Has Dark Souls Actually Become a Genre, Rather Than a Franchise?

Not very often a game comes along that has such interesting mechanics and features that it defines a new genre all of its own. A good example of this is the classic game Rogue which featured procedurally generated levels and a permadeath system and went on to inspire the roguelike genre.

This is not the same as when games are similar for other reasons, for example when a developer makes games with different themes but the same look and feel – so one would not say Fallout for example was a clone of an Elder Scrolls game with guns and a new setting, that every color match Flash game on sites like Big Samo is a clone of Bejeweled, or that the FIFA game franchise was Madden with soccer, because while these may be best in class games within their own fields, they did not create the genres themselves.

There is, however, a good argument in saying that the Dark Souls games actually reached this level of significance and that games that came later than them and feature some of the iconic mechanics of Dark Souls are forming a new genre in this way.

What Features Do ‘Souls-Likes’ Have?

So, what are the features of Dark Souls that are making their way into other games? First of all, there is, of course, the higher difficulty level. When you play one of these games you do not expect to defeat a boss or even a lower level enemy on your first attempt. This may not be entirely new to the Dark Souls franchise, however, the way that this game introduced this kind of difficulty had a unique feel that was not as frustrating as that of other high difficulty games and gave players a real sense of progression in terms of their own skills.

Dark Souls 3, FromSoftware. First boss battle.

As well as this there is also the core mechanic of there being a material, in this case, ‘souls’, that the player has to gather by doing things in the game. In most games that employ this kind of mechanic for gaining experience, it can be that when the character dies some XP is lost forever, however, in Dark Souls and games similar to it you can gain back your lost souls by defeating the enemy that killed you.

Dark Souls Reimagined as a 2D Platformer?

If it is sharing mechanics that make games similar to Dark Souls a part of a brand-new genre, then it should be possible for games to include the advanced level of difficulty and things like regaining lost XP in a similar way while occupying completely different settings or even play styles. A good example of this is the game Salt and Sanctuary, which even the developers say is very much an homage to Dark Souls. The key difference is that Salt and Sanctuary is actually a 2D platformer!

Salt and Sanctuary, Ska Studios.

Why Do Players Love This Style of Play?

So why do people love the mechanics of the notoriously difficult Dark Souls games so much that there is interest enough to create a new genre? Most fans say that what they enjoy most about this game is the sense of achievement on completing a section or getting past particularly tough bosses. However, what really seems to make Dark Souls special among games with high difficulty is the sense of fairness, and that you can in fact ‘get good’ by understanding the mechanics of the game and learning things like the attack patterns of enemies.

It will be interesting to see what other types of games begin to employ some of the things introduced in Dark Souls and whether this is a passing fad in the games industry or whether Souls-likes are here to stay.

Do you agree that Dark Souls is more than just a game? That it created its own genre? Let us know in the comments section below.

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