There have been a great deal of From Software related lists posted here on InReview. There will be more to come after just this one, but given what’s ahead for InReview, now would be an appropriate time to broadly speak of their games as a whole on a list.
As a precursor, From Software’s games are all quite great as standalone titles when they aren’t compared amongst themselves. This piece aims to do exactly that, rating the likes of Demon’s Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Bloodborne and Elden Ring.
Let’s begin, going from ‘least good’ to the #1 best.
Demon’s Souls is a fine game standalone, but its mechanics are outdated and it unfortunately has some of the worst areas and boss fights in From Software gaming. Mechanically, this game was unique for restricting the player’s ability to run while they’ve locked on to a target. Given that the option to roll or sprint are tied to the same button, typically tapping this button will roll while holding it will sprint; if the player locks on to something, they’ll roll by default even if they hold the button. Like other From Software games, the player’s ability to jump is the same button as well, requiring them to first get a head start, begin sprinting, then mid sprint the player’s finger needs to leave and then quickly re-press the button to jump.
Level design was a tad rough, both constructing an area’s boss as well as putting together the area itself. Valley of Defilement was one of the worst areas ever constructed, while we also got joke boss fights such as Maiden Astrea, True King Allant and Dragon God. These boss fights are typically fought in the late stages of a player’s playthrough, and because they’re absurdly easy, this can be a bit underwhelming.
That said, Demon’s Souls is still an A grade quality game. Despite outdated mechanics, its combat is still smooth and properly stresses the player’s hand/eye coordination to succeed. Where there are some awful levels, there are also some entertaining ones- Gates to Boletaria and Stonefang Tunnel are fun experiences. This also applies to boss fights, as tilts with the likes of Tower Knight, Flamelurker, the Maneaters and Old King Allant are quite thrilling. Many future decisions From Software made would end up being inspired by aspects of Demon’s Souls. For example, Bloodborne’s The One Reborn was clearly inspired by the aforementioned Tower Knight, while Dark Souls 1’s Bell Gargoyles fight clearly takes after the Maneaters.
Though Demon’s Souls doesn’t generally stand up well to other entries, it’s doubtlessly a strong product overall.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
When From Software steps away from a ‘Souls’ game to branch out, we typically get games which are at least visually works of art. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is absolutely indicative of this concept, as the game is artistically beautiful while still retaining From Software’s core philosophy in developing a game.
The game itself is done up well, with entertaining level design as well as fun boss fight. Duels with Emma the Gentle Blade, Owl Father and Genichiro Ashina are fast paced fights which are relatively challenging but also very fair. There really aren’t any particularly poor encounters to be found in the game.
The game’s main criticism is its complete lack of multiplayer. This does serve to give it less replayability overall, distinctly lacking in that regard compared to its contemporaries. Beyond that, much like Bloodborne, From Software endeavored to reinvent the wheel narratively, and they definitely succeeded in doing so.
Dark Souls 2
Simple but broad statement: Dark Souls 2 gets too much hate.
Dark Souls 2 was remarkably ambitious, introducing numerous new mechanics to create a completely new experience from what From Software had produced to this point. Many new mechanics were designed to increase the general challenge of the game as well as mitigate a player’s ability to trivialize the game via exploits. In terms of the former, the Adaptability stat was introduced here- this stat determined how many invincibility frames a player got on a dodge roll, with low scores giving only a split second of protection and higher scores earning progressively better dodge rolling. The latter was mostly the new Soul Memory mechanic, preventing players from engaging in multiplayer with other players who were at a significantly higher or lower level. This would prevent the player from having an incredibly high level summon partner to lay waste to everything, including the underlevelled boss. It also stopped a high level player from giving a lower leveled one an end game item that they wouldn’t ordinarily have access to.
Dark Souls 2 was very creative in all aspects. Level design was rather hit-or-miss, with interesting selections such as Heide’s Tower of Flame or Lost Bastille lumped in with poorly designed maps such as The Gutter or Frigid Outskirts. Likewise, we got some strong boss fights against The Pursuer, Executioner’s Chariot and The Duke’s Dear Freya which attempted to mask uglier encounters with the Prowling Magus & Congregation, the Covetous Demon and Dragonrider. Weapon design, on the other hand, was consistently very strong both visually and structurally. There are plenty of strong strategies a player can use to get through the game, and there are plenty of really cool weapons, visually as well. A shield with a large mirror on it can be used to parry and deflect magical spells. A long sword whose power is increased by the player completing NPC questlines, and whose power is reduced when the player senselessly murders NPCs, is a really cool concept. Beyond cool design, most weapons in the game are structurally sound in general and can give the player plenty of freedom when going through the game.
Dark Souls 2 ultimately reinvented the wheel. Many of the game’s new features were very unpopular with the broad player base at the time of the game’s prime, but seem to have aged very well with numerous entries having come out since then.
Dark Souls 3
Ranking this behind the next selection on this list was an incredibly difficult pick because both games were very strong entries that were incredible experiences to play through. That said, Dark Souls 3 was a bit less focused on developing unique, quality levels artistically and structurally, instead favoring well developed boss fights. This approach worked pretty well with some minor rough edges.
