I’ve played Dark Souls and enjoyed it. I’ve found that the intimidating difficulty at the beginning of the game definitely rewards perseverance and grinding your way to victory, so as someone who is happy to keep on trying, keep on building up experience and getting stronger, it kept me entertained. But one area I found lacking was the engagement with the lore of the game. There’s a lot to be found in the game through item descriptions and such, but I was never really able to connect with the world and the setting very well this way. As such, when the Dark Souls: Complete Collection graphic novel came along I was excited to delve into it and learn more about this fascinating world.
This huge new book contains the four separate comic series previously produced by Titan Comics, putting them all together in one volume. The first story in this collection is ‘The Breath of Andolus’ by George Mann, the first Dark Souls comic produced by Titan back in 2016, which was simply called ‘Dark Souls’ when it was first released. The story begins with a warrior named Fira awaking alongside a a man called Scryer, who convinces her that he’s her friend despite her memory loss. Fira learns that she’s on a quest to retrieve three legendary artefacts tht will allow her to rebirth the dragon Andolus.
The story sees Fira and Scryer fighting their way through a variety of locations that fans of the series will find familiar, and features some characters and monsters from the game, including Solaire the Sun Knight. Despite this, the story does contradict certain parts of the game, and it’s not completely clear where in the timeline it’s supposed to sit. Despite a few moments that might not line up perfectly the story is enjoyable enough, and the artwork by Alan Quah is very nice throughout. The characters look great, and some of the environments are stunning; the crystal caves stand out as a particularly good.
The second part of this collection is ‘Winter’s Spite’ by George Mann, which tells the story of the warrior Andred, who has left his home and travelled into the frozen wastes to track down the man who has stolen his ancestral sword. The story sees Andred fighting for his life in a frozen arena, being captured by the undead, and fighting to reach an isolated mansion home to a powerful woman. The story is definitely an improvement over the first, and the more personal story, and I felt that I was able to get to know Andred more as a character than I was the lead in the first story. ‘Winter’s Spite’ also has what I’d say are more interesting set pieces for the action, and a more engaging environment for the story thanks to the snowy locations.
The art on this story, provided once again by Alan Quah, is probably my favourite in the book. Quah is great at capturing both the people and the monsters that inhabit the Dark Souls world, but I think the different environment helps here too. He captures the strange empty beauty of a snow covered landscape, and this landscape in turn helps the characters and the action to stand out. The scenes in the ruined manor are also incredibly well done, and he’s able to bring a sense of beauty to these ruined places.
‘Age of Fire’ by Ryan O’Sullivan is the third book in this collection, and the one that interested me the most. This is the story that actually goes into the backstory of the game, that really explores the history of the world and goes into details in ways that I wished the game did more. Beginning in the Age of Ancients, the story shows the war waged between the dragons and the gods, before moving forward in time to show the beginning of the undead plague, the fall of the Sliver Knights, and the end of Gwyn.
That being said, I really struggled with this part of the book. The story covers a lot of events, events that people who have delved deep into the game lore will be familiar with, but for someone with relatively little knowledge like myself it was quite confusing at times. The story jumped from one event to the other without really explaining what was happening, and it was often hard to tell characters apart when they’re in full armour and wearing helmets. It seemed to be acting more like it was filling in gaps for people who already knew the broad strokes, rather than telling a complete story of its own.
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The artwork on this story, by Anton Kokarev, also gave me mixed feelings. It has a look to it that’ve very reminiscent of digital paintings, and at times it’s incredibly beautiful to look at with some gorgeous moments. However, much like with the story there are times where I was finding it hard to know what I was looking at, and who was who. The action sequences here were also some of the dullest in the book, with very few dynamic panels or fun action moments on display. Sadly, between the disappointing story and art this ended up being my least liked of the whole collection.
The final part of the collection, ‘Legends of the Flame’, is an anthology collection of short stories set across various parts of the Dark Souls universe. The stories are framed as tales being told to a traveller who meets a mysterious figure at a campfire. The stories tell of people who lay traps for those cursed with the undead plague; how a city became a trap-filled labyrinth to keep out monsters; how a man is made to fight in an arena again and again, dying and being reborn time and time again – and many more.
These stories have a mixture of writers and artists on them, and it’s honestly the best part of the entire book. The stories are short but incredibly creepy. They cut out all of the stuff that isn’t needed and tell the core story in ways that do feel reminiscent of hearing a story around a campfire at night. And the art styles, which vary from story to story, fit each of the tales well, complimenting the dark and spooky tone.
Overall, there are some good parts of the Dark Souls: Complete Collection, some excellent parts that I loved, and some parts that left me feeling disappointed. For anyone that comes to this without knowing a lot of the lore of the universe you’ll probably have a similar experience of it being a fairly mixed bag, but for those who already know a lot about this universe and its history you’re going to find a lot here to interest you.
Dark Souls: Complete Collection is out now from Titan Comics.