Dark Souls is Not an Action RPG.

Dark Souls is Not an Action RPG.

The following post is this author’s opinion and does not reflect the thoughts and feelings of Fextralife as a whole nor the individual content creators associated with the site. Any link that goes outside of Fextralife are owned by their respective authors. This is the first of a three-part series of articles analyzing the Dark Souls games. Part II will analyze the soulsian genre and part III will discuss the philosophy of Dark Souls. You can check out the author’s profile to find them.


A lot has been said about the “Dark Souls” design and I’ll try my best not to rehash arguments that have already been presented. I’ll analyze each component under a broader lens, regarding the series as a whole. I’ll compare its entries to each other, regarding each individual component. And then, once we have a clear picture of what makes Dark Souls tick, we’ll take a look at how these games fit within its action RPG genre.

So, without further ado…

Level Design (Designing with Intent)

Every design decision in Dark Souls seems to have been done very deliberately, and level design is no exception. Despite first impressions, from a gameplay perspective, you rarely feel lost. First, yes, you don’t always know exactly where any given path will take you and, quite frankly, that’s the whole point of exploration but you always have at dark-souls-not-an-action-rpgleast one clear path to follow. You’re never stuck with nowhere to go.

Second, you often get glimpses of your objective in the distance giving you a general sense of direction. We all have heard that Dark Souls “level design” being praised by its use of verticality, but I think that’s a bit shallow, in that it makes it sound like a novelty for novelty’s sake when, in fact, it’s so much more. It’s cool, yes, but it’s also a major factor for this overall sense of direction. The maze-like maps bend over themselves, intertwining paths and interconnecting areas, which makes it very difficult to tell which way is which, at times, but up is always up and down is always down. And finally, it usually does a very good job of letting you know you’re on the right path or signaling that there might be something else over there.

Moving past pure gameplay, one of the hallmarks of good level design is the ability to integrate narrative. FromSoftware leverages this ability quite brilliantly and in more than just a few occasions. Item placement is often used to connect characters, locations, and timelines. Verticality is used to convey feelings as we traverse the world and also to imply the power structure between factions. Nothing feels out of place and when it does, it’s always on purpose.

Dark Souls 1 makes the best use of level design, in my opinion. From the get-go, it does a better job than its counterparts, by starting in a prison, since a clear goal is set right from the beginning: escape. That not only sets the immediate goal of escaping from the asylum but it also provides a strong incentive to pursue the long-term end-goal by connecting it to the fable of the chosen undead. There’s the sense of empowerment when you ring the first bell, the oppressive dread as you descend into the depths to ring the second one, the soul lifting relieve of the ascension back to the surface, and the paranoid desperation when you realize that your precious safe-place has been desecrated…

You’re never thrown into an alienating world without a proper transition. Darkroot Garden would be an exception to this but that area is meant to represent a pocket of reality lost in time so, I believe it was deliberate.

The Depths is the only place where it’s easy to feel lost, but that is a place where greedy men lose themselves. If you can overcome the urge to loot and explore, it’s actually quite easy to go from beginning to end.

Sen’s Fortress can sometimes give a similar feeling but you’re never really lost in there. You always know where you have to go, it’s only a matter of finding the path to it. The house of traps is a puzzle waiting to be unlocked. Every door, lever, and elevator in The Duke’s Archives feel like a well-kept secret. Anor Londo’s revelation is breathtaking, it really feels like you have reached the city of the gods. And you go dark-souls-not-an-action-rpgaround Anor Londo just as much as you go through it, almost like a thief, as an indication that you simply do not belong. Both true dragons are magical and otherworldly. Nito is a threat waiting in the dark. Priscilla lingers in a place of overwhelming sadness…

Every level design decision is intent on guiding both our feelings and understanding of the world. And they all speak to each other, weaving a truly coherent world that would otherwise just feel broken. Even Izalith, which is often bashed by arguments of poor level design, is representative of this factor. Lack of verticality is due to the fact that they are literally and figuratively at the bottom of the world. That along with the overtly open and simplistic design, I believe, is meant to infer a hidden utopia. Inside their society, they are all equal and free to come and go as they please.

All this ingenuity, unfortunately, would not be seen again.

Dark Souls 2 has some good set pieces. Coming upon the Dragon Aerie, in particular, stands out above the rest. The fog area in Shaded Woods was really interesting and so was the trail of breadcrumbs left by Vendrick, as he locked away the Throne of Want and fled his own castle. But that’s as much praise as I can give it. Compared to its predecessor, the level design is filled with branching dead ends and disjointed worlds. There’s a good experience to be had in each of these areas but they all feel really self-contained. Also, it sometimes feels like you’re moving forward in a corridor, without even knowing where it is that you’re supposed to be going. It feels like you’re just stumbling through the game.

