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Souls (ソウル, Sōru) is a series of action role-playing games developed by FromSoftware. The series began with the release of Demon's Souls for the PlayStation 3 in 2009, and was followed by Dark Souls and its sequels, Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III, in the 2010s. The series' creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki, served as director for each of them with the exception of Dark Souls II.

Souls
Souls series logos.png
Logos for Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, respectively
Genre(s)Action role-playing
Developer(s)FromSoftware
Publisher(s)
Creator(s)Hidetaka Miyazaki
Platform(s)Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
First releaseDemon's Souls
February 5, 2009
Latest releaseDark Souls: Remastered
May 24, 2018

The Souls games are played in a third-person perspective, and focus on exploring interconnected environments while fighting enemies with weapons, magic, or both. Players battle bosses to progress through the story, while interacting with strange non-playable characters. The series has been both praised and criticized for its high level of game difficulty, and is considered a spiritual successor to King's Field. Other FromSoftware games, such as Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Elden Ring, share many related concepts with the series.

Contents

SettingEdit

The games take place within a dark, medieval fantasy setting, where the player's character fights against knights, dragons, phantoms, and demons and other entities monstrous or supernatural. The accretion, loss, and recovery of souls is central to the narrative and gameplay of Souls games. Another recurring motif is that of a once powerful and prosperous kingdom which has fallen into ruin, for example the setting of Demon's Souls, Boletaria, in which the player attempts to halt the spread of a demon-infested fog that threatens to consume the world.

The plot of the Dark Souls trilogy differs in that it revolves around the player's attempts, through various means, to either reverse or perpetuate the spread of a curse of undeath known as the "Darksign" - which prevents true death but prompts the undead's gradual descent into madness and decay called "Hollowing" - based on the player's decisions. Characters may do this by reigniting the "first flame" or allowing it to fade, recurring a choice others have made before, which eventually becomes a plot point in itself.

GameplayEdit

The protagonist of each Souls game can have a varying gender, appearance, name, and starting class via character creation.[1] Players can choose between classes, including knights, barbarians, thieves, and mages. Each class has its own starting equipment and abilities that can be tailored to the player's experience and choices as they progress.[2] The player gains souls from gameplay battles which act as both experience points to level up and as currency to buy items.[3] Souls gained are usually proportional to the difficulty of fighting certain enemies; the more difficult an enemy, the more souls the player will gain.

One of the core mechanics of the series is that it uses death to teach players how to react in hostile environments, encouraging repetition, learning from past mistakes, and prior experience as a means of overcoming its difficulty. Upon losing all of their health points and dying, players lose their Souls and are teleported back to a bonfire where they last rested, which serves as a checkpoint. One chance is given for the player to recover their lost Souls in the form of a bloodstain, which is placed at or around where they last died.[4] If the player dies again before reaching their bloodstain, the Souls are permanently gone.[4] As most enemies are respawned following player death, or if the player should rest at a bonfire, the player has the opportunity to regain more Souls by repeated combat encounters. The bonfire is a type of campfire in the action role-playing game Dark Souls and its sequels that functions as a checkpoint for the player character's progress, as well as reviving most enemies that the player previously killed. Later in the game, and in Dark Souls II and III, they function as warp points. Another core aspect of the Souls games is its dependency on endurance in battle. Performing attacks, blocking, or dodging consume stamina, which otherwise quickly restores if the player stands still or just walks around. Certain moves cannot be executed if the player lacks a certain amount of stamina, making them vulnerable to attack. Players must balance their rate of attacks against defensive moves and brief periods of rest to survive more difficult encounters.

Online interaction in the Souls games is integrated into the single-player experience. Throughout levels, players can briefly see the actions of other players as ghosts in the same area that may show hidden passages or switches. When a player dies, a bloodstain can be left in other players' game world that when activated can show a ghost playing out their final moments, indicating how that person died and potentially helping the player avoid the same fate in advance. Players can leave messages on the ground that can either help players by providing hints and warnings or harm players by leaving false hints.[5] Players can also engage in both player versus player combat and cooperative gameplay using invasion or summoning mechanics.[6][7]

GamesEdit

Timeline of release years
2009Demon's Souls
2010
2011Dark Souls
2012
2013
2014Dark Souls II
2015Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
2016Dark Souls III
2017
2018Dark Souls: Remastered

Demon's SoulsEdit

Released in 2009 for PlayStation 3, Demon's Souls is the first game in the Souls series.[8][9] It has also been described as a spiritual successor to the King's Field series of games,[10][11] while at the same time being described as a separate entity "guided by differing core game design concepts."[12] It also drew inspiration from video games such as Ico,[13][14] The Legend of Zelda,[12] as well as manga such as Berserk, Saint Seiya and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.[15][16]

