Born In Blood – From Software’s Road To Bloodborne
From Software’s upcoming gothic-horror action-RPG Bloodborne looks like a dynamite spiritual successor to the Souls series. If you look back into From’s history, however, you’ll see that the Souls games themselves were successors of sorts from a dark-fantasy game type that From has been making since its first game release in 1994 (From was originally a business software developer, moving into games with the advent of the PlayStation).
From’s forte – dark fantasy – has the potential to be brutally realized with Bloodborne in March, but looking at the constant iteration of these concepts and ideas from title to title through the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 era is an interesting dungeon crawl. While the current era of From’s success in North America spun into action with Demon’s Souls in 2009, there are a few titles and series that were setting the formula in place long before entering fog gates and rolling off cliffs became everyday gaming occurrences.
The King’s Field series(You can watch us Replay some King's Field here), is sort of a “rough cut” of what would eventually become the Souls series. The first title never made it to North American shores, but the rest of the mainline games in the series did. Slightly different in scope as it’s a first-person action-RPG, there’s still the hallmark challenge, focus on exploration and discovery, and lack of NPC-driven story and dialogue.
One of the easily identifiable shifts to the Souls games is the switch to third-person and a substantial increase in the speed and flow of combat, but the King’s Field series was experimenting with the amazing atmosphere and dark environments that would come to define the Souls series in the years that followed – but technology at the time simply wasn’t up to the challenge of conveying the worlds that From was dreaming up.
Outside of the King’s Field series, From was also behind another small series of dark-fantasy dungeon crawlers – The Shadow Tower franchise. While North America missed out on the second title of the two-game set, Shadow Tower Abyss, the first appeared on PlayStation in 1998. Similar to the King’s Field games, these action-RPGs featured first-person combat and a noticeable lack of player guidance and direction.
I recall playing the original title on PlayStation when it released, and it was an almost surreal experience – with no automap to guide me, a difficulty curve far beyond every other title I owned, and a complete disregard of my many inevitable deaths, I can’t say it was a formula that resonated with me at the time. It stayed mostly unplayed in a lonely jewel case in favor of other titles. Shadow Tower Abyss was only released in Japan, but one can see many of the striking, varied environments that would be realized in the Souls series peeking through.
These slightly esoteric and lesser known titles paved the way for 2009’s Demon’s Souls, a title that would place From’s dark fantasy in the critical and commercial limelight. At a time when games were becoming more and more streamlined with extensive tutorials, difficulty sliders, and designed around ensuring player success, the Souls games resonated with players hungry for challenge and discovery.
With Bloodborne coming to PS4 in less than a month, will we see yet another dramatic shift as From continues to refine and revolutionize the concept of the dark-fantasy action-RPG? While everything we’ve seen thus far leads us to believe Bloodborne is deeply rooted in the concepts and mechanics that make the Souls games great, I’m of the mind that the horror environment is going to be From’s strongest expedition yet, taking the subtle elements that we get glimpses of in the Souls games and placing them directly in the spotlight – and it will be able to enjoy the power of current-gen consoles as well.