Dark Souls 3‘s level design seems to have taken a backseat to the lore. The game feels rather small and linear, the layout seems more pragmatic than inventive, and like Dark Souls 2, it feels fragmented as well. But even though I think the game is somewhat diminished by it, I also believe that these decisions were taken based on its lore. As we have seen at the end of the age of fire, the world really is getting smaller, made of fragments that are coming together. And unlike before, the protagonist isn’t searching for a goal, he was created specifically for one particular goal. He is driven by it and driven towards it. We are unkindled.

As you can see, level design suffered a dent in these last two entries of the series. Dark Souls 3 also has way too many bonfires and one trade that clearly didn’t pay off was the ability to warp around. They have given us a very convenient tool but lost a very important tool themselves. This feels particularly detrimental to Dark Souls 3, considering that the alternative of waiting to get the ability to warp around, wouldn’t feel so harsh, given its smaller scope. It would fit the lore of the unkindled moving forward to reach its goal. And they already have a mechanic in place to bring us back, by having Emma teleport us to Lothric once we’ve gathered the cinders of all the Lords.

Storytelling (Plot is Overrated)

Tom Abernathy once said at GDC, “plot is highly overrated.” His quote has been taken out of context before and I strongly recommend you watch the whole talk here if you have the time. But for what it’s worth, he might have been describing Dark Souls when he said that. And that’s not to say that plot isn’t important or that Dark Souls doesn’t have a plot, quite the contrary, but they have moved the plot out of the way of gameplay. By giving us room to enjoy the game without actively trying to work out the plot as we play it, they have also given us the opportunity to take in a much larger story than they would otherwise have been able to tell and at our own pace. They understand that no cutscene could ever match our imagination and that those “aha!” moments of discovery will stick with us, long after we have put our controllers down.

Some staples of Dark Souls’ storytelling include the fabled item descriptions, NPC arcs, and environmental storytelling. Combined, they were able to weave a sprawling, intricate story that extends through millennia. Dark Souls isn’t the first nor the only one to play by these rules. Rules that represent an evolution of the old adages of “convey, don’t describe” and “show, don’t tell,” now, “play, don’t show.” Unfortunately, most of the industry doesn’t seem to realize that by fighting this, they are fighting the strengths of their own medium. And like I said, Dark Souls ain’t the first, and it ain’t the only one, but if it can’t be the father, then it sure as hell is the godfather of environmental storytelling. Which is also a part of the level design but is being covered separately, given its very specific application.

In all these techniques, Dark Souls 2 seems more simplistic and straightforward, suffering from the same problems as before, crafting individual stories that don’t necessarily play off of each other. Story through level design is lacking, NPCs feel one dimensional and without agency, and I feel like they did a good job of crafting the lore for various kingdoms but, again, they all feel very cut off.

The first Dark Souls, on the other hand, was very proficient at it. NPCs feel alive, the world guides our feelings and tells its own tale, and all the many parts of its story feel connected, one way or another. The only complaint that I would make is that it felt like something was just… missing from the story. I know that all the important bits and pieces were there, really, but I believe that at the time, they simply hadn’t perfected their methods yet.

Which brings us to Dark Souls 3. And storytelling is where this entry really shines. Some NPCs go through their own arcs in its entirety. Actively acting upon the resolution of their own fates; Eygon, Hawkwood, Anri… And Gael! The components used to tell Gaels’ story are very minimalistic. We hardly have any interactions with him and still, they were able to construct a story that is powerful, moving, and complete. Partly due to the fact that it mirrors our own, and we are able to project our own story into it. In this entry, they truly have perfected environmental storytelling. The world is full of details and every single one of them is a thread in the lore. You see a bookcase and I see lore. A broken coiled sword, doggy Frampt statue? It’s lore. You see a shield-in-a-box (Spirit Tree Crest Shield)? I see ingenious item placement. That is goddamn lore.

Lothric Castle, for example, is a masterpiece! Item descriptions set the pieces, and level design places them on a chess board. Not a single line of dialogue is necessary to describe, in minute detail, its current standstill and the prior battle that took place on its grounds. It’s just… beautiful.