Demon's Souls takes place in the fictional kingdom of Boletaria, which is being ravaged by a cursed fog that brings forth demons who feast on the souls of mortals. Unlike its successors, Demon's Souls uses a central hub system known as the "Nexus" where players can level up, repair equipment, or buy certain items, before venturing into one of the five connected worlds. The "World Tendency" feature is also exclusive to Demon's Souls, where the difficulty of exploring a world is dependent on how many bosses have been killed, and how the player dies. The gameplay involves a character-creation system and emphasizes gathering loot through combat with enemies in a non-linear series of varied locations. It had an online multiplayer system integrated into single-player, in which players could leave messages and warnings for other players' worlds, as well as join other players to assist and/or kill them. The multiplayer servers were shut down due to inactivity in early 2018.[8]

Dark SoulsEdit

Dark Souls is the second game in the Souls series, and considered a spiritual successor to Demon's Souls.[10][17] From Software wanted to craft games similar to Demon's Souls but the exclusivity of the IP to Sony prevented them from using the same name on other platforms. Instead, From Software crafted a new intellectual property to be published on multiple consoles.[18] It was released in 2011 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.[19] In 2012, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, featuring the base game and the Artorias of the Abyss downloadable content.[20] The game takes place in the fictional kingdom of Lordran. Players assume the role of a cursed human character who sets out to discover the fate of undead humans like themselves. The plot of Dark Souls is primarily told through environmental details, descriptions of in-game items, and dialogue with non-playable characters (NPCs). Players must piece together clues in order to understand the story, rather than being told the story through more traditional means, such as through cutscenes. Dark Souls and its predecessor Demon's Souls garnered recognition due to the series' high level of difficulty.[21][22][23][6] A remaster of the game, Dark Souls: Remastered, was released in May 2018.[24]

Dark Souls IIEdit

Dark Souls II is the third installment in the Souls series. Unlike the previous two games, director Hidetaka Miyazaki did not reprise his role.[25] It was released in 2014 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.[26] In 2015, an updated version featuring The Lost Crowns downloadable content was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, under the title Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin[27] - with the latter two platforms receiving retail releases.[28] The game takes place in the fictional kingdom of Drangleic, where the player must find a cure for the undead curse.[7] Although set in the same universe as the previous game, there is no direct story connection to Dark Souls.[29]

Dark Souls IIIEdit

Dark Souls III was officially announced at Electronic Entertainment Expo 2015, and was released in Japan on March 24, 2016,[30] and worldwide on April 12, 2016, for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.[31] The gameplay is faster paced than previous Souls installments,[32] which was attributed in part to the gameplay of Bloodborne.[33]

FutureEdit

In an interview promoting Dark Souls III, Miyazaki was asked how he felt about the current number of Souls games. He responded by saying, "I don't think it'd be the right choice to continue indefinitely creating Souls and Bloodborne games. I'm considering Dark Souls 3 to be the big closure on the series. That's not just limited to me, but From Software and myself together want to aggressively make new things in the future... I believe that From Software has to create new things. There will be new types of games coming from us, and Dark Souls 3 is an important marker in the evolution of From Software."[34]

In April 2016, it was reported that Miyazaki and FromSoftware had begun working on a new intellectual property (Sekiro), and had no current plans to continue the Souls series with sequels or spin-offs.[35] Miyazaki also acknowledged the demand for a Demon's Souls remaster or remake, but stated he was personally not interested in working on such a project. However, he stated he was open to the possibility for an external company to do so provided that they loved the original and "put their heart and soul" into it.[36][37]

Related gamesEdit

On February 28, 2016, Bandai Namco Entertainment partnered with American retailer GameStop to release Slashy Souls, a free-to-play mobile endless runner based on the series created to promote Dark Souls III. The game is presented in a pixel art style, and shares the series' level of difficulty.[38] The game was met with highly negative critical reception,[39] with reviewers such as Chris Carter of Destructoid and Jim Sterling both giving the game a 1/10.[40][41]

The King's Field series, also developed by FromSoftware, is considered a spiritual predecessor to the Souls series. It debuted in 1994 for the PlayStation with King's Field and had three sequels in addition to other spinoffs.[10][11] Other FromSoftware games directed by Miyazaki, such as Bloodborne,[42][43] Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice,[44] and Elden Ring,[45] share many of the same concepts of Souls and are often associated with the series despite being their own intellectual properties, with fans and journalists often grouping the games under the "Soulsborne" branding.[46][47][48][49]

Other mediaEdit

 
Cover art for the first issue of the Dark Souls comic book

On January 19, 2016, Titan Comics announced that a comic book based on the series would be released later that year. The first issue debuted on April 6, 2016, to coincide with the international release of Dark Souls III on April 12.[50] That same month, a Kickstarter campaign for an officially licensed board game based on the series was announced, titled Dark Souls – The Board Game.[51] The campaign was funded within the first three minutes of its launch, and was published by Steamforged Games and released in April 2017.[52][53]

