icon Author: SilverKurumi
Retrospective: Dark Souls Series
Dark Souls is a very popular Game Franchise that originally debuted in March 2011 and has since grown exponentially in both Fan Base and in terms of mechanics and what visual candy can do for hauntingly dark atmospheres - but it wasn't the first game in this iteration; that honour goes to it's semi lesser known brother Demon's Souls, which came out ONLY for the PS3 System in 2009 and was published by Atlus and not Bandai Namco, like the Dark Souls series is.

The Series' growth since it's original release in 2009 has been a pretty large one.  

Demon's Souls' release back then was met with pretty favorable reviews, but the game didn't sell very well off the bat - in fact this game actually saw more and more sales as the series expanded via word of mouth very late in it's life cycle. This game is also, surprisingly, still running online despite it being on the chopping block for cut servers multiple times.

The series' dark and dreary flair would be something it's sequels would continue to keep. In Demon's, the player is tasked to defeating many demon's and creatures that now infest the large kingdom of Boletaria in order to release it from the dreaded fog surrounding it. This game's tutorial starts you off battling against simple deceased soldiers until it pits you into what is essentially a losing battle against a large enemy wielding a colossal mace, if you somehow defeated this beast, you're treated to a sneak preview of another boss that effectively pummels you into the ground and laughs at you all the while.

Demon's Souls, in my opinion, had some of the best visual design and balance in the entirety of the series even to this day. Melee weapons hit hard and vicious as it drains from your stamina bar (Green in the image above) and Spells would consume MP (Blue bar) - a feature that would not see it's return until Dark Souls 3.  

Comparable to it's follow ups, the game boasted a challenge-by-design architecture that required you to be attentive to your surroundings, your enemies' patterns and choose accordingly in order to make it out alive. Demon's had a lot of moments in it's run time, where it leaves you with a sense of loss with calm and lit spaces to where it can then toss a lot of surprises your way, and that wasn't even all it had to show you. The worlds themselves would react to your character's actions, thanks to it's White and Dark world tendencies, which controlled the amount of Red Phantoms ( Hostile NPCs) that would appear in your world, but would also affect enemy placement, certain weapons' strenghts and rare loot.

Demon's Souls remains my second favourite in the series thanks to how replayable it is and how genuinely creepy the game felt. From the familiar castle depths and dungeons, the dreaded Valley of Defilement with it's sticky looking textures and very grotesque looking enemies to the exceedlingly creepy Tower of Latria - it was the game that did actually get me hooked into the series, and got me into it's multiplayer for long, long hours.

Enter Dark Souls, technically the sequel to Demon's Souls - is a game that improved on the first game in almost every single aspect.

This game sported a fully open, and fully interconnected world where, as you continually progress and get stronger, you get access to more areas that can each contain their own set of secrets and epic boss battles to fight.  Much like Demon's, it starts you off with a bit of exposition and then a small tutorial stage to complete before it sets you off into the actual game.

In Dark Souls, you are the Chosen Undead, a being that slowly gets "corrupted" as their minds slip away until the body becomes a grotesque shell of the undead's previous self and until they eventually break and become hostile and eventually slip away into entire nothingness. This game really gave you an immense feeling of dread and uncertainty that came across much better than it ever did in Demon's, or it's sequels too for that matter. It is the player's job to now traverse the Kingdom of Lordran and kill the last line of defences in a world now being threatened to be tossed into a new Age of Dark.

However, as great as the game is, it's second half post what can be called as the series' most memorable boss battle duo, Ornstein & Smough in Anor Londo takes a fairly sharp nose dive as far as it's quality goes. While it didn't really dwindle how amazing the overall package was, it was a noteable  argument as to why the game can be unfair at times - but some argue that it's the game changing up it's formula so drastically from what it originally teaches you - which is to play it cautious, safe and courageously - to something that forces the player to overcome and adapt. The 4 Kings required the player to attack as fast as they could to prevent more and more Kings from spawning; the Gravelord Nito teaches the player how to properly manage an immense crowd and teaches you how to focus and think on your feet; the final boss himself greatly rewards the player with a MUCH easier fight if the player buckles down and learns how to set up parries and ripostes and so on.

It's armour design is also a touch more "snazzy" and noisy. Compared to Demon's more traditional medieval garments and armour - Dark Souls instead has own armour designs on a "per character" basis. Ornstein has a fairly impractical looking armour set that has him completely masking his face with a solid gold lion mask and very heavy looking hip guards; Smough has an armour set that is built with the purpose of making him (look?) fat to crush foes more easily and a lot more. It also has more humanoid boss battles compared to Demon's more creature based boss roster.