Fanservice is used to hide lore in plain sight. There are tales within tales, as with Farron and Gundyr. And lastly, this entry finally fully explores something that was introduced in Dark Souls 2: the synergy between its own lore and the pre-existing one. If you’ve only played this one game, then you’re like one of its characters. You understand the story of the world around you, sure. But, in fact, you really don’t. Where Dark Souls 2 was content on telling a separate story, Dark Souls 3 manages to tell a story of its own that, when combined with Dark Souls 1, changes into a completely new story. Even veteran players fall for this trap and fail to see the truth. But if you keep this in mind, you’ll see. You’ll see…

Themes (“Toolset” Mindset)

The themes explored by these games are very deeply woven into its fabric. Every other aspect of the game is consistently built upon them, and they serve to connect its many components. The more pertinent themes throughout the series are: history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes; we don’t matter, except we do, except we don’t; nothing is what it seems; and, of course, challenge. More than just game design, the challenge really is one of the game’s themes. Ask any non-initiated player what Dark Souls is about and they’ll more likely than not, tell you that “it’s hard.”

But more than just a theme, challenge is a tool. It’s the hook that draws in players into an action RPG, without realizing that they’re entering a very philosophical conversation with its developers. The game is hard and the world is harsh. You commit to it and as you play, you start to absorb the other themes. Its cyclical nature mirrored in the First Flame, the spiraling level design, the empires built upon each other, and the recurrent bosses and character archetypes.

The insignificance of your humble beginnings, the power creep of your inevitable growth, and the heart-wrenching realization that no matter how grand your deeds may seem, this world is ultimately indifferent… and its cycles will keep on turning.

The hollowing obsession with the “truth”, thwarted at every turn by revelations that undermine your perception of reality. And where Dark Souls really sets itself apart from the other games, is in how these themes are implemented. Just like the challenge, they are all tools. They move the plot and the conversation forward; and the game itself, I believe, is also a tool used to teach the player about its overarching philosophy. And it does that in a very efficient way since, instead of just telling us about it, it forces us to live it.

Now, Dark Souls 2, again, takes a more blunt approach to it. And in my humble opinion, they kind of actually missed the spot regarding the original philosophy of the game. They also seem to have forgotten to use the themes as tools, rather than dressing. Dark Souls 1 and 3 are on par with each other. The former establishes what the philosophy of the game should be and the latter doubles down on it. On and on, both games instill the need to ponder about these ideas and the player feels compelled, even if only on an unconscious level, to ruminate about his own life. And I’ll ask you to set this philosophy aside for now since it warrants a post of its own, and will have to be discussed on another day.

Layered Mechanics

So, those are the components that make Dark Souls what it is, but there’s one facet of Dark Souls that I’ve never seen being explicitly discussed, and that’s the fact that it seamlessly brings together an entire host of different genres. “Seamlessly” being a keyword here. Other RPGs, especially open world games, try to do the same but fall short. All their many parts feel like they were thrown together without any regard for the whole and the end result is often a basket of semi-developed, incompatible ideas. The following are the “Games” within the game:

It’s a Horror Game

dark-souls-not-an-action-rpgThe most primal fears are the unknown and death, and Dark Souls thrives on both. It’s just a game, you know you’re safe and yet, here, death has weight. There’s no effort to sugarcoat it. “You died.” These are your enemies, these are the rules. They play by the same rules as you, you can defeat them. “You died.” This is a boss, these are the rules. “You died.” You can defeat him. “You died”.

Dark Souls is the kind of game where you either commit to it or you give the fuck up! You commit to it because they make sure to show you that you can beat the game. It’s up to you. But then you die, over and over again. You lose your progress, you lose your souls, you lose even more progress trying to retrieve your souls. You face up against that one boss and you died. You know you can do it but you died. You got his pattern but you died. And at some point, you start thinking “maybe I can’t.” And that is what you really fear.

It’s just a game, you know you’re safe and yet, in every death, there in-lies the real threat, the threat of defeat.

The unknown also plays a big role here. You feel compelled to plunge into it, with the looming dread that whatever terrible thing may have happened here, you might be next. You struggle on, grasping at straws, trying to piece everything together. Trying to make some sense. They entice you with just enough information to make it feel like you can do it, just to see it slipping through your hands. And then, one day, that’s it, you beat the game. It’s over! But you still don’t know. It’s an itch, it’s just an itch. But if you’ve committed yourself to the game then the game is definitely not over. You’ll play it in your head and that itch, that itch will make you hollow.

True RPG.

dark-souls-not-an-action-rpgWhere in most RPGs you get to play as a character that was created for you, in Dark Souls you truly play as your own character. Other games let you choose your appearance, your gameplay style, a few branching choices… but at best, it’s just a more nuanced version of choosing between paragon and renegade. The blank slate of the Dark Souls’ protagonist and the open ended nature of the limitless interpretations of its lore and themes allow you to craft an experience that is “unique to you”, and you alone. The events play out in the game but the story unfolds inside your head. And, yes, it would be great to see a game where every action is a choice and every choice translates in-game and every choice has limitless possibilities and consequences… but that just seems unreachable right now. So, until we get to that, I think Dark Souls is the closest we get to a true role playing experience.

