The 5 Best Kinds Of Messages In Dark Souls II

The Souls games are famous for a num­ber of things — such as their approach to dif­fi­cul­ty and their world­build­ing — but one of my per­son­al favourite aspects is the mes­sag­ing sys­tem that play­ers can use. I played through most of Dark Souls II recent­ly, so the fol­low­ing impres­sions are based on that game, but at least part of it applies to the first Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne, and hope­ful­ly the upcom­ing Dark Souls III.

When you play Dark Souls II in its online mode, which is usu­al­ly rec­om­mend­ed, you will see plen­ty of tell­tale orange scrib­blings on the ground in most places you go in the game. These are mes­sages left by other play­ers, and they have var­i­ous pur­pos­es, although they main­ly fall into a few cat­e­gories. The mes­sag­ing sys­tem has spawned a num­ber of memes already, such as post­ing (vari­a­tions of) “don’t give up, skele­ton” when you find a reclin­ing skele­ton some­where in the game, or just post­ing “horse” some­where, even though there are prac­ti­cal­ly no hors­es any­where in the game.1

The way these mes­sages work is that a play­er selects the appro­pri­ate “leave mes­sage” option from the menu, and then com­pos­es the con­tents of the mes­sage by select­ing from among a set of pre­set words and phras­es, which can be tied togeth­er in var­i­ous ways. It’s not pos­si­ble to freely com­pose a mes­sage using a key­board or other method of typ­ing; you are restrict­ed to the phras­es and struc­ture that were designed into the game. However, as we’ll see, a lot of the fun in these mes­sages lies in mak­ing cre­ative use of these lim­it­ed options.

So, with­out fur­ther ado, here are some of my favourite kinds of mes­sages in Dark Souls II.


1. The Helpful


There are a ton of spi­ders around this area that don’t like torch­es. Thanks anony­mous friend!

The worlds of the Souls games are full of dan­ger­ous ene­mies, traps, hid­den path­ways, and dif­fer­ent angles of approach for par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tions. Helpful play­ers will use the mes­sag­ing sys­tem to point out (more or less) obvi­ous aspects of these to other play­ers.

For exam­ple, Dark Souls II has a lot of chests con­tain­ing items of inter­est, but some of them are trapped, or even mon­sters in dis­guise (Mimics). If there’s a mes­sage near a chest it could prove use­ful to check it if you sus­pect trou­ble. Of course, the mes­sage may just describe (rough­ly) what’s in the chest, a way of remind­ing other play­ers to be sure to check it out.

Or, con­sid­er the var­i­ous dan­ger­ous ene­mies you encounter in the game. Many of them have par­tic­u­lar weak­ness­es that you can dis­cov­er through trial and error, but you can also write down your find­ings for oth­ers to make us of as a hint. “Weakness: fire” or “try sor­cery” can be life­savers in par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tions. If all else fails, you can also “try beat­ing to a pulp”. Heh.

Other cases where you can often find help­ful mes­sages are the numer­ous illu­so­ry walls in the game, dif­fi­cult to see ledges you can safe­ly drop down to off a cliff­side, and spots where you can safe­ly attack ene­mies with a bow.

Since play­ing the Souls games is often a some­what lone­some expe­ri­ence — just your char­ac­ter up against a very hos­tile world — these help­ful mes­sages are sim­ply reas­sur­ing as well. Others have been here before. You are not alone in your strug­gle.


2. The Red Herring / The Troll

Spoiler: there's nothing down there but cold hard death.

Spoiler: there’s noth­ing down there but cold hard death.

The pre­vi­ous type of mes­sage is some­thing of an enabler for this one. Many play­ers will put down mes­sages that appear to be help­ful, but are actu­al­ly false leads, or worse: plain old traps, just to mess with you.

Players will say “illu­so­ry wall ahead” or “try attack­ing” when a sec­tion of wall is just that: a wall that you can’t get through in any way, no mat­ter how hard you try. Or they’ll put down “boss ahead” in a cor­ri­dor that just leads to an empty room, get­ting you all pumped up for noth­ing.

You can gen­er­al­ly smell a rat with these mes­sages, but I still think they’re fun ways for play­ers to keep each other on their toes. The uni­form tone of the mes­sages — cour­tesy of the pre­s­e­lect­ed phras­es — lends some­thing play­ful to the whole thing. Sometimes you fall for one of these mis­chie­vous mes­sages; you jump off a cliff to your death when a mes­sage sug­gest­ed there’d be a ledge, rush head­long into a room full of ene­mies even though a mes­sage read “safe spot ahead”, but it’s OK. Like the rest of the game, these mes­sages pun­ish care­less­ness.


