Dark Souls is many things. It is a game of atmosphere and artistic design, brought to life in a world teeming with frightful menace. It is a game of lore, rich with story elements accessible and hidden alike. It is a compelling RPG, with interesting and varied options for character progression. And, as an aside, it’s worth noting that it can be fairly challenging to—
“Woah, did you just say Dark Souls is challenging? Then Cuphead is like the Dark Souls of platformers!”
I dislike it when people make this sort of comparison. Unfortunately, this has been a very common comparison for a while now, both in media and in community discussions. We have the Dark Souls of puzzle games. We have the Dark Souls of competitive FPS games. We have (mockingly) the Dark Souls of Humble Bundles. The list is exhaustive, and the term has been turned into a meme and run into the ground.
The negative stigma that comes with this phrase, though, must still not be that apparent. Just last week, a YouTube preview video on Monster Hunter World was chewed out by the YouTube community for no other apparent reason than the comparison it drew between Monster Hunter and Dark Souls. So, for the sake of that video and for all others at risk of falling into the trap of the Dark Souls comparison, I’m going to outline the reasons I (personally) am not a fan of its use.
Dark Souls is its own game, not a measure of difficulty.
Dark Souls undoubtedly has some difficulty to it, especially for beginners. As a result, it can be hard for those unwilling to invest the time to learn how to effectively beat it. That’s not what Dark Souls is, though. Dark Souls is a game, it is its lore and its art and its own combat system. The series may have become renowned, to some degree, through the plethora of reviews and complaints online about how hard it is. This may have cultivated a community of Dark Souls players who would engage with these complaints, which turned difficulty into a point of contention. However, this point of contention is not Dark Souls’ identity. Many of the games Dark Souls is compared to have nothing in common with Dark Souls other than being “hard”; that sort of comparison is unfair on everything that’s special about Dark Souls.
As an aside, many players don’t even believe Dark Souls to be truly difficult; simply that it requires some effort to learn how to play effectively (AKA “git gud”). While this is more of a belief that I’ve observed than one that I follow, it’s worth noting, as this audience is also likely to be irritated when they see “the Dark Souls of” in a game review.
It hurts the identity of the comparison’s target, too.
There are so many new release games which have unique designs about them which fall prey to this analogy. Cuphead is a prime example; it proves that you can have the whackiest, freshest design in your game’s looks, have gameplay completely different to Dark Souls, and still get compared to Dark Souls anyway. Not only does this do an injustice to the huge amount of individual identity games like Cuphead have, but it lumps all those games into a category — games likened to Dark Souls. A category to which these games don’t even belong, as Cuphead is nothing like Dark Souls (but I won’t sit here rehashing the point about difficulty).
Intended or not, it comes across as lazy.
Using the Dark Souls comparison has a bad image to it. It’s like a method of saying that a game is difficult, but in a way which completely absolves you of describing the game’s difficulty on its own terms. On top of that, it shows a complete ignorance of the reasons that people actually like Dark Souls. It is not a celebrated and beloved game because it’s “hard”. Not only does using this phrase have negative impacts, but it makes other people think that you’re comparing a game to something you know nothing about.
Why is the name of Dark Souls even being used this way now? Have people forgotten that games were hard before Dark Souls? A classic example is Crash Bandicoot, which reminded everyone that old games were difficult when it was remastered last year to great success. Amusingly enough, Crash Bandicoot has also been sarcastically compared to Dark Souls to illustrate how bizzare Dark Souls comparisons really are.
The internet gives harsh lessons in its hatred of this analogy, and yet many people haven’t gotten the picture yet. If you’re reading this article and liken things to Dark Souls a lot, or especially if you work in gaming journalism, I implore you: don’t make this comparison. If my opinions don’t ring true for you, then at least consider the argument that it’s not worth the hassle that will arise when swarms of agitated fans descend upon your post.
Or you could ignore me and use these comparisons anyway. That’s basically the Dark Souls of life choices.