PVP also gives you the chance to express yourself. In most other games you’re either aggressive or passive, a team player or a douche bag. In other games, you help others for the loot or the xp. When you help people in Dark Souls, there’s no loot, or skins, or banners. You can do it for ranking up in the covenant or to gain levels but those exhaust themselves pretty quickly and still, people keep doing it, just to praise the sun! There’s no leaderboard, you fight for the sake of fighting.

You can invade to kill, wreak havoc, or both. You can even change your mind after invading and decide to let them be or even help them. You can be a blunt instrument or a trickster. You can be honorable and, yes, you can be a douche bag. Dark Souls PvP can test your skills, your wits, and in true Dark Souls fashion, it will test your resolve. They are going to spam the shit out of everything that can be spammed!

“Do you have the skill to defeat them and the resolve to keep your gold?” They are going to gank you, that’s a fact. “Do you have what it takes to outsmart them!?” “The resolve to invade again?” “Do you intentionally open yourself up for invasions, so that you can challenge them?” “Can you stand your host repeatedly dying? To the same boss! Over and over again!?” “Do you give up or do you PRAISE THE SUUUN??

It’s a Social Game

Well, kind of. Even though this isn’t the focus of the game, the interactions you have with other players actually matter, they have an impact dark-soulsthat is missing from most games where interaction is possible. The usual experience has you going in blind with a random group of players to complete a raid or a co-op mission of some sort, and even though the missions and bosses and enemies are sometimes memorable, the people you take with you are not.

In Dark Souls, there’s always that one guy who kills your entire party single-handed, that one troll we couldn’t see coming or the troll who gets trolled, the sense of gratitude when one particular group of random sunbros decides to stick with you after so many had bailed, the one sunbro that saved you from three invaders… when you have this kind of interactions, you remember the people more so than you remember the game.

The Meta Game

The meta matters more in Dark Souls than in most other games. Where in most games the meta is limited to “How do I play this game?”, in Dark Souls it is incorporated by the message system (“try finger, but hole”) and extends to the need of the community for the understanding of the lore. It is also an extension of one underlying theme of the game. We’re all alone, nothing you do matters, except we’re not and yes it does.

A True Detective Game

It’s a spiral of madness. Detective games have you finding the glowing item, or following the glowing trail, or exhausting the dialogue options… If you want to know the truth about Dark Souls you’re gonna have to get out there and look for clues on your own. They won’t tell you where to look, they won’t tell you if what you found is a clue or not.

Information is always missing and some of it is straight out misleading. You have to build your own real-life network of informants and allies. You have to build your case from the ground up and in the end, there’s no pop-up “mission complete” message. The jury may even agree with you but all you have is a theory and a better detective can always prove you wrong.

Its “Lore” is a Game

It can be a shallow adventure, an exploration of characters, a deep commentary on fundamental philosophical questions, and a tool of introspection.

Traversing the lore of this game really is a game on its own.

Conclusion

Does Dark Souls have action RPG elements to it? Yes. Is that genre befitting of Dark Souls?

Hell no!!!

Dark Souls is quite the masterpiece, even among its peers, that it became its own genre: “Soulsian“. In linguistics, we say that “usage dictates meaning” and it’s about time we start dictating what a Dark Souls game should be called. We should not accept that Steam, Wikipedia, or any other outlet define it by anything less than what it is, …for Dark Souls, is not, an action RPG after all.

This post is also available in: pt-brPortuguês

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Born in Brazil, living in Japan, teaching and writing in English... it's a funny word, isn't it?- Yet another offspring of this extremely lucky generation to have grown alongside the gaming industry, eager to share my experiences, discoveries, points of view, and general recipes of mayhem about that which I love the most... don't tell my wife I said that.

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36 comments on “Dark Souls is Not an Action RPG.”

  1. Avatar TSMP says:

    Excellent post, and I disagree on only one point.

    I wouldn’t say the player loses progress when they die. Kill a non-respawning enemy? That’s progress, and it carries over when you die. Loot a fancy new sword? Progress, isn’t lost on death. Pull one of two levers you needed to open the way forward? It’ll still be pulled when you come back. Opened a shortcut, then got backstabbed by a hollow you didn’t see? Come right back through the shortcut and return the favor. Find the next bonfire? That’s permanent, dying won’t take it away.

    It can certainly feel like you’re losing progress when you die and get kicked back to your last starting point, but anything you did to the level itself stays did.

  2. Avatar BobTheHollow says:

    Hi, TSMP. Thanks for the compliment.

