You’ll find him deep within the sinister mist of Mistwood.
Just past the towering runic bear that spends all its time clawing at trees to shit and giggle, is a small circular structure. At its center is an unassuming elevator.
Like most of these sets in Ring of Elden, the ordinary only exists as a gateway to the extraordinary. The ensuing elevator sequence is stretched to absurdity. You’d be forgiven for comparing it to a journey through the seven circles of hell, except in this case the devil’s decision is death by a thousand troubles. But eventually – after a hundred, maybe a thousand years – you hit the bottom of the pit and it all starts to make sense. Kind of.
The sprawling and scenic area we’re about to talk about may no longer be a secret, but the pronunciation of its name seems to be. This intensely memorable passage to a new underworld is the Siofra River Well. It’s pronounced “shee-fra”. Not “see-oh-fra”. Not “show-fra”. Not “sioff-er”, or however some of the more ambitious lucky ones say.
“Shee-fra.” Easy, right?
It is one of many Irish references in Ring of Elden, and FromSoftware games at all levels. While some people from other countries probably thought ‘Siofra’ was just a made up word, it is a popular name for girls in Ireland and traditionally means ‘fairy’ or ‘elf’. It’s no longer a case of a word perhaps being etymologically Irish. The spelling is there; the context is there; the Irish influences elsewhere in the game are there. It is irrefutably linked.
Why is this important? Well, Irish characters in video games are usually pretty lackluster. Alcoholism, overuse of the word “feck” and fancy accents don’t make an Irish character. (Don’t even get me started on The Saboteur Sean Devlin, Fallout 4 Cait, or Red Dead Redemption 1is Irish.)
There are rare exceptions, such as Red Dead Redemption 2by Sean MacGuire and Moira by Surveillance – although she looks more like a newscaster than someone you might meet at the pub. But other than that, the most interesting Irish representation in triple-A video games is largely attributable to FromSoft. That’s why it’s worth drawing attention to the amount of Cool Shit™ in Ring of Elden relates directly to Irish history and mythology.
What’s in a name?
Anyone with even a vague knowledge of Irish names will instantly recognize Commander Niall as being from the Emerald Isle. What’s more intriguing than that, however, is how this fact subtly informs a whole different part of the lore.
If you’ve ever met someone from Ireland, it’s statistically quite likely that their last name was O’Something – O’Connor, O’Rourke, O’Brien. While Commander Niall is a major boss atop the Mountains of Giants, there is a minor boss in the Aeonia Swamp of Caelid called Commander O’Neil. When you delve into the etymology of these names, you will soon learn that “Neil” (pronounced “kneel”) is an anglicized spelling of the Irish name “Niall” (pronounced “Nile”).
This is where things get interesting. The purpose of the name “O’Something” is to denote a certain family relationship – it literally means “descendant of”. The same goes for “Mc” surnames, in which the prefix is literally “mac”, the Irish word for “son”.
So we can deduce that Commander O’Neil is actually Commander Niall’s son just by applying these rules of the Irish language. Once you get this far, you’ll start to see other similarities as well. It’s not just a case of two bosses using a similar gimmick, summon, or set of armor – it’s a case of them being bound by mostly invisible blood.
There are only 5 million people in Ireland, and only 30-40% of that population would be Irish strong enough to notice this connection. Of this figure, how many even play Ring of Elden? It’s very cool to see FromSoft incorporate something into the lore that only a small number of players would pick up naturally.
Ring of Elden doesn’t casually overlap with these elements of Irish culture by accident 500 times a minute – it openly embraces its Irish influences in a way that very few triple-A games have done before.
Even characters with names of other etymological origins, such as Malenia, are clearly encoded in Irish. Her flowing red locks and prosthetic arm clearly reference Nuada Airgetlám, a legendary Irish hero. Airgetlám means “silver hand” and refers to the fact that Nuada lost his arm in battle and had it replaced with an artificial arm by Dian Cecht. It was a necessary measure, since only someone who was physically whole could rule the illustrious Tuatha de Danann.
Ring of EldenThe family feud between the demigods also bears a striking resemblance to the Tuatha dé. This ancient race of Irish demigods descended from Danu, an apocryphal goddess with striking similarities to Queen Marika. The mortal enemies of the Tuatha de Danann, known as the Fomorians, were monstrous supernatural beings associated with death, chaos, and darkness. (The Formorians are often seen as a less pleasant version of Norse mythology’s jotnar.)
If you have played a lot Ring of Elden, you’ll probably have noticed the Evergaols scattered across the world. “Gaol” is a term of French, English and Irish origin that literally means “jail”, but the premise that the bosses are magically imprisoned in these places – presumably by the demigods – adds a very interesting layer of legitimacy. to this theory: the brutal adversaries of the demigods, imprisoned forever until a lowly tarnish sets them free just to defeat them again.
Malenia’s second phase transformation could be interpreted as an extremely cool riff on legendary Irish hero Cú Chulainn’s infamous riastrad, which means “hot spasm”. After entering this state during battle, he had to be forced into an ice bath, the water from which immediately evaporated. After the third vat of water steamed up, he slept with each man’s wife, then went back to fight the next day. (Yes, really.) I’m not alone here. Shortly after the first Ring of Elden reveal, irish video game Twitter thought several characters depicted in the trailer had big Cú Chulainn vibes.
With all the above evidence – for Ring of Elden alone, no less – I’m not sure that’s an argument that can be easily refuted.
These ties go far beyond FromSoftware’s latest – the entire Souls series is and has been closely tied to Irish and Celtic mythology and characters from the start.
In dark souls 2, the Emerald Herald is impeccably voiced by Irish actress Ruth Negga. It also features Laddersmith Gilligan, arguably the most emphatically Irish character to grace a video game… maybe ever? His best lines are probably “Shush, you eejit!” and “I come from a wee bit of West”, which still make me pinch myself every time I hear them. Fair play to Connor Byrne, King of Souls GO.
Speaking of which, the same actor also voices transmitted by blood Père Gascoigne, and delivers yet another Irish slang banger with “Beasts all over the shop”. Either Miyazaki and co. sit at home watching Father Ted Saturday night, where FromSoft’s localization team is based in the heart of Dublin.
Both are equally plausible, despite the fact that neither is remotely true.
The thing is, you just don’t get this kind of thing anywhere else. It’s odd to think that the developer who’s been most consistent in delivering nuanced and respectful representations of Irish culture is based outside of the Anglosphere, while developers in countries much closer to Ireland – who often even have Irish staff – continue to falter.
FromSoft has been doing well in Ireland for over a decade now. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.