How The Souls Series Is Changing The Way We Play

– by Brendan Reid, Editor –

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As a young boy, he sat in the libraries, pouring over books he could barely read. There were many gaps in his understanding. He could not read all of it, but he could read enough to get an idea of what was going on. The rest he filled in with his imagination.

And what an imagination it was.

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Hidetaka Miyazaki

The boy in the library was none other then Hidetaka Miyazaki, the mastermind behind the Souls series and Bloodborne. The way he filled in the gaps in his books has been translated to his games, and he has created a myriad of open-ended worlds just waiting to be explored and interpreted. This approach to storytelling is one aspect of what makes the Souls series so great, and as a franchise it is helping to shape the way we look at games.

Presentation

The presentation of the Souls games is a breathe of fresh air in a medium that is becoming dependent on checkpoints, straight corridors, and quick fixes. Video games are at their strongest when you are allowed to explore and truly inhabit a digital world. In Miyazaki’s vision, all you can do is explore, for nothing is laid out before you in a straightforward fashion. With clues given to you by the environment, NPC’s, and item descriptions, you must decide for yourself what is going on around you, and come to your own conclusions about the strange lands you inhabit.

The artistic and narrative direction of Bloodborne is one of the series' best.

The artistic and narrative direction of Bloodborne is one of the series’ best.

This open-endedness is putting narrative power back in the player’s hands, as the stories become their own. Like young Miyazaki in the library, the player’s imagination is integral to the structure of the world, and this has united a dedicated community of fans. The conversations that take place around the Souls series are reminiscent of another era, when the Internet didn’t have all the answers to a game’s secrets, and you had to rely on other players for tips and tricks. Now the Internet acts as a platform for people to share their ideas, and the Souls series are inspiring video game audiences to be more inquisitive and open to discussion. Entire essays have been written about what is going on in the worlds of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne, and despite this, the community is still uncovering new secrets.

Multiplayer

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Invasions are an integral part of the Souls experience.

The multiplayer of the Souls franchise is another revolutionary feature, and has genuinely affected the way we play together. The multiplayer consists of invasions, co-operation, and message leaving between worlds. You can choose to be a helpful friend in a time of need, a menace to other players, or an informant of secrets and traps. Even when you are not playing directly with another person, it is impossible to feel alone. Other players bleed into your world as ghosts, and bloodstains on the ground reveal how others have died, so you can avoid their mistakes. This approach is blurring the line of single and multiplayer, and other AAA games such as DestinyJourney and the upcoming No Man’s Sky have adopted this style. The “shared world” multiplayer model has even affected an entire console generation. Sony president Shuhei Yoshida stated Darks Souls influenced the PS4’s network features, where you can share gameplay moments and leave messages for your friends.

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In the Souls series, every death is a lesson.

Gameplay

The multiplayer aspect of the Souls series is only made serviceable by the core games themselves. They are all stiffly challenging, and encourage patience and skill. Many games today are built on instant gratification, but Miyazaki makes you work for his game’s rewards, and each victory is much more satisfying as a result. The difficulty of the Souls games has given them a degree of infamy, but this is just another aspect of Miyazaki’s vision. Each death is a lesson, and through failure you learn to avoid traps and read enemy attack patterns. By respecting the players and allowing them to learn from their mistakes, the Souls games are generating a more intuitive base of gamers, one that does not expect to be hand-held through a game.

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Demon’s Souls was the game that brought Miyazaki to the mainstream eye, and Dark Souls solidified his legacy.

The Souls games have a very old-school feel to them, and are riding the crest of a retro revival. This trend has become very popular in recent years, allowing indie games such as Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge to find huge success. These games probably wouldn’t have been made possible were it not for Demon’s Souls, the first game that Miyazaki developed. Demon’s Souls showed that people still have an interest in the challenging retro styles of games, and that catering to this can be very financially viable. Countless other developers began to imitate Miyazaki’s action RPG style, and the creators of The Witcher 2 and Lords Of The Fallen both cite Dark Souls as a key influence. It has become very popular to emulate Miyazaki, and Dark Souls is now the point of reference for any game that is set in a dark fantasy world or is remotely challenging.

Miyazaki took a great risk with his first game, Demon’s Souls. Developing a game of his imagining was something he always wanted to do, and when the opportunity arose, he took it, not quite expecting the phenomenon it would become. It went on to sell over 150,000 copies in less then a year, and his ambition moved him from coder to president of From Software in less then ten years. His success lies in the honesty of his vision, in his full understanding of what a video game can be. The industry has taken serious notice of the critical and financial success of the Souls series, and is beginning to shape itself around it. Shared worlds, ambiguous plotlines, and deep gameplay mechanics are becoming more prevalent in games these days, and we owe it all to Miyazaki’s awesome imagination.

Brendan is an avid gamer and music enthusiast. He can often be found hiking through the woods, looking for reckless adventures to embark on. 

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