- FromSoftware is one of the industry’s most consistent & respected studios, responsible for pioneering a whole new kind of RPG—Soulslike.
- Despite being one of the oldest developers in the industry & the most consistent, it only rose to prominence after the release of Dark Souls.
- Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s magnum opus. It introduced millions of players to the genre & aggravated some devs.
FromSoftware has been around in the gaming industry since the 80s, dabbling in game development for over three decades. Yet it has only managed to break free from the shackles of being niche in the last ten years, having reached a greater audience with the launch of Dark Souls. Since that game’s release in 2011, FromSoft has achieved great things, breaking new ground in the gaming medium, and inspiring others to follow suit.
Considering the vast history of the gaming industry and its present state, players are often discussing the doom and gloom situation. Despite all of this, a few names often come up in such discussions and FromSoftware is always one of them. And it’s not just about the state of the industry either. It’s about how formulaic games have gotten, and how developers aren’t creative anymore. One of the prime examples of this is Ubisoft games with a generic RPG system, bland open-world, and a cluttered UI.
Meanwhile, FromSoftware continued on its path, challenged players, and had a massive impact on the industry. And so, it’s time we discussed what truly makes it such a profound studio today in which players immediately place their trust.
FromSoftware: The Pre-Souls Chronicles
Before producing its first game, FromSoftware used to work on developing business software. Almost a decade after being founded, the studio made its debut in the gaming space, releasing King’s Field Sony‘s PlayStation in the year 1994. It’s from this point onward that FromSoftware decided to shift its focus entirely to creating video games. Riding on the success of their first project, the studio worked toward its next IP.
The first Armored Core game marked the beginning of something huge for the team. It cemented the devs’ skills in game development, going on to become the first flagship series of FromSoftware. Mech games have always been rather niche and back in those days, there used to be a lot of them Even though they’ve been fun for the most part, in hindsight, these titles have always lacked something.
FromSoftware’s mecha IP provided that to a degree. I felt it when I invested my time into the old games to prepare for Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. Despite being rather dull and having some flaws, there was a lot of substance. It’s no wonder that the series found success and a loyal fanbase even if it was unable to become mainstream.
Furthermore, it served as the directorial debut of Hidetaka Miyazaki, the man who would go on to become the progenitor of Souls. Many people believe that Souls games are tough, which they are, but FromSoftware has always been this way. Its games have always been rather challenging, starting with King’s Field. In fact, many fans of the studio who were exposed to its games back in the day believe that Armored Core is more difficult than Souls in some ways.
This element of difficulty didn’t do any favors for FromSoftware. While it’s admirable that the studio held fast to its vision and respected its fanbase, freeing itself from stagnation would take a while. How Miyazaki took charge of Demon’s Souls when it was labeled a dead project, would mark the beginning of FromSoftware’s rise to prominence.
One Of The Most Consistent Developers Of Our Time
Now you might be wondering why I placed emphasis on Demon’s Souls despite FromSoftware churning out tons of Armored Core games. The answer to this is quite simple, Souls is what elevated the studio to where it at today. While the mecha IP may have solidified the team’s development skills, it was their work on Demon’s Souls, Soulsborne, Sekiro, and ultimately, Elden Ring, that magnified the company’s presence within the industry.
In fact, in a 2012 interview with Game Informer, Shuhei Yoshida talked at length about how Sony’s treatment of the Demon’s Souls IP was its biggest misstep. This sentiment was expressed by the interviewer on which Yoshida showed full agreement. After all, that game went on to be a hit outside Japan, sparking a revolution in gaming and resulting in Takeshi Kajii achieving his mission of reviving a lost breed of action games.
What matters here the most is FromSoftware’s development track record pre and post-Demon’s Souls. As I’ve stated before, The studio only rose to prominence after starting a revolution but this doesn’t highlight the quality and dedication that the team showed with its games prior. While it produced many titles, King’s Field and the legacy Armored Core entries immaculately portray the studio’s commitment to crafting great experiences.
King’s Field was actually subject to extremely polarized reception. Two of the common criticisms were its difficulty and the player character’s movement speed. The latter was actually an ingenious tactic to eliminate loading screens, common at the time among PlayStation titles. Despite such criticisms, word of mouth helped make the first entry a commercial success, and the series later became an inspiration for Demon’s Souls.
Similarly, FromSoftware stuck to its vision with the Armored Core games ever since the original title on the PS1. While this decision had its merits, it undeniably led to the series suffering from stagnation, falling into the jaws of mediocrity. Even so, based on my research and personal experience with the series, there was always a good game present at its core and that’s what matters at the end of the day. I believe this commitment to the series is what resulted in its loyal fanbase.