    Like you said, any "hard" progress that is made stays that way. What I had in mind was more along the lines of when you die TRYING to reach that lever, or that bonfire, or that shortcut… You die before actually getting to them, then you try to retrieve your souls and you die before retrieving your souls. You haven’t made any "hard" progress and you’ve lost your souls in the process. I think that that, in itself, is a loss of progress.

    Also, "It can certainly feel like you’re losing progress" is very important for a horror game. In a horror game, what you feel is arguably more important than what is actually happening.

  3. Avatar TSMP says:

    Alright, fair points.

  4. Avatar Rizen says:

    I always thought of RPGs as story focused games where you select commands from a menu (Final Fantasy). DS is more like 3D Zelda games, which I guess would be adventure games. So DS3 would be a dark fantasy adventure/ dungeon buster imo. Every area is like busting a dungeon more than a calm overworld. TBH I never put much thought into genres as games can be wildly different within them.

    I wouldn’t call it horror though. The only place that scared me was the screaming corpse in Irithyll Dungeon. Bloodborne would be horror.

  5. Avatar BobTheHollow says:

    TSMP, glad you could understand my point of view.

    Rizen, I don’t think genres work that well, either. That’s the whole point of this post (and my next one where I’ll be talking about what, IMO, makes up the soulsian genre). That’s why I think DkS games shouldn’t be called action RPGs. About RPGs and horror games, role-playing basically means to act out a character and my personal opinion is that watching a story between fights doesn’t really allow you to do that. Horror… I think horror is more about the effects it has on you, rather than the appearance that it takes on the surface. In this case, I was referring to the tension that comes during gameplay. And jump scares aren’t either exclusive to or a good example of horror. Again, just my opinion.

  6. Psiberzerker says:

    Whatever you want to call it. It’s not an MMO. It’s Massive, it’s Multiplayer, it’s Online, but lacks the persistent open overworld of say RunEscape. (Arguably the oldest survivng proto-MMO)

    Likewise, it’s Action, not much else to do besides fight stuff. It’s role-playable, it has a story, and character development/customization. It’s not an Adventure Game.

    Definitions like "Action RPG" are too personally definable. MMO means something. ARPG is more of a blanket category with sub-categories. It’s an unique ARPG, so was Rogue. Then there were all the Roguelike games. Nethack, Angband… If it’s it’s own sub-Genre, then it doesn’t have a name beyond "Soulslike." Until then, it’s probably going to be under FRPG, and it’s Action if the ONLY thing you can do is fight, and level up for more fighting.

    I don’t call it Horror. Okay, yeah you’re surrounded by the dead, but you’re dead. Twilight was (Bad) Romance (Oh la la!) but it wasn’t horror just because (Kinda) fampires, and Werewolves. Underworld. It’s dark, it’s edgy, but it’s an Action flick. With Vampires! Alien, that was Horror. Aliens… That was Action (And a Starship Troopers pre-boot. Hudson says "Bughunt." In fact, before he even started snarking, he called it a "Bughunt." Right out of the Mobile Infantry)

    See what I mean? Personal definitions. Okay, jump scares. EVRYONE is Dead. They’re all dead, Dave. That’s not Horror, it’s Post Apocalyptic, but the moral of the story is the afterlife isn’t fair.

    "Gives me conniptions." ~Harkwood the Deserter. It’s not Comedy, it’s Tragedy, but Horror? No, I wouldn’t call it that.

  7. Avatar BobTheHollow says:

    Hi, Psiberzerker.

    I’m getting the feeling you’re arguing against placing DkS under a horror genre. If that’s the case, then I’d have to say that the post advocated for placing it under its own genre (soulsian) rather than action RPG. I didn’t say that it should be called a horror game. Either way, what I did say about horror is that it has the components of one (even if it’s not limited to or focused on it). The points I raised on the matter agree with your assessment of horror movies, since they focus more on psychologic effects than on aesthetics.

  8. Psiberzerker says:

    I know what I’m arguing. Someone mentioned Horror, I don’t think it as you, but I personally wasn’t horrified. Maybe some of the endings were disturbing, particularly Yuria’s, but as a whole, it’s a Fighting RPG, with some good Character Building.

    Mostly I was arguing that "Soulsian" is becoming a sub-genre of Action and RPG, just like Country grew out of Folk. At one point there was just folk. Now you have pop with a twang, and neofolk electronic dance music.

    Genres evolve. That’s what I’m saying. Demon Souls was an Action RPG like none other before it, so it’s Guiding the evolution, hopefully away from the hand-holding EZ mode that Elder Scrolls became in Skyrim. You remember what Morrowind was like?"

    Dark Souls doesn’t have a difficulty setting. From the start Dark Souls III gives you a handfull of hollows to familarize you with the controls, then Gundyr stands up and says "Get good." Then you can start progressing your character.

