Miyazaki has his own opinion on what makes a game “Soulslike”

Characters from Rise of the Ronin, Elden Ring and Lies of P

Defining the Soulslike genre has become the Dark Souls of video game think pieces. Elden Ring director Hidetaka Miyazaki is no less susceptible to that, and he had a surprising take on what makes a game “Soulslike” and what the genre looks like in 2024.

When FromSoftware created Demon Souls in 2009, the studio could not have anticipated the future it would carve out for itself. In an industry dominated by annually released games and heartless open-world sandboxes, the Soulsborne games stood tall with challenging gameplay, unique narrative style, and lack of hamfisted microtransactions. While Demon’s Souls set the tone of the subgenre, Dark Souls cemented it as a cultural staple.

From perfectly timed parries to instant-kill bosses, the Soulslike genre makes an immediate impression. Soulslikes don’t inherently appeal to the casual gamer, but players who find themselves playing one end up hooked. With the Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree DLC fast approaching, Hidetaka Miyazaki, the director of the Dark Souls franchise and president of FromSoftware, reflects on the genre’s success.

Elden Ring director admits that there is no definitive definition of a Soulslike game

Elden Ring and Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki said there is no clear definition of a “Soulslike” game.

“We have not actually defined what makes a ‘Souls’ game,” Miyazaki said in an interview with Game Bonfire.

Soulslike games have some combination of a stamina bar, punishments upon death, dodge rolling, parrying, RPG elements, and a dark fantasy aesthetic or narrative. That’s to say that it actually is an amorphous concept. Miyazaki himself seems to acknowledge this.

This is seen in Miyazaki’s own work as his games pick and choose some of those elements, but don’t uniformly have all of them. While Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne all share features like a stamina bar and RPG elements, that’s not the case with Sekiro. Elden Ring also broke tradition by having a sandbox-style open world.

While Miyazaki doesn’t have a strong take on what makes a game Soulslike, doesn’t mean he doesn’t keep up on the genre.

Miyazaki praises Soulslike genre after Lies of P, Rise of the Ronin enjoy success

Miyazaki praised the state of Soulslike games, saying he can learn a lot from competitors on the market.

The Elden Ring director says he has enjoyed most of the Soulslike games he’s played, without naming any specific names. He views it as an opportunity to learn more about the genre they popularized into the mainstream. 

“I often play these games myself as a gamer, of course…There’s a lot to like in them, and I can learn a lot as a developer. It’s a great opportunity,” Miyazaki said.

The praise comes after multiple AAA-caliber Soulslike releases in quick succession. Industry giants like PlayStation are buying into the Soulslike genre, as seen with the company’s big push between Nioh successor Rise of the Ronin. Nioh was long the biggest Dark Souls alternative, and Sony put its weight behind Team Ninja to make the biggest Elden Ring alternative.

Other major releases are trying to directly emulate Miyazaki’s work, as seen with Lies of P. Lies of P, a more traditional Soulslike experience, also garnered critical and commercial acclaim. With Elden Ring’s first DLC Shadow of the Erdtree fast approaching and other big Soulslike games on the horizon like Black Myth: Wukong, the Soulslike train is chugging along. 

“In fact, when we first developed Demon’s Souls, we followed the trend of the times and developed something that met user expectations; we and other developers jointly explored and studied each other, and everyone’s purpose was the same; to give players a better gaming experience,” Miyazaki said.

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Written by Gab Hernandez

Gab Hernandez has a particular love for video games that give players control over the narrative direction, such as Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Disco Elysium. Gab spends just as much time playing games as they do gushing about them online to anyone who will listen. Their work has also been seen on TheGamer, Gfinity, and Wargamer, and you can follow them on Twitter / X at @HardlyWorkinGab.

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