3. The Celebration

There used to be a big ass dragon here but now the place is all empty. Praise the sun!

There used to be a big ass drag­on here but now the place is all empty. Praise the sun!

Bosses or oth­er­wise tough fights are the cli­max­es of these games. You get your met­tle test­ed, and you will gen­er­al­ly need a few (or a few dozen — curse you, Fume Knight!) tries to get through a dif­fi­cult bat­tle and pre­vail. When these fights are over, you can bask in the calm, and sud­den­ly you start to notice the mes­sages of your pre­de­ces­sors spread around the arena: “I did it!”, “Hurrah for vic­to­ry!”, “Praise the sun!”. Even if you are most­ly play­ing through the game solo, the moments will remind you that you’re part of some­thing of a com­mu­ni­ty of play­ers.

This high­lights the unique approach From Software have taken to incor­po­rat­ing mul­ti­play­er aspects into their games. These episodes, whether it is being invad­ed by anoth­er play­er, team­ing up to tack­le an area or a boss togeth­er, or see­ing the brief ghost­like images of play­ers who hap­pen to be play­ing in the same area as you right at that moment. All of it rep­re­sents a mul­ti­tude of par­al­lel worlds and times that some­times over­lap. The fad­ing and reap­pear­ing mes­sages form part of this approach.


4. The Conversation

Be wary of pointless.

Be wary of point­less.

In a few rare places, you can find a bunch of mes­sages, not just talk­ing about the same object or area in the game’s envi­ron­ment, but actu­al­ly talk­ing to/about each other.

My favourite one can usu­al­ly be found along the path that leads to the Shaded Woods. After the first bon­fire, there is a nar­row leaf-strewn path through the hills where not much hap­pens: the per­fect place for play­ers to spruce up the place with some mes­sages.

The first few warn you: “mes­sage ahead”, “be wary of mes­sage”, “mes­sage and then mes­sage”, and final­ly just a “mes­sage” or two.2 Apart from the sur­re­al humour of the sit­u­a­tion, there’s some­thing about the fixed syn­tax of the mes­sage sys­tem that lends such an exchange a kind of dry wit.

Speaking of wit, there are a few ways in which homonyms can be used to make jokes, and play­ers make plen­ty of use of that:


5. The Bawdy Pun

I may have made the same joke twice. I am twelve years old.

It’s good to let other play­ers know when you’re about to sneak up on an ene­my’s rear.

Of course the mes­sag­ing sys­tem allows for a bit of word­play. While no offen­sive or dirty words are includ­ed in the pre­set phras­es, you can string phras­es or words togeth­er using con­nec­tors like a comma, “and”, “there­fore”, and “in short”. Oh, and “but”. Maybe you can see where this is going.

Two other words in the phrase­book with some obvi­ous uses are “hole” and “rear”. Put them all togeth­er, and well… yeah.

Here’s a selec­tion:

giant but hole” [Just before the The Last Giant boss­fight)
“tongue but hole”

And of course my own exam­ple above. It just goes to show that it’s hard to come up a mes­sag­ing sys­tem where you can’t some­how make jokes wor­thy of a six year old.


Message ahead in short Praise the Sun!

Some of these are kinda profound.

Some of these are kinda pro­found.

For me, all of these kinds of mes­sages add a bit of lev­i­ty to the Souls games. While I love the gen­er­al­ly dour tone and some­times bleak and frus­trat­ing chal­lenges in the games, it’s great to bal­ance that with some­thing light, and the mes­sages add just that, whether it’s the hint you need­ed, a bit of trolling to remind you not to take the game too seri­ous­ly, or just a bit of fun.

  1. Why the devel­op­ers added the word to the list even though there are no hors­es to refer to is one of life’s great mys­ter­ies. []
  2. Yes, the con­tent of a mes­sage can just be the word “mes­sage”. How meta. []

Odile Strik

About Odile Strik

Odile A. O. Strik is editor-in-chief of The Ontological Geek. She is also a linguist from the Netherlands. She occasionally writes in other places, such as her own blog Sub Specie. You can read her innermost secrets on Twitter @oaostrik.