Dark Souls and the History of Video Game Armor as a Mode

Fantasy has remained a preoccupation in the video game sphere since its inception. And while there are many different meanings to the aesthetic, it’s armor that has become the most ubiquitous. But fantasy, or rather the reinterpretation of medieval aesthetics, took on many shapes and forms, especially within games. Its influence extends outward to inspire creators around the world in places like Japan, Korea, and even its birthplace, Europe. Due to its long existence, the genre has become something mutable. And as a result, video games consistently betray an obsession with armor.

The Dark Souls series took several notes from pieces of armor that exist in our very world. Most notably, the Helm of the Sages in dark souls bears striking similarities to the infamous “horned helmetgiven to King Henry VIII by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. In a design document for the game, director Hidetaka Miyazaki and design team member Hiroshi Nakamura discussed their inspirations for some of the armor sets the most remarkable of Lordran. This included designing the armor set associated with the starting Warrior class. In the doc, Miyazaki reveals that this particular set was inspired by the cult classic series of light novels and anime. Recording of the Lodoss Warwhich, ironically, came into being through the creation of sword world — a Japanese role-playing game inspired by the systems and general aesthetics of Dungeons & Dragons.

But these “low-fantasy” design elements aren’t exclusive to dark souls. This aesthetic predated the grueling and dreary fantasy title for over three decades. Founder Fantasy RPG Ogre Tactics: Let’s Hang Together set the precedent for a space that had otherwise been populated with colorful and over-the-top fantasy designs in the vein of dragon quest (also inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and Recording of the Lodoss War). Although (like most Japanese RPGs) it features less than practical designs, armor sets and general attire are more subdued. Even the armor worn by the Valkyrie job class, reminiscent of classic Norse mythology paintings, is tame compared to the loud, colorful designs of early Final Fantasy titles.

Acclaimed illustrator Yoshitaka Amano drew inspiration from a wide variety of different cultures, recreating loose, ethereal concepts that would cement themselves as iconic touchstones in Japanese RPGs and fantasy properties. This included his designs for the Warrior of Light, the first Final Fantasy series hero, and the Dark Knight Armor for Final Fantasy 4 protagonist Cecil Harvey. Each of these designs are fluid, yet feature the stripped down iconography and design principles associated with chivalry and, by extension, the perception of medieval Europe.

Final Fantasy Tactics Concept artist Akihiko Yoshida pivoted in the opposite direction, taking a more grounded approach as seen in the above Let’s hang together. This is illustrated by the somewhat more practical dress of the judges in Final Fantasy 12despite their more ornamental helmets, which don’t seem entirely out of place given The propensity of European blacksmiths to make absurd headgear. Their armor, though ornate, is instantly recognizable and leaves a lasting impression on these figures of absolute authority.

However, it cannot be underestimated how formative Dungeons & Dragons has been for creating and setting up fantasy video games in general. The design sensibilities of ’80s high-fantasy artwork found in “Dungeon” and “Dragon” magazines were on par with the character designs and advertisements that appeared in early incarnations of console and arcade games. It went from Glove‘the sand Golden axethe naughtier character designs, with chain mail bikinis, and Conan the Barbarian– macho-inspired with its fur-lined loincloths and armbands, à la instantly recognizable Diablo series.

Diablo pushes interpretations of medieval armor to their gothic extreme. While Paladin armor was somewhat subtle in Diablo 2 – similar to something you’d see occupying a German castle turned into a modern tourist attraction – this character design would eventually become something bigger and bulkier, in the same vein as the Warcraft series. But it’s always been a hallmark of Blizzard’s character design – or its ability to twist things beyond recognition into something instantly recognizable, if not grossly over the top. The oversized shoulder pads and massive armor worn by characters like Arthas Menethil from Warcraft 3 (and World of Warcraft) would go on to inspire armor designs for popular Korean MMORPGs like the Lineage series Where aionfurther separating these designs from their original context.

Of course, there are titles that try to play it as close to the chest as possible when it comes to historical accuracy. Kingdom Come: Deliverance boasted of its historical realism, and Chivalry 2 is about as good as it gets when it comes to “accurate” medieval armor designs (some seasonal armor set aside). One could also argue for the authenticity of the Witcher series, with Geralt’s mix of chainmail and leather reading as more practical, if not tough enough to withstand the beatings of any mythological ghoul in Eastern Europe. ‘Is who is on his heels. You could say that the Dragon Age series (who was inspired by A song of ice and fire and Dungeons & Dragons’ Nights without winter) also circumvents this line of historical realism and more fantastical designs to some degree, despite the stiffness and stylized armor pieces of Dragon Age 2.

Despite their ramified network of interpretations and mutations, all these titles draw from the same thread: European folklore; the story awash in fables like “Saint George and the Dragon”; or historical events like the Wars of the Roses or, as in dark souls‘ case, petty feuds between nobility like Henry VIII and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.

The medieval knight has been filtered through so many concept artists, designers, and programmers that his permutations in video games are similar only in their foundation – that of nobility and status, combined with ever-present combat readiness. . These accolades have enabled iconic interpretations of what history has given us, shaping new designs that are sure to spin around the wheel and spring back into shape, in a fantastical realm yet to be imagined.

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