Matt Kamen speaks with the director of the toughest game you’ll play this year.
When Namco Bandai and From Software released the gothic dungeon crawler/role-playing game hybrid Demon Souls in 2009, players were unprepared for what lay ahead. Designed partly in response to complaints that video games had become too easy, director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s ode to the blisteringly hard games of his youth presented a grim and oppressive medieval world, one filled with unspeakable monsters and lethal traps. Crucially, the game became harder and less forgiving the more the player died, cementing it as a favourite of masochists.
Spiritual sequel Dark Souls followed in 2011, offering a larger world and an even more brutal level of difficulty. It also introduced a unique online system allowing gamers to cross into each others’ worlds, leaving notes of help or hindrance. For Dark Souls II, new directors Yui Tanimura and Tomohiro Shibuya have taken the reins from Miyazaki, but promise the upcoming sequel will be every bit as challenging as its precursors.
“Miyazaki-san is still a part of the project as a supervisor, and the direction and vision of the game will be in line with that of Dark Souls,” Tanimura says. “Our intention is to maintain the dark fantasy world, take the complete game that it was, and further enhance the gameplay to deliver the Dark Souls experience more directly. The sense of satisfaction along with the loose connections within the world are the prioritized concepts, and we hope that the improved graphics, motions will add to the overall immersiveness for the player.”
Despite the difficulty, the Souls series has won fans over thanks to its slow but rewarding sense of progression. Steadily empowering players’ customised characters as they inched through the deadly world, eventually enabling them to tackle increasingly powerful foes, proved addictive. As a gameplay tactic, it’s gained as many detractors as devotees, but it’s an approach that the creators stand by.
“There has never been any temptation to make the game easier. The goal of the game design is to provide the sense of achievement for players when they overcome the high difficulties and challenges in the game,” explains Tanimura. “Our goal is not necessarily to make a difficult game, but to achieve the highest sense of achievement possible. The game is known for its difficulty, but we hope that players who immerse themselves in the game will understand the happiness of overcoming.”
Getting the balance right between challenge and frustration is key for Tanimura though, adding that “There is constant trial and error throughout the development process. One thing we always try to keep in mind is to make sure that players can feel that all results are a result of player actions, and that there is always room for alternative strategy in overcoming the challenges.”
Storywise, the Souls series remains unique when cast against the vast majority of Japanese RPGs. While the likes of Final Fantasy or even Namco Bandai’s own Tales series are heavily scripted and story driven entities, Dark Souls II prefers a minimalist stance when it comes to story. “Our intention is to have players play through the game and piece together their own stories as they speak with NPCs, read item descriptions, or explore,” says Tanimura. “We would like Dark Souls II players to enjoy a true role-playing aspect in the game – to take on their desired role in the world.”
While co-director Shibuya has confirmed that elements of Dark Souls II’s subtle narrative will hark back to its predecessor, one thing that – perhaps surprisingly – won’t be returning is the line-up of gruesome boss monsters, many of which are iconic to fans. Instead, “the enemies and characters for Dark Souls II have all been newly created,” reveals Tanimura, before adding “I am sure that the enemies in Dark Souls II will be just as appealing for the fans. Experienced players may however see some resemblance and connections from the first game!”
Dark Souls II launches for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on 14 March