It's been twenty minutes since I last died; a lifetime in the world of Dark Souls. In that time, I've defeated a horde of ghoul-like warriors, survived several traps, and killed a boss which resembled a Minotaur. I have 5000-odd souls to my name to prove it - enough to level up three times at this stage in the game - but I'll lose them all if I can't make it safely to a campsite. I'm bricking it, in all honesty.
I'm on a bridge. At the other end there are a few lowly soldiers - enemies who prove little trouble for me at this point. I should be OK. I raise my shield, just to be safe, and make my way across, hopeful that a safe zone is on the other side. I'm about halfway across when an unearthly screech rings through the air, and a dragon descends from the heavens, spewing a torrent of fire from its gaping jaws. It's a one-hit kill. Without a word of warning. Without a hope of evading. All my souls gone.
I'm not going to pretend that I screamed or shouted, or threw the controller across the room in a fit of rage - no, what happened was far less dramatic. I put the pad down, stared at the words 'You died' haunting the screen, and just contemplated how little fun I was having at that point in time, how utterly demoralised I was, how much I wanted to stop playing and find something less painful to do - like hammer a bag of rusty nails into my rugged ballsack.
And yet here I am. Another twenty hours down the road, still playing. Still dying.
Full disclosure: I haven't completed Dark Souls, yet - doing so is a herculean task that requires more time, patience and mental stability than I can muster. Honestly, play the game for long enough and you'll be driven to the brink of despair, to the dark recesses of your conscious where you'll truly begin to loathe yourself. You'll feel like a part of you is trapped in the world beyond the screen, and if you're the kind of person that hates giving up on something, you're in for a world of hurt.
This isn't just because of the difficulty level (although mostly it is), the feeling is also derived from the world itself. Dark Souls isn't much to look at, technically speaking, but it's rich and beautiful from an artistic perspective. The environments are dank and harrowing, with medieval architecture, gloomy forests and filthy dungeons. After a brief introductory cutscene, there's nothing to contextualise any of this. You're left to infer what you will from the world itself - make up your own stories, give your doomed hero his (or indeed her) own quirks and traits. From Software wants you to have your own experience with the game, and to that end it doesn't offer anything in the way of help, directions or context. This is why the game is such a haunting and lonely experience.
Your enemies do wonders in contributing to this overall theme, a combination of their frightful appearances, screen filling size, hulking suits of armour, and habit of driving sharp implements through your chest every five minutes. Dark Souls defies convention in terms of its enemy placement. In most games, there's a gradual slope upwards in terms of how tough the enemies you're fighting are. Here, though, you'll randomly come across a knight who can deplete the entirety of your health bar with a casual swing of his sword. And, once again, you'll all lose your souls and find yourself staring at the 'You Died' screen. Like its spiritual predecessor Demon's Souls, you can fight your way back to your place of death to recover your souls, but if you die again along the way - they're gone for good.