Ashen One burning

The "Dark Souls" franchise is arguably game developer FromSoftware’s crowning achievement. Each entry in the series features spectacular mechanics, unforgettable locations, and some of the greatest boss battles in gaming. The games are known having difficult gameplay and a story that’s equally as difficult to understand. The lore of "Dark Souls" is deep, but it’s buried behind item descriptions, cryptic character dialogue, and other small details.

The story of "Dark Souls 3" brings a satisfying conclusion to the series while also introducing a huge amount of new characters, each with their own interesting tale to tell. Scratch the surface of the game’s story, however, and you’ll find plenty of sadness buried underneath. Things don’t usually work out well for the denizens of Lothric or for the world itself. If you, like many, are more concerned with slaying bosses than stitching together bits of fantasy history, then you probably made it through "Dark Souls 3" without a tear in your eye. Well, keep some tissues nearby as you read through the most tragic details that you missed in "Dark Souls 3."

Quelana and her sister reconnected

Quelana curled up by her sister

"Dark Souls 3" ties up a number of loose threads from the first game in the series, though it often dozen so in unconventional and unexpected ways. Fans first met Quelana of Izalith in "Dark Souls," the same game where they met her sister, the Fair Lady. Both are daughters of the Chaos Witch Izalith, who also gave birth to the infamous "Dark Souls" boss Quelaag. Long ago the Bed of Chaos transformed Izalith’s daughters into terrifying spider demons, and only Quelana managed to escape. She lived most of her adult life separated from her family and teaching the art of pyromancy to travelers in need.

Quelana assisted the Chosen Undead in "Dark Souls," but the Ashen One of "Dark Souls 3" isn’t lucky enough to get her help. While exploring the ruins underneath the Smouldering Lake, the Ashen One can find an illusory wall that hides Quelana’s final resting place. As tragic as it is to discover her corpse, this sad story contains one small silver lining: Quelana’s body is curled up next to a second corpse – the spider body of the Fair Lady. Fans put the pieces together and realized that hundreds (if not thousands) of years after the Bed of Chaos tore their family apart, these two sisters were finally able to reunite and spend some time together before dying.

The Giant Blacksmith couldn’t survive Aldrich

Ashen One kneeling Blacksmith corpse

Friends are few and far between in the world of "Dark Souls." Most living beings that players encounter are out for blood, and the few surviving humans that are met along the way always have the potential to turn Hollow and become bloodthirsty aggressors themselves. That’s what made meeting the Giant Blacksmith in the first game such a special moment. The Blacksmith resides in a small room on the side of the cathedral in Anor Londo. Players first step into his domain after battling through one of the most difficult stretches in "Dark Souls," just before they enter the notorious Smough and Ornstein boss fight.

Like many other "Dark Souls" characters, the beloved Giant Blacksmith makes a brief return in "Dark Souls 3." Unfortunately, also like many other characters from the original game, the Giant Blacksmith met a dark fate sometime in between the two games. Players find his corpse in the very same room where he once created powerful weapons. It’s likely that the Giant Blacksmith died when Pontiff Sulyvahn and Aldrich took over Anor Londo. By the time players make their return to one of the most memorable locations from "Dark Souls," the Giant Blacksmith long-since forged his last weapon.

Siegward’s friendly duty

Ashen One sitting beside Siegward

Siegward of Catarina wears the same armor as Siegmeyer of Catarina from "Dark Souls," and the two characters share a voice actor in Miles Richardson. Unlike his earlier counterpart, Siegward isn’t out looking for adventure – he’s on a tragic quest to fulfill an old promise to a friend. Unfortunately, advancing his quest is far from straightforward. After initially meeting Siegward in the Undead Settlement, players will need to help him through a predicament in the Cathedral of the Deep before crossing his path again in Irithyll. Only after meeting him there will Siegward tell the Ashen One anything concrete about the dark quest he is undertaking.

Siegward reveals that he’s journeying to the Profaned Capital beneath the Irithyll Dungeon, and after mentioning the Lord of Cinder Yhorm the Giant, he says that he has "a grave promise to keep." If players are able to advance Siegward’s quest all the way to the Profaned Capital, they can summon him to help with the Yhorm boss battle. Doing so triggers a unique cutscene that, paired with the description of Yhorm’s Storm Ruler sword, pieces together the rest of Siegward’s story.

Long ago, Yhorm gave Siegward a Storm Ruler to assure his kingdom that he would always be a good leader. Now that Yhorm has been resurrected along with the other Lords of Cinder, Siegward is set on putting an end to his decaying existence.

Fighting a pregnant dog

Ashen One standing over pregnant dog

The "Dark Souls" franchise doesn’t tell a typical story about a hero saving an imperiled land. In fact, within the lore of the games, whether or not the player character is even a hero at all is a legitimate question to ask. The Ashen One in "Dark Souls 3" is on a quest to unite the Lord souls in order to use their power to sustain the Age of Fire through one more cycle. Setting aside the thorny problem of whether or not it’s right for the cataclysmic Age of Fire to continue, the Ashen One achieves that goal through rampant destruction and killing. Most of the bosses are some shade of evil, but not everything the Ashen One encounters deserves to die.

