TAG24's Take: The best of Souls-like gaming

New York, New York - One game spawned a type of gaming deserving of its very own genre name: Souls-like. These difficult games have caused many players to throw down their controllers in frustration, but what keeps us coming back for another try?

Dark Souls will kick your a**, unless you hone your craft.
Dark Souls will kick your a**, unless you hone your craft.  © FromSoftware

The term "Souls-like" is reserved for games that usually punish players for mistakes, and reward them for mastering the game mechanics.

But to understand this genre and what makes the games hard, you have to go back to developer FromSoftware's third-person adventure, Dark Souls.

This game does not let you know how most of the gameplay actually works, so part of playing is figuring out what happens if you go galumphing around carelessly – usually with fatal consequences.

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Even for cautious players, new enemies with wildly different moves can flatten you to a confused pancake before you have time to think, and the cost of failure in this flawed masterpiece is having to redo entire sections of the game.

But here's the thing, the game invites you to figure those enemies' moves out, so that maybe next time you'll dodge or parry in time to get in some attacks of your own.

This dark fantasy adventure is built on the idea that to make a game hard, you don't just make the player weak and the enemies strong (even if that's how the game starts). Instead, you can get better at the game, and eventually throw down with even the toughest boss fights and walk away unscathed.

Dark Souls' creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki, said it best in an interview with PlayStation: "We want players to use their cunning, study the game, memorize what’s happening, and learn from their mistakes."

"We understand that Souls-like games are regularly associated with impossible levels of difficulty with high barriers to entry. But we try to design the games to make the cycle of repeatedly trying to overcome these challenges enjoyable in itself."

Will's favorite Souls-like games

Dead Cells pits you against an island of baddies. "Kill. Die. Learn. Repeat."
Dead Cells pits you against an island of baddies. "Kill. Die. Learn. Repeat."  © Motion Twin

Dark Souls is FromSoftware's dark and challenging third-person adventure that started it all.

Just like Miyazaki said, the real enjoyment in this game is the adventure of getting better against the hordes of difficult enemies and brutal game design.

The story, or the scraps of it you get, is deep, has quite a twist, and nails the sweet spot of giving you just enough information so you can start filling in the blanks.

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This game defined having fun when you take on a tricky boss for the ninth time and finally win.

Hades is an arcade-y romp from Supergiant Games, which blew players away with its fast-paced combat and delicious visuals.

And it also wrecked newbies – over and over again – as they flung themselves at enemies willy-nilly.

Just like with other Souls-likes, you'll feel the surge of joy in understanding how to time attacks and survive relentless enemies and screen-filling boss fights.

Dead Cells, a 2D action-platformer from Motion Twin, is one of the fastest Souls-like game out there, and also one of the most exhilarating.

Fast attacks, heavy attacks, and a glut of abilities that are a blast to use kick the excitement up a notch. As quick as you are, you still have to act fast to avoid gruesome death.

The dev team has a witty take on the cycle of rushing into combat, and is very tongue-in-cheek about getting better at the game after failing repeatedly.

But once again, you are rewarded for getting better at timing your attacks, parrying enemy blows, and turning yourself into a spinning ball of destruction.

Rey's favorite Souls-like games

The Nioh Collection is as dark as it is ruthlessly difficult. Players beware!
The Nioh Collection is as dark as it is ruthlessly difficult. Players beware!  © Team Ninja

The Nioh Collection by Team Ninja, the developers behind the Ninja Gaiden series, is similar to Dark Souls but is set in a beautifully dark and fantastic feudal Japan during the Sengoku period.

The combat is something that takes patience to master, and the enemies and bosses are beyond ruthless. The weapon and armor system is also quite expansive, allowing a lot of customization options.

This game is Souls-like to a T, and might just frustrate you to the point of throwing your controller out the window.

Blasphemous is an indie title from developers The Game Kitchen.

You play as a knight on a long pilgrimage, whose backstory is revealed as the game progresses.

Fans of Castlevania will definitely appreciate the Roman Catholic-inspired dark, gothic atmosphere and its hack-n-slash platform style.

Enter the Gungeon is a bullet hell game from Dodge Roll that is incredibly difficult, but rewarding to defeat.

Another indie gem, players choose between four characters with varying abilities and travel through levels of a tower known as the Gungeon.

Each level increases in difficulty and has a boss at the end that's waiting to bring the pain. The gameplay is fast, and players have to stay on their A-game if they expect to make it out alive.

There's a ton of weapons and items to gain as you progress, but you also risk losing them all upon death... which is sure to make you pull your hair out.

These games take the cake for sparking controller-smashing rage, and rewarding you for getting better with sweet victory. Now let's see if Elden Ring can deliver a spicy twist on the classic recipe.

Cover photo: FromSoftware

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