Dark fantasy is a very popular subgenre, especially when it comes to video games. The genre combines the fantastic and the terrible, evoking creatures such as werewolves and vampires. Notable examples of dark fantasy include manga such as Berserk and Attack of the Titans, and films such as Fawn’s Labyrinth.
Nevertheless, it is video games that contain some of the most striking examples of dark fantasy. These are the genres of Dragon Age, Darkest Dungeon, Castlevania, Drakengard, NieR, Sunless Sea, The Witcher and others. FromSoftware games such as Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne do this too, although it is Elden Ring that is most rooted in the dark fantasy of FromSoftware games. It has much in common with the genre of dark fantasy.
The setting is a huge part of dark fantasy, and Elden Ring plays a dark fantasy setting in every sense. The main website for understanding genre tropes, TV Tropes, describes dark fantasy as “a standard fantasy setting combined with a trashy world,” and Elden Ring does just that. A standard fantasy with dragons, castles and magic, but all this in an oppressive world where there is not enough security and sanity.
Every place in the Elden Ring is filled with darkness and danger. Even in the Fortress of the Round Table, a place known for the Tarnished to rest and be at peace, there are moments of danger. Volcano Manor is practically a museum of torture, giant ants and piles of corpses are underground, and the capital lies in utter ruins. Many places that were once settlements are flooded, abandoned and/or filled with monsters.
Nature itself is not good in the Elden Ring. Most Elden Ring animals attack the player at sight, including runic bears, wolves, giant ants, crabs, dogs, giant bats, giant dragonflies, giant octopuses, lobsters, rats and hawks. Even plants such as giant miranda sprouts can be dangerous because they secrete damaging spores. While standard fantasy usually shows such creatures in a neutral or friendly light, dark fantasy such as Elden Ring makes these animals terrifying and dangerous.
There are also beings who seem to contradict nature itself. These are those created by magic and supernatural means, such as skeletons, decomposing corpses, skeletal slime, puppet soldiers, revenants, grafted offspring, scarlet rot zombies, funerary watchdogs and ulcerated tree spirits. These horrors are seen everywhere as players explore the Intermediate Lands.
Gods and demigods
The gods are not kind in dark fantasy. They often crave more power, lack empathy, and should be feared. This is true for all the gods of the Elden Ring, the Outer Gods and demigods. The Outer Gods are very similar to Eldritch’s influence on the Intermediate Lands. They are incomprehensible without physical presence, but, nevertheless, depressing. None of them wants anything charitable or good. Mad Flame has a cynical idea that life itself is suffering, and therefore life itself must be destroyed. It is known that the Formless Mother craves blood and wounds. The God of Scarlet Rot is, in fact, the god of biological devastation. Then, of course, the Great Will itself is so attuned to order that those who are against its laws, and those who want to make their own choice, are killed or enslaved.
Demigods are a different breed, but they are in many ways part of the dark fantasy. Their morals are either hard to define, or they have become a kind of abomination. Most of them are greedy, wanting to replace Marika and rule the Intermediate Lands. Many of them have committed genocide, kidnappings, theft, mass murder and abuse of power. Rikard is a man who has been tortured by hundreds, if not thousands, and he hopes to devour the gods themselves. Ranni killed Godwin, stole from Maliket and plans to sacrifice even more to replace Marika. Malenia committed genocide with her rot when she fought Radan. Mog kidnapped Mikella in hopes of controlling him and brainwashing him. Godric killed hundreds to graft parts of their bodies into himself. Radan may have once been good, but he became a monster because of the rotting of Malenia.
The fate of the characters
Happily Ever After doesn’t exist in dark fantasy. In Elden Ring, this is especially true for the characters. Many do not have happy endings, and they are lucky that they even survived the game or reached the end with their sanity intact. The player will have to kill many demigods and creatures, but even friendly NPCs often have unhappy fates. In most of the endings, Melina sacrifices herself to set the Erdtry on fire. Rye dies in the hold of the Round Table. Bernhal betrays the player in the “Crashing Farum Azul”. Sir Gideon also betrays the player and must be killed. Bok may die depending on how his quest is completed. Nefeli can turn into a puppet. Dee is killed by Fiya.
The list goes on: the Fia either sacrifices itself or dies. Corinne may lose faith in the Goldmucks, and Goldmask may die.