If players carefully explore the Road of Sacrifices, they can find a cave with a dog-like creature unlike any other in the game. Redditors have noticed that the dog is visibly pregnant and has a completely unique moveset. When first encountered, she uses a vomit attack on the player, and when she gets desperate she can do a jump and maul attack that pins the player to the ground. Of course, she’s still no match for the Ashen One, but what kind of "hero" is killing pregnant animals on the side of the road?

Gundyr’s failed legacy

Iudex Gundyr standing in front of bonfire

The world of "Dark Souls 3" exists within a cyclical pattern. The First Flame burns, begins to fade, and is reignited by a powerful individual who then becomes a Lord of Cinder. For most of the game, the Ashen One attempts to gather the souls of past Lords to gain enough power to access the First Flame. Because of that focus, it’s easy to forget that not every hero has succeeded in their attempt to become a Lord of Cinder. However, players can encounter a legendary failure twice in a single playthrough.

The very first boss encountered in "Dark Souls 3" is Iudex Gundyr, an armored warrior whose body acts as a sheath for the Coiled Sword. Sussing out Iudex Gundyr’s backstory would be almost impossible unless a player discovers the Untended Graves and its boss Champion Gundyr. The description of the soul he drops reveals that Gundyr was supposed to become a Lord of Cinder, but he arrived at Firelink Shrine too late. His bonfire was unlit, and his quest ended before it ever had the chance to begin.

After defeating Champion Gundyr, players can purchase his armor set – which reveals that after realizing his failure, Gundyr was defeated by another champion and forced to become a sheath for the Coiled Sword until the end of time. That’s a rough reward for a would-be hero.

Horace lost his tongue

Horace the Hushed with crossed arms

FromSoftware’s games are filled with NPCs who speak in sentence fragments and give the player tiny hints of information through bizarre lines of dialogue, but one of the most memorable characters in "Dark Souls 3" can’t say a word. Players first meet Horace the Hushed at the Halfway Fortress bonfire. He’s accompanying Anri of Astora on a quest to kill the Lord of Cinder Aldrich, who has been living in the Cathedral of the Deep and consuming the bodies of human beings.

Anri and Horace were once children of the Cathedral, but they managed to escape being fed to Aldrich and went on to become adventurers. Somewhere along the way, Horace lost the ability to speak. The most popular theory, which is backed by content creators like Vaati Vidya, is that Horace, a member of the Blue Sentinels, had his tongue removed while defending someone from the deadly faction known as Rosaria’s Fingers.

Others argue that Horace may have lost his tongue as a child, since Rosaria’s Fingers reside in the Cathedral where he and Anri grew up. The silent Horace continues to loyally fight beside Anri until he’s struck down by the Ashen One or dies of his own accord in the Smouldering Lake.

Anri’s difficult life

Anri of Astora sitting beside Horace

Anri of Astora is one of the most important characters in "Dark Souls 3." Her quest line has branching paths, and it would take several playthroughs to experience every possible outcome to her story — but every approach reveals some kind of tragedy.

Somewhere in the Catacombs of Carthus, Anri and Horace become separated. Players can find Horace, now Hollowed, below the Catacombs in the Smouldering Lake. If the player decides to tell Anri where Horace is without killing him first, she descends to the lake and is killed by her lifelong friend. However, if Anri lives long enough to achieve her goal of helping the Ashen One kill Aldrich, she still meets a tragic end. Anri either becomes Hollow by the graves outside the Cathedral of the Deep, or down by the corpse of Horace in the Smouldering Lake. Players can leave her alone, mindless and undead, or they can end her life out of mercy.

The only other possible outcome for Anri is even darker than the others. By following the Usurpation of Fire ending path, players can use Anri as a sacrifice to become the Lord of Hollows. She never needs to become Hollow herself, and she doesn’t even have to learn of Horace’s fate. But in following this path, she’ll never have the chance to defeat Aldrich, and she’ll die by the player’s hands.

The Old Demon King’s final moments

Old Demon King kneeling

"Dark Souls 3" hides secrets in the most unexpected places. The game’s boss battles are usually a vicious fight for survival in which most players are primarily concerned with killing their enemy as quickly as possible. If you hacked, slashed, and fire-blasted your way through every boss, you likely missed a secret animation for one of the game’s best optional bosses.

The Old Demon King represents the last vestige of demonic power left in the world. His small domain beside the Smouldering Lake is little more than a sad echo of the Demon Ruins from the original "Dark Souls." The Old Demon King is fairly easy compared to the other bosses in the game, but that just makes it even more likely that players will entirely this sad moment.

Near the end of the battle, the King will release a massive burst of flame in a final effort to defeat the Ashen One. After the attack, the King kneels on the ground, unable to move. Instead, with the light having left his body, he struggles to breathe and barely clings to life. He’s the only boss in the game that shows a moment of weakness like this, and that moment is made all the more tragic by knowing that the King is the last of the demon lineage in the world.

