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Perhaps the reason the mysteries of Dark Souls are so enticing is because the game doesn't provide us with all the answers and leaves a lot of things open and up for interpretation. As such, this GameSpew article that theorizes that nothing in the entirety of the series has ever been real, and everything happened inside living paintings within living paintings, has as much merit as the next theory. And, at least, it tries to offer a plausible explanation for the convoluted timeline and all the parallel worlds. If you're into Dark Souls lore, this article is a nice read. A few paragraphs:
The Final Secret
And now we come to what I believe is the final secret of the Dark Souls series. It came to me when I journeyed to The Painter to hand over the blood and ‘end’ the game once and for all.
In order to get to The Painter, you journey through Ariandel Chapel, in which there are a stack of paintings all depicting the same red-robed woman. I looked at these paintings, idly as I went by. I ascended the ladder to the attic where the Painter waited, musing over her canvas, kicking her scaled feet back and forth like a child. Upon handing over the blood to The Painter, she asks our name. If you tell her your name she says: “My thanks. I will paint a world of that name. Twill be a cold, dark, and very gentle place. And one day, it will make someone a goodly home.” If you choose not to tell her your name, then she will name the painting “Ash”.
As she told me that she would paint a world in my name, it struck me. A truth dawned, so blindingly obvious it had eluded me up to this point. I can’t believe, in all honesty, it didn’t occur to me in the very first Dark Souls game, but then, I suppose I didn’t have the additional evidence Dark Souls III brought to the table.
You see, I think that the entirety of Dark Souls, every game including Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, takes place inside a painting.
Let me re-frame that: I don’t believe there is an over-world or a ‘real’ world, or if there was, it’s surely been forgotten. There are only paintings, endlessly framed inside one another, going down to some point of muddied annihilation.
There are no real gods, no real ‘people’ in essence; just souls, and history is constantly confused by the process of re-creating worlds. I believe that all of the ‘worlds’ and ‘lands’ of Dark Souls are in fact paintings, paintings copied from other paintings. And during the process of copying, some of the details change, or are skewed, or even lost entirely.
Why are there so many pictures of the same red-robed woman in the Chapel of Ariandel? Is it to hint to us the real nature of things? Players inhabit thousands of parallel universes that are almost identical, but can be bifurcated by choices. Think about this: a non-player character, Anri, can summon the player to kill her nemesis Aldlich in her world, but when the player returns to their own world, Aldlich is still alive. The “convolution of time” Solaire describes is far deeper than that. Each person has their own world. At times, these worlds intersect, but most of the time they remain isolated.
What’s the first thing you do in Dark Souls? Name your character. It seems so insignificant. What RPG can’t you name your character in nowadays? But what if Miyazaki is pulling wool over our eyes? What if, in this smallest thing taken for granted, he’s concealing an incredible truth? That we’re not naming our character in the Character Creation screen, we’re naming our world.
Just as The Painter names the next world after us at the close of The Ringed City.