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Dark Souls & the art of sadism: From Software speaks

Friday, 21st September 2012 16:37 GMT By Dave Cook

Dark Souls was a cult hit for Japanese developer From Software. VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with the studio to reflect on the game’s development, success and future.

From Software was founded in Tokyo during 1986, but chances are you didn’t know about the studio until it released Dark Souls last year. It’s one of those Japanese developers that has a lot of games under its belt, but for some reason or other, it never had a strong Western voice.

In 2009, Demon’s Souls launched in Japan and the game quickly became a thing of cult legend. Once the West caught wind of its unique online features, crushing brutality and thoroughly rewarding progression, we wanted to experience it for ourselves.

But still, as creator Hidetaka Miyazaki tells us, while critical acclaim for the game was high, sale forceasts were woeful, “at the time when we just wrapped up development, the evaluation and sales forecast in our company were not good, so I did not even imagine that I could be given another opportunity to develop a similar title again.”

But eventually, the persistence of Western critics saw Demon’s Souls imported and reviewed in droves. The game finally had a footing in the West and eventually it was licensed for Europe by Namco Bandai as Demon’s Souls: Black Phantom Edition. It had a limited print run, but that initial wave of copies was quickly snapped up by gamers as word of mouth spread.

Regardless, Miyazaki’s peers weren’t convinced that a sequel would see the same success, “I had to convince company board or other members of the team but I did not tend to do that actively to be honest. I was reluctant to convince them when I was working on Demons Souls. That’s my bad habit.”

“Dark Souls is a game offering a feeling of accomplishment which may be relatively rare among other games nowadays.”

Miyazaki may have felt sheepish about pushing for the development of Dark Souls, and who could blame him given the financial risk involved? After all, the success of Demon’s Souls could have just been a fluke.

But something must have worked because fast forwarding to today, From Software is now gearing up to launch Dark Souls’ first DLC expansion, ‘Artorias of the Abyss’ on PS3 and Xbox 360. The studio’s fan base has swelled considerably and demand is finally in place for more of the studio’s output.

The combined force of From Software’s vastly expanded ‘Souls’ format in Dark Souls and the marketing clout of Namco Bandai – not to mention its infamous ‘Prepare to Die’ slogan – paid off, and according to VGCharts most recent tally, the game has shifted over 1.67 million units worldwide.

Miyazaki offers us his own take on why he feels Dark Souls is a superior game, “One of the main achievements is the feeling of exploration given by the connected multi-level map. Another favourite is that players can share a moment of the bell ringing in online mode. As a creator of the game I have experienced both success and failure but I feel that our policy of creating a game that all gamers, regardless of different nationalities can immerse themselves in, was not wrong and it was supported by our development team.”


Finding a new fire in Dark Souls gives you an overwhelming sense of relief.

The release of Dark Souls was a global event, rather than a staggered spread like Demon’s Souls, so it’s touching that Miyazaki and his team wanted to make something that was globally inclusive. Collaboration with strangers is a key element of the game after all, with in-game messages and a vast Wiki guide community all growing and working together to help everyone beat the game.

It’s hard, so very, very hard, but it’s not the same kind of difficulty that comes with just bumping the challenge up to hard or expert mode. Instead, part of the gruelling experience is learning to be disciplined.

Run hastily around a blind corner, raise your shield too slowly, or simply swing weapons like you’re playing Bayonetta, and you’ll find yourself extremely dead, extremely fast. Discipline is the key, so in many ways your biggest enemy in Dark Souls is yourself.

But when you succeed and land that final killing blow on a particularly tough boss that’s been putting you through hell for hours, man does it feel sweet. Gratification makes the punishment bearable, and few games can match Dark Souls’ level of risk-reward, because everything is a potential risk.

Miyazaki knows it too, and while this angle was entirely deliberate, it wasn’t a sly shot at the easy nature or lack of creativity in the industry today, “what Dark Souls is offering is a feeling of accomplishment. That is the game concept of Dark Souls, so it looks a difficult game. Dark Souls is a game offering a feeling of accomplishment which may be relatively rare among other games nowadays”

“However,” he adds, “this does not mean [the industry] lacks creativity, but a shift of values offered by games. If the game industry lacks creativity, this will result in a stagnation in value that games offer, but I believe that games are still a media providing players with new and diverse value.”

Games today do feel easier than their old-school counterpart – by and large. After all, you wouldn’t take a game like the original 1987 Mega Man and say that something like Halo was easier, because it’s absolutely not. Instead, it’s the context of the challenge that sets them apart.

“I am grateful for all who have played and highly evaluated Dark Souls, and honestly glad of the fact that people say it was a success.”

