The term Soulslike has been bandied about a lot in gaming and is often used to simply imply that a game is difficult. Born from the brutality of the Souls series, the Soulslike subgenre carries on the qualities that started with Dark Souls, but the difficulty is just one factor of a true Soulslike game. Digging deeper, players will find a popular but misunderstood gameplay style that exists due to a fundamental misunderstanding of its progenitor.
Dark Souls is known for hard-hitting bosses and sending players back as punishment for death, but these are just surface-level design elements to a gameplay style that has a ton of thought and care put into it. While Soulslike has become a catch-all term for difficult games or a story set in a gloomy, medieval setting, there's much more that defines what made Dark Souls such a roaring success.
What is a Soulslike?
The Soulslike subgenre originates in Japan, with influences to the genre including Monster Hunter's challenging battles that require a focus on prep and learning battles and Berserk's dark, fantastical and medieval themes. Naming subgenres after popular, genre-defining games is nothing new in the industry. This naming tradition follows Metroidvania titles, which combine elements of Metroid and Castlevania. Don't be fooled, though; Soulslike games are not for the faint of heart; they often cater to gamers seeking a challenge.
Higher than average difficulty, mysterious lore and combat focused on reading enemy patterns are characteristics that define Soulslike games. However, there is also a focus on enemy respawns and limited supplies, so players cannot just brute force their way through these games without a plan; they need to strategize. Soulslike games typically have a checkpoint mechanic similar to Dark Souls' bonfires which bridge the gap between combat instances and safe zones where players can level up abilities but respawn enemies when used. These games also have a currency system that is added to by defeating enemies. Whether they are souls, blood echoes or whatever else, this currency contributes to a player's ability to upgrade themselves. There is also Soulslike combat, characterized by stamina meters, which force players to strategize in a fight, and foes that can punish players for even a single mistake.
Examples of Soulslike Games
One of the most well-known Soulslike genre games is Bloodborne. Instead of bonfires, Bloodborne uses lamps as resting places. Both games also have a currency system where defeating enemies allows players to accumulate more currency and unlock new abilities. Bloodborne and Dark Souls also share healing mechanics in the form of limited items that players can use but cannot rely on entirely.
Despite being platformers, both Hollow Knight and Dead Cells have many features that fit the Soulslike genre. Both of these games and the games discussed above feature brutal boss fight sequences and permadeath-like elements that contribute to the mechanics of both games. Although Dead Cells' permadeath is usually permanent, Hollow Knight has corpse-run elements that allow players to retrieve items dropped upon death. This mechanic gives players the chance to restore themselves, despite having died, similar to Dark Souls.
The Next Game to Scratch the Soulslike Itch
Adventurers who want to dive into the Soulslike genre with recently released titles are in luck, as there is currently no shortage of Soulslike titles. For players who like the themes of Dark Souls but aren't ready to sell their souls to a video game, Death's Door has a lot of Soulslike influence and is currently making waves in gaming. It has dark themes, over-the-top boss fights and is full of secrets, but it is much more forgiving than the average game in this genre, making it an excellent match for Soulslike initiates.
Demon's Souls for PlayStation 5 fits the Soulslike genre in a more traditional sense. Demon's Souls is the newest title in the Soul's series and is a remake made for the next generation of consoles with the original elements that the other games in this genre try to emulate. Archstones (which predate bonfires), souls and corpse runs are all here, as this is the world where they originated. It is also a game characterized by its methodical combat, an RPG leveling system and challenges that remind players why the genre takes its name from this series in the first place.
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