The hardest games in the gaming industry are Souls-Like Games. For some, it is puzzle games, while for others it’s the vast open-world genre. While player preference invades this argument, one cult genre came to define difficulty bar opinion.
In this genre, the difficulty comes from near-insurmountable opponents and a twisted story steeped in dark themes. It comes with an ambiance likened to a sprawling church cemetery with everything out to get you.
This subgenre is called Soulslike games, or Soulsborne, referred to by the developer studio —FromSoftware. Its niche combines high difficulty with great environmental storytelling, set in a dark fantasy world.
From an outsider’s perspective, this collection of games seems hard to enter—the source of its notoriety and fame. One thing can be concluded from this, that it is the genre with an emphasis on “induced infuriation.”
Dying is the Norm in Souls-Like Games
When you first boot into a Soulsborne game, the first thing you notice is the damage. Any enemy, regardless if it’s a boss or not, is capable of turning you into a corpse in 4 hits or fewer. This emphasizes the need to be creative in each engagement, as enemies are different.
A good way that FromSoftware incentivizes this is the rolling dodge move. Using this move renders the user invulnerable for a brief moment, but don’t use it to backpedal.
Enemies can keep pace with you even if you dodge, use the ability well. Players are given a flask or healing item that heals most of their HP. You can increase the capacity of the flask by collecting upgrade pieces across the game.
This also makes maximizing the healing an important game strategy. If you don’t get hit by the enemy, you don’t need to heal—easier said than done.
The World Narrates Itself
Soulsborne is an ode to environmental storytelling and its non-linear acquisition. Everything related to the lore of the game can be found in the world. NPCs don’t ramble on for minutes but instead give cryptic one-liners or two.
If you encounter a critic of Souls-Like games expressing the lack of storytelling, then perhaps they need to look again. As beautiful as it is, finding pieces of the story all over the place is a task for the true loremasters out there.
Storytelling isn’t only in the cryptic dialogue or random notes on walls in Soulsborne games. The narration is present in the set pieces you find yourself dying all the time. A dark fantasy-themed party where it is bright on occasion, and dark for most of it.
It captures a sort of eerie and hopeless atmosphere that defines the subgenre as much as the difficulty. These two coupled together are great, as it would be funny dying in a bright world—unless it’s Cuphead.
It is a fact that Souls-Like games aren’t for everybody—the same as other game genres. What sets it apart is its patience in both combat and storytelling. When a player perseveres and doesn’t give up, Souls-Like rewards them. This is the one true X-factor of a Souls-Like, and why many people keep coming back when a game is described as such.