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From King’s Field to Bloodborne: the lineage of Dark Souls

Wednesday, 2nd July 2014 09:16 GMT By Dave Cook

Dark Souls 2 DLC and Bloodborne are on the lips of many gamers right now, but before looking to the future of From Software’s Souls series, Dave Cook pays his respects to where it all began.

dark_souls

Harsh difficulty curves, purposely ambiguous world states and methodical pacing are just a few hallmarks From Software has etched into the fabric of its Souls series. Under the stewardship of series veteran Hidetaka Miyazaki, PS4 exclusive Bloodborne is set to carry the series legacy into 2015. Indeed it’s an exciting time to be a Souls fan.

”Long before Miyazaki began work on Demon’s Souls the Tokyo-based studio had already established several of its core concepts in King’s Field.”

It’s an upstart franchise that counters almost everything that makes games in the triple-a arena so popular. There is no instant gratifaction to be found in the realms of Lordran or Drangleic, no big explosions, or long bouts of exposition that clear up every narrative detail. They are ballsy projects that go against the grain, and it seems to be working. The series grows more popular by the month.

But where did the Souls concept come from, and how did it grow to this point? Back in 2012 I interviewed Miyazaki about the origins of Dark Souls and to learn more about his unique design philosophy.

He told me at the time, “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 added, “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.”

He’s a humble man, that’s for sure.

Kings_field

Dark Beginnings

Long before Miyazaki began work on Demon’s Souls – the first in From Software’s series – the Tokyo-based studio had already established several of its core concepts in King’s Field. This lesser-known PS One title went on to spawn three sequels ending with King’s Field IV: The Ancient City on PS2. It hit Japan in 2001, a full eight years before Demon’s Souls launched exclusively on PS3.

Though separated by almost a decade, there are common threads between both franchises that have clearly informed not just Miyazaki’s work, but that of Dark Souls 2 co-producers Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura, and recently, Lords of the Fallen producer Tomasz Gop. It’s clear that this series has inspired many creators across the world to push for greater difficulty in their games, and inject their work with Souls concepts.

But what is King’s Field? It’s an obscure title that is both archaic in design, yet endearing thanks to its gruelling challenge and mysterious nature. It gives little away, yet invites players to dive deeper into its murky world to piece together what little insight is available.

You can see it in action here, thanks to a superb video walkthrough from wolfman11983. Thank you sir:

King’s Field takes place in the land of Verdite, a realm once saved by a mysterious champion who disappeared into the fog of a nearby forest, never to be seen again. This so-called Dragon of the Forest will return one day to save the realm from a horde of beasts that have emerged from the Dark World, and it just so happens that’s you. Much like the Souls games, King’s Field ends on an ambiguous and bittersweet note.

”Though many of the NPCs remained largely ambiguous, they certainly laid the frame for memorable yet mysterious Souls characters such as Solaire, the Emerald Herald and the Maiden in Black.”

The player must slog through the dark, depressing land in first-person while methodically fighting brutal monsters as they go. Along the way they’ll earn gold and gear, equip spells and die lots. By the end of the adventure, the Dark World door is sealed once more, but a final text crawl warns that it’s only a matter of time before the passage opens again. It’s a short-lived victory, just like kindling the flame in Dark Souls.

While the soul absorption mechanic isn’t present in King’s Field, Miyazaki did retain some of the game’s essence when he crafted Demon’s Souls. It takes place in a dark Medieval kingdom awash with beasts and death, offers very little in the way of sign-posting or exposition, and features a slow combat mechanic reliant on strafing and knowing when to back down. I already mentioned that you can die lots. I’m not sugar-coating that either.

Here’s King’s Field II:

Thanks teh2Dgamer.

From Software’s second entry looks a lot better than the first, and includes a continuous soundtrack. The game was released in 1995 and casts players as Prince Alexander – one of the Verdite King’s allies – as he attempts to find the Moonlight Sword. It’s located somewhere on the isle of Melanat, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s also completely rammed with savage creatures that want to kill you dead.

