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Sorry if this already gets posted way too often, but can we please talk about how “soulslike” is way too confusing and vague for it to be considered a genre?

Gamingtodaynews1e - Sorry if this already gets posted way too often, but can we please talk about how "soulslike" is way too confusing and vague for it to be considered a genre?
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Now I know a lot of you are Souls fans. I am a Souls fan too, particulary Demon's Souls and Bloodborne. But I see a lot of folks doing a separation between ARPG and Soulslike. Which honestly… makes little to no sense. But hey, I'm open to changing my mind, so here goes nothing.

First off let's talk about the main problem: calling games soulslike. This isn't like what happened with roguelikes (another term that I don't really like but I can live with): Rogue did something very distinctive for its time, which was generating completely random levels and adding brutal difficulty on top of it, despite being an RPG. However these differences were big enough to warrant the creation of a subgenre, or a design philosophy: there's no longer a "ok, let's start a new game, but this time I already know that the area to the west has easier enemies/bigger loot, so I'm going to optimize this in order to build my class the fastest way possible". The levels always change. True death exists. The game is unforgiving. These were very specific, but you can create tons of things with it and they are concrete elements that you can easily identify and design your game around.

Meanwhile Soulslike? Good luck trying to figure out what someone means by "soulslike". Is it the combat? The difficulty? The immersion? The "no-hand-holding" when figuring out lore, or lore being more complex than the actual story, that usually ends up being really simple? These are all elements that the Souls games have, but they don't incorporate it in such a unique way to warrant a new subgenre. I'd argue however, that the Souls games are the definite "how to", a clear guide to designing an action RPG that actually lives up to the name of "action RPG" instead of just being dice rolling turns hidden within real-time as way of pretending it is action. At least in some elements.

But just like Immersive Sims, the label became a nightmare. Now everything is Soulslike, despite blatantly being completely different from any Souls game. Jedi Fallen Order, Hollow Knight, you name it. Let's dissect the elements I've referred above:

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  • Combat: I know, I know, maybe I'll be causing a few gears to get grinded but let's get real: Souls combat is nothing absolutely mind-blowing new. It feels VERY good, but we've already seen it. It's dodge-and-hit. You see this in older action games that still were very dependent of the FPS style of controls and camera. Bloodrayne, Jedi Academy, Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2005) when controlling a Sith or Jedi… and even in action RPGs: Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines, Jade Empire, King's Field and Shadow Tower… this style already existed! The problem is that the gameplay felt clunky, like you had no control. What FromSoft did, after years of experience with the same style of gameplay, was to allow you to lock on, add emphasis to enemy stun (as well as yours) which is a staple of any action game and allow you to perform very simple short combos. In short, they gave the genre the final touches: they successfully, 100% put action in action-rpg.
  • Difficulty: I don't think I need to explain this one. Any game from any other genre can be difficult. Fighting games are difficult. RTS games are difficult. Even within those genres, there are easy options or hybrids. So let's shove it out;
  • Immersion and no-hand-holding: isn't this an inherent aspect of Immersive Sims, which follow Looking Glass Studio's philosophy of making it that the player is actually experiencing a living world, in which the logic of the real world can be applied to the videogame world? Even then, Souls games merely dwelve into it: they feature worlds that speak for themselves, which helps immersion, and instead of having characters explain everything to you right off the bat, it forces you to find the right people, or the right notes, which are usually hidden away in places where it makes sense for them to be in. It feels more organic but again, it's part of the game design and could be incorporated literally into any genre;
  • Lore being bigger than the actual story: perhaps the biggest culprit of them all when trying to apply the Soulslike label to a different game. By this definition a ton of games that are somewhat obscure become soulslike. Anyways, once again this was being done before. Thief, Deus Ex, System Shock (again Looking Glass Studios <3 ) and possibly a few others that came before, during or after which I don't remember or know already were doing this. Why is this suddenly a thing only soulslikes do?

Again, don't misinterpret me: Souls games are a landmark in the gaming industry! It launched Miyazaki's team to success, it proved there is a commercial interest in challenging games that don't hold your hand while still remaining somewhat fair and best of all, they perfected a genre, thus changing the gaming landscape. But please, learn to distinguish when a game is simply so good in doing what it does within the genre and thus revolutionizing it instead of creating a new one. For now, all you can see are blatant copies that can be somewhat enjoyable depending on the player (Code Vein anyone?), or games that take some inspiration from its approach to combat, while still retaining their own identity and falling within the "action-RPG" spectrum (Jedi Fallen Order).

As the term is right now, it makes as much sense as calling every single cinematic game an uncharted-like or gears-of-war-like. And once again, games were applying cinematic principles in their design in vastly different genres (Silent Hill in horror, Jak and Daxter in platformers…).

Sorry for my rant, but I'm honestly getting tired. It's like people don't even stop to think about what came before.

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