One tasks you with memory mapping stages and hazards, while the other tests your ability to react on the fly. So which is Dark Souls? It’s both, and in greater measure, which understandably resulted in many players abandoning it before they really got started.

Regardless, Miyazaki wasn’t prepared to go easy on you, “Ideally I wanted players to feel despair at first and then tiny hope while facing bosses. Enemies that do not drive players hopeless are not fearful at all, and can not offer that feeling of accomplishment once you beat them. Without a tiny piece of hope players may give up facing them. or struggling to beat them up.

Do the latter and you’ll earn yourself the elation that comes with beating the seemingly impossible. It’s seriously worth the heartache just to feel it, and those who have felt it will likely agree that few games can match that same sense of achievement.

Arguably one of the toughest areas of Dark Souls is Sen’s Fortress, a dank, depressing husk of a castle rammed full of thin walkways, swinging blades and merciless rolling boulders. We ask Miyazaki to explain himself for his crimes against humanity, “I personally enjoyed designing connections of the overall map, and the trap of the giant rolling ball. Our development team called it “Mugen Goro goro” that means ‘endless rolling’ in Japanese.

We ask Miyazki if he can shed light on any elements of Dark Souls that were perhaps chopped or changed radically, but as is the nature of From Software, he’s cautious of giving too much away, “As for evolution through the development process I remember that the location of Darkroot Garden was changed by the development term. The dungeon was actually placed to be reached after Anor Londo.”

Whatever its final form, Dark Souls has upset, frustrated, depressed and brought joy to gamers across the world. It’s a testament that people are willing to give new ideas a chance, and more importantly, to trust in relatively unknown Japanese quantities like From Software in the West.

But as From Software are now known to a wider, global audience, could Miyazaki see his team returning for a third ‘Souls’ game? He tells us that while he would jump at the chance if fans demand was there, the decision is ultimately, not his to make.

However, Miyazaki is a man humbled by the success of a game that is basically designed to grind you down into the ground, before giving you the gift of short-lived accomplishment, “I am grateful for all who have played and highly evaluated Dark Souls, and honestly glad of the fact that people say it was a success.”

What’s your view? Share your best and worst Dark Souls moments with us below.

Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss launches on PS3 and Xbox 360 across Europe October 24.

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20 Comments

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  1. Lord Gremlin

    Worst moment? Anor Londo Archers. Come on, you all know that bit. Best moment? Equipping ring of fog and kicking bastards into the abyss below.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Deacon

    My worst moment was those little toxic dart fuckers in Blighttown. Oh and maybe those bastard curse frogs.

    Best moment was managing to leg it past that giant hydra for the first time. And perhaps Sens’ Fortress.

    I’m gonna soil my nappy when they announce a sequel…

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Dave Cook

    My worst moment was that first thin walkway in Sen’s Fortress. I was levelled way beyond the ideal cap for enemies there, but I just kept on getting kicked of ledges and into swinging blades.

    Then I upped my poise and was an immovable tank. Rolled right through the bastards.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. kezwar

    I loved Demon’s Souls, and rank its completion among my finest gaming achievements. I’ve had Dark Souls since last Christmas, and have only just taken it out of its shrink wrapping this week. I’ve already racked up 20 hours.

    I’ve still a long way to go, so I can’t offer my best/worst moments. What I can say is that Dark Souls and its predecessor, like Dave said, offer a sense of gratification that is totally unmatched in modern AAA gaming.

    It’s been said a thousand times but it’s 100% true-the Souls games are punishingly hard, but rarely does they feel unfair. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve repeatedly died just through my own unwillingness to change tactics or hold back a little.

    There’s no hand-holding,and make no mistake Dark Souls does not suffer fools gladly. It can be soul-destroying at times, but it really is a joy to play, and the pay off of felling a foul beast is one of the most satisfying feeling’s in all of gaming.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @4 yeah absolutely on the fact that it never feels unfair. When you die, it’s your own fault – be that because you haven’t figured out an enemy attack pattern yet, or you just plain screwed up.

    You dust yourself off and maybe try again five or even ten more times and then you nail it. It just feels like you really earned that victory. But it’s short lived because then you encounter something else that destroys you in the same way.

    So rewarding :)

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Hunam

    My worst moment was getting to the catacombs far too early and basically getting stuck on a run loop to get out. Took me about 4 hours to actually get to a bonfine outside of the area with my souls.

    Best moment, crafting my ultragreatsword with plus 10 fire and beating the final boss to a pulp with it. Then having someone invade my game on NG+ and just literally poking him with the sword leading to his untimely demise. Basically anything to do with that sword.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. jldoom

    I enjoyed the article, good stuff. As for my best moment is taking two invaders and owning them 1 on 2 in that forest area (I forget the name at the moment).