”Only you have the power to take the object into the old city and break the curse before it’s too late. Almost sounds like the cursed hero travelling to Drangleic in Dark Souls 2, doesn’t it?

The clip above really shows just how similar the combat mechanic is, even in first-person. Alexander’s slow, heavy sword swipes recall many weighted melee weapons from across the Souls series, and the range of status effects are certainly something to be feared. Those poison attacks look fierce.

Kings Field 3 followed a similar format as its predecessors, but with an expanded cast of characters each with their own backstory and relevance to the plot. Though many of the NPCs remained largely ambiguous, they certainly laid the frame for memorable yet mysterious Souls characters such as Solaire, the Emerald Herald and the Maiden in Black. Their true motives are never concretely spelled out, but there are enough threads in each game to draw reasonable conclusions about who they are.

This insightful and slightly mind-blowing video connects the dots surrounding Solaire in Dark Souls, in an attempt to figure out who he is, and how he’s connected to the darkness smothering Lordran. It’s genuinely incredible and I’d advise any fans of the series to watch it:

Thanks VaatiVidya.

Next up: King’s Field 4 and Shadow Tower.

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37 Comments

  1. Telepathic.Geometry

    Dave ya big whore. I knew it’d be you in here pretending to work when you’re really typing on about Souls games while having a sneaky handy shandy…

    Ehhh… Mind if I join in?

    I’m currently replaying Demon’s Souls in Japanese. >.<

    #1 2 months ago
  2. Revolting

    Kings Field II is a significant game for me. A milestone of sorts. Ten years into my three decades of gaming, it was the first game I ever ragequit.

    #2 2 months ago
  3. Dave Cook

    @Telepathic.Geometry It’s my last big pet project feature for VG247 before I leave next week :) Love this series so I thought it best to go out on what I like.

    DS in Japanese? That’s dedication :D

    #3 2 months ago
  4. IonizedPope

    @Dave Cook
    Entirely offtopic, but do you mean by “leaving” if you don’t mind me asking? Leaving for extended summer holidays, hopefully?

    #4 2 months ago
  5. Game Hunter

    @Dave Cook wat?you’ll leave next week?where,vacation or another site?YOU DIDN’T WRITE THE DEMON’S SOULS REPLAY JOURNAL!IF YOU LEAVE THIS SITE,VG247 WILL LOSE ITS SOUL!*cries a river*

    #5 2 months ago
  6. Dave Cook

    @IonizedPope I’m leaving games writing entirely as I feel the time is right to make a career change. My last day is July 9. It’s been an absolutely pleasure writing for you guys and talking with the community these past two years.

    I’ll still be doing game videos for VG247 on my channel http://www.youtube.com/thecookieshooter

    I’ll be doing Bloodborne videos on there once it’s out, along with Titanfall, CoD and more. Chuck me a subscription to keep following me :)

    You can also follow me on Twitter at @davescook. Do it and let’s keep chatting :)

    #6 2 months ago
  7. The_Red

    Now THIS is a treat.
    I consider myself a Souls fan but even I wasn’t much familiar with Shadow Tower and its influence on Demons Souls (The best in series IMHO).

    Thank you Dave. Thank you a million times for this awesomeness.

    #7 2 months ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @The_Red My pleasure, glad you liked it :) I’m really keen to get King’s Field on PSN (If I can get it here in the UK)

    #8 2 months ago
  9. The_Red

    @Dave Cook
    How could I not like it? This was a truly great piece and the grandest way to say goodbye to your readers.

    Thank you again Dave. Not just for this article but for all the Souls and non-Souls work you did here. Best wishes for you and any future endeavor.

