Despite being developed by a Japanese studio, From Software’s Dark Souls series features such a diverse amount of representation, that anyone would be forgiven for believing that its country of origin could have been pretty much anywhere. While the game draws inspiration from many ancient sources, the focus of this article is to shine a light on Wales and its contributions to one of the best action-RPGs of the generation. Wales is a land steeped in ancient myths and legends that permeate the very ground we walk on, the air we breathe, and even the sky we look up to. It’s no surprise that Welsh stories have burrowed their way throughout history and emerged in all corners of the world, even in places you’d least expect. In this article, we will take a look at some of the connections Dark Souls has to Wales, and the possible meanings behind them.
The most obvious of all is the NPC merchant Domnhall of Zena who is first met near the entrance to Blighttown and later relocates to Firelink Shrine. His greeting of ‘aye siwmae,’ is oft used in Wales as a way of informally greeting one another. That coupled with his incredibly warm attitude and thick Welsh accent have endeared the character to players.
It’s no surprise that Dark Souls takes inspiration from Arthurian Legend, which is widely accepted to have originated in Wales. This has even been confirmed by director Hidetaka Miyazaki in an interview, which gives even more credence to the connections. King Arthur’s wife, Gwynevere is featured in name as the daughter of Gwyn and Princess of Sunlight. The Celtic solar myth has often been perceived as a precursor to Arthurian lore, with its ever-perpetual cycle of Sun gods rising to power and being subsequently overthrown by a younger, more powerful successor. Such a cycle is also perpetuated in the world of Dark Souls, with the Chosen Undead embarking on their pilgrimage to link the fire and become the next Lord of Cinder.
The game’s main antagonist (which is an incredibly vague and open-ended interpretation but let’s not go down that rabbit hole), Gwyn opens up a whole host of possible connections. ‘Gwyn’ most commonly translates into the Welsh word for ‘white’ but is also used to refer to things that are ‘blessed’ or ‘holy’. With Gwyn’s status as a (formerly) all-powerful deity worshipped by the inhabitants of Lordran, such a name is already befitting of a character with such reverence. The Way of White covenant takes this one step further too, since they are touted as the Followers of Gwyn. It’s a bit on the nose to anyone who speaks the language and sees the references as plain as day, but it is appreciated nonetheless.
Gwyn’s nomenclature could be a reference to the mythical Gwyn Ap Nudd, king of the Annwn, the Welsh realm of the dead. According to the legends, after death, the soul of a person would awaken in Annwn and embark on a quest for their soul to be reborn. Depending on the person’s alignment in life, their experience within Annwn could differ drastically. If the soul once belonged to a terrible person then they would have to fight their way through a hostile plane, encountering other wandering souls that have been warped or turned into ghoulish creatures as a result of losing their way. Sound familiar?
Artorias the Abysswalker is one of Dark Souls’ most beloved characters, due to his tragic backstory, design, and engaging boss fight. Given his mention in this article, it would be wise to assume that he may have a connection to Wales, and that would be correct. Presumably, anyway. Arthur, when translated into Latin, turns into Arturus, or Artōrius in Vulgar Latin. Artorias’ wolf companion, Sif may have roots in the tale of Culhwch and Olwen which tells of Arthur’s quest to seek out the giant she-wolf Rhymhi and her cubs, who supposedly turned into a human form after the encounter.
It’s nothing major or earth-shattering, but seeing your own culture and language represented in a medium like gaming is always a pleasant surprise. I have to stress that a lot of the supposed Welsh inspiration is speculative, but the connections are there. Whether or not they are intentional is known only to the developers. It could all be purely coincidence, but such is the nature of myths and legends; you’re never quite sure.