All in all, Dark Souls is, bar none, my favourite entry into the franchise still because it had the best moments. Epic boss battles, a Soundtrack composed by Mister Motoi Sakuraba himself and an ever expanding world filled to the brim with secrets that is both fun to explore and very endearing to walk through time and time again.

While this being part of the first Dark Souls title, the Expansion, oddly named Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, added a lot more content to the world of the game and it reworked the game to a point where it almost felt like a different title all together.

In the Prepare to Die expansion, players are whisked off into a world that takes place before the events of the first game in which the player himself must brave the ever expanding Abyss and alter the course of time in that land. You start off the expansion with a boss fight right away, to serve as the gatekeeper into the land of Oolacile, a land that's now being devoured by the Abyss - and with it's protectors either nowhere in sight or corrupted by the Abyss.

The expansion added a slew of new Armour sets, Weapons and Characters/NPCs that made the experience feel more complete. The actual Expansion lasts around 7-10 hours and it pits you off against a slew of different boss battles and and atmosphere that's very different to that of the main game.

After the immense success of the first game, Namco Bandai had a sequel made, however, this game would not be Developed by the creator of Demon's and the first Dark game. Namco Bandai first showed off the game in E3 2013 with this little gem of a trailer that showed off a more visually impressive game than the first game, as well as see how much more dark. The actual game suffered a fairly large "downgrade" in visual fidelity when the game actually released. 

In Dark Souls 2, the player gains a sickness that turns the body Hollow, a zombie like being - so they travel away to the distant land of Drangleic in hopes of finding a way to rid themselves of the disease, but instead finds themselves in a plot to overtake a Kingdom now plunged into death and dread.

For many Souls fans, Dark Souls 2 is considered the lowest point in the series and this is partly due to the creator of the series starting their work on another game. This game was critiqued for having very stiff animations compared to the first game, repetitive and dull boss battles and it's the only game in the series where it ditches it's "Hard-by-Design" philosophy and instead it applied it's difficulty by forcing the players into multi man encounters and ambushes. The world also had issues as far as consistency goes even if they looked visually more appealing than the first game's. The hitboxes also leaved a LOT to be desired. The game's multiplayer systems were also very convoluted and it made it hard to sync up with friends if you didn't have certain items available to both of you.

It's not all bad, however - Dark Souls 2 is a much longer game than the first and is more consistent with it's design philosophies than the first game, it had a larger variety of weapons and spells at your disposal, each one of them being viable in both PvE and PvP in some form of another and it generally had a better balance than the first game did as far as PvP goes. It also featured a more in depth Covenant System than the first game and it still has a very large amount of secrets and fun things to explore in it's expansive game world. Variety was the name of the game for Dark Souls 2. 

What I felt made this game a touch easier compared to the first, was that it had a very large variety of consumable items at your disposal that were cheap to purchase and easy to farm and it had a large variety of easy to acquire spells which made some encounters and boss battles very trivial. As much as I critique the game, however, I still very much love this game because it's just fun. Even though it's design is very different from the first game, to some, Dark Souls 2 can feel like a better game simply due to the fact that it's just much more consistent, the armour designs are great and the vistas are a sight to behold.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a "Remasted" version of Dark Souls 2. This game was released for the PS4, Xbox One and PC in November, 2015 and it featured all of the game's DLC Content available off the bat and slightly improved visual fidelity (thought still not quite matching up to the game shown at E3 2013) and framerates for the console versions.

Scholar also featured a more challenging Enemy Placement as it's main draw.  Some enemies in the original game were replaced with much harder variants or sometimes a completely different enemy all together (like the Hellkite Dragon in one of the starting areas) and some consumables in the game were changed or lowered to amp up the game's challenge.

There wasn't really all that much to this iteration of the game. Unless you REALLY had a calling for more Dark Souls 2, this was really more of a treat for fans of the game that wanted to try out the game in superior hardware ( consoles ) or wanted to try out the game with different placements for a slightly different experience than the vanilla offering.

What is now being called, "The Last of the Souls" Games, this game will mark the end of the Souls Series' line of games. Releasing in April, 2016 - Dark Souls III released to praise and critical acclaim effectively ending the series in a bang.

The original creator for the Souls Series', Hidetaka Miyazaki is the producer for this game as well, which marks the return of a few older systems from older games in the series, but also features a much faster paced combat, more akin to the likes of Bloodborne - a new Game Series created exclusively to the Sony PS4's library.

