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Dark Souls 2, Sequels, and Miyamoto

Nearly ten years ago, in an interview around the launch of the Wii U, Shigeru Miyamoto was asked about the future of F-Zero, Nintendo’s dormant racing series. Directly responding to a question of if F-Zero might make its return on the Wii U, Miyamoto answered, “Since the first on SNES, many games have been made, but the series has evolved very little. I thought people had grown weary of it… I am also very curious, and I’d like to ask those people: Why F-Zero? What do you want that we haven’t done before?”

At the beginning of this year, I finished Dark Souls 2, and after beating the final boss, I found myself focused on one word: uninteresting. When viewed within the broader context of FromSoftware’s work since the studio shipped Demon’s Souls in 2009 through 2019’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Dark Souls 2 was, for me, a wholly uninteresting experience. While there is nothing outright offensive about most of Dark Souls 2, there is, simultaneously, a vanishingly small list of new ideas and refinements upon its predecessors that the game brings to the table. The conversation around Dark Souls 2, and its place in the Soulsborne series, is relatively well-worn at this point, but in my view, Dark Souls 2 did not sufficiently make the case for itself.

As a sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls was largely a success. I will freely admit my own biases toward Demon’s Souls for a variety of reasons, but even in light of those preferences, Dark Souls evolved Demon’s Souls with substantial refinements, entirely new ideas, and, perhaps most notably, more involved world-design. Bloodborne brought, among other new ideas, both considerable changes to the core combat and a refreshing setting, that, regardless of their resonance with individual players, evidently earned itself permanently suffixed by many to the “Souls” genre, now known as the “Soulsborne” genre. YouTuber Joseph Anderson posited that Dark Souls 3, upon the game’s release in 2016, was perhaps the most successful of the series in achieving interconnected level-design, not to be confused with world-design, which almost entirely linear. Furthermore, Dark Souls 3 took lessons from Bloodborne through meaningful evolutions to the combat of the mainline Souls games in the form of weapon arts and, by the metric of the Souls games, a quicker flow of combat. While Sekiro represented the biggest departure for FromSoftware since the jump from Armored Core and King’s Field to Demon’s Souls, Sekiro clearly took heavy inspiration from the Soulsborne games, and whether an individual feels Sekiro is a Soulsborne game in the strictest sense, Sekiro continued to refine and build upon the Soulsborne games that preceded it.

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With that said, sequels do not necessarily need to bring meaningful refinements or new ideas to the table to justify themselves. Instead, a sequel may simply need to more successfully execute than its predecessor the mechanics and ideas of what came before it to warrant its existence. However, Dark Souls 2 is deficient by this metric as well. Looking through the lens of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2 delivers a less connected world, worse level design, less interesting bosses, a more opaque, in the wrong way, plot, and at best, the core mechanics of the game’s combat are negligibly enhanced through the most touted new idea of Dark Souls 2: dual-wielding weapons. Rather than spend substantial time listing the countless examples of these points, YouTuber Matthewmatosis takes great care to illustrate these points, and many more, with a variety different examples, in his video on Dark Souls 2, so both his video and Joseph Anderson’s video on Dark Souls 3 will be linked at the end of this post. Interestingly, the only area in which Dark Souls 2 roundly surpasses its two predecessors is in the game’s length. Indeed, Dark Souls 2 is an undeniably more content-rich experience than both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, but because of this, Dark Souls 2 remains a textbook example of quantity’s inferiority to quality.

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For years, after first hearing Miyamoto’s response to that question about F-Zero, I was mystified. I was fixated on how many times Nintendo had seemingly ignored the core idea of that quote in a variety of its flagship franchises. Remarkably, the New Super Mario Bros. series feels like the very antithesis of, “Why ? What do you want that we haven’t done before?” However, it was not until I finished Dark Souls 2 that I finally appreciated the razer-sharp point of his statement. When considering a sequel, the first question that should be asked is, “What does this do that hasn’t been done before?” Whether a sequel brings new ideas, evolutions to formulas, or simply more effective execution of old ideas, Dark Souls 2 is a quintessential example of why this question is vital in the process of evaluating sequels, and in an age where mainstream developers, and even Nintendo themselves, seem addicted to the minimum viable product, Miyamoto’s sentiment is something I have grown to appreciate.

Referenced Joseph Anderson video on Dark Souls 3:

Referenced Matthewmatosis video on Dark Souls 2:

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