This is called being consistent. I’m going to take a few liberties here but it’s because FromSoftware achieved some measure of financial success that it stayed in the business long enough to release Souls. Or perhaps the industry back then wasn’t as volatile as it is today, with layoffs and cancellations happening all over the place amidst aggressive attempts at generating revenue. Blizzard is one of the prominent examples when it comes to this.
All that aside, FromSoftware has been consistently releasing fairly enjoyable experiences since 1994, arriving at the start line of its rise in 2011. From there, the studio has stuck with this level of consistency while ramping up the quality of its games; without succumbing to the allure of microtransactions or chasing graphical realism. Although, its PC ports have been rather questionable at times.
Birth Of Soulslike & FromSoftware’s Magnum Opus
The release of Dark Souls sparked a revolution in gaming, defining a whole new genre, and would serve as a prologue to shaking the industry. On one hand, many developers have proclaimed how single-player, story-driven games are dying out. This sentiment was relatively stronger in the 2010s, with Electronic Arts being at the forefront of the argument. Proclaiming their death, making consistent jokes, and then trying to clear the air.
Roast well deserved. We’ll take this L cause playing single player games actually makes them an 11. https://t.co/PNg4FKOgfB
— Electronic Arts (@EA) July 1, 2022
On the other hand, FromSoftware and other studios, like Santa Monica, Capcom, Insomniac, etc have constantly proved that single-player games are in great demand. EA itself has published several critically acclaimed games of that nature. It makes me wonder if the company suffers from a lack of self-awareness, given that they also released Star Wars Jedi: Survivor earlier this year.
The six-year period post-Dark Souls would lead to the creation of a sub-genre, later cementing it as one of the industry’s most acclaimed and influential genres. While Dark Souls 2 found itself at a rather weird juncture, it still managed to live up to and elevate the original’s legacy. Many fans have been locked in debate about whether Scholar of the First Sin ruined DS2 or not, but one point of commonality is SOTFS’s unhinged placement of enemy gank squads.
Despite DS2’s shortcomings and FromSoftware missing the mark in some ways, it managed to do well in terms of reviews and sales. The studio itself soared higher than ever by releasing a new IP in 2015, just one year before Dark Souls 3. This IP, Bloodborne, launched exclusively for Sony’s PlayStation 4, taking the world by storm and being cited as one of the greatest games of all time alongside other FromSoft entries.
Bloodborne’s impact can be felt to this day, more so due to it being locked on the PlayStation console. While recent leaks indicate that a functional PC build exists, it’s yet to officially launch on the platform. Considering Sony’s recent stance shift regarding PC, it’s unusual for it to withhold one of its greatest IPs and prevent itself from making more money.
The Victorian-steampunk title was followed by Dark Souls 3, a faster take on the Souls games, selling over three million copies within two months of its release. FromSoftware continued this consistent streak of quality games with 2019’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. An entirely new experience after years of rolling, Sekiro achieved several milestones, the most prominent of which was its pristine combat system.
FromSoftware’s hard work over the years led to the natural pinnacle of its journey with Soulsborne, culminating in its magnum opus, Elden Ring. It finally broke the boundary that kept the Soulslike experience from entering the mainstream realm, even winning the prestigious Nebula Award. Breaking conventions like Breath of the Wild, it steered away from the formulaic open-world format, leading to some developers expressing their frustrations online.
Armored Core 6 & The Impact Of FromSoftware
With years of accruing knowledge, and experience, and sticking to its vision of creating games that challenge players, FromSoftware inspired other studios. Many found their own successes while others didn’t fare too well. Team Ninja’s Nioh and Nioh 2 along with Gunfire Games’ Remnant series are just some examples out of many. Drawing upon the success of Soulslikes, these games added their own spin on the genre resulting in a unique product.
In fact, that decade of working on Soulsborne and Elden Ring led to the natural evolution of FromSoftware’s mecha series as well. While Armored Core 6 retains that essence, it’s clear that the studio’s knowledge from its previous projects helped elevate some of the more lacking parts of AC. So much so, that it’s now the highest-rated game in the franchise. Perhaps it will even mark the start of a mech renaissance.
Each of these games developed by FromSoftware has had an effect on the industry to an extent. They raised questions as to what video games should really be about, whether they should test the player’s ability or not, and whether they should have an easy mode. In an interview with The New Yorker, Miyazaki said, “I just want as many players as possible to experience the joy that comes from overcoming hardship.”
We are always looking to improve, but, in our games specifically, hardship is what gives meaning to the experience. So it’s not something we’re willing to abandon at the moment. It’s our identity.”
With how far FromSoftware has come since releasing the first King’s Field, its presence has undoubtedly been a huge boon for the gaming industry. With Elden Ring’s DLC on the horizon, Kadokawa confirming various measures to be in place for LTV maximization, and Bandai Namco EU’s CEO expressing his intentions for Armored Core, the studio’s future seems to be shining brighter than the Erdtree.
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