Hello, everyone! As we know from the Top Video Games of 2016 article that I contributed to, Dark Souls is a series very near and dear to my heart for very personal reasons. Dark Souls has taught me that no matter how much you get knocked down that you always get back up and for this reason has been a major influence in how I handle the world. I’m honestly really thankful that I discovered these games, so without further ado, here is the SoulsBorne series ranked, from worst to best, as a matter of personal opinion.
5: Dark Souls II
Boy, I don’t even know where to go with this one. Dark Souls II is the little game that tried. The only game in the SoulsBorne series to not be directed by Hidetaki Miyazaki, Dark Souls II tried too hard to live up to it’s predecessor. Instead of creating a new game filled to the brim with new experiences, Dark Souls II took everything bad about Dark Souls and cranked the volume dial to 11. You are given hints throughout the game that Dark Souls II’s kingdom of Drangleic lies far in the future of Dark Souls’ Lordran, but aside from the recycling of what are known as the Lord Souls, a color palette swap of a boss, and a re-skin of another, Dark Souls II is, to a lot of fans of the series, the worst installment. Dark Souls II took the original game’s punishing but fair attitude towards its players and buried it alive, because instead of just losing your souls (in-game currency and experience points) as you do in every other installment of the series, Dark Souls II punishes you by introducing a “hollowing” mechanic which lowers your health by a certain percentage each time you die. I understand wanting the game to be difficult, but it should not be unmanageable at times. The controls are far too delayed as well and the parry mechanic from the original Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls is almost nonexistent.
4: Demon’s Souls
The game that started it all. Demon’s Souls was released in 2009 exclusively for the Sony Playstation 3. It was in this game that the groundwork for the SoulsBorne series was laid. A video game with the leveling system and stat points that one might expect out of a pen-and-paper RPG such as Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. Demon’s Souls followed the player’s character through the kingdom of Boletaria as they slay the corrupted forms of Boletaria’s legendary Round Table Knights. The reason that Demon’s Souls has placed so far down the list is that mechanically it’s just very, very clunky. The controls feel delayed an unreasonable amount from the time that you input them to the time that the character actually performs the desired action. The game is also unreasonably difficult and obscure when compared to the rest of the SoulsBorne series, which is already known for being difficult and obscure.
3: Dark Souls III
This was a very hard placement for me. Dark Souls III being the most recent entry in the series is still very fresh to me, and in fact, I’m waiting for the second DLC, The Ringed City to be released on March 28th. Dark Souls III picks up where Dark Souls leaves off. This time you’re exploring a kingdom known as Lothric, though a portion of the game does take you to Anor Londo, a very significant area from the original Dark Souls. In Dark Souls III we learn that every few cycles in the cycle of fire/light and mankind/dark that the “First Flame” will be threatened to a point wherein Lords of Cinder, beings who have previously linked the First Flame to prolong the Age of Fire will be called once more to sacrifice themselves for the fire to be reborn. Your character in Dark Souls III awakens from death to be given the mission to bring the Lords of Cinder to their thrones. Five thrones for five lords. Dark Souls III also references Dark Souls far better than Dark Souls II ever did. There exists a boss in the game, one of the Lords of Cinder known as The Abyss Watchers, who model themselves on the image of Artorias, the Wolf Knight, who once fought against the Abyss. Mechanically, Dark Souls III pulls equal inspiration from Dark Souls as well as Bloodborne. Dark Souls III gives you the heavy, armor clad, sword-and-shield combat that you would expect from a Dark Souls game with the fast paced action of Bloodborne. However, unlike Bloodborne, Dark Souls III still relies on the player being more defensive than offensive.
Ah, Bloodborne, such a lovely, stressful experience. Unlike any of the Souls games, in Bloodborne you go from being the victim to being the hunter. Literally, the player’s character in Bloodborne is called a hunter. And what do hunters do? Hunt. Every so often in the city of Yharnam, plagued by blood, men are transformed into beasts, and when this happens, the night of the hunt commences. Like every other player character in SoulsBorne, your hunter does not ask for this, but fate thrusts it upon them regardless. The night of the hunt is harrowing, and, as a hunter, you’re given several tools to fill your arsenal with. Axes, saw blades, guns, holy swords, A GIANT HAMMER. You name it and Bloodborne has it. In addition to its wide array of weapons that stray from the traditional medieval archetypes of Dark Souls, Bloodborne also encourages the player to be aggressive with a fast-paced combat system that rewards you with health recovery for hitting an enemy back after they’ve attacked you. You literally bathe in their blood to regain health. The parry system in Bloodborne is also fairly unique as well. Instead of using a shield to deflect an enemy attack, in Bloodborne, you’re given a gun to fire at just the right time to stun an enemy so that you can perform a critical attack. These critical attacks will also work against bosses in Bloodborne, though for most of them you must strike at their weak point. Did I mention that during the second half of the game, Bloodborne turns extremely Lovecraftian in its horror? Bloodborne does justice to Lovecraftian Horror in a way that I have yet to see any other video game do.
1: Dark Souls
For me, this is the game that started it all. I will admit that when I first picked up Dark Souls, I couldn’t get through the first post-tutorial area and I quit playing the game for a year or so. But when I picked the game back up and started playing it again, something clicked in me. This was a game that might be punishing, but it’s also fair (with the exception of some camera issues here or there). When I truly began playing Dark Souls, it taught me to cope with anxiety and depression. It taught me that as long as you focus, you can achieve anything you set your mind to and beat anything that stands in your way. Dark Souls follows the player character through the Kingdom of Lordran, the land of Ancient Lords, as it were. From the beginning of the game, you aren’t given much information as to what is going on in the world. All you’re told from a trusty knight who frees you from your prison cell is an ancient prophecy that runs in his family, that,
Thou who art Undead, art chosen... In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land of Ancient Lords... When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the Undead thou shalt know…
And that’s it. You know you have to go the the land of Ancient Lords and ring some bells. Once you ring said bells, of course, you’re given some further insight into the world from a talking snake with people teeth and a mustache. But unless you truly delve into the game’s secrets, as well as the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, you might not have the full scope of what’s going on with Dark Souls. I really could go on for an entire Age of Fire about how much I love Dark Souls and its hidden lore and meanings, but I’ll refrain, just to save us all some time. Mechanically, Dark Souls is pretty solid. The parry system works well and can be used to even defeat the final boss of the game. You’re given a large array of weapons, shields, and spells to choose from the carry through the game. Dark Souls is flawed, yes, but it is still a masterpiece. This game is what brought a lot of people and attention to this series, and will forever have a place in my heart.
“Don’t you dare go hollow.”