Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro: the last half a decade has been hit after hit for FromSoftware. Sure, Demon’s Souls was a remaster developed by another studio – but at the end of the day, it’s still From’s IP.
But FromSoftware’s history extends beyond just Souls. While Dark is the spiritual successor to Demon’s, Demon’s is arguably the spiritual successor to King’s Field. All of these games, despite being independent of one another, feel remarkably similar – so what’s the harm in fully committing to this modus operandi, in which spiritual continuations are favored over direct sequels?
The success of Dark Souls is largely attributable to this approach, given that King’s Field’s DNA is endemic to the identity of Lordran. Unrelenting difficulty? Check. Medieval fantasy? Check. The iconic Moonlight Greatsword? Check. The most prominent difference between these two titles is that King’s Field was played from a first-person perspective, with many players at the time comparing it to Elder Scrolls games like Arena and Daggerfall. That being said, it’s very likely that we wouldn’t even have a Dark Souls without the gloomy corridors of King’s Field, teeming with all kinds of bloodthirsty enemies whose vulgar visages would go on to inspire some of From’s most infamous monsters.
But, should Souls go on as, well… Souls? Given what I’ve discussed above, I’d argue it shouldn’t.
Dark Souls was a near-perfect game, barring the rushed third act – which is probably worth its own article. However, its sequels – while still fantastic – stumbled in their own unique ways, often feeling as if they were merely retreading the same story and game with a new coat of paint. Beat a select number of bosses to reach the final area and then, once you arrive there, barge your way down the final path to knock the final boss’ teeth in. Bloodborne and Sekiro shook this formula up, giving us a Souls foundation with a much-welcomed change in setting and story, from the fascinating folklore of Feudal Japan to the eldritch horrors of Victorian Yharnam.
This is what the spiritual successor offers: rather than delving into yet another medieval fantasy land with castles that are a touch less grey, a slight shift in narrative and location can make FromSoftware’s iconic and refined combat feel brand new. Even then, the combat can be altered to keep things fresh, whether that’s the faster-paced action of Bloodborne that incentivizes going ham, or the more open nature of Sekiro with a designated jump button and the ability to grapple.
Then there’s Dark Souls 3’s conclusion. The cycle has come to an end, with the Lord of Cinder toppled and the DLC showcasing the dawn of a new era, the land of the Furtive Pygmy and the Painted World. The story told in the first game, repeated in Dark Souls 2, and implied to have been done countless times in the interim between that and the third game was finally wrapped up. Going forward from that, what can you do – or rather, what should you do? There’s the Painted World of Blood created in the DLC, but surely it’s best to leave that vague and untouched, as it sounds eerily similar to Bloodborne. Why tread on similar ground and not dive into something completely new – something FromSoftware hasn’t dipped its toes into yet, before going on to plunge headfirst into a Moonside Lake with celestial grace?
Fortunately, that’s what it appears to be doing going forward. Sekiro was a brand new IP, and Elden Ring is due to be yet another experiment with From’s iconic formula. Admittedly, Elden Ring feels a bit too close to home, what with it being medieval – but perhaps George R. R. Martin can bring something fresh to the table.
So, what next? Perhaps an Aztec-like culture centered on impending doom, ready to be wiped off the face of the Earth, or maybe the Lost City of Atlantis, mysteriously submerged and never to be seen again – although without The Old Hunters’ weird sharks, thanks. Or, perhaps, FromSoftware could delve into the Wild West and give guns another go. There’s plenty of opportunities for it to try something utterly new and out of its comfort zone, so that’s where its sights should be set. My point is, Dark Souls doesn’t need to continue under that world and namesake. Fans will just as happily play an ambitious new IP from FromSoftware. Ultimately, it will – in spirit – still be Souls.
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Cheerio, or whatever it is that people expect the Brits to say, James is a Newcastle University student from, funnily enough, Newcastle, England. He’s been gaming for as long as he can remember, starting out with Half-Life and Thomas the Tank Engine.
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