You shouldn’t be disappointed by Dark Souls 2’s T rating
Confirming a rumor first spotted in late 2013, the ESRB has rated Dark Souls 2 at T in contrast to the Souls series’ history of M-rated games. It’s a surprise to say the very least, but what’s stranger is how controversial the rating has already proven to be. Classing the game as a Teen title has incited uproar among the Souls community, rife with the typical cries of the game being trivialized, or of mature content being withheld in an effort to attract the younger audience.
"You dare doubt the difficulty of my quest!?"
Coupled with lingering paranoia of DS2 deviating from the gameplay formula that made the original Dark Souls so great, the new ESRB rating has, to many, brought worry just before the long awaited month of March, when fans will finally get their battered hands on the next trial by bonfire. However, looking at the reasons for the T rating and not just the letter, it’s quick to see that Dark Souls 2 shouldn’t prematurely be called dumbed down.
As our own Matt Liebl noted, the ESRB has given its rating based on the following:
Players traverse dungeon-like settings and battle a variety of fantastical enemies (e.g., ghouls, zombies, skeletons, giant rats) to gain souls. Players use knives, swords, and arrows to defeat enemies. Combat is highlighted by cries of pain and small splashes of blood. Some locations depict instances of blood and gore: a giant snake boss holding its severed head; a giant boss creature composed of hundreds of corpses; dead ogres near a pool of blood; a torture device with streaks of blood. During the course of the game, a boss creature appears partially topless (e.g. hair barely covering breasts). The words 'bastard' and “pr*ck” can be heard in the dialogue.
Top to bottom, the reasoning behind the rating oozes Dark Souls tradition. It’s even got a pseudo-Queelag—“hair barely covering breasts”—which undoubtedly contributed greatly to the original’s M rating. With the torture devices found in Sens Fortress and The Painted World of Ariamis, the blood and gore you’d expect from medieval weaponry, and necromantic enemies straight out of the Catacombs, Dark Souls 2 appears to include much of the original game—except the mature rating.
Pfah! I suppose I'll be up against the Tickle Monster next?
With this disconnection—similar content but differing ratings—in mind, it isn’t unreasonable to assume there’s been a shift in the maturity level, for lack of a better term, of Dark Souls 2, though it takes a long limb to go so far as to suggest a new demographic is being targeted. In any case, given the wealth of insider commentary provided by FromSoftware devs—most notably the two directors piloting Dark Souls 2—it’s far more reasonable to assume that the relaxed rating is simply a benign result of a change in the IP’s direction. Bear in mind, that change is in all likelihood positive; refined and expanded combat and a greater emphasis on role-playing are the dominant changes we know of, and neither can be called bad for the series.
Interestingly, this flare-up does raise an interesting point regarding ESRB ratings. It’s nonsense to dismiss a game as childish or unenjoyable solely because of what letter is on its cover; that’s been proven time and time again by games like Tearaway, LittleBigPlanet and even Minecraft. However, it’s also important to remember that ESRB, and indeed all organizations charged with rating media, do not act as gatekeepers. They sort and file content rather than directly influence it.
Mirror Knight did all he could to get that M rating. Alas, he was just too relatable.
Video games in particular are typically designed separate from their ratings—that is, with a creative vision in mind, not a target rating to slide under. In the case of Dark Souls 2, this implies the T rating was not by design, and that FromSoftware would have happily accepted an M rating instead (and in theory an E rating, but that’s when age-appropriateness comes into question). As such, there’s no reason to fret; with two games under their belt already, it’s clear the studio knows how to run its IP.
Despite its tamer rating, between multiple beta periods and snippets of player feedback, we know enough of Dark Souls 2 to expect a thoroughly grueling trial out of it, blood and blades intact. Besides, if a lack of gratuitous violence and needless nudity is enough to disappoint anyone, the rating doesn’t matter; they’ll never be happy with the game.