This Side of Parallelized: ‘Bloodborne’ and ‘Dark Souls III’

Photo credit: From Software

So, the Tokyo Game Show kicked off last night, and because Dark Souls III and (an expansion to) Bloodborne were both on display, I figured now as good an occasion as any to briefly orbit around their resemblances. By this I mean, of course, the aesthetic and mechanical heirlooms which Dark Souls III has plainly acquired from Bloodborne. While this should come as no surprise given the series’ shared creatives-not-so-behind-the-curtain, as well as Bloodborne‘s position essentially as a companion piece to Souls, it would be less than sage of us to take the similarities for granted, including this ‘essentially’.

Director Miyazaki’s vision for Dark Souls III‘s world is a cataclysmic, “withered beauty“; and certainly, if one is to think of each Souls as a season, this one would be the fall. There’s a drafty, drier and blonder quality here, where the first Dark Souls has a heavy, feverish dolor and its sequel cosmetically unallied in comparison. (Dark Souls II does not have poor visual design, per se, but it does manage ‘surprisingly generic’ often enough.) Dark Souls III resembling Bloodborne to the measure it does (more on this below) is only a snag if placed side by side, or if the observer is well met with Bloodborne already. These are not small if’s.

Whether or not you have amity for the style, Dark Souls III is simply not realizing an artistic direction as coherent as Bloodborne, though I do think it could end up being as cohesive. Bloodborne uses Victorian era England as a visual reference and anchor, whereas the Souls games (Demon’s included) are medieval-flavoured fantasy. The difference is substantial: one uses a specific real-world historical context to ground its fantasms, the other a subgenre of fantasy only vaguely committed to a real-world historical context. Chain mail’s in, but so are giant wolves wielding giant swords. This is not a slight on Souls—I find the series’ slant on dark fantasy beautifully distinct—but a means to illustrate why the Middle Ages and Victorian era must mutually make room to coalesce, whereas the latter by itself need only clear space for imaginative leaps.

The question is of the necessity, not the merit. Dark Souls III is visually phenomenal, and in fact I prefer its appearance over all prior Souls titles; I worry, however, about Bloodborne moving forward. Is it beneficial to either game to have been rendered less distinct, whatever the reason? Probably not, but though each may suffer some kind of loss as a result, Bloodborne is in less of a position to lose it. If Dark Souls III encapsulates Bloodborne both aesthetically and mechanically in essentia, what position would Bloodborne therefore fill other than “Sony’s exclusive From Software game”? Souls with a slightly narrower focus?

Of course, it could be argued this is exactly what Bloodborne is already, but I’m not sympathetic to this thinking: Bloodborne, rather, is the right hand to Souls‘ left, the moon to its sun; it emphasizes offence and risk over defense and saintly patience. For Dark Souls to incorporate these elements is peculiar, not because the series shouldn’t change, but because Bloodborne is that change—and, as I say, the inverse precept of Souls, the companion part in its polyphony. I wonder: does Miyazaki think Souls has reached the logical end of its evolution, and these inheritances from Bloodborne are the best strategy for a controlled, and possibly galvanizing, chaos?

I’m not sweating over quality concerns, here: select almost any other series, developer or director and your justification to have such fears instantly grows by comparison. No, I expect Dark Souls III could be the best of Miyazaki’s works, as each successive one arguably has been; it certainly looks to be the most ambitious and robust. I don’t know what it is, but it’s as if Miyazaki and his team have discovered the evolutionary urstone of multiple genres simultaneously, and it’s retroactively provided them answers on the future progress of the form. Or has, anyway, until now.

Now, it’s like Darwin wants to be his own bulldog, too, and I’m hoping the why for this is more than a why not.