    Which would you rather believe? That Souls is somehow it’s own thing, despite being devoted to killing eachother with swords, and so forth or that it’s Leading the Action RPGs in a new direction? Likewise that Captain America the Winter Soldier isn’t a Superhero movie, because it’s a spy thriller, or it’s not a spy thriller because superheros.

    That’s what I’m arguing. It can set itself apart as an Exceptional, Exemplary FRPG, and that the Industry can be inspired to do better? It’s a personal distinction, how you want to interpret what "Solsian" means to you, but I like to hope that the genre will learn from this experience. That FRPGs will Git Gud.

  9. Avatar Rizen says:

    i disagree. it is adventure. you go on a quest to complete several filler objectives to ultimately save the world. you traverse dungeons, find loot.
    in RPs you play through a story as if you were a character in it, like cloud strife, with dialog from your character. there’s very little story; wake up, do several arbitrary tasks. it’s not RP; you create an avatar who doesn’t even talk. the closest ds3 gets to rp is the anri marriage side quest.
    you can rp but that’s just fashion souls stuff you make up.

    ps
    having continuing wrist problems, sorry for lack of caps.

  10. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Is Dark Souls an Action-RPG? It is to me, though I have a pretty broad definition of both genres.

    For action, it’s any game that mainly (not necessarily only) involves any kind of active player involvement in the actions of the person/creature/object, as in actively controlling what the controlled character does and how, like running, jumping, fighting, flying, shooting, etc. If the primary aspect of the game is that you as the player are the active, direct controller of the actions of the character (not just giving commands), it falls in the action genre.

    I do however take exception to walking simulators as…well, you don’t really do anything except basic movement. Not very active.

    As for RPG, that’s been a subject of debate before (and forever more). Personally, I’ve begun to think there is no such thing as one kind of RPG, as in no one way to role-play. I’ve seen people argue that Dark Souls isn’t an RPG, just a action-adventure with gear customization, Witcher and Elder scrolls aren’t RPGs for the same reason, and even Planescape: torment isn’t an RPG, but a playable choose your own story book.

    Buuuut, for my definition, yes, Dark Souls is indeed a RPG

    Sooooooo, yeah, it’s an Action-RPG in my eyes

    As for your OP post, I’ve watched a video similar to this, about how genres based on the unique workings of games begin, like how Rogue-likes started from Rogue.

    As for your Horror definition, personally, if we’re going by fear of death and unknown, Crash Bandicoot would be a horror game. Crash bandicoot had me way scared of death, many times equaling Dark Souls. I’m serious. when you’re at the end of a level where you can’t die once to get the colored gem, right before a tricky obstacle you’ve died a dozen times before and aren’t sure you can make it, you @$$hole clenches hard enough to cut cable wire. And before you ask why I have cable wire up my @$$hole while playing a video game, that’s my fetish and you have no right to judge me.

    Back to seriousness. While I agree Souls games are unique in their design, if not in each individual aspect, then in how they’re put together, I can’t really say I agree that Souls games shouldn’t be considered Action-RPGs, simply cause, well, they’re by common definition Action-RPGs. Similarly, just because the Binding of Issac is a Rogue-like doesn’t make it not an action game, and Portal being done in FPS style doesn’t make it not a puzzler.

    Also thank you for letting me know the admins allow the word f u c k in articles.

  11. Avatar BobTheHollow says:

    Hope you get better.

    Hey there. The problem I have with calling it an ARPG is that that definition is too limited. Most genres we have right now are and I think that’s not healthy. We need a better classification system.

    About the horror, like I said before, I tend to measure it by the effect it has on me. You can make a game about being surrounded by cute kittens and market it as a horror game for people who suffer from ailurophobia (fear of cats). And the post never asked for DkS to be classified as a horror game, it simply pointed out that it has built-in mechanics that draw out the same psychologic effects as those used by the horror genre. We don’t call GTA a racing game, but it does have a racing game built into it, right?

    And about your personal preferences, I never judge. You do you, man. You do you.

  12. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    Nice article. I appreciate the effort that went into it.
    Buuut…

    The staple of Dark Souls is killing minor enemies leading up to bosses and leveling up your character.

    Yes, the lore is deep, but its ignorable.
    Yes, online can be a bonding experience, but it’s a tag-on to the main game.
    Yes, the enemies are generally horrific. But that’s common in dark fantasy games.

    At the end of the day, all you do is kill things and level up. It’s definitely an ARPG.
    Your article was good though.

  13. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Oh yeah, I’m not saying that’s all Souls games should be classified as only Action-RPGs, just that, given how the genre is often defined, it’s not really easy to see it as not a part of that genre spectrum.

