From Software’s newest masterpiece, Elden Ring, is a masterwork of grimdark fantasy on a scale never seen before in video games. Yet the developers haven’t looked to Japanese legends of oni and kitsune to fill their world, but to European legends and the stuff of medieval fantasy. Why is it, then, that a Japanese company is making the most compelling Western Fantasy in the industry?
It’s the Pickle and Daweeb Show, where we expose J.R.R. Tolkien’s Japanese roots and geek out about epic monsters.
Values over Popularity
From Software has consistently ignored the hype train to bring out unique games. From Software’s Legacy includes Armored Core, Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Elden Ring, all punishing games that stand out in the ever-growing field of video games as unique entries that are often copied but seldom beaten.
What makes these games unique is From Software’s focus on their values, rather than on chasing what’s popular. When Among Us came out we saw a plethora of clones follow. Grand Theft Auto, same thing. From Software’s hit games have inspired many clones, but they’ve stayed authentic themselves.
Hidetaka Miyazaki, video game designer and an executive of From Software, said, according to Wired, that the company’s focus was on creating games that provided an immense sense of achievement by overcoming punishing challenges. You know, like those tough Steam achievements that you still talk about, years after the hours of grind it took to achieve them. The tough ones are always the most satisfying.
In Dark Souls, the system informed the setting. Miyazaki said “first, set a certain game system, and then apply a world view that matches that.” (Wired, 2016) It’s interesting, then, that Dark Souls embraced the grimdark flavor rather than dipping heavily into heroic fantasy. Could souls not have been magical essence, and could the monsters not have hewed closer to the classical monsters of high fantasy? I don’t think so, and that’s not even considering the Law of Batman (which states: each reboot will become darker and grittier than the last). Dark Souls is grimdark to the core. Its DNA is black coffee and gut punches.
That still begs the question, why is the Souls series, including Elden Ring, so heavily European when it could dive deep into Japanese mythology?
Imagination and Inspiration
Miyazaki said, according to The Guardian, that, in his early years, his family was not well off and he spent much of his time reading books from his local library. He soon breezed past their collection of books appropriate for his age and began reading books he couldn’t fully grasp. Instead of giving up, he filled in the gaps he couldn’t understand with his own imaginings.
The result? A potent mix of European and Japanese mythology that has given the Souls series its distinctive lore.
Till Next Time
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