Outrider Knight ghosts

Ashen One walking between ghosts

"Dark Souls 3" is all about the inevitability of fate and the way that the past tends to linger on. That’s why so many characters from previous games make appearances throughout "Dark Souls 3," and why some of the game’s biggest characters, like Siegward of Catarina, are essentially remixed versions of people players have seen before. Ghosts of the past populate the world of "Dark Souls 3," and some fans have discovered literal ghosts wandering the streets of Irithyll. Some of these ghosts seem to be wearing the armor of the Outrider Knights, and one ghost in particular appears to be the Dancer of the Boreal Valley.

It’s not clear how the ghosts exist — especially considering that when they’re first encountered the Dancer is still alive — but they help give Irithyll its uniquely chilling atmosphere. They aren’t just pure set dressing, however; they also help to illuminate a tragic moment in Irithyll’s past. Players are watching the ghosts of the Dancer and the Outrider Knights walking out of Irithyll on Pontiff Sulyvahn’s orders. It’s impossible to know how long ago the Knights left, but because players slay characters like Vordt and the Dancer themselves, it seems painfully obvious that the doomed Knights never returned to their homeland.

Gwyndolin’s dark fate

Aldrich holding spear

When it’s time for a boss fight, most players run straight into battle. However, anyone who hung around outside Aldrich’s fog gate in Anor Londo heard some of the most terrifying audio tracks in all of "Dark Souls." It’s basically a mix of growling and slurping sounds, along with a muffled voice that sounds like it’s begging for mercy.

Fans belive that Pontiff Sulvahn brought Aldrich to Anor Londo to help him wrest control of the city from the gods. With that backstory in mind, it seems likely that what players hear outside Aldrich’s fog gate are the sounds of Gwyndolin, son of Gwyn, being eaten alive by the Devourer of Gods. Gwyndolin was a boss in the original "Dark Souls," but fans get to witness his true fate at the end of the trilogy. Aldrich is only part-way through his meal when the boss battle begins — which means that by killing him, players are also, in a way, defeating Gwyndolin for a second time.

The missing Ocelotte

Oceiros cradling invisible baby

Some "Dark Souls 3" fans have turned to the game’s code to answer certain questions. During the fight against Oceiros, the Consumed King, players can see that he is cradling an invisible object, and some of his dialogue sounds like he’s speaking to a child named Ocelotte. Content creator Lance McDonald dug into the game’s cut content to discover that there was originally supposed to be a baby held in Oceiros’s arms, but FromSoftware apparently decided to make the model invisible in the final game.

Fans disagree on the original intention behind Ocelotte’s inclusion. Some believe that players were supposed to kill the child, driving Oceiros into his rampaging second phase. Others think that Oceiros was supposed to kill Ocelotte by accident while battling the Ashen One. FromSoftware has never clarified. The only thing that’s certain, and what remains true even in the final version of the game, is that Oceiros loses his child one way or another, and the loss drives him to madness.

The Twin Princes were the real victims

Twin Princes in battle

We’ve already seen that the Ashen One in "Dark Souls 3" isn’t necessarily a hero. From killing a pregnant dog creature to slaying the last of the demon race, the Ashen One performs plenty of unsavory deeds. The Twin Princes of Lothric Castle may also have been the protagonist’s innocent victims.

The description of the Soul they drop upon death reads, "The two princes rejected their duty to become Lords of Cinder, and settled down far, far away to watch the fire fade from a distance. A curse makes their souls nearly inseparable." It seems the Twin Princes didn’t want to perpetuate the suffering of the Age of Fire, and instead tried to hide away from the world while letting nature run its course. The Ashen One ultimately kills the Twin Princes to use their Cinders to continue the Age of Fire.

Even FromSoftware seems to have acknowledged that the Twin Princes are worthy of some sympathy. The official "Dark Souls" Twitter account posted about them in 2020, writing, "Scorned, shunned, manipulated and cursed, they wanted nothing more than to shrug off the burdens imposed by their regal blood." Unfortunately for the Princes, the Ashen One slays anyone who gets in their way.

Time is collapsing in the Ringed City

Slave Knight Gael holding sword

The finale of "Dark Souls 3" — and the entire "Dark Souls" franchise — arrived in the "Ringed City" DLC. Players travel first to an area called the Dreg Heap before making their way into the Ringed City itself. The Ringed City is a beautifully designed location, and eagle-eyed fans noticed that the DLC also features several locations from previous "Dark Souls" games.

Traveling through the Ringed City, players work their way back through the series, finally facing off against a boss at the original Firelink Shrine. After battling through the city, players are eventually transported to the end of time itself, where they fight the last boss of the game, Slave Knight Gael.

The Ringed City subtly reveals the single most tragic detail in all of "Dark Souls." Traveling back through past locations seemingly reveals the meaninglessness of everything players have done throughout the entire franchise. No matter what players chose at the end of "Dark Souls" or "Dark Souls 2," the cycles of the Age of Fire continued unfettered. The world continued to reiterate and slowly decay.

Gael is the final boss of the franchise because somewhere in his travels he found the Dark Soul, which can be used by the Painter to create a new world. Some people may live on within that painting, but the larger "Dark Souls" universe is doomed to repeat its destructive cycle until the end of time.