There are times when writers experiment with ways to tell a story, but one thing remains consistent: using what isn’t said to tell the story as much as the words on the page.
George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is an excellent example of this, using recollections and the presence of lingering artifacts to tell the story of Robert’s Rebellion and the ancient history of Westros. However, Martin has nothing on Hidetaka Miyazaki, chief director of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls.
Aside from an opening cutscene to describe the basic history of the world, Dark Souls reveals very little about what’s going on, giving only the most basic clues as to what’s going on. While escaping from an isolated prison, you’re told about ringing a bell to find out more, just to be told there are two bells. You’re not given a map or directions, just a general idea of what to do. Once you ring the bells, you find out there’s a fortress that’s opened, which leads to a city.
It’s all very vague, if you’re just going by the tasks in front of you. In fact, if you just use the tasks as they’ve been laid out, you will get the “bad” ending.
That’s where the lore comes in. Every item in the game has a description, often with some flavor text. In a world where most people have forgotten things, this is the only easy way to find the history. Some characters will talk with you and tell you things they know, but it’s up to you to put it all together.
Dark Souls actually has a deep mythology and a detailed history, but it’s been scattered and left all over the landscape. It’s not a linear puzzle, but many myths aren’t told in order. In school, we often hear about Hercules before we hear about his father Zeus fighting the Titans. One of Miyazaki’s primary influences, the manga series Berserk, introduces it’s protagonist, then takes eleven volumes to flashback to the back story.
Lore takes some work to piece together, but a lot of people like figuring out the little details. It’s an interesting way to showcase history and storytelling, so much that I’m thinking about writing something based on fragmented lore. But that’s a story for another time.