    Genres like Action, puzzle, shooter, and yes, RPGs, are really on the general side of genre definitions compared to, say, arcade FPS, or side-scrolling platformer. Nothing wrong with that, but more specific classification is helpful. I would say that there maybe should be multiple levels of genres when it comes to specificity, with general genres(action, puzzle, strategy, etc.) giving a basic gist of what something is about, and more detailed titles to give a specific idea as to what it exactly is.

  14. Avatar TSMP says:

    Actually, I’m starting to think the problem here is the "action" genre.

    Puzzle? Shooter? RPG? These all describe gameplay mechanics, or things the player does while going about whatever goal is laid out for them. Action? Not so much, and the concept is so vague it can be applied to virtually anything that doesn’t fit into the other categories. It’s like filing a game under "other". Why are there no games called action-shooters, even though shooter games will have nothing but action? What about action-sports? Action-puzzle? And yet, games that do have the action label often have elements of the other genres, even when they aren’t labeled as such.

  15. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Kind of what I conveyed with my definition of the action genre. It’s a very broad term cause sooooooooooo many video games use in a way most people understand as action gameplay in one form or another. Same goes for the catch all Action-Adventure, basically meaning an action game with a story and a point beyond the varieties of collect, kill, and go to this place, and maybe some puzzle gameplay and mini-game.

    Probably because calling CoD a action-shooter would be like calling a Grey Hound a canine dog. Shooters are a part of the action genre, as are platformers, fighters, hack n slash, etc. All are sub genres of the action genre, so it’d just be redundant.

    I personally consider sports and racing games action games, as long as the gameplay is action based, and not turn based like some. I think "sports" is actually more of a theme genre, like western, or sci-fi, rather than a gameplay genre, as they don’t seem to depend on the actual rules and real-life mechanics of the sport they’re supposed to be based on, like this monster football game that’s turn based like a strategy game.

    As for action-puzzle, Portal comes to mind as it used FPS and platformer gameplay for puzzle solving challenges, both being core aspect of the experience. So action-puzzle, though I think they usually just call it both action and a puzzle game, rather than action-puzzle.

    And this is where we get to the difference between a game of a genre, and a game that uses a genre’s elements. Going back to action-adventure games, lets say, Ratchet and Clank, that’s primarily third person shooting and platforming, and thought of as such, with some vehicle and puzzle minigames. The puzzle minigames are a small part of the gameplay and game as a whole, and if removed, really wouldn’t change the core experience; it would just be the same game, just without puzzle minigames. On the other hand, with a game like Portal, both the action and puzzle elements are integral to the game experience, and the removal of either one would greatly alter the game and how it’s played.

    So, that’s to my understanding why they don’t apply the genre title to a game just cause it uses a parts of the genre in the game. If it’s not core to the gameplay experience,it’s often labeled as "with [insert genre] elements", if mentioned at all.

  16. Avatar BobTheHollow says:

    Nahztek-Shadowpath, thank you very much for the compliment. I guess we all appreciate things in a different way. Personally, I find the lore to be the most enjoyable part of the game. =]

    I agree 100%. That’s what I had in mind. But as games push the boundaries of what games can be/do, I think there’s space -a need, even- to actually create new nomenclatures. Since I love DkS and since DkS has already established its own unofficial sub-genre, I thought it’d be a good place to start, coming to a common understanding of what it encompasses and making it "official". DkS, for instance, could be a soulsian aRPG. (I think the process has already started, as the gaming community is collectively awakening to this concept. I have no illusions of spearheading anything but the more we talk about it, the more expedient the process will be.)

    I know all this sounds a bit silly and unnecessary, but I think art influences us just as much as we influence it. Our classification for it is an expression of how we see it and it can influence the industry, I believe. Albeit in a very small scale.

    Well, I agree but I think that’s only part of a bigger problem.

  17. Psiberzerker says:

    Okay, why I started with "Call it what you will." Personal definitions vary from player to player, because labels like "Action" and "Adventure" are vaguely defined with a lot of overlap.

    You mentioned Cloud Strife, who’s from the flagsip of Adventure games. FF, what sets Souls apart from Any adventure game is the Party. Look at any FF game, it’s about the interpersonal dynamic between the players. The main character, and his companions throughout, the love triangle between Tiva, and what’s her nuts, the summoner, that IS the story. Sephiroth is a good foil for that, but to me Adventure games are defined by the Party Dynamic. (Ever since D&D)

    Contrast that with Legend of Zelda, and Simon’s Quest. those are Action games, and it’s dangerous to go alone, take this… A sword, he didn’t come with you to provde Healing, there’s no Tank/DPS, you have to do it all yourself. In Souls, you CAN Coop, but there’s an Invasion system specifically in place to raise the difficulty/Stakes with PvP if you summon to team up on the PvE. Look at the Warriors of Sunlight. Their mandate is Coop, they’re rewarded for helping you defeat a Boss, and that’s the only Coop Covenant.

