Look, I like Dark Souls. I love Bloodborne and I enjoyed Demon’s Souls. Knowing any given enemy can take me out is wonderful. Each encounter has a sense of threat, my attacks carry purpose. My mistakes have consequences, often a swift death. I’m not alone in enjoying this collection of games, far from it.
From Software have become the poster child for the concepts of cult hits and word of mouth. Like the growing darkness feature in the respective games, their brands have grown year after year. Players share stories, relive experiences and encounters. Each world consuming its guests, submerging them in gothic horrors and Lovecraftian madness.
But really, can we stop using the damn games as a descriptive term?
Comparing games that share mechanics and themes is natural. For years we’ve been treated to people boiling down any given modern military shooter to Call of Duty, even if they’re completely different in tone and concept. ‘It’s like Diablo’ was normally the first sentence uttered by anyone trying to detail any given dungeon crawler. While it was fair, the use of the comparison became outdated as the genre grew and evolved.
Doom Clone is another example. Run down a list of early and mid 90s shooters and you’ll find the term littered throughout. A game that sets the standard, inspiring others in its wake. But the genre grew beyond the tag of Doom Clone, taking new twists and turns as technology advanced.
So how come we can’t seem to get away from the shadow cast by the Soul’s games?
Out Of The Darkness
For years now we’ve been peppered with claims that certain games are ‘the Dark Souls’ of their respective genre or series or simple statements of ‘it’s like Dark Souls’. At first, it was fine, an easy method of linking a popular title to help give an impression of something somewhat similar. We find ourselves in a market where games aren’t simply copying Demon/Dark Souls, they’re building on it.
Fresh twists on established mechanics along with entirely new ones are making the ‘it’s like Dark Souls’ term increasingly dated. The recent release of The Surge highlighted this issue, especially in a number of reviews. Throwing in the comparison only went so far to describe the game. A fair few features were left overlooked purely to maintain this image both games were arm in arm with each other.
Last year’s Salt & Sanctuary shared a similar fate. The 2d nature of the game stretched direct comparisons to the extreme. Nuances between the two were lost with a fair few people overlooking Salt & Sanctuary’s fantastic 2D design. Yes, the two games share similar elements but not enough to leave it as a simple comparison. ‘It’s like Dark Souls’ is becoming more of an issue, ignoring the finer details and mechanics which make games different.
Challenge Is Not Dark
For some reason, any challenging game has started to become known as ‘the Dark Souls’ of its genre. Wonderboy’s recent remastering preserves the original’s challenging (kind of at least) combat. Attacks need to be measured and precise. Instead of breaking down why and how it worked and felt, IGN merely likened it to Dark Souls.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is pretty tough for a Zelda title. Enemies can cut Link down or bully him into submission. It didn’t take long for the ‘It’s the Dark Souls of Zelda’ to start. Forget looking at the details and mechanics at play. Ignore how this new found difficulty is implemented into the game, just liken it to Dark Souls and move on. That’s not doing either game or the consumer, much service.
Path of Exile, Dragon’s Dogma, Diablo, Persona 5, Monster Hunter and (bizarrely) The Witcher have all been called the Dark Souls of their genre or franchise. But why? They all have some level of challenge to them…that’s about as much justification as you’ll find. Describing such a robust selection of games in one quick generalization is sheer nonsense.
Running out of steam fast, ‘it’s like’ and ‘it is’ quickly followed by Dark Souls is fast becoming redundant. Ignoring the improvements, progression, and deviations of the genre are counter-productive. Embrace the fact the genre is moving on. Developers are trying new things and making progress, giving us different experiences.
Lumping everything into the same basket isn’t helping anyone. From Software has indeed created a legacy that will forever impact modern video games. It doesn’t mean we have to sit in its shade. Celebrate the successes of genre pieces on their own merit. Stop labeling anything slightly hard as Dark Souls, move on.