Over the course of the last decade, FromSoftware has managed to craft, and arguably perfect, its unique action RPG formula with titles like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Not since the introduction of the iconic Metroidvania sub-genre, popularized by phenomenal games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid, have we seen such a widely recognized and replicated template for action RPGs.
The popularity of this blueprint created by FromSoftware has even managed to spawn a sub-genre of its own: the Souls-like. While many developers have tried desperately to capture the essence of Dark Souls, nobody does it quite like FromSoftware.
I've spent the last six months or so playing and re-playing every title in the official FromSoftware Souls-like catalog. From Demon's Souls to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I've committed to the monumental undertaking of placing every one of these exceptional RPGs in an arbitrary order from worst to best. Here is our definitive FromSoftware Souls-like power ranking.6. Dark Souls II
While I believe Dark Souls II is hands-down the worst Souls-like FromSoftware has developed, I don't feel that Dark Souls II is a bad game. In fact, I think what the team achieved with a sequel to one of the most infamous games of all time was rather impressive. There's a very tired joke about pizza that, unfortunately, perfectly applies to FromSoftware-developed Souls-like games: "When it's good, it's great. And when it's bad, it's still pretty good." Even the worst Dark Souls game is better than most modern action-RPGs.
So why exactly has Dark Souls II firmly secured the bottom spot? Sadly, there are some glaring issues involving foundational game design, uninspired boss encounters, and half-baked lore that put a damper on the experience, especially when directly compared to other FromSoftware titles.
The Dark Souls engine isn't catered to heavy amounts of platforming, yet the Dark Souls II team insisted on ham-fisting absurd amounts of unnecessary and unpleasant platforming into the game. The 3D objects you're tasked with maneuvering on often fail to properly respond to player movements, causing you to spike down into an endless pit if you accidentally pivot in the wrong direction. Skinny branches and ledges plague many of the otherwise captivating environments in Dark Souls II, which makes navigating certain areas like Cardinal Tower a tedious nightmare.
Much of the notoriety following the launch of Dark Souls revolved around its relentless difficulty and the satisfaction that came from overcoming the intense challenge. Dark Souls II took all the wrong lessons from this and packed its stages with loads of "gotcha" cheap deaths, from classic rolling boulders to enemies shoving you off ledges. It was less about understanding your surroundings through environmental clues and more about just taking your arbitrary first death. I enjoy the difficulty of the Souls games, but I feel like many of the design choices in Dark Souls II solely exist for the sake of making it tougher.
However, it's not all doom and gloom in this world of doom and gloom. The clever use of lighting and torch mechanics in areas like No Man's Wharf showcase the team's creativity and desire to deliver an ambitious game. Dark Souls II also introduced key quality-of-life features like a streamlined fast travel system and the Name Engraved ring, which made playing with friends significantly easier. These innovations paved the way for the Password system and modern fast-travel that we now expect in FromSoftware games.
5. Demon's Souls
Demon's Souls was FromSoftware's first attempt at delivering a 'Souls' game, before any of us really knew how important the formula would become. When I first played this title on PS3 back in 2009, I was immediately captivated by its innovative combat and evocative world. I distinctly remember how unique Demon's Souls felt. Even though it was its first try, it was clear FromSoftware had something special on its hands.
I recently revisited Demon's Souls through the PS5 remake from Bluepoint Games and it gave me a much greater appreciation for just how influential this foundation was for future Souls-likes from the team. From the asshole dragons constantly performing fire breath drive-bys, to the gothic halls of the Tower of Latria, many elements of Demon's Souls eventually made their way to releases like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. This was also the birth of the legendary Souls-like loop, which revolves around respawning enemies and collecting the souls of fallen foes.
While the potential for this team and what they were trying to build was obvious, there's no denying that the first offering was far from perfect. For every brilliant, innovative idea established in Demon's Souls, there's an equally baffling and frustrating one. Poorly executed boss fights like the Dragon God and Old Monk distract from clever encounters like the Old Hero and Adjudicator. It's also impossible to ignore just how tight and claustrophobic some areas feel, especially when playing in co-op. You'll spend hours getting stuck on enemies or even your friends while playing Demon's Souls. Not all environments suffer from these compact constraints, but compared to the other games on our list the scale of stages is drastically more limited.
FromSoftware was comfortable experimenting with different gameplay mechanics with this title and some of them just didn't work. Thankfully, FromSoftware gained some valuable insights that would greatly benefit later games.
We're now at the part of our ranking where decisions get exponentially tougher. Some readers may be confused or even upset by Bloodborne's placement on this list, but as I mentioned with Dark Souls II, these are all incredible games, but it comes down to their overall package. And when it comes to the total Bloodborne package, there's undeniably a lot to love despite its flaws.
Heavily inspired by the Tower of Latria and serving as the unofficial sequel to Demon's Souls, Bloodborne is filled with jaw-dropping gothic architecture and otherworldly Lovecraftian terrors. The grim aesthetic in the decrepit city of Yharnam delivers relentless and unforgiving 18th-century gothic horror. Every inch of this locale is dripping with grotesque creatures and haunting environments. When it comes to nightmarish enemy design, Bloodborne is FromSoftware at its absolute best. The image of monstrosities like Mergo's Wet Nurse will forever be burned into my mind.
Unfortunately, this ghastly experience critically lacks the usual stage and character variety that makes FromSoftware's RPG formula so special. The shift to faster, more aggressive combat was certainly a refreshing change of pace compared to Dark Souls, but despite a selection of different primary and off-hand weapon types to choose from, the customization I had grown accustomed to in previous titles just wasn't there. It's clear the team was working to lay the groundwork for a new Souls-like combat system, but much like the game that inspired it, the first attempt didn't wholly stick the landing.
Ultimately the reason I decided on this lower placement for Bloodborne stems from a fundamental flaw involving world design. There's no denying how captivating Yarnham and its surrounding areas look and feel, but this reliance on one primary location eventually starts to takes its toll. For me, the grays and greens and blues all started to blend together, making my time in Bloodborne far less memorable than games like Dark Souls or Sekiro. I didn't feel the same desire to explore every nook and cranny of the assorted zones, which has always been one of my favorite elements of FromSoftware RPGs.
If you love the exclusively gothic locations presented in Bloodborne chances are you'll probably rank this title a bit higher, but in terms of the overall package it doesn't hold a Hunter's Torch to the next three games on our list.
3. Dark Souls
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