“Soulslike” has become a brand new genre during the last and current generation of video games. Those games are generally action adventure with a strong RPG component and couple things that make them completely different from both the action adventures and the role-playing games, like the absence of an explicit storyline, the absence of a map, the presence of items that allow you to upgrade your characters but that you’ll lose forever if you die twice, and so on.
These are the traits of the souls-like genre, and on top of that, just before The Surge released last week, you can also add the fantasy/medieval setting we’ve seen in Demon’s/Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Lords of the Fallen. It is worthy to note down some of the best titles in the genre, considering it is getting bigger and bigger, and especially more relevant with months passing and developers joining the party thanks to the increasing popularity of this kind of productions.
Let’s take a look, then, at some of the souls-like games you should definitely play if you’re now approaching the genre.
You’d say – why introducing Nioh in the first spot of this chart? Well, first thing, this is not a chart, it’s just a random list of the games you should definitely try in case you’re looking for some good souls-like titles. Generally, they’re all pretty good, so there’s no need to offer a chart in this article. Then, I believe the makers of the Ninja Gaiden franchise – Team Ninja, some of the most difficult games ever made, probably even harder than the Souls themselves – deserve such place for their history. Nioh is a well crafted souls-like, hard enough for you to spend lots and lots of hours. Differently from the proper Souls series, probably it has a slightly less ambitious level design, and bosses might not be as inspired, but the game overall is kinda magic for those of you who love Japanese history and Japan altogether. The title has indeed a strong sense of Japan in it, with all sorts of items, characters and themes clearly reminding you of the Asiatic country. This is where the game stands in particular.
And here we go with the Souls series. It all began with Demon’s Souls, and I still remember when I played it for the first time – a friend of mine brought me this PS3 game I absolutely didn’t know anything about since I was only covering Xbox games back in the days. It was such a painful experience to spend 2-3 hours on it and still be in the first, very basic level, but it also was so rewarding and charming to just stay there, getting stronger, learning about the paths on the map, and so on. Dark Souls expanded upon that base and added a very smart boss and world design, where you had the idea you could basically go anywhere and just took some path around to get right back in the spot where you began from. It is something that was probably missing from the second Dark Souls game and returned with all of its strength in Bloodborne. So, while Demon’s Souls was the real first Souls game, it is true to state that Dark Souls was the most ambitious ever and probably, thanks to that previous experience, the best crafted around, kicking off a mythology rather than simply coming with a hard to beat the game.
I’m currently playing The Surge on Xbox One and must say that it’s much more refined than Lords of the Fallen – the other souls-like game from Deck13. In terms of pure gameplay, The Surge is a mixture of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Deck13 has said Bloodborne was a huge inspiration in terms of how you handle attack strategy, mainly because it gives you a bonus and more health as you attack your enemies on the ground. Also, it allows you to defend more or less: there are no shields, but at least you have some means to defend you from the lightest attacks. Progression has also been refreshed, as you don’t increase your abilities directly but can customize your skills by installing specific implants you can find by playing and traveling around; increasing your level allows you to install more of them. On top of that, this is much more original than the previous game, simply because it’s the first souls-like to be set in a sci-fi environment rather than the dark/medieval fantasy à la Dark Souls. It’s still very derivative and “inspired” by the likes of the Souls franchise, but it really rewards for the time you spend in it both visually and as a proper game.
Now it’s the turn of one of the most beloved souls-like games — Bloodborne. It’s one of those titles which get more and more appreciation with the days passing by, and I still remember many of the fans of Dark Souls were all “this is not a true souls title because of that, that and that”, and were very disappointed about the outcome. I think it’s because of the slightly less punishing open world/sandbox gameplay, despite bosses still being inspired and ultimately filled with different and creative patterns to learn. At any rate, Bloodborne is the best souls in terms of visuals and art. It’s a gothic turn for a “series” which definitely started to become a bit too much more of the same, especially after Dark Souls II shipped causing – this time for a number of good reasons – widely disappointment in fans. On top of that, I also liked the way From Software mixed the gameplay mechanics to have a pretty different result in comparison with Dark Souls. In the latter you are required to constantly defend yourself from enemies’ attacks in order to be successful, in Bloodborne, instead, it’s a matter of attacking first not only to survive but to have a portion of your health regenerated. And you don’t even have a shield.
SALT AND SANCTUARY
Last but not least, Salt and Sanctuary is the first 2D souls-like, and it comes from the hugely talented Ska Studios (the guys behind The Dishwasher and Charlie Murder). It’s tough and evoking, and it’s also available on PlayStation Vita, which means you can play it wherever you like the most. Give it a try and you’ll understand you’re not necessarily required a powerful hardware and a huge, 3D open world to challenge players.