    #9 2 months ago
  10. IonizedPope

    @Dave Cook
    Well, I hope you understand that, in my opinion, that is very sad news for VG247 readers indeed.
    Since the mysterious disappearing of Pat as a “fulltime publisher”, whatever that actually means, and the lukewarm welcome reception of Matt, it was you, Brenna and Steph, the reason why I’m visiting VG247 and favour it over all the other sites as a game developer.

    I certainly wish you all the best, although I’m intrigued as to where the journey leads if you say leaving games journalism entirely? I for one certainly wouldn’t mind if you pull a CliffyB comeback in a year and suddenly appear again wildly, either at VG247 or somewhere different, I already subscribed your channel of course!

    I would have loved to see more original initiatives like the scottish developer scene you highlighted, I really enjoyed that one:
    (http://www.vg247.com/2013/12/13/vg247-scotland-issue-0-why-scotland-is-more-than-gta-5/ for reference)

    Also, I would definitely like to see a staff chat with the remaining staff of you before you go, be it a future outlook or review of the last years of games and journalism respectively, maybe you could squeeze that in!

    Thanks for writing honest and entertaining features, never minding being corrected by overly enthusiastic fanboys or grammarnazis and keep up your positive way of thinking (you always gave new games, IPs, Studios w/e the benefit of doubt, and rightfully so I have to say!)

    An honest Thank You Dave!

    #10 2 months ago
  11. Michael Ireland

    Good luck Dave. I will be keeping an eye out for your future endeavours

    I fear VG247 won’t be the same without your enthusiasm, respect and genuine passion for gaming. Oh well.

    #11 2 months ago
  12. polygem

    @Dave Cook
    Fuck that Dave! :D
    I am short on time right now…let me quickly wish you all the best man. Take care.

    #12 2 months ago
  13. Dave Cook

    @The_Red Thanks bud, I really appreciate that :)

    You can still follow me on my gaming YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/thecookieshooter and on Twitter at @davescook

    #13 2 months ago
  14. Dave Cook

    @IonizedPope This is amazing feedback, thank you very much :)

    Well, I’m trying to finish my novel for an October launch and I’ll be working on a game prototype that may or may not turn into a full game, but that’ll be next year at the earliest. If you follow me on Twitter I’ll make a big noise about it when it happens.

    Thank you for reading my words all this time, I appreciate it :)

    #14 2 months ago
  15. Dave Cook

    @Michael Ireland Thanks chief, in gaming it’s pretty much my new YouTube channel and a game prototype, along with my novel. But I’ll shout about those on Facebook no doubt :)

    #15 2 months ago
  16. Dave Cook

    @polygem thanks Poly, always appreciated your polite comments on my articles, and for taking time to read them :) All the best!

    Dave

    #16 2 months ago
  17. Revolting

    Ah, Dave… sad to see you on your way out. I haven’t always agreed with everything you’ve written (and, hey, that’s cool, the world would be pretty dull if everyone thought the same thing all the time), but I have appreciated that your articles have always been thoughtful, insightful and well written. So, while we don’t necessarily feel the same way about the same games, your work has been appreciated and always makes for an interesting read. It’s been good to have you around.

    So… good luck with your future projects!

    #17 2 months ago
  18. Dave Cook

    @Revolting Thanks :D Yeah it’d be boring if we all agreed wouldn’t it? I appreciate you reading my articles though, seriously!

    #18 2 months ago
  19. Revolting

    And I totally forgot to add that I really appreciate that you respond to and engage with your commenters, which I know can often be as horrendous as it is occasionally rewarding, and is usually a thankless task in an environment that easily and needlessly descends into toxicity at the drop of a hat.

    Honestly, you’ve done a great job here. Just added you on twitter, as I’ll be interested to see your continued contribution to the wider world of gaming.

    #19 2 months ago
  20. Legendaryboss

    The beginning of the end is near… At least we still have Steph.

    The Cookie Shooter? Look out Cookie Monster you have got a Hunter Badass on your tail!

