(Disclaimer, I'm an ARPG, Soulslike, and Metroidvania junkie so this issue might not seem so prevalent if you have a more diverse spread of games you play.)
I'll be blunt. Dark Souls has a serviceable story and universe. It's not particularly creative or interesting when it comes to video game stories. It made up for this through presentation, storytelling through the world and environment, and by knowing exactly what information to withhold to make the story more compelling. It made grim-dark work during the height of "gritty realism" exhaustion, and that alone is an accomplishment.
Bloodborne also accomplished this with an equally vague yet compelling story. (although I find the setting and universe to not be as fleshy, so to say)
And that's it. That's your two games that made it work. I'm also half convinced it was a fluke too, as none of the sequels nor Demon's Souls seem to be able to hit that perfect balance of story and story exclusion.
And look, the story approach was popular and loved. But alas, developers managed to take the wrong lesson from this, as any approach to a "souls-like" story seems to take a presentation first approach while leaving the story itself to just die in a corner. It's often branded as an "unobtrusive story for players to dig into if they want" but I'm unable to conceptualize it as anything other than pure laziness. It's like I'm back in 1998 and getting all of the exposition out of a game manual again, but instead it's 2020 and I'm getting two sentences of the writers vaguely alluding to a story with the most cheeky language imaginable in a submenu after I picked up a helmet hidden behind a tree.
Hollow Knight is a great example of this problem in action. Solid game (despite my hangups on it but that's a discussion for metroidvania ), A+ atmosphere, the story is…. eh? My options for getting an story to absorb and enjoy are to do a 100% run, hope I remember all the dialogue, and piece it all together myself, or go watch the eighty minute dissection on it on youtube. Hilariously I've 100%'d it twice (barring the awful boss rush area) and I really can't tell you a whole lot about the story, so I guess option one is out the door anyways. And the thing is, I consider Hollow Knight to be one of the games that apes Dark Souls story presentation relatively well. Most don't. At all. You usually just get a B tier plot except 80% of it doesn't exist and it's left to youtube lore enthusiasts to give us forty five minute videos to explain it to us piecemeal. This is not good design.
I don't even mind watching deep dive lore videos. My all time favorite game is Star Wars KOTOR II and I've spent dozens of hours watching character breakdowns and such. But story/lore explanation videos should be supplementar for people who were drawn into the game's story and want more on it, not required reading to make heads or tails of what the plot actually was.
I don't know how Dark Souls and Bloodborne pulled it off. I can give my take on it but honestly I'm not going to type five paragraphs to explain something that everyone here has probably absorbed from much more articulate individuals three times over.
I got FFVII this year and being told a straight up story in an RPG was a beautiful change of pace. (Yes I know it's technically a JRPG but the genre got blended real nice with the remake)
TL:DR. If you're making a game inspired by Dark Souls, just stick to emulating the gameplay, not the story presentation.
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