In February 2017, music from the series composed by Motoi Sakuraba, was performed by a live orchestra at the Salle Pleyel concert hall in Paris.[54] In September of that year, a limited edition vinyl box set containing the soundtracks of all three games was released in Europe.[55] In Japan, a box set containing the enhanced versions of all three games for the PlayStation 4, the soundtracks for each, bookends, artwork prints, and dictionaries detailing every in-game item from the series were released on May 24, 2018.[56]

ReceptionEdit

Aggregate review scores
Game Year Metacritic
Demon's Souls   2009 89/100[57]
Dark Souls   2011 PC: 85/100[58]
PS3: 89/100[59]
X360: 89/100[60]
Dark Souls II   2014 PC: 91/100[61]
PS3: 91/100[62]
X360: 91/100[63]
Dark Souls III   2016 PC: 89/100[64]
PS4: 89/100[65]
XONE: 87/100[66]
Dark Souls: Remastered   2018 NS: 83/100[67]
PC: 84/100[68]
PS4: 84/100[69]
XONE: 86/100[70]

The Souls series has been met with critical acclaim. The series inspired a social media app for iOS and Android called Soapstone, which uses a similar online messaging system used in the series adapted for the real world, using GPS to determine a user's location and bringing up a list of cryptic messages posted by other users in the area.[71] Demon's Souls won several awards, including "Best New IP" from GameTrailers,[72] and overall Game of the Year from GameSpot.[73]

Dark Souls originally did not have a port for Microsoft Windows, but upon seeing a fan petition for it, Bandai Namco community manager Tony Shoupinou lauded their support, and a Windows port was released in 2012.[74][75] Dark Souls is also considered by some critics to be one of the greatest video games of all time,[76][77] and has influenced the development of many future video games.[78][79][80][81][82][77][83][84] Dark Souls II also received critical acclaim, and is the highest rated game in the series on Metacritic.[61] Before release, Dark Souls III was one of the most anticipated games of 2016,[85][86][87] and also received critical acclaim upon release.[88][89]

The "bloodstain" gameplay mechanic has been given praise by critics. David Craddock of Shacknews called bloodstains "the hook that reels Demon's and Dark Souls players back in time and time again", and said that the resurrection of all enemies upon death make the journey back to one's bloodstain "quite the nail-biter".[90] He stated that the harshest punishment one can receive in a Souls game is "not dying once, but twice."[90] Stephen Totilo of Kotaku called bloodstains the "best game death innovation" after playing a demo of Demon's Souls, questioning 'what took so long for a breakthrough like this?'"[91] GamesRadar+ called bloodstains, in combination with Demon Souls's message system, "a graceful, elegant way of letting players guide each other without the need for words", and said that "rarely has the price of failure been balanced on such a precarious knife edge" as being forced to retrieve one's bloodstain.[92]

The bonfire concept was similarly praised. Matthew Elliott of GamesRadar+ called bonfires a powerful symbol of relief, and "a meaty cocktail of progress, exhaustion and joy",[93] and that, while other games evoke emotions with their save points, no other game does so as effectively.[93] Vice called the Bonfire a "mark of genius" that "reinvented the save point" and allowed the player to reflect on their progress.[94]

SalesEdit

As of March 2015, Demon's Souls had sold over 1.7 million copies, while as of June 2019, the Dark Souls trilogy had shipped over 25 million copies worldwide.[95][96][97] Dark Souls III broke sales records upon release, with the title being the fastest-selling game in Bandai Namco's history, selling over three million copies worldwide a month after its international release.[98][99]

LegacyEdit

The Souls series has led the video game industry to use the term "Soulslike" to describe action role-playing games from other developers that follow general principles of the Souls series, though there is no well-established definition for such games. These Soulslike games typically have a high level of difficulty where repeated player-character death is expected and incorporated as part of the gameplay, losing all progress if certain checkpoints have not been reached, and a means to permanently improve the player-character's abilities as to be able to progress further. Such games considered as Souls-like include Salt and Sanctuary,[100] Lords of the Fallen,[101] Nioh,[102] The Surge,[103] Code Vein,[104] and Hollow Knight.[105]

The "bloodstain" mechanics have been used in other games following their introduction in the Souls series. The games Nioh and Nier: Automata also possess a similar mechanic.[106][107] Code Vein also uses the mechanic in the form of a "flame lantern".[108] Similarly, bonfire easter eggs have appeared in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider,[109] Borderlands 2,[110] Just Cause 3,[111] Overwatch,[112] and Battlefield 1.[113]

Other games cited to have been influenced by Souls include Destiny,[114] Alienation,[115] Shovel Knight,[77][82] Titan Souls,[77][116] Enter the Gungeon,[117] The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,[118][119] God of War,[120][121] Shroud of the Avatar, Journey, and ZombiU.[122] Souls has also been cited as an influence on several of the PlayStation 4's online features, including its asynchronous messaging, social networking and video sharing features, as well as the television show, Stranger Things.[122][123]

ReferencesEdit

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