FromSoft’s Souls games are infamous for their vague story. Ultimately, it’s about the player trying to make their way from point A to point B while killing anything big enough to stand in their way. After awhile, you kill these obstacles until there’s nothing left to kill – then the credits roll and you start NG+.
But what lies below the hellish difficulty is a world full of deep lore that can be learned about through item descriptions, architecture, and NPC dialogue. While this explanation is all but comprehensive, it will explain the overall narrative of the original Dark Souls.
The Age of the Ancients
During the Age of the Ancients, the world was vast and barren. All that stood were the vast arch-trees that extended past the fog that shrouded the world. Dragons, whose scales granted them immortality, ruled the land.
But then there was fire. It came suddenly into the dark world, illuminating it with brilliant orange flames. From this first flame, the Four Souls of the Lords were founded. These souls granted the wielders ultimate power, but most importantly, the power to rebel.
Nito, First of the Dead, acquired one soul. The next, went to the powerful Witch of Izalith. The third soul was claimed by Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight. Finally, the last soul went to the Furtive Pygmy; his soul weak, but unique among the others.
The Age of Fire
Led by Gwyn, the Lords of Soul and their armies led a rebellion against the dragons. Seath the Scaleless, a conniving dragon, betrayed the secrets of his own kind in the hopes of acquiring the immortal power of the Primordial Crystal, held captive by the dragons.
Armed with the knowledge of the dragons’ weakness, Gywn and his men hurled lightning at the dragons, thus ridding them of their scales, rendering them mortal. The Witch of Izalith, along with her Daughters of Chaos, cast a series of firestorms that burned through the dragons’ homes – the arch-trees. Nito, in-turn, unleashed a miasma of death and disease on the dragons until their bodies crumbled away.
With the land rid of Dragons, the Lords of Soul took dominion over the land now known as Lordran, from atop their royal throne at Anor Londo. During this age of prosperity, humanity thrived and civilization grew for several years. But like all things, the Age of Fire soon came to an end.
Dying of the Fire
The strength of the first flame flickered and waned, and so too did the Souls of the Four Lords. Terrified of returning to the dark, the Lords attempted to kindle the first flame.
Desperate, the Witch of Izalith and her Daughters of Chaos attempted to recreate the first flame with powerful sorcery. But the spell backfired and corrupted the Witch and her daughters. The Witch of Izalith, transformed by the spell, became the Bed of Chaos.
In an attempt to aid the burning city of Izalith, Gwyn sent his army to relieve the ancient city, but it soon became clear that Izalith was lost. Upon their return, Gwyn’s mens’ armor were charred black – a stark reminder of their failure and an ill-omen of bad tidings yet to come.
Seeing no chance at hope, Gwyn divided his power among his children and left Anor Londo to journey to the Kiln of the First Flame, located at the heart of Lordran. There, Gwyn kindled the first flame by linking it directly to his very own soul, feeding the flame and keeping it alive.
But by defying the dying flame, Gwyn unknowingly unleashed the Undead Curse. The Curse takes shape in a human in the form of the Dark Sign, and it steadily decays the body, and upon death, the human is doomed to be reborn at a bonfire destined to roam the land without the reprieve of death. Over time, the undead begin to hollow, giving up humanity for savagery and animal instinct.
Villainized by what little humanity was left in the world, those cursed with the Dark Sign are sentenced to live out the rest of their lives in the Asylum, where they must die and be reborn until the end of the world.
The Chosen Undead
It is here, a millennia after the Kindling of the First Flame, where Dark Souls begins. You, the Chosen Undead, are tasked with ringing the Bells of Awakening and rekindling the First Flame.
After ringing the second bell, the Chosen Undead unlocks the path to Anor Londo through Sen’s fortress. At the same time, the ringing bell awakes the slumbering Kingseeker Frampt. Frampt, a primordial serpent, informs the Chosen Undead that they’re to acquire the Lord Vessel from Anor Londo. Once acquired, they’re to fill it with four powerful souls including the souls of: Seath the Scaleless, Nito, the Bed of Chaos, and the Four Kings (Gwyn’s men).
After traveling the lands and braving the depths of the Abyss, the Chosen Undead returns with the four souls needed to unlock the door to the Kiln, where Gwyn and the First Flame resides. Drained of most of his power, Gwyn charges the Chosen Undead in an attempt to protect the First Flame.
But inevitably, the Chosen Undead falls the weakened Gwyn and is given a choice: kindle the First Flame and continue the cycle of light and darkness, or abandon the first flame and live out the remaining days of Lordran until all crumbles and gives in to the darkness. No matter the choice, the outcome is the same. The world of Dark Souls is forever trapped in a cycle of light and darkness, the Chosen Undead merely has a chance at prolonging the stay of either.