The original Dark Souls took the gaming world by storm in 2011, distinguishing itself by stepping away from the established norms, clichés, and tropes commonly seen in modern-day AAA games.
Its fame is owed in no small part to the much-lauded difficulty, which also tends to be grossly exaggerated.
However, Dark Souls was not the first “Souls” game ever released, and even though Dark Souls IV is unlikely to happen, the franchise’s legacy has left a deep and lasting footprint, generating an entire sub-genre of “Souls-like” games.
In this article, we will be listing all of the games that comprise the Dark Souls series, as well as other Souls-like FromSoftware games, providing a short overview of each one.
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The Souls Series
First, we have the “Souls” series, which laid the foundation for the “Souls-like” subgenre, which it would subsequently spawn. The original Dark Souls series consists of three entries. However, it is easy to bundle their precursor, Demon’s Souls, together with them due to how similar the gameplay mechanics and the approach to storytelling are.
- Demon’s Souls
- Dark Souls
- Dark Souls II
- Dark Souls III
Release Date: February 5, 2009
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Demon’s Souls is an often-overlooked PlayStation 3 exclusive game. It was the precursor to Dark Souls, and it laid the groundwork for all the “Souls-like” games to come.
The key elements were the heavy focus on stamina management during combat, respawning enemies, and the possibility of losing valuable XP (souls) upon death.
Above all else, it had that particular style of storytelling and an overbearing atmosphere that we have come to associate with the Souls games today. All of this made Demon’s Souls a highly unique and challenging game that was truly ahead of its time.
However, this experimental approach was both the game’s biggest strength and its greatest weakness. The combat feels unpolished. By that, we don’t mean just that the hitboxes and animations didn’t age well, but also that there is an overall lack of balance between different classes/playstyles.
Also, while the game has some interesting bosses, there are just as many uninteresting ones that don’t come anywhere near what can be found in the later installments.
Many regard Demon’s Souls as an underrated, visionary masterpiece that would spawn numerous great games during the coming years. And true enough, while the game never received much popularity outside its niche and feels quite clunky and unrefined, its significance cannot be overstated.
Yet, when viewed independently of the series that it led up to, we mainly appreciate Demon’s Souls for its rich world, beautiful environments, and a truly haunting atmosphere.
- Superb atmosphere
- Memorable environments
- Introduced many experimental elements that would later define the franchise
- Unpolished gameplay
- Unbalanced playstyles
- Not many memorable boss fights
Release Date: September 22, 2011; May 24, 2018 (Remaster)
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch
Now, let’s get to the Holy Grail of modern gaming that so many swear upon today. By building upon the foundation set by its predecessor, Dark Souls managed to redefine the contemporary action RPG and attain cult status only years after its release.
So, what is it that made Dark Souls great?
For one, there was the difficulty for which it is primarily known. Where so many games today hand the player everything on a platter and go out of their way to ensure that they are not inconvenienced in any way, Dark Souls made the player work to earn their victory, which made the game ever so satisfying to play. It was challenging but – mostly – fair, and seldom did the challenges require more than patience and some thought to overcome.
However, the genius of Dark Souls does not lie merely in difficulty itself, but in how well it ties into the overall theme and plot, as well as how it penetrates nearly every layer of the game.
The mythological story is delivered through short pieces of cryptic dialogue and item descriptions that are easy to overlook. However, should the player put in some effort, all the pieces fall into place to tell the story of the dark, dilapidated land of Lordran.
Of course, the game is not without its fair share of flaws. Even though Demon’s Souls did come two years before it, and even though Dark Souls did a lot to improve upon it, the combat remained somewhat clunky and unrefined.
On top of that, there were many bugs, performance issues plagued the original console releases, and the PC port that followed a year later was borderline unplayable without the use of mods.
- Best world/level design of any Souls game
- Unforgettable mythological story
- Improved combat system
- Many enjoyable boss fights
- Combat still quite unrefined
- Poor performance on PS3 and Xbox 360
- Terrible original PC port
Dark Souls II
Release Date: March 11, 2014; February 15, 2015 (Remaster)
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Dark Souls II is widely regarded as the weakest link in the franchise, with very little to offer when compared to both the games that came before and the games that came after.
