[Editor’s note: Dark Souls 3 game director Hidetaka Miyazaki was at E3 giving demos and asking questions, and he said he hopes to move on to other themes following this game. The argument below still stands, however.]
Dark Souls 3 is official, and many fans are overjoyed. But what if developer From Software is spreading itself too thin? Will oversaturation put the Souls series at risk?
When I first played Demon’s Souls, it was a revelation. The dark atmosphere, tense combat, intricate world, and punishing difficulty astounded me. There was nothing like it. Then the game’s spiritual successor, Dark Souls, refined the series to near perfection. It became legendary among gamers.
Since the release of Dark Souls, a lot has changed behind the scenes at the series’ developer, From Software. Before the Souls series (which also includes this year’s Bloodborne), the Japanese studio’s reputation wasn’t exactly stellar. Their most well-known titles were Armored Core and the Shadow Tower series, neither of which was particularly popular. But low-ranking programmer Hidetaka Miyazaki rose through the ranks and transformed Demon’s Souls into a cult hit that led to Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2 (which Miyazaki did not work on), Bloodborne, and now Dark Souls 3.
Dark Souls 3 will be the fifth game made in this style by From Software since 2009, just 6 years from Demon’s Souls’ release. It could also be the series’ breaking point.
Part of this could be attributed to publisher Namco Bandai pushing From Software to put out as many games as possible. From and Namco Bandai have been working together for years, on the Souls games as well as on others, including the Japan-only series Another Century’s Episode. The latest in that series, 2010’s A.C.E.: R, was seen by some as a step backward from its predecessors, a failure that might be attributed to the publisher taking creative control from the developer—not an uncommon story in the games industry.
The same might be happening with Souls (notably, Bloodborne was published by Sony, not Bandai Namco, and it was the series’ biggest advancement yet).
With so many Souls games coming out in quick succession, From’s biggest fans might burn out on the games—another common tale in an industry where annual releases for the biggest franchises are way too common.
Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty still sell well, but critics and gamers also harbor a certain derision for these and similar series. This “franchise fatigue” is what killed the music genre, and although Guitar Hero and Rock Band are coming back this year it’s still unclear whether anyone actually wants them to.
The meteoric jump in quality from Demon’s Souls to Dark Souls made me believe that From could keep delivering to audience expectations and keep this series fresh while maintaining the loyalty of its fans. But Dark Souls 2 was developed by a totally different team, and it was more a continuation than an evolution.
Bloodborne, on the other hand, made a lot of advancements for the series—but it also exposed ways in which the Souls games have begun to stagnate, from arbitrary gameplay limitations to still poorly-implemented multiplayer.
That can be blamed partially on the studio splitting down the middle to develop DS2 and Bloodborne at the same time. Improvements made in one didn’t necessarily translate to the other, because they were made separately and by different people. If From is going to continue this way they’ll be diluting the quality of their own games while also saturating the niche market that they currently dominate.
BREAKING THE MOLD
The leaked shots of Dark Souls 3 show us things we’ve seen before: ruined castles, eerie gothic architecture and impossibly ugly bosses. Yet the series’ creator, Miyazaki, was quote in the Dark Souls Design Works art and making-of book saying, “I don’t like making games that look like they were popped out of some mold that’s been stored in the video game industry’s warehouse.” Those words are starting to sound a bit hypocritical.
Dark Souls 3 needs a fresh injection of creativity for it to truly impress veteran players. From needs to have more surprises and curveballs up its sleeves to prevent its fans from getting franchise fatigue, but even that might not be enough.
Dark Souls 3 could be From Software’s defining moment as a developer. Can the studio keep up its rapid production schedule and still maintain the high quality that fans expect? I’ll never be disappointed by the announcement of a new game in a series I enjoy as much as the Souls games, but Dark Souls 3’s reveal so soon after Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne has given me pause—and in the worlds of Dark Souls, hesitating even for an instant usually means death.
Sayem Ahmed is a freelance writer who lives in the UK and claims the Dragon’s Dogma opening screen is the best thing to have ever happened to video games. Sayem has also written for sites like Gamespot UK and Red Bull. In his spare time he likes to pet cats and build plastic robots.