Series Analysis will be a set of articles that I want to use to further enhance the discussion around the games we love. I would like to start this article by breaking down two concepts: why games were difficult in the early days, and how Demon’s Souls came to remind us of that difficulty from the NES era. Let us begin!
Understanding difficulty and how the Souls Series came to be.
Video games truly are a product of their times. Back in the late 80’s, content creators were still dealing with the idea of developing games for a home environment. Gone was the need to beg our parents for quarters to continue playing. One of the options developers had to make a game last longer than it actually took to finish was to have a high difficulty. Games like Battletoads, Ghosts ‘n Goblins and the older Mega Man games were known to be extremely difficult, which led to them having more restarts, ergo longer play time. Of course, with games becoming more cinematic as technology evolved, developers opted for easier games to focus on the story, which lead to many titles holding your hand, with long tutorials and typically easy encounters for the majority of your playtime.
Then, in 2009, Sony released a gem called Demon’s Souls, directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki and developed by From Software. This game almost immediately became a cult classic, a game that dared to tell its story through item descriptions instead of cut-scenes. It was a game whose tutorial lasted mere minutes and consisted mainly of messages on the ground telling the player what inputs do what actions. It was ballsy, but it worked, and the future for this type of difficult game looked bright.
Prepare and continue to die: Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
Two years later, in the Fall of 2011, we finally got our hands on Demon’s Souls’ spiritual sequel, Dark Souls. This game improved on nearly everything Demon’s did; a masterpiece of video game design. A game that, nearly 5 years later, is still being discussed (which is helped by the fact that the third game in the series, Dark Souls 3 is coming out within a month of this writing.) I recently purchased a PlayStation 4 specifically for Dark Souls 3, but also for another From Software title that I’m sure most of you are aware of, Bloodborne.
This is another game in the same vein as the Souls series, except with the added emphasis on action and constant dodging. It took what made the series great, tweaked it a bit, and added a nice layer of Gothic horror to really make it stand out. The game is phenomenal, and it deserves all of the hype it received, as well as all the Game of the Year nods, and even a Greatest of All Time nomination by Devin Rogers himself.
I know there was a second Dark Souls, but it was not directed by Miyazaki and it was developed by the B team of From Software, so I won’t be mentioning it but this once… Because it sucks.
My goal, then, is to simply present a few ideas and thoughts in regards to why I think the first Dark Souls games is the best Souls game in the series. I consider Bloodborne the second best, but only by a slight, yet crucial, margin. So, ladies and gentlemen of the internet, I present to you:
Onix’s Mega Lists (patent pending): Souls Edition – 3 Reasons why Dark Souls is better than Bloodborne.
I. Weapon and Armor/Attire Variety
Bloodborne, by design, doesn’t lend itself to having a lot of diversity to its weapons or attire relative to other games in the Souls series, especially the weapons. Each one is designed to feel like it is two-in-one, with the trick system utilized in extremely inventive ways. One of my favorite (and most common) examples is turning the cane into a whip. Pretty cool! Yet, there are a total of 15 weapons in the main game, with the DLC adding another 10. Compare that to 108 in Dark Souls, and that shows a lack of options by comparison. Considering that a number of the Dark Souls weapons are throwaway items (like a normal dagger for instance), even if you disregard half of the weapons found in Dark Souls, there is still double the amount in comparison to Bloodborne.
This goes the same for Dark Souls armor versus Bloodborne attire, as there are many, many more pieces of armor in Dark Souls than in Bloodborne. This is personally a shame, because I didn’t get to mess around with the attire in Bloodborne like I would in Dark Souls, building an awesome set and having tons of options to choose from. Most of the attire found in Bloodborne tends to look really, really cool, though. This, however, also led to seeing less variety in the players while summoning or fending off invaders. This was one of my favorite parts of Dark Souls, seeing the different builds and aesthetics players would come up with. Not the biggest disappointment, but certainly a sore one.
II. More Memorable Bosses
This was a tough one. Many of the bosses in Bloodborne are memorable, especially the ones found in the latter half of the main game and within The Old Hunters DLC. Gherman, Martyr Logarius, Ebrietas and Lady Maria (my personal waifu) all stick out. The design of Mergo’s Wet Nurse was also amazing, but not a very memorable fight.
The bosses were overall more challenging in Dark Souls. Only two bosses in Bloodborne truly gave me a hard time, and those were Rom and Lady Maria (<3). Besides that, maybe Martyr. In Dark Souls? Boy, oh boy, there is variety. In terms of memorable bosses, you have plenty to choose from, like Chaos Witch Quelaag, The Four Kings, Dragon Slayer Ornstein & Executioner Smough, the Gaping Dragon, Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, and my personal favorite Sif the Great Grey Wolf.
Like I already mentioned, most of these battles were very difficult. Ornstein and Smough, for instance, brought quite a good amount of anger to me, which I remember vividly after all these years. However, none of them top Great Grey Wolf Sif. The amazing music in the background, the way the battle takes place and seeing its effects on the boss itself make it the most memorable encounter of the entire series for me. Plus, I felt honest sadness when it came time to deal the finishing blow. That’s a first for a Souls game.
III. World Design
Of course this was going to be mentioned, and this one is probably the one with the most conflict. Bloodborne is an amazingly designed piece of video game art. From the way the world slowly devolves into madness as the story progresses, tapping into Lovecraftian horror for its imagery, to its ingenious shortcuts, all masterfully crafted by the developers.
Problem is, Dark Souls did it better five years earlier. In Bloodborne, the main hub – Hunter’s Dream – is disconnected from the rest of the world, unlike in Dark Souls. The way the world progressed and built up in Dark Souls was truly magical. Starting from basic outdoor castles, which led to the player delving into sewers, which in turn continued to progress into even deeper, darker parts of the world. After sometime you begin to feel despair, surrounded by a poisonous swamp and enemies on a mission to end your life with hit and run tactics. In this darkness where no light hits, there was genuine anxiety building up inside the player. You die, over and over, to the insanity that was Blighttown, but you push through. You fight your way out, kill Queelag, and then the game begins to push you up, towards the seeming exit. Light starts flickering through the cracks of darkness, and suddenly you find yourself at Firelink Shrine, back where the real game started so many hours ago.
This moment, although repeating itself a few times, from different locations and under different circumstances, demonstrates how thorough and tight the world design is. Every turn, every corner, every nook and cranny was connected to the rest of the world. It seemed as if the developers at From Software thoroughly thought out the landscape before digitally painting it for us to explore.
Bloodborne is a modern classic, a game that will be remembered for its awesome gameplay, design, and overall imagery. Dark Souls is already a classic, but it is also a masterpiece. A masterpiece of video game design. There is no doubt in my mind that Miyazaki and the immensely talented team at From Software have left their mark on the annals of video game history. I cannot wait for the future when Dark Souls 3 hits and we see what kind of master class design gets put into the next, and final installment, of the Dark Souls series.
So, what do you think? Which one is your favorite and why? Leave a comment below and join the discussion!