The reason for this was that many people from the team that created the original Dark Souls, was off working on Bloodborne, and the lack of their input is painfully obvious.
In essence, Dark Souls II is the classic “more for the sake of more” sequel. Sure, it has some truly memorable locations such as Majula or Heide’s Tower of Flame, but ultimately, the bulk of the game’s content just feels bland and uninspired. This includes everything from the story and level design to the majority of the bosses.
Also, we simply can’t leave out the serious graphics downgrade that had to be made so that the game could be released on the last-gen consoles, only to get ported to the current-gen less than a year later.
But I could drone on and on about how exactly Dark Souls II misinterpreted what made the first game so special. The point is, it’s not a bad game, but it fails to live up to the reputation of the other entries in the franchise. In the end, the game’s main saving grace is the sheer amount of content that it has to offer.
- Lots of content
- Some memorable levels
- Grossly outdated graphics
- Uninspired overall design
- Misses a lot of what makes the rest of the franchise great
Dark Souls III
Release Date: March 26, 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
The third and final installment in the Souls series was Dark Souls III, a game that, upon closer inspection, seems to be an amalgamation of almost everything good about both the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
The highly Bloodborne-esque art direction makes the game visually distinct from the previous installments in the series, all the while the combat becomes more fluid and fast-paced, eliminating all of the clunkiness that plagued the pre-Bloodborne Souls games.
The boss design, too, borrows a lot from Bloodborne, so the boss fights are generally very fast-paced, contrasting the slower bosses of the older games.
Story-wise, Dark Souls III is a standalone game. However, those who haven’t played the first one might find the narrative a bit complicated – as if the storytelling of these games wasn’t already complicated and confusing enough.
Now, some hardcore fans of the original didn’t take well to Dark Souls III, primarily because of all the inspiration it sucks from Bloodborne. And true enough, it undeniably feels far less oppressive than the first game when there are so many open environments that allow for carefree roll-spamming. Still, the game remains second only to the original Dark Souls when taking everything into account.
- Highly refined, faster-paced combat
- Breath-taking sights and environments
- Some of the best boss fights in the series
- Doesn’t work well as a standalone game narratively
- More reminiscent of Bloodborne than Dark Souls
Souls-like FromSoftware Games
The Souls series, as you probably know, has spawned an entire subgenre of action games and action RPGs that are commonly referred to as “Souls-like.” These games borrow some of the signature mechanics that Dark Souls was known for, such as the stamina bar, the penalty for dying, the sheer difficulty of the game, etcetera.
As for the creators of the original Souls series, they have also made some games that are definitely Souls-like, though they cannot exactly be bundled together with Demon’s Souls or any of the Dark Souls titles.
For the time being, the two Souls-like games made by FromSoftware are Bloodborne, a 2015 PlayStation 4 exclusive title, and the recent 2019 multiplatform release that was Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
Release Date: March 24, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4
While Bloodborne is not a “Souls” game per se, it still follows the Souls formula fairly closely and expands upon it uniquely. It is the first instance of FromSoftware tweaking their own formula.
While the Souls games encouraged the player to play it safe and punished recklessness, Bloodborne ditched shields in favor of guns and introduced a more high-risk/high-reward playstyle.
Parrying itself was less risky, the trick weapons had two modes with distinct movesets that could be switched between mid-combo, and the ability to regain health by attacking an enemy immediately after receiving damage all made Bloodborne a fluid and exhilarating experience. This also made for some genuinely nerve-wracking boss fights, and there’s no shortage of those.
Now, not only that. Bloodborne also succeeded in creating a new, memorable world that managed to blend seamlessly Gothic and Lovecraftian horror in one beautiful Victorian-era inspired setting, packed with details never seen before in any of the previous games.
But of course, no game is perfect, and Bloodborne’s main shortcoming is its Chalice Dungeons: the procedurally generated levels that players can go through to find better blood gems used for upgrading weapons.
