|This is a /v/ related article, which we tolerate because it's relevant and/or popular on /tg/... or we just can't be bothered to delete it.|
Dark Souls is a third person RPG created by From Software and Namco Bandai Games. It is the spiritual successor of Demon's Souls (would have been sequel, but the developers lost the rights to the Demon's Souls name), and is considered by some of its playerbase to be one of the hardest games ever created, which is very wrong. Veteran players will tell you that the game is exceedingly fair (which is also wrong), and you only die as a result of your own fuckups. Just be ready to fuck the fuck up again and again until you learn it. And since it generally rewards skill and being a munchkin, it is popular in /v/-circles for its punishing gameplay.
For reference, imagine a fantasy tabletop game run by a Killer DM who wants your character to die if you get the least bit sloppy with your Spot checks, don't optimize your build, and don't carefully study the rulebooks and monsters manuals before you even start playing. Oh, and other players in other groups will occasionally come to your table and roll some dice to kill you, often before you can even roll initiative, for some loot and lulz. At the same time though, the Killer DM is also fair by making your frequent deaths more of an inconvenience then it might be so that you can learn through trial and error if nothing else so that you do eventually beat his challenges. That is pretty much the Dark Souls experience.
Relevant to /tg/ mainly in that people sometimes throw it around as "this is how you do a grimdark setting properly", "wouldn't it be cool to set a game in this setting?" (Answer: No, because the damn thing is so vague), and "the material GMs can rip off file". It also pops up semi-regularly as the catalyst for quest threads and more than a few worldbuilding threads, most notably Lost Source.
Both Dark Souls and the younger brother Bloodborne have their own board game incarnations, with the former being a exploration dungeon crawler, and the latter a card game of collecting blood tokens and defeating monsters.
More pertinently, Fires Far Away is a homebrewed setting that owes its existence to the likes of Dark Souls, being designed for running games in a similarly-styled world.
Also explicitly said by the creator to have been heavily inspired by Berserk, be it in its aesthetic, character similarities, or just blatant references. That has to count for something.
One of the most definable aspects of Dark Souls is its method of storytelling... or lack thereof. Besides the opening cutscenes of all three games, nothing is outright explained to the player. Any lore you find is either based on dialogue with NPCs or descriptions of items and weapons, and even then it's often cryptic and intentionally vague, usually left up to interpretation. As you play through the games, a bigger picture becomes painted as you gather items and converse with the world's inhabitants, with the player connecting the dots and speculating what's happened. This can feel rewarding to someone who finds satisfaction in building the world piece by piece and interpreting things their own way, but understandably infuriating to anyone who wishes for something more straightforward. Much of the lore explanations that we have are often speculative or what little we know actually did happen, which isn't much.
Dark Souls I
At the beginning of time there was shit-all but a bunch of rocks and dragons. Then there was fire (no we don't know how, put your hand down), and four people crawled out of the darkness: Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight; the Witch of Izalith; Gravelord Nito; and the Furtive Pygmy. The first three of them used the power of the fire to become badasses, kicked the dragons' asses (with help from the turncoat Seath the Scaleless) and built the realm of man: Lordran. Things went pretty swell until the Witch of Izalith noticed that the fire was going out and tried to rekindle it, only for it to go wrong and become a horrifying abomination made of fire, cancer and evil. This spawned the demons in Dark Souls. In a desperate final attempt Gwyn kindled the fire with his own soul, which worked for a while. Around this time a few people became unable to die, and thus were dubbed Undead. This was swell at first until they started to go Hollow, turning into crazed murderous zombies. A search for the cure of this undeath started, and for the meantime the Undead were shipped to an insane asylum in the north.
That's where the game begins. You (your player character is called the Chosen Undead in the Dark Souls community) escape the asylum and kill a series of powerful creatures to gain their souls, and gather power to link the First Flame.
Dark Souls II
Your character (a different person than the Chosen Undead from DS1) has lost their memory as part of becoming undead and travels to the land of Drangleic to get it fixed. Drangleic has been ravaged by a war with an invading army of giants, and it really shows in places. Here you meet the Emerald Herald, a top-tier waifu who tells you to gather the souls of the four lords so you can meet king Vendrick and becomes a "true monarch," which is more elaborated on later on in the game.
