What is “Souls-Like”?

A lot of people have covered this topic before. I’m more doing this to pin the idea down in case it comes up in conversation again, than because it’s something that really needs to be discussed.

Souls-like is a subgenre of Action RPG games, formed by the unique conventions of Demon’s/Dark Souls. Similar to a roguelike, the Souls series of games have come up with a number of unique conventions that many other games have taken some degree of inspiration from. Games that follow enough of these conventions can be called Souls-Like. Some of them are more influential than others.

High Influence

  • Collecting a currency that is lost on death, but stored at the place where you died, and erased when you die again.
  • There are standard action RPG trappings: levels, equipment, consumable items,
  • The player’s standard attacks have a startup of about half a second or longer (30f at 60fps)
  • Players and enemies can have their attacks interrupted by hitstun.
  • All combat actions (attacking, dodging, blocking, running, parrying) are rationed through a shared stamina bar.
  • Attacks have actual hitboxes during their animations, not paired animations.
  • There is a dodge and block ability.
  • Other players can invade your single player session to try to kill you in PVP
  • Using checkpoints resets your health, healing items, and the enemies in the level, but don’t reset items collected or changes to the level’s state.
  • Level design based on checkpoints and opening up shortcuts to earlier checkpoints.

Low Influence

  • Spells, items, and other actions have associated animations that can be interrupted by hitstun before they take effect.
  • Other players can join you to cooperate in beating levels.
  • The actions of other players on the network can have an effect on your local session, such as leaving messages behind.
  • You can warp between checkpoints.
  • Some moves have super armor, or there is a poise system that confers armor
  • No pausing, except at checkpoints
  • The controller convention of having attacks and blocking on the shoulder buttons, and item management on the Dpad.
  • Having a classless RPG system, where the only differentiation between characters is their stats and equipment, no fundamental new abilities, or permanent bonuses.
  • Having a metroidvania style interconnected world that becomes more interconnected over time.
  • There aren’t many cutscenes, or canned animations.
  • The setting of a kingdom that was once great, but some calamity connected to the main plot befell it, and now you’re wandering through its corrupted remains.
  • NPCs that all have a sinister chuckle.
  • The game is hard.

 

8 thoughts on “What is “Souls-Like”?

  1. Santana March 21, 2020 / 9:35 pm

    “-High influence
    Players and enemies can have their attacks interrupted by hitstun.
    -Low influence
    Some moves have super armor, or there is a poise system that confers armor”

    What? I can’t see the logic in this distribution.

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    • Chris Wagar March 21, 2020 / 10:26 pm

      First up, you can’t have super armor if you don’t have hitstun in the first place, one requires the other.

      Second, Demon’s Souls didn’t have poise at all, only dark souls had a full implementation of poise, with every game after it having only a limited implementation.

      Logically, a game with no hitstun at all, where you and the enemies can attack uninterrupted, is a lot less like a souls game than Demon’s Souls. (for example, Ys Oath in Felghana or Ys Origin).

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      • Santana March 21, 2020 / 11:01 pm

        I mean why super armor is low influence when it’s a direct continuation of a hitstun mechanic?

        To be more clear – what’s the justification beyond putting some things in high, and some in low? Is it based on how frequent they appear in Souls-like games? If yes, did you count only the From’s games as the main Souls series? Or is it something else?

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        • Chris Wagar March 21, 2020 / 11:15 pm

          Because I think having super armor isn’t as big a deal as having hitstun. I think a game without super armor is still extremely likely to be judged as souls-like if it matches the other traits up top, and having armor clinches it.

          It’s based on what I think contributes more to the perception of a game being souls-like. The stuff up top is generally stuff that is all required, and the stuff below is more optional. If you don’t have stamina, if you don’t have dodge and block, if you have paired animations instead of hitboxes, it’s not very souls-like, even if it has the other trappings. If you have most of the traits on the bottom, but none of the ones on the top, the game still isn’t very souls like. If you have most of the traits on top, but none of the ones on the bottom, most people would probably agree it’s souls-like.

          It’s a subjective measure, but that’s genres for you.

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      • Santana March 21, 2020 / 11:15 pm

        I mean, if you have a hitstun in high influence, how would make a boss fight (particularly a boss) without poise or super-armor? Shouldn’t poise be a high influence as well then?

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        • Chris Wagar March 21, 2020 / 11:40 pm

          By just not having them take hitstun, which is fairly common actually. I meant armor more as applying to the player character and standard enemies more than large enemies or bosses.

          Even in your example, I don’t think it’s applicable, because most 3d action games have something along the lines of what you said, including The Witcher, Legend of Zelda, Ys, Devil May Cry, No More Heroes, Ninja Gaiden, and Bayonetta. You wouldn’t say they’re soulslike.

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          • Santana March 21, 2020 / 11:49 pm

            “Even in your example, I don’t think it’s applicable, because most 3d action games have something along the lines of what you said, including The Witcher, Legend of Zelda, Ys, Devil May Cry, No More Heroes, Ninja Gaiden, and Bayonetta. You wouldn’t say they’re soulslike.”

            Then hitstun isn’t a high influence in Souls-like too, is it?
            Yeah, some points are rather subjective.

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            • Chris Wagar March 22, 2020 / 12:18 am

              I don’t think anyone would agree that a game where you can’t take and inflict hitstun is very souls-like. The core combat interaction is over whether you or the enemy hits first. That’s the whole point of making player attacks slow.

              Like

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