    The rest are to punish you for Summoning, and doing anything else with your party, other than stepping through the Boss Fog, finishing the level, and moving on.

    Alone.

    Adventure Games have a Party. Ever since Final Fantasy defined the Fantasy Adventure Game for Balder’s gate, and everything else. Souls actually punishes you for trying to play it as a Party.

    So no, I (Personally) wouldn’t call it an Adventure Game. But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  18. Avatar Rizen says:

    Final Fantasy games are widely recognized as RPGs.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Fantasy_VII” rel=”nofollow
    "Final Fantasy VII[b] is a role-playing video game…"
    Whereas Ocarina of Time is considered an action adventure game.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Legend_of_Zelda:_Ocarina_of_Time” rel=”nofollow
    Which would make DS3 closer to an adventure game than RPG imo.

  19. Psiberzerker says:

    Fair enough.

    I knew FF was an RPG. I was talking about the Adventure catagory, but as long as any Zelda is officially considered Adventure (OoT is still Solo, right?) then I can accept that definition.

    It’s still Action if there’s nothing to do but fight stuff. Fighting games are Action. Why they have an Action/Adventure category. Adventure is a sub-category of Action. Just like Soul is a sub-category of R&B.

  20. plasmafogking says:

    Yeah, dark souls series is kinda special as it fits many genres, but at the same time only use very minor elements of it.

    RPG – while you can build your character however you like, you aren’t playing desired role or trying to be certain someone. You have ONE role – chosen undead. You can’t play any other roles, you don’t actually have classes or specializations, you don’t make immerse into a specific patch of good or evil.

    Action – yes, combat is action based, but that’s it. You don’t have special skills to combined in action-sequences, you don’t have quick-time events, or anything else ties to action games. Only weapon swings and dodges.

    Horror – yes, there are monsters, zombies, etc. Yes, world is grim and dark. But it is not scary, it doesn’t try to terrify you.

    Adventure – you literally have one adventure to go on. You down go through many different places and encounter many different quest. You have just one adventure to go onto (to kill all bosses) and that’s it.

    So, in my opinion, dark souls series could be called DQG (dark quest game) as it fits the genre the best and maintains everything essential with game without going into other genres.
    DQG – a game where you go into grim and dark world with a single purpose to complete a single most important quest. Everything else in this game is trivial and doesn’t really matter.

  21. Avatar Abaddon says:

    Not sure about anyone else here but untended graves scared the shit out of me. Dark souls may not be considered a horror genre but it definitely instills fear. the horror of realizing if i failed to link the flame this is what could happen was frightening.

    To say dark souls is an action rpg is an over simplification honestly. is it a action RPG yes but it’s also so much more. to truly categorize you’d need about 10-12 different genre titles which would just sound silly. but to make a new genre title would be a waste IMO because as many "souls like" games that are being released nothing is ever truly like dark souls even bloodborne was it’s own unique game similar mechanics but traits in both games that set them distinctly apart.

  22. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Probably why, instead of making a catch all genre name for a specific game type, sites like Steam just give multiple genre and mechanic tags to best describe what the game is apart from visually showing it. Basic meaning tags that, when put together, paint a pretty good picture of the game’s content…..assuming they’re true.

  23. Avatar Abaddon says:

    Yeah the problem with steam is so many people throw up random genre and mechanic tags sometimes it’s hard to know if the that’s what a game really is. I went look for a RTS game i saw awhile back to see if it had come out yet (tooth and tail) couldn’t remember the name but remembered it was a strategy game. Holy hell half the games under the strategy category were not strategy games just games with choices or a pizza making simulator it was honestly infuriating to go through them.

  24. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Hence why I say, assuming they’re true. the biggest problem with having humans tagging the game genre, you know they’re going to do it stupid just to be an @$$. Like how they labled Dark Souls "kawaii" and "easy"

    "Chosen undead senpai, please no! I-I love you, but it’s too fast! We haven’t even engaged in jolly co-operation yet. *Anime moans*"

  25. Avatar announakis says:

    https://goo.gl/images/kc7ayx” rel=”nofollow

    the french video game website "gamekult" has been referring to the current trend of making video games more old school, harder etc as "darksoulisation" of video games ever since Dark souls started being emulated.
    it has become its own genre in my opinion, and therefore does not really fit the ARPG no more than any other genre. It is the "souls" genre now.


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