    I haven’t completed the game as of yet, but I feel like I may be ready for another round of getting my ass whooped.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @6 “and just literally poking him with the sword leading to his untimely demise”

    So much fun when you do that to an invader :D

    @7 thanks, glad you liked the article.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Telepathic.Geometry

    My worst moment in Dark Souls was Sen’s Fortress. Sure, now I can breeze through it, but it really spoiled the rhythm of the game for me and just in my opinion of course, crossed the line from tough to plain sadistic. But everything else was pure gold. I especially loved the fact that you could join a covenant and basically play a hidden meta-game. /praises the sun

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Gadzooks!

    I found the catacombs hard because of the need for holy weapons, but Anor Londo archers were crazy tough. Also, Sif kicked my ass mercilessly for a very long time.

    It’s the hardest game I’ve ever finished, but every corpserun I knew was entirely my fault and not wonky code or cheap deaths.

    Intuitive, balletic combat that demands mastery and rewards it greatly. Deeply satisfying.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. tgchan

    one of the best games I have ever played… and I am playing everyday for ~22 years already

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Adam-Meerfeld

    I had a genuine Dark Souls experience my 1st time,
    My by far worst moment was when I was in Blight Town, I just couldn’t take it
    I hated the place, And didnt know my way around, I only wanted
    To find my way out to the safety of my Firelink Shrine.
    So when I climbed out the other end( didn’t even bother with Quelaag)
    And reached Firelink I was so excited, only to find out that that golden
    Basterd, Lautrec assassinated the Firekeeper, that was despair in it’s finest.
    Focused me completely on finding that basterd again.

    Best moment, defeating Ornstein& Smough no doubt.
    Killing the Four was also extremely cool.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Rafa_L

    I think I can safely say dark souls is my favorite game. Hundreds of hours were spent on both Dark Souls and Demon Souls till I got their platinum.

    It was all about discipline, as the article said, your enemy is yourself, when you rush, are careless or over confident.

    On my initial playthrough, I think the worst places were blightown, because of the toxic darts, and some falls. Also the catacombs were stressful.

    When I got the hang of the game, my problem was with invaders, man, I hated being invaded, those backstabers. I even would disconect when invaded, later I started seeing it as a chalenge, and now, for me, the game is all about invasions, be it on the forest, or the kiln, pvp still gets the game going for me, and I can’t wait for the DLC.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. illuminatusv

    This game has so many cool moments. First when the crow is catching you and travels you to Lordran. Then when you see who is throwing that boulders at you on the roof of Sen’s Fortress. Then when you see Anor Londo for the first time. Then when you locate the secret way to that cats covenant that saves you 20000 souls. And many more!

    Best moment of course killing that annoying Anor Londo snipers and of course fu**ing Ornstein & Smough. Worst moment getting the trident for all rare weapons achievement/trophy. I don’t know how many channelers I needed to kill to get one (approx. 300+).

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Telepathic.Geometry

    Ooh, same here. Getting that Channeler’s Trident was possibly even worse than getting the pure Bladestone. :-/

    #15 2 years ago
  16. YoungZer0

    @1: Yes, that, very much that. That was the part where i stopped playing. Demon’s Souls had some cheap deaths, but in Dark Souls, it seems like they tripled it.

    Finished the game last month and i gotta say … i don’t think i’ll be playing Dark Souls 2, if it ever comes out. So bored and unsatisfied by the ending.

    Pity to see that no one at vg247 bothered to check out Spec Ops. :/

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Dave Cook

    @16 I played Spec Ops: The Line to death. I really enjoyed it.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Sir Durg

    Ah Dark Souls. The best game ever. I’ve been playing video games for thirty years. This was a great gaming experience. Hard and thoroughly rewarding and I haven’t finished it yet (stuck on Firesage Demon, but I will win).

    Worst moment so far – probably the Capra Demon, this dude was impossible without a summon buddy or two.

    Best moment, gotta be ringing that first bell. Or draining New Londo Ruins.

    I desperately hope that a sequel will be produced.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Tuco

    Whoa, that was an extraordinarily uninformative and uninteresting interview.

    “So, I heard your game is quite hard”
    “Life is a bitch, mate”
    “Are you making a new one?”
    “Fingers crossed!”

    #19 2 years ago
  20. OrbitMonkey

    ^ ooh burn! Lay your interview down & show us how its done!

    Oh you havn’t got one have you?

    All talk no trousers mate.

    P.s. That means you got no bollocks btw.

    p.p.s. Bollocks means testicles .

    #20 2 years ago