It wouldn’t quite be accurate to call Dark Souls III, out worldwide next month, the most anticipated video game of the year. Of course there’s every reason to be excited about its arrival: The release of a new game from the visionary and reclusive developer Hidetaka Miyazaki is always an event, and after Bloodborne, his Gothic masterpiece from last year, fans are desperate to revisit the Souls franchise. But anticipating the next installment is a lot like trying to psych yourself up for a boxing match knowing full well that, win or lose, you’ll be beaten to a pulp.
In each of Miyazaki’s games you play a pathetically under-equipped milquetoast, feeble where most heroes are mighty, plunged into a medieval hellscape with a coat of shabby armor and an ineffectual sword. It’s common enough for action titles to build to a formidable boss battle or make you slog through an arduous set piece late in the game, but Dark Souls III (PC, PS4, Xbox One) is something else entirely. You’ll find yourself handily trounced by the very first enemy you encounter—and, rest assured, by every enemy you encounter thereafter.
But that’s precisely Miyazaki’s appeal. Most games arm you to the teeth, careful not to let the difficulty level interrupt your fantasies of heroism and power. Miyazaki aspires to a higher sort of satisfaction. Conquering even a portion of one of his games feels like a serious accomplishment. You never forget the moment you finally defeat the knight who kept filleting you, or the first time you stand your ground against a dragon and actually survive. Your math teacher was right: The more difficult the problem, the more rewarding its resolution.
Every time Miyazaki makes a new game he raises the challenge—pretty astonishing, given that the urtext of the series, Demon’s Souls, already seemed virtually impossible. That’s how he keeps the thrill fresh and how a Souls fan, no matter how accustomed to the gauntlet, will always have another trial to brave. Perhaps at some point we’ll hit the wall and the appeal will exhaust itself. But for now, that balance of pleasure and pain is irresistible. We can’t wait to be agonized all over again.
Meanwhile, here’s our web-exclusive interview with Miyazaki about the inspirations behind Souls and Bloodborne and his reasons for making them so diabolically hard.
What it is about the Souls series that compels you to return to it after seeming to have moved on with Bloodborne?
Before I became president of FromSoftware I was asked to be part of the Dark Souls III project, which at the time was in its prototype phase. When I heard about the project, I was instantly drawn to it because I had a desire to return to the series. I enjoyed working on Bloodborne but I often thought of the things I could have done in Dark Souls that weren’t possible in Bloodborne. And I was reminded of the beauty of dark fantasy.
Your games are distinguished in part by how difficult players find them; clearly that’s part of the appeal. But are you ever concerned about possibly alienating your audience?
I personally have so much fun making new discoveries, but it would be a lie to say that I am never concerned about that possibility. However, I have received so much encouraging feedback from my past games saying how much players enjoy the process of discovery and exploration.
As fans grow more accustomed to the challenges the Souls games offer, do you feel the need to make them increasingly difficult? Is there such a thing as too challenging?
That is a very difficult question. There is no simple answer to it. Believe it or not, our objective is to make the game possible to finish. To maximize the sense of accomplishment, the game’s difficulty is set high but it is not impossible to complete. If it was really impossible for many players to complete the game, then our objective would be a failure. As with previous Dark Souls games, the difficulty is still set to a high level to continue giving players that genuine feeling of accomplishment. It may surprise you how powerful a simple knight enemy is when you first start playing the game. On the other hand, we’ve made the controls more intuitive, made the gameplay a bit faster and implemented a new gameplay system called “Skills,” which allows players to augment their weapon attacks with an increased move set or other abilities. The game also features new and improved weapons to tackle the difficult nature of the game.
What kind of influence do you think your games have had on the industry?
If our games had an influence on the industry in any way, that would be fantastic. But honestly I cannot imagine that they do. We are the ones who are always influenced by the works of others.
Where do you see the series moving from here? Will the Souls games continue, or do you plan on leaving that world behind at some point?
Dark Souls III is a turning point of the series. I love the Dark Souls series and I cannot say that we will never create another Dark Souls game in the future, but we will be working on other titles for a while. Dark Souls III is a turning point for the series so I don’t want to eliminate the possibility of creating another installment of the franchise.
We will continue to create “from-like” games and try our hardest to make them enjoyable.
The Souls games and Bloodborne clearly draw from different traditions—one more from fantasy, the other from horror. Will we see any of that side of Bloodborne in Dark Souls III? Or have any new inspirations worked their way into that world?
There are two distinct Bloodborne influences in Dark Souls III. While working on Bloodborne I was reminded of the beauty of dark fantasy and incorporated it into Dark Souls III. The other is the distinctive and unique creature design you can see in the Brain of Mensis—a giant brain covered in eyes. It’s hard to deliberately put both these elements into the same work, but they coexist harmoniously in Dark Souls III. Right? [laughs]