Artistic value would probably have to be Dark Souls 3’s biggest criticism. There are some areas such as the Ringed City or Cathedral of the Deep with captivating artistic value, but for the most part, designs are fairly bland and consistent across the game. Juxtapose this concept to Bloodborne, and Dark Souls 3’s lack of vibrant colors doesn’t hold up; Bloodborne’s gothic, Lovecraftian design definitely leaves more of a positive impression than Dark Souls 3.
That said, Dark Souls 3 is home to some of the best boss fights, not just in From Software history, but gaming as a whole. To this day, I hold that it will be very, very hard to design a boss more perfectly than Darkeater Midir. As well, Slave Knight Gael, Sister Friede & Father Ariandel, Champion Gundyr, the Abyss Watchers, Twin Princes and, of course, Soul of Cinder were amazing experiences. These fights will likely stand the test of time and age quite well, making Dark Souls 3 more memorable and replayable as a result.
Dark Souls 1
What Dark Souls 1 overall lacks in boss quality compared to Dark Souls 3, it makes up for in area quality. Anor Londo, Sen’s Fortress, the Undead Burg, Blighttown and From Software’s best hub area in the Firelink Shrine are iconic locations that most players will look back on fondly for setting a blueprint to be followed for years. It’s not like boss quality was consistently lacking either; from the tutorial boss in the Asylum Demon to an early game fight with Chaos Witch Quelagg, down to the first truly brutal experience in Dragonslayer Ornstein & Executioner Smough and into the DLC fighting Knight Artorias and Black Dragon Kalameet, Dark Souls 1 offered plenty of memorable, replayable boss fights.
Many criticisms which could be made about the original Dark Souls 1 were hammered down in 2018 when the game was remastered. Still, after defeating Ornstein & Smough to move onto the late game, map quality does depreciate significantly. The Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith are distinctly terrible experiences. The Duke’s Archives is quite an annoying area as well. That said, these are merely speed bumps that hardly retract from Dark Souls 1 being an overall elite game.
Bloodborne is a flawless game, artistically. It was quite the leap of faith as, while Dark Souls games have definitely not been particularly flashy and vibrant, Bloodborne’s gothic style design was taking this a step further. The sun never rises in his game, causing everything to be remarkably dark and dreary. It isn’t to the extent of getting bland, or particularly close, and is very visually appealing.
Receiving somewhat of a makeover in this game was how combat functioned. Here, players will almost always have a firearm for a left handed weapon rather than a shield. In other games, where we have ‘Powerstancing’ achieved by two-handing a weapon, Bloodborne offers trick weapons with incredibly creative transformations that can completely change a weapon. For example, the early game Kirkhammer can either be a simple broadsword in the right hand to allow the firearm of choice in the left, or it can quickly become a greathammer wielded with two hands, as the base of the sword would be the grip of the hammer, while the blade would get inserted into a slit on the bottom of a giant cinder block, thus forming the hammer. Likewise, gunfire is mostly used to parry or interrupt an opponent’s action rather than small shields in other games.
Bloodborne’s map quality is mostly stellar as well. Central Yharnam, Old Yharnam, the Cathedral Ward, the Research Hall and most of the Nightmare of Mensis are well designed areas. Boss fights mostly check out as well, starting off with a well designed tutorial boss duo in the Cleric Beast and Father Gasciogne, two fights which do well to prepare the player to do battle with large beasts or other hunters later in the game. We later experience duels with Rom the Vacuous Spider, Micolash, Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower, and then cap it off with one of the hardest fights From Software ever made in the Orphan of Kos.
Bloodborne’s only criticism would have to be a major one- performance issues. Unfortunately, Bloodborne is a PlayStation exclusive and only runs at 30 FPS. Coming over from playing Dark Souls 3 or Elden Ring into Bloodborne will take momentary adjustment because of those games running more smoothly than Bloodborne. This would make Bloodborne a prime candidate for a near future remastering to correct the problem.
Elden Ring takes pieces that make all of the aforementioned games work, meshes them together and, unsurprisingly, it works astoundingly well. Masterful level design brings forth excellent areas such as Crumbling Farum Azula or the Haligtree. We got some very well done boss fights, Starscourge Radahn, Malenia the Goddess of Rot and Radagon/Elden Beast to name some examples.
Given how massive of a world Elden Ring is, it’s not too surprising that aesthetic changes quite a bit depending on location. When starting off at the Land Between, the player will be treated to a simple natural environment, blanketed by either a rousing sunrise or comforting nightfall depending on the time of day. Venturing outward, they could head to Caelid which resembles an apocalyptic disaster. They could head to the Royal Capital Leyndell, heading deep into a major city to eventually reach the Elden Throne. Finally, they could even go underground and enjoy a gorgeous view of a starry black sky in Nokron the Eternal City.
In terms of aesthetic weapon design, Elden Ring is only truly rivaled by Dark Souls 2 & 3 in this regard. Interesting, unique designs in the Rusted Anchor or Varre’s Bouquet are complemented by interesting shields in the Visage Shield, the Fingerprint Stone Shield and the all new Ashes of War, giving the player freedom to assign combat arts to most weapons in the game.
All in all, Elden Ring is a flawless, peerless experience. It’s definitely From Software’s best game, and should be viewed as one of the best games ever made as a whole.