There is a common consensus within the Soulsborne community that the first game someone plays in the series will be their favorite. While every Soulsborne game offers its own unique take on the FromSoftware formula modernized in 2009’s Demon’s Souls, every subsequent Soulsborne game a player has under their belt seems to lessen the feeling of that initial impact as players go into the game understanding its rules and expectations. Luckily for anyone looking to recapture the initial rush of that magical first playthrough, 2018 indie game Fear & Hunger perfectly encapsulates that infectious Dark Souls ethos.
Fear & Hunger isn’t for the faint of heart, offering some extreme content warnings more closely resembling Dark Souls-inspired Berserk in its refusal to shy away from more taboo topics. With graphic violence, nudity, and sexual assault, anyone interested in experiencing Fear & Hunger should be made aware of what lies within the game’s dungeons. For those willing to brave the experience, they will be rewarded with a thoughtfully crafted game that internalizes several core concepts that pique the player’s creativity and curiosity before outright rewarding their ingenuity.
A Thoughtful Approach To World Design and Storytelling
One thing many players latched onto from the Soulsborne series is its thoughtful approach to storytelling. There’s a reason why an entire community was built on the back of interpreting and retelling the intricate lore and narrative of these games. Items, characters, and enemies are deliberately placed to trigger the curiosity of the player, ultimately asking them to piece each disparate clue together to decipher the narrative of the game. The Soulsborne games give the player exactly as much as they’re willing to put into them.
Fear & Hunger carries a very similar design philosophy to this, offering brief snippets of the larger world and giving enough information to keep the player curious enough to keep digging. New Gods and Elder Gods are hinted at early on, giving glimpses of how their influence affects the larger world at play. Rooms aren’t filled with set decorations as much as they are puzzle pieces used to interpret and decipher allegiances and motivations. Much like the ethos engrained in the Soulsborne series, Fear & Hunger respects the players’ ability to unravel its narrative, ultimately encouraging discussion and cultivating a sense of community as players tackle the challenges presented together.
Meeting Fear & Hunger on Its Own Terms
Much like the Soulsborne series, Fear & Hunger also gives the player whatever they’re willing to put into the game. The game’s systems, combat, and even save states are purposefully obtuse, meaning players have to experiment and fail in order to understand what is expected out of them. Saves can only be executed if the player correctly guesses a coin flip, or so it seems until an area is cleared of enemies and saves become free. Enemies need to be dismembered to deliver a killing blow, but players can be punished for prioritizing the wrong strategy in combat for every single enemy. Essentially, Fear & Hunger‘s approach to difficulty mirrors the Soulsborne games where failure is a lesson and not a punishment.
This approach to difficulty sets a tone wherein players are encouraged to experiment because even insta-deaths or fail states are memorable experiences. Like the first Hellkite Drake or Mimic in Dark Souls, the game presents a problem and gives the players all the clues to solve it, resulting in a lesson of patience and humility if they fail to do so. While these kinds of deaths may feel frustrating for many players, they undoubtedly stick in the player’s mind.
Fear & Hunger is littered with moments like these. Small avoidable things a player accidentally stumbles upon help create a sense of dread and unknowing that makes it equally difficult and enthralling to push on. From something as small as stepping on a rusty nail and dying of tetanus to being violently awakened by a boss because the player slept in the wrong bed, Fear & Hunger offers an experience that is as memorable in its moments of punishment as it is in those of triumph. However, Fear & Hunger understands that moments of triumph are ultimately the transcendental moments that make the overarching experience worthwhile.
Avoiding Nihilism in a Dark Game
It’s easy for a game like Dark Souls or Fear & Hunger to get swept up into the conversations of their difficulty, but ironically, the games don’t want you to fail. That doesn’t mean neither will allow someone to fail nor punish them for making a poor decision, but ultimately the characters and community surrounding both games offer insight and encouragement to keep someone pushing further into the depths of each respective world.
With this one choice, it’s clear that these games don’t hate the player or hold them in contempt. This is a very important ethos as the experiences are already overwhelmingly oppressive. This is ultimately the major thematic point that ties Dark Souls, Fear & Hunger, and even Berserk together. Each of these pieces of media envelops their audiences in a bleak and unforgiving world. Even though that world may hate its inhabitants and anyone looking to experience it, those same inhabitants refuse to let the harshness and cruelty within the world win.
These types of experiences aren’t difficult for the sake of being mean-spirited. It’s clear their purpose is to show that no matter what the world has to throw at someone, there is beauty and mystery worth enduring to experience. Much like Dark Souls, Fear & Hunger isn’t a game that hates the player — it instead offers the excitement of striving for survival in a punishing world and learning something from the experience.
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