Even though they may be a good concept on paper, the Chalice Dungeons didn’t work all that well in practice. Quickly, they devolve into the kind of bland grinding, which is the exact opposite of what we would expect to see in a FromSoftware game.
- Unique and memorable world
- A creative and fluid combat system
- Beautiful detail-packed environments
- Top-notch art direction
- Tedious and grindy Chalice Dungeons
- Grinding is pretty much mandatory for the endgame
- Some boring levels
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Release date: March 22, 2019
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Bloodborne was already a departure from the established Souls formula, but it still kept the RPG elements mostly intact. Sekiro, on the other hand, is a far more significant step away from what we’re used to seeing in a Souls game.
For one, it isn’t even an RPG but an action game. It still keeps some basic stats that can be upgraded as the game goes on, and it features several skill trees with various unlockable abilities, but it plays more like a pure skill-based action game than an action RPG.
The stamina meter is gone and is replaced by the posture meter. There is only one primary weapon that the player uses throughout the game. Playstyle variety comes down to an array of different “combat arts” that resemble the weapon skills of Dark Souls III and to “shinobi tools” that are attached to the protagonist’s prosthetic arm and function, similarly to Bloodborne’s trick weapons.
In addition to that, rudimentary stealth mechanics were introduced. There is no multiplayer, and the focus switched from dodging to parrying – which is “deflecting” enemy attacks as it is referred to in the game – all for the sake of breaking an enemy’s posture and rendering them open to devastating deathblows.
And of course, there is the signature resurrection ability referenced in the title, which allows the player to resurrect once, twice, or even thrice before they have to respawn.
Overall, when it comes to the gameplay, Sekiro is probably the most difficult Souls-like game released thus far – or at least the one with the steepest learning curve – which is in no small part thanks to its fast-paced combat that puts even Bloodborne to shame.
Yet, it also differs from the previous games aesthetically: set in a fictionalized version of medieval Japan, it is more colorful, and the soundtrack features many traditional Japanese instruments.
Even the storytelling is much more direct and far less cryptic than that of the previous games, which is something that some players will like while others will not.
- Extremely challenging
- Fast-paced, skill-based combat
- Large, open levels
- Excellent art direction and soundtrack
- Some repeating bosses
- Story not as captivating as that of Dark Souls or Bloodborne
- Lacks the playstyle variety of the previous games
The Final Word
And those are all the Souls games and Souls-like games released by FromSoftware thus far!
Nobody knows for sure what the devs have in store for the future, as they are currently working on two still-unannounced projects. Many hoped that they might be working on a sequel to Bloodborne, which would either launch alongside the PlayStation 5 or soon after – mainly because of the Easter eggs featured in FromSoftware’s PSVR game, Déraciné.
However, Hidetaka Miyazaki had stated soon after that these easter eggs were just that – easter eggs – and that they were not indicative of a new Bloodborne game being in the works.
Following the release of the final episode of Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin mentioned in a blog post that he has consulted on a video game out of Japan.
Rumors had been circulating that he’d met with folks from FromSoftware a couple of months before this, but the chances are that this isn’t just a baseless rumor anymore.
The game is allegedly called Great Rune, and although we don’t know much about it yet, it’s expected to be an open-world RPG. With the brains behind A Song of Ice and Fire and Dark Souls working together, we can all but guess what the atmosphere of this game will be like. Until this year’s E3, however, we aren’t likely to learn more about this game.
As for any potential continuance of the Dark Souls series, we can’t say anything for sure. The director doesn’t want the franchise to get stretched so thin that it loses all meaning. After all, the two DLCs for Dark Souls III explore these themes very thoroughly, and we all know what happens when developers release the same game over and over again.
As such, it is unlikely that we will see any new Dark Souls releases soon that aren’t remasters.
But speaking of remasters, a Demon’s Souls remaster for the PlayStation 5 could very well happen, though we will have to wait and see whether Sony will have any interest in reviving this often-overlooked IP.