I love Dark Souls as much as the next guy, but even hearing its name is starting to bother me now. Though honestly, this has nothing to do with the game itself. Rather, what’s really bothering me is a certain trend that has appeared in casual discourse, something so common that it’s even extended into the world of videogame journalism. I might be guilty of it myself at some point in my writing, but let’s let bygones be bygones. All that matters is that this has gone on long enough.
The trend I am referring to, of course, is the recent tendency of everyone to compare everything to Dark Souls.
When the Souls series had its initial debut in the US, it wasn’t met with a lot of attention. I’m betting some of you Souls fans won’t even recognize the name “Demon’s Souls” and I bet only a slightly larger number of you have actually seen gameplay, much less played it. The original Dark Souls is the one everybody talks about, though it wasn’t until some months after its release that I remember it really garnering attention. Though come Dark Souls 2, we already well on our way towards Hype City.
So somewhere between Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2, the series suddenly had everyone’s attention as something groundbreaking and revolutionary and “Dark Souls” became a name like Picasso or Shakespeare; a household name to be compared with everything, even when it makes absolutely no sense.
The first few dozen times it was used, “the Dark Souls of” tag might have actually been somewhat original. For one, I think something like Salt and Sanctuary benefits from the comparison. But Salt and Sanctuary also feels almost like a literal 2D-translation of the game, and it’s really the only current example I can think of that can use the comparison without making me want to choke.
“Breath of the Wild is the Dark Souls of Zelda’s.” “Hyper Light Drifter is the Dark Souls of Retro Games.” Or how about “Nioh/Horizon Zero Dawn is the New Dark Souls”?
At this point, any game that requires even a modicum of skill to beat; whose playing would also naturally require more than a few deaths; and that sees even some practice on the part of the player, is compared to Dark Souls. It suddenly becomes the Dark Souls of its genre or developer and we can never an original thought about the game ever again.
I love Dark Souls, but the comparison is much too general. Plenty of games are difficult. Plenty of games are gloomy. Dark Souls is a different experience certainly, but FromSoftware didn’t invent these things. They didn’t even invent the third-person action RPG format.
Aside from being way too general, “the Dark Souls of” comparison is just lazy journalism. If writers such myself can’t find anything else to say about a game, then we better be talking about the original Dark Souls itself. But in a world where even the veracity of mainstream media reports is increasingly questioned, let’s try to maintain some standards, please. It’s already become a meme.