been the point of the Souls series.

Still, the world, the creatures, and the lore were enough to get me to, at least, watch Let’s Play videos. Bloodborne, in particular, was very much my gaming aesthetic. I watched hours of gameplay and was content with leaving it at that, coming to the conclusion that the series – and games that were made to be difficult – were out of my depth as a gamer.

via GIPHY

A lot of gamers love video games that thoroughly kick their ass but I couldn’t quite understand how seeing YOU DIED every ten minutes was fun for anyone. Every time I’d see a FromSoftware game announcement (the developer behind the Soul series) I’d chalk it up as “none for me, thanks.”

Then? I started playing Hollow Knight.

I was late to the party on this game, as is a common theme with me and video games, but it was late June, it was on the Xbox Game Pass, and I said, “Oh hey, this is that cute game that some of my friends were into a couple of years ago.”

I’m a sucker for the kind of art style Hollow Knight has, especially if the protagonist is as cute as our knight. The world is intriguing, the bugs are charming (somehow), and the gameplay looked like the classic Metroidvania style that I liked.

But um.

The game is HARD as hell.

To be fair, I’d been warned about that when I tweeted about starting the game. With every “omg, I love this game” comment came an additional disclaimer about its difficulty and how I was going to 1) die a lot, and 2) I should keep trying after I died. A lot.

Here’s the thing, though.

I kinda thought everyone was exaggerating about the difficulty level. On the surface, this looks like a game where you sit next to cute, blushing bugs, chill out in spas, and have sword fights (or rather, nail versus claw fights) against praying mantises. Nothing about it screams EXTREMELY DIFFICULT the way the “yeah you wish this was just a dragon but we’re gonna infect it with children’s tears and night terrors” Souls series did.

Yet Hollow Knight is hands down the hardest video game I’ve played this year. It’s probably the hardest video game I’ve played in years!

But instead of giving up as I did with the Souls series the opposite happened. Not only did I keep pushing forward until I beat it, but it felt like the most rewarding video game win I’d accomplished, leading me to understand what makes these kinds of supremely difficult games so fun.

Like. After I beat it? I started playing it again to uncover more secrets and work my way up to the more difficult challenges. And this was after nearly 50 HOURS of gameplay.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!

First and foremost, the game benefits from visual storytelling. There aren’t a lot of things that tell you what’s going on, but you get the idea that you’re wandering through a decaying world and, at some point, things get a whole lot worse due to a spreading infection. You can find out more details through character dialogue, notes, and extra challenges that reveal more through cutscenes, but the game sets an intriguing premise purely on its visuals.

Also, since the game is a Metroidvania style game, there is a huge incentive to explore every direction. This is something else I’m a huge fan of with video games, but with the added bonus of “the story is in the imagery” it made me want to traverse every inch of Hallownest. With that came the introduction of unique and memorable characters. Some were important to the plot while others served as NPCs, but even the NPCs in Hollow Knight make an impact.

Hollow Knight is a game where everything you discover adds to your experience. It also has moments where your actions decide the fate of the characters you encounter.

All of these elements made me want to keep going… even if I got absolutely bodied by the first boss. But since this is a game of total exploration, it encourages you to grind and look for items that can aid you in battle. Beyond that, it teaches you to strategize, take your time, and study your enemies so you can take them out. It feels impossible at first, but eventually, you realize that bosses have patterns, you start to get a feel for how to maneuver around attacks, when to heal, and when to go on the offensive. Before I realized it, I was beginning to figure out which charm to equip myself with depending on where I was going, I’d focused on exploration before battle, and if an area looked too daunting I’d save it for later.

Honestly, that’s kinda the beauty of Hollow Knight. It makes you stop and think before you rush into an area or a boss battle. If you fail, you try something else.

And it’s here that I realize that this is exactly what gamers had said about the Soul series. It all makes sense to me now. You die, you try again, you figure out what works and what doesn’t. And y’all? The pure satisfaction I’d feel when I’d beat a boss in Hollow Knight?

via GIPHY

The game has made me want to relook at the series I’d abandoned back in 2009. There’s definitely some merit in these “prepare to die” games that I hadn’t realized at the time. I’m actually looking forward to whenever we get the next installment of Hollow Knight, not just because I’m invested in the universe, but because I want the experience of navigating through such treacherous conditions and figuring out how to win the day.

I finally get the fascination of games made to challenge us in such a way, all it took was a couple of adorably drawn bugs, multiple endings, and the occasional dose of unforgiving platforming. Thanks, Hollow Knight.

(Image: Team Cherry)

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Author
Image of Briana Lawrence
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)