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Souls-like RPG

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"Perhaps the game's greatest triumph, however, is that it takes qualities normally associated with frustration and discomfort—constant trial and error, slow progression, harsh enemies—and makes them virtues."

A Souls-like RPG (sometimes referred to as a Soulsborne, or "Soulsy") refers to a subgenre of Role Playing Games that puts emphasis on dodging and moving over other mechanics. The Trope Maker and Trope Namer of this genre is Demon's Souls, which was released in 2009. The genre gained traction with the release of Demon's Souls' Spiritual Successor, Dark Souls, which spawned numerous clones. Typically, these games have the following elements, or at least most of them:

  • The game is Nintendo Hard. Even the lowliest Mooks would likely qualify as Demonic Spiders in any other game, which should give you an idea of what qualifies as a Demonic Spider in these games. Expect to die many, many times against some of them, and if you expect any degree of Mook Chivalry from your opponents, you will be horribly mistaken. And just about any boss would be That One Boss in another game.
  • Survival focuses primarily on dodging attacks and/or blocking them — enemies attack swiftly enough and for enough damage that "facetanking" is often lethal unless you have an incredibly tough (often lategame) build. Some games even lack the option to block at all, necessitating evasion of enemy attacks. Additionally, most dodges have "invincibility frames" that let you No-Sell all damage while they are active. Often has an equipment weight mechanic where wearing heavy armor makes your dodge slow but gives you defensive advantages or stagger resistance, and weapons contribute to your equipment weight.
  • Money Is Experience Points, requiring you to choose whether to spend it on levelling up, or on items and equipment. All currency is lost on death and remains in the location where you died. If it is not retrieved before you die again, it is lost forever.
  • Stamina management is critical — stamina is needed for both attacking and dodging, so failing to pay attention to how much you have left can leave you extremely vulnerable when the enemy goes on the offensive.
  • Leveling up consists of putting a single point into a single stat. Since every level up is more expensive than the last, a specialized build focusing on only one or two stats (plus HP and stamina which are necessary for almost any build) while mostly ignoring the rest is recommended. Trying to be a Jack of All Stats is too cost-prohibitive to be viable (unless you want to put in dozens if not hundreds of hours Level Grinding) outside of a New Game Plus.
  • Enemies have noticeable visual and auditory cues for their attacks that must be observed in order to properly evade them.
  • Certain animations take priority over others, and there is no Lag Canceling — plan your attacks carefully, or you will be demolished.
  • The player typically starts out Late to the Tragedy, and the story of the game is often presented through gameplay mechanics, item descriptions, environment details, enemy appearance, and other forms of Story Breadcrumbs. Cutscenes and dialogue are minimal and Gameplay and Story Integration are paramount. An unobservant player may think that the game lacks a story entirely, while an investigative player will discover an elaborate backstory and plot, usually after slowly uncovering and connecting all the pieces of lore.
  • Overall tone of the game will lean more toward bleak and/or tragic. The lore will often revolve around how the setting of the game used to be a monumental civilization or something along these lines, only for everything to degrade into a Dark Fantasy, or worse, a Cosmic Horror Story. Expect many bosses to be highly influential figures in the lore of the setting, who are now far past their prime and are desperately clinging to their glory days, or have been corrupted by some evil force, or some such, and the Final Boss to be none other than the very founder of the civilization in question.
  • The Player Character is deliberately made out to be some faceless Mook who has risen only slightly above their brethren. They may oftentimes have no name, and their goals lack any individual interest to them, instead being forced by circumstance to embark on whatever quest they're currently on. Expect many endings where the actions of your player character are revealed to simply be part of a Vicious Cycle — assuming that wasn't made clear from the get-go.
  • Checkpoint Starvation abounds, and the game constantly autosaves in order to prevent Save Scumming, making the consequences of death both painful and permanent.
  • Healing resources are often restricted. Some games give you one healing item with multiple "charges" that are replenished when resting at a checkpoint, while others allow you to carry many healing items which are not automatically replenished and must instead be bought or found placed in the world and as drops from killing enemies. In both cases, actually using the healing items puts you into a long animation that makes you vulnerable and has to be planned strategically.
  • Resting at a checkpoint (or dying and respawning at one) causes all slain enemies to respawn, with the exception of bosses and maybe the occasional Elite Mook.
  • Unorthodox strategies are rewarded - the only way to score a Critical Hit is by getting a Back Stab or by parrying the enemy's attack with perfect timing and executing a riposte.
  • A limited form of multiplayer exists, where players can call forth "summons" of other players to assist them in combat for a time. On the other hand, malicious players can also "invade" your game with the goal of hunting you down and killing you. You can also leave behind notes for others to read.
  • Often has a large variety of weapons and play styles. Almost all weapons are equally viable and can be upgraded to improve their damage or change their stat focus. Each weapon has a specific moveset with pros and cons, and it's very rare for a weapon to be flat out inferior to another weapon.
  • Finally, your reward for beating the game is that you get to start all over again on New Game Plus, where everything is even harder (though you keep all of your levels and equipment to compensate). Beating New Game+ will unlock the even harder New Game+2, beating that will unlock +3, and so on.

Later games have more unique elements to help differentiate them from Dark Souls and its own Spiritual Succesors, Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Elden Ring; such as a heavy focus on ranged combat or having multiple companion characters with their own fleshed-out Story Arcs. See also Action RPG, Roguelike, and Hack and Slash, from which the genre takes influence from. Contrast with Hack and Slash and Stylish Action games, which instead encourage the player to approach Nintendo Hard enemies with constant barrages of attacks rather than carefully timed moves.

Examples include:

There are also multiple attempts to reproduce the Souls-like mechanics in tabletop RPGs:


Video Example(s):


Demon's Souls

The Trope Maker. The game is set in the Kingdom of Boletaria, which was led to great prosperity by King Allant XII with the use of the power of souls, until it was beset by a strange colorless fog that isolated it from the rest of the world and brought soul-hungry demons with it.<br><br>After the world was let known of Boletaria's plight, legend spread of the chaos within the kingdom wreaked upon it by a beast from the Nexus and of the demons that grew ever more powerful with each soul they devoured. Many people went to Boletaria, either to save it from its plight or lured by the prospect of the power of souls, but all were lost in its chaos.<br><br>You are one such person, like many others now dead and trapped in the fog with your soul bound to the Nexus. From there, your journey begins...

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