With the highly anticipated release of Dark Souls Remastered earlier this week, gamers will no doubt see another influx of ‘Souls-like’ titles and comparisons over the coming years. The term ‘Souls-like’ has been thrown about carelessly to describe games that bear some resemblance to FromSoftware’s Souls franchise. Titles such as The Surge and Nioh are excellent examples of a ‘Souls-like’ experience featuring the right amount of risk and reward associated with the genre.
The issue with the phrase ‘Souls-like’ is that many reviewers—and even developers—misuse the expression to imply that a game is merely difficult. Article headings boast the latest titles are the “Dark Souls” of the franchise when, in reality, the game is only more challenging than its predecessors. A similar argument could be made when movie fans describe a particularly dark sequel to be the Empire Strikes Back of a series, despite it otherwise holding no similar qualities to the original Star Wars sequel.
What, then, makes a game truly Souls-like? Each Souls title places heavy emphasis on atmosphere and allowing players the freedom to explore as much or as little of the environment as desired. Subtle details about the different worlds are hidden away behind cryptic item descriptions and bizarrely charming characters. While a high difficulty level has become synonymous with the franchise, the key ingredient moulded into each Souls game is the overwhelming sense of relief and reward that comes from completing each hurdle and the unique sense of exploration when uncovering the next nugget of lore.
With that being said, a number of potential settings for the style remain unplumbed.
The pirate setting has seen many iterations over the years ranging from the beloved Monkey Island series to the let-down of Sea of Thieves. Despite being a common gaming trope, the exhilaration of commanding a ship sailing out to sea while hunting for unknown treasures never ceases to entice gamers. While most Souls-like games have a strict path the player must take whilst providing shortcuts to create environmental loops, the inclusion of a ship gives a greater sense of freedom and new opportunities to explore a larger world.
The superstitious lifestyle of a sailor opens up a vast amount of possibilities to explore with a traditional Souls twist. Various pirate myths and legends could inspire a plethora of terrifying enemies to face. Creatures such as large serpents, sea sprites/spirits or even the dreaded Selkie (described as a werewolf crossed with a seal), could wander the shores, waiting for the next unwary traveler. The mixture of gruesome folk tales and exploring unknown shores could prove to be an excellent venture for a Souls-like title.
In 2015 the creator of Dark Souls, Hidetaka Miyazaki, blessed PlayStation gamers with the gothic masterpiece, Bloodborne. The game perfectly encompassed the feel of the Souls franchise while deviating from the usual medieval formula into a Victorian setting with Lovecraftian elements strewn throughout the landscape. However, despite blood being a prominent feature of Bloodborne, the game tended to lean more heavily towards beasts and werewolf-like creatures, with only a passing notion of vampires in the form of the in-game covenant, the Vilebloods.
While Bloodborne was fantastic, untapped potential regarding different types of vampire and the intriguing nature surrounding their relationship with humans is rife in such a setting.
The 12 Labours of Hercules
The Greek Pantheon has become the inspiration behind countless successful games and movies. Part of the reason behind this success is due to the incredible world surrounding the mythology and that many western children still grow up learning about the heroics of characters such as Perseus, Jason, and Achilles. Arguably, the most recognisable hero is Hercules. However, one of the lesser known myths about the iconic son of Zeus are the twelve labours that he performed under King Eurystheus’s command.
A Souls-like adaptation of these twelve tasks would fit perfectly within the genre due to the immense challenge each labour represents. Performing each labour would allow the player to discover new locations as they follow Hercules’s path across Greece and the surrounding lands. The labours themselves range from defeating horrific legends such as the Hydra and Cerberus to capturing a monstrous boar and slaying metallic, acid-dropping birds.
Nothing is quite so invigorating as stepping into a virtual arena with the overwhelming roar of a crowd cheering as the player strides towards their opponent. The intensity of battling with an enemy in an enclosed space with no chance of leaving until one lays defeated is essentially already emulated in Dark Souls through the use of a fog wall. This cut-off from the rest of world allows players to focus on their target with no outside interruptions, creating a more engaging experience than, say, a mob of enemies in an open environment. A Roman colosseum would also build upon the growing community of Souls players that enjoy setting up their own mini-arenas for PvP encounters.
The Souls series is no stranger to following the tale of the downtrodden and misfortunate. Setting the scene in the gloomy cells surrounding the colosseum could allow players to uncover the stories of other slaves or glory-seeking warriors. An enclosed cell with several unnerving and murderous individuals would provide a stark contrast to the warmer feeling of returning to Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls.
The Mongol Conquest of China
One particular setting that rarely sees any adaptation, despite many people being aware of it, is that of the Mongol Empire; spanning across the 13th and 14th centuries, it was the second largest empire in human history. One of the more notable feats of the Mongol horde was the total conquest of China, led by Genghis Khan, resulting in the end of Jin dynasty.
Focusing a story around the foreign invasion of China opens the game up to some of the more unexplored elements of Chinese mythology. While dragons are no strangers to the Souls-like genre, China has plenty of other strange demonic beasts including the Mogwai, which inspired the film Gremlins. While cute and cuddly on camera, Mogwais were actually demons that caused people to sin and make self-destructive decisions. Other ghouls and ghastly beings include the Shen, an oyster monster capable of creating mass illusions, and the E Gui, which is a spirit of insatiable hunger that can sometimes spit flames or take on a skeletal appearance.
These are just some of the potential ‘Souls-like’ settings we would love to see. Let us know which period or fantasy you would like to see FromSoftware or another capable developer explore via the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.