When From Software released Demon’s Souls to the Japanese public back in 2009, they initially had no real intention of releasing it to the Western Gaming audience. They had the mentality that the Western gamer wouldn’t want to play a game that didn’t hold your hand all the way through it.
They were of the notion that we Western folk would not be able to appreciate deeper lore and story that is not really told to you directly, but by observing the environment around you, and listening to what friendly NPCs might have to say to you in order to gain a deeper understanding of what Demon’s Souls is about. That and the fact that we were just not ready for something as brutally challenging.
And it’s true. We were so used to being led down a corridor with things to shoot at, and being spoon-fed exposition and plot, that anything that resembled a challenge, or had a more obscure story to it, would’ve been seen as a serious risk to any publisher. So when we were given something like Demon’s Souls we were placed completely outside of our comfort zone, and the series was immediately labelled as the hardest thing ever.
But it was still well received, and two years later, its spiritual successor, Dark Souls was released to a much wider audience. It immediately gained notoriety for being a very hard game, and people that managed to beat it, wore it as a badge of honour. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but with that came the arrogance and elitist mentality, where people that knew how the game works and understood its mechanics, would start looking down on people and simply tell them to “git gud” when asked what the secret is.
Dark Souls also soon became a standard, and anything resembling a challenging game was being compared to it, which is completely wrong for so many reasons. Yes, there are clones out there, as you would expect from anything that sees some kind of success, and once again, there’s nothing wrong with that, and comparing those games to the game that clearly inspired them are more than acceptable. But it’s not the case for everything that is challenging, and there’s one very big reason for it.
Dark Souls is not hard
There! I said it! And I’m not saying this because I am a fan of the series, and trying to let people think I am better than them in every way. No, I’m saying it because once you let go of the guide dog that is every other game out there then Dark Souls becomes easy, to an extent. It still has challenging mechanics, and harsh penalties for death, but once you learn that it’s part of what the game teaches you, and death is a natural part of the story and progression of it, then you realise just how well the game is designed.
Even the tag that was added to the PC release “Prepare to Die” was a lint on the concept of the game, and not about how hard the game is going to be, and that you are going to die a lot. But it was misunderstood by everyone, probably even the marketing people behind it, and it kind of became part of the series’ legacy.
Not everything is Dark Souls
Today, every single game that is released that is a little bit challenging is being compared to Dark Souls. Not because it used concepts and excellent environmental storytelling, but because it is hard. Not too long ago, Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy was compared to Dark Souls, simply because it was seen as hard, and had a certain level of trial and error to it. Only this week, Cuphead is being compared to Dark Souls for the exact same reasons. And it is so damn wrong.
But those games aren’t like Dark Souls, and I’m not saying this because it’s different genres, but rather because it doesn’t use the same mechanics and elements to tell an incredible story. The story is told through your experience of the game, and through your failures and efforts to get to the end, and a lot of people are missing that point.
It’s a stupid comparison, and people should stop doing it. It’s lazy from both game journalists and the gaming community in general. I know I was guilty of this at some stage, but I did realise that I was wrong, and why I was wrong. So please stop comparing anything that difficult for the sake of being difficult to Dark Souls. It doesn’t do the masterful game justice.