    #20 2 months ago
  21. asbrand

    There goes my only strong reason for comming here. Damn it Dave why do you have to go!!!

    #21 2 months ago
  22. Dave Cook

    @Revolting it used to get me really down, all the negativity, and it still does at times. I love this hobby, and love to be optimistic about it, but others seem hell bent on being sceptical 24/7. It’s soul destroying, but at least now I’ll be far from that :)

    I always liked to chat with people because I’m writing these words for you guys at the end of the day, not me :)

    #22 2 months ago
  23. Dave Cook

    @asbrand I just felt the time was right. I first got published in 2007. That’s a long time :D I just want games back as a hobby, rather than my work. Thanks for reading though, I sincerely appreciate it!

    #23 2 months ago
  24. asbrand

    No, thank you for the tremendous amount of such good articles. Best od luck in your future endeavors.

    #24 2 months ago
  25. Darkfield

    @Dave Cook With you gone there’s no one left to write awesome features on my favorite games, specially Souls games. Alas such is the way of the world I can only say that I will miss your work dearly and I wish you the very best in your endeavors, specially with your novel. I’ll be looking forward to it.

    You magnificent bearded bastard

    PS: Only Steph left for us now, can’t see Pat getting anyone new as good as you two.

    #25 2 months ago
  26. Telepathic.Geometry

    WTF, no more Dave?! Shiiiit, that’s really fucking sad news man. You’ll be missed. By us!

    #26 2 months ago
  27. Game Hunter

    Good luck Mr.Cook and I wish you’ll be noticed in your future career just as you’re now in the video game industry.your articles were superb,and it was your DSII journals that made me dedicate 35 hours into that game despite wanting to avoid it because of its difficulty. This site won’t be the same anymore without you and expectations from Stephany will become higher from now on.I hope you get your share of strangeness in life,aye(that’s a quote from Edward Kenway FYI)

    #27 2 months ago
  28. Dave Cook

    @asbrand Cheers :D

    #28 2 months ago
  29. Dave Cook

    @Darkfield Haha :D I loved that reply, and the beard comment.

    Thanks man I really appreciate all the support and views these last two years. It’s just time to move on to new challenges. I’ll keep you updated on the novel. Have you seen my book site yet?

    #29 2 months ago
  30. Dave Cook

    @Telepathic.Geometry I’ll miss you guys too, it’s been a real pleasure :) Thanks for reading all my silly words.

    @Game Hunter Cheers! I’m glad my Dark Souls journal helped you through the tough times :) That really means a lot. If you want to keep up with what I’m doing net you can follow me on @davescook

    #30 2 months ago
  31. Darkfield

    @Dave Cook Yeah actually I did, you gave me the link earlier today on twitter so I didn’t waste any time. Also seen an awesome comic flick of it, haven’t read it yet, will do that latter today after work :D

    #31 2 months ago
  32. Telepathic.Geometry

    Dave man, if you fancy a bit of jolly cooperation on Bloodborne, my PSN ID is “Barrysama”. ^_^

    #32 2 months ago
  33. Dave Cook

    @Telepathic.Geometry Sounds ace, hit me up, my PSN is fastrez :)

    #33 2 months ago
  34. JonFE

    @ Dave

    I’ve enjoyed many of your articles over the years, even if I didn’t comment much.

    Good Luck on all your future endeavors.

    #34 2 months ago
  35. Blackened Halo

    the poorest article i have ..bla bla ….no, it has been a helluva ride reading this article…awesome! :))))

    #35 2 months ago
  36. BrahManDude

    see ya dave, nice article

    #36 2 months ago
  37. Dave Cook

    @JonFE Thanks man, that seriously means a lot :) I’ll still be doing Titanfall and CoD videos for VG247, but yeah, as of mid next week I won’t be a game writer any more. Mad :O

    @Blackened Hah :D Thanks for reading all my nonsense words over the years!

    @BrahManDude No, thank you for reading :)

    #37 2 months ago

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