Dark Souls III is set in the Kindgdom of Lothric, and your character has been summoned to undertake a journey to defeat the Lords of Cinder with the ultimate goal of Relinking the Fire, similar to the first game in the series.

Much like the first game in the series, Dark Souls III takes place in the SAME world as the first game, just considerably longer into the future. Some characters from the first game, like Andre the Blacksmith reappear in the game and offer their services to you in exchange for souls, the game's ongoing currency - but it's not just the first game that makes cameos or have roles - the creepy ladies in red dresses from the second game also make their appearance in this game and offer their services to you as well.

Dark Souls III boasts the largest game world of the previous Souls games and it has a lot of varied enemies, vistas and boss battles. It also marks the return of the MP Bar, a function not seen since Demon's Souls. It has a huge variety of weapons and secret events within it's game world and it just has a lot of design throwbacks to the first game but with a lot more consistency behind what it does and what it teaches the player. While it's world isn't as bleak and dreary as the previous games in the series, it instead imbues a much stronger sense of lonelyness as even the NPCs that help you out can just up and vanish or turn hostile on you based on specific events. The game also has the BIGGEST collection of weapons and armour sets out of the entire series because it has a few armours from previous Souls games, like Ornstein's set, Artorias' set from the first game or the Faraam Armour set from the second game.

This game also features just some of the best designed boss battles in the series to date. While not being quite as memorable as Ornstein & Smough, a lot of this game's boss fights are designed with Phases in mind, something that was predominant more in Bloodborne than in any of the previous Souls games. Each boss has very specific weaknesses or ways to kill that made them fun to tackle in different ways.

I very much enjoyed Dark Souls III as a farewell to an amazing series. It's sense of scale and majesty are bigger than what the previous games offered and it still has a very large number of amazingly designed boss fights.

And with the farewell of this amazing series, we get the Next in line: Bloodborne.

Bloodborne, Released in 2015 exclusively for Sony's PS4 System - marks the possible new Spiritual Successor to the Souls Series.

The game takes place in a Gothic, Victorian London setting and features a more Lovecraftian based design into it's creatures and world structure. The player takes control of a Hunter re-awoken in a Medical Facility in the city of Yharnam, a city that's infatuated with Blood as a religion. Everyone in this city is infected with a mysterious plague that turns them into "Beasts", whom are werewolf like creatures that seem to maintain their hosts' speech patterns but makes them extremely prone to violence. Your job is to find the cause of this plague, and finally put an end to "The Hunt".

Bloodborne is a much different game than the Souls Games. The game's combat is much more faster paced and there are no shields to protect you from enemy attacks; instead, the game provides you with a sort of shadow step movement and ways to heal yourself from immediate damage. If you get hit in the game, you can quickly recover most of that lost health with a flurry of quick attacks at the enemies - and this is actually part of the game's lore. Essentially, your character absorbs and heals themselves with the enemy's blood.

It's also a pretty scary game as well. This game features the most oppressive atmosphere out of any of the Souls games before it. The enemies can actually talk to you and it's somehow more daunting to kill enemies that are, at their core, still alive and still human in a way that they blame YOU for their misfortunes.

The boss battles in this game are a treat and a half - the grand majority sporting very grandiose and orchestrial themes against boss fights that have a LOT of health, are able to combat you differently if their health drops below a certain percentage and take battle damage and wear as the fight continues along.

Unlike the Souls games, Bloodborne does things a lot differently with weapons and items. There is a much smaller variety of weapons and arms in the game, but each of them have two functions, (they transform), for example, your standard Axe can become a long Axe, whose charge attack sends your character spinning for a brief time; a weapon that's a cane, when transformed turns into a spiked whip, and much more. Your character, instead of having a Shield in their off hand, they carry a firearm and said firearm is your primary means of staggering or parrying an enemy. Items also function differently. Instead of having an Estus Flask, you carry around Blood Vials, and you can only carry upto 20 at a given time, same with Silver Bullets.

It's truly an excellent game. I think it's a shame it's only available for the PS4 though, because I believe more people should experience this game. Out of the entirety of the Souls Series, playing Bloodborne made me hopeful that the follow up one of my favourite game franchises of all time lives on in a series that, in my opinion, plays a lot better and looks a lot better. The Victorian London era is a perfect setting for a new Souls-like experience and the faster paced combat easily make this one of the better games to come out outta From Software and I am looking forwards to hearing about a sequel to this game.

NOTE: The King's Field series games were not covered because these are a different type of games at their cores. 
  • vinc15
    September 16, 2016

    good game!

  • kkkevin
    September 17, 2016

    i like it

  • CJDance1
    September 17, 2016

    Great article!  

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