While not necessarily a bad game by itself, many consider it the worst Souls game due to its clunky controls, enemy placements, and less than stellar bosses.
Dark Souls III
The fire is going out yet again, but it's so terribly weak now that it might not even last another cycle. In desperation, the flame uses the little power it has in a last ditch plan. This sees the rise of the Unkindled, those Undead who tried but failed to link the fire back in a previous age and were turned to ash. In practice they're pretty much undead. Now the Unkindled seek to gather the resurrected Lords of Cinder, four powerful badasses who did pull it off back in their day but don't feel like trying it again. So it's your job to find them, kick their asses and use the cinders you take from them to link the fire yet again, or let it fade away completely, and so the Age of Darkness finally happens. Whatever is your decision, you are aided in it by the Fire Keeper of the Firelink Shrine, which is your hub world of the game where you can buy stuff, level up and advance the plot.
Due to it coming off the heels of Bloodborne, it takes many notes from it's cousin; a hub world, faster combat, and several other mechanical features.
Technically the first in the series, since Dark Souls was supposed to be a sequel to this. Notably this game actually explains the story a bit more so you know what's actually happening.
The Kingdom of Boletaria is engulfed in a deep fog and the fog is slowly spreading. Nobody knows why and all who go into the fog never return. Eventually one of the kings knights, Vallarfax of the Twin Fangs, manages to find his way out and tells that King Allant XII has awoken the Old One, and now demons have overrun the land, stealing peoples souls and driving them into madness, with the fog marking how far they can go. He also tells how awesome and powerful the souls of the demons are, and so a bunch adventurers, including you, set out to Boletaria to kill demons and find a way to stop the fog. You eventually die at the end of the tutorial and wake up in the Nexus, your hub world, where a lady with
pancakes stiched on her face candle wax covering her eyes tells that your soul has been bound to the Nexus.
From there you wander throughout the land, seeking a way to stop the fog, whilst going through the five levels.
While it was made by From Software as a spinoff to the Souls series, fans are still divided on whether or not it is officially a Souls game (but it deserves an honorable mention). Bloodborne changes the tone from the previous Souls games' Berserk-inspired medieval setting to a dark, gothic world which draws heavy influences from H.P. Lovecraft and Bram Stoker. The biggest differences in gameplay is the inclusion of guns to replace shields from Dark Souls, both as a mostly shitty ranged weapon and a parry tool. Yes, you read that right: the Hunters in Yharnam, through painstaking research and unflinching dedication, have discovered that shooting somebody in the face is liable to break their concentration. This is what the cutting edge of national security looks like in Yharnam.
The player takes on the role of a Hunter, a monster slayer dispatched during a Hunt in the city of Yharnam. You wake up in Iosefka' Clinic and you die before you can even leave (this is technically not true. You can beat the werewolf out to kill you even without weapons. Then, you can enter the Hunter's Dream on the first lantern). Upon death, you are transported to the Hunter's Dream, a hub world for every hunter that partakes in the Hunt. The Dream's inhabitants consisting of a waifu-tier Doll that helps level up the player, an old man in a wheelchair who happens to be the very first Hunter named Gehrman, and the freakish but reliable Bath Messengers, where you can buy items from and who deliver messages. In contrast to Dark Souls more cautious playstyle, Bloodborne encourages aggressive, proactive action. You are frequently outnumbered and can regain lost health by damaging enemies within a small time frame. This encourages you to go on the offensive as much as possible.
Whilst initially a fairly conventional gothic horror setpiece, the game gradually morphs into a Lovercraftian cosmic nightmare. One of the ingame currencies - insight - is gained upon interacting with various characters, seeing horrific monsters, and consuming eldritch knowledge from the trepanned skulls of madmen. As your insight increases, you start noticing things that weren't visible before, like lanterns being covered with eyes to huge multilimbed creatures perching on church spires. It also means the local shoggoth can blow your head off more easily. In a pretty big twist to the usual Lovecraft formula, the religion worshipping the Great Old One analogues are actually the overwhelming majority in Yarhnam, not a hidden cult plotting in the shadows (although there are plenty of those too).