Recently there’s been an issue in gaming that’s been embodied by one phrase
“We’ve made the Dark Souls of…”
It’s been used by many gaming developers to incite interest in games they believe are very difficult. However, it also implies that
- the only contemporary games of notable difficulty are part of the dark soul series, or
- that any difficult game is only difficult because it sets out to be Dark Souls.
Video games are a medium that should be enjoyed by all ages. But what it seems like is in the last decade, challenging gameplay has been substituted for other features, primarily graphics or cinematic storytelling. That’s not to say that these aren’t important for a game, but balance is essential. Out of the 3, difficulty is usually overlooked. Instead of creating a challenging, yet rewarding experience, players are instead given a bunch of unbalanced difficulty settings which never feel unique to the game. I want to be playing a game the way it should be played, even if I have to get better to progress.
I don’t want to be hysterical or cause moral panic, because there have been amazing games that have come out in the last decade that are beautifully balanced. But recently the use of pay to win mechanics in triple A titles have robbed players from unique and rewarding experiences.
If we look to the indie scene, we find an abundance of challenging games that strive to provide experiences unseen in the mainstream. But unfortunately, a lot of these games do it in the exact same way. It becomes very easy to find a game you love, and then play the same game 20 times in multiple iterations, and even with a new coat of paint or a new mechanic they feel the exact same.
While I was so passionate about a particular genre of gaming, I found myself exhausted at the how so many aspects of it are recyclable. And that’s not to say that the games I’m displaying are bad; in fact, most of them I love. But playing the same core game over and over again can definitely drive you away from the genre. I wanted something new, something that takes a risk.
This was my mindset going into Titan Souls. I had bought it during a steam sale, because it looked like those games I had previously mentioned. and I felt that I was going to go into an experience more or less the same. But as soon as I went up against the first enemy, I realised I had found a truly unique piece. The only way I can describe my play through was refreshing, and led to one of the most engrossing games I’ve experienced this year.
Titan Souls is an action adventure game developed by Acid Nerve and Published by Devolver Digital in 2015. As soon as the game introduces you to your new environment, you become aware of how alone you are. This small, barefoot boy walking past towering monuments and decaying buildings. You are given a bow, a single arrow, and a rolling ability. And with that, the game has given you all the resources necessary to complete this game.
In the over-world, there is nothing. A barren land with nothing more than patchy grass and an air of decay. It only becomes evident after entering the destroyed structures littered around the overworld, when you meet your first boss, that you are not entirely alone. Titan Souls if comprised of 19 boss battles, though defeating all of them is not necessary to beat the game. This lets the player have a more fluid adventure, as any path they decide to take will lead to some form of progression. There is no narrator or guide. You’re just as knowledgeable of your surrounds as your character, a world you can’t help but get lost in. The bosses themselves, the core game mechanic, is a refreshing take on a staple of the video game genre, and its execution proves that new and innovative techniques can still be created, even in this century. And they don’t need to be postmodern either.
In Titan Souls, you know when you’re up against a boss. Not because they have a lot of health. Not because the battle goes for 10 minutes. But because of the atmosphere. You walk into these open biomes that seem catered to this figure. It’s like the environment is a part of them, and through a co-existent relationship, a balanced universe is achieved. The consistency, yet individuality between each boss strengthens the legitimacy of this new world, even when there are only a maximum of 19 battles to experience.
Titan Souls is the only game where boss battles are actually addictive. You could be dying to the same boss for hours and hours and hours. But when you do finally kill them, it takes 10 seconds. They are extremely difficult, but just as vulnerable as you are. You want to beat ice cube brain? How about Eye-cube? To do so, you be observant, identify its weakness, and strike at the right moment. Even when you die, almost every battle feels so close. If the arrow had been shot a little to the right, or slightly quicker, the ending could have been a lot different.
Before this game, boss battles went two ways in my mind. The first way was a large enemy with a massive health bar that must be whittled down over the course of what feels like an hour. For me, these battles aren’t tense because I feel invested, but because I really don’t want to have to spend another 15 minutes spamming the shoot button again.
Or, a boss had a certain amount of hearts, and after a repetitive sequence of attacks, they are left vulnerable to the player’s attacks. Rinse and repeat. Titan Souls is a perfect example of how difficulty does not have to be correlated with time, but instead with skill. How good you are at the game, and your ability to adapt to a new bosses’ play-style will determine how fast you progress.
Some players may argue that games with large amounts of down time are boring, but in this game it is an essential tool in building the world and tension. As you traverse further into these abandoned landscapes, you can’t help but wonder why. Where is everyone? Why is everything in a state of decay? What aspects of this journey are symbolic. On the other hand, a feeling of dread also begins to rise within the player. As our environments begin to change, the imminent boss encounter becomes closer, and fear begins to surge.
This is where Titan Souls gets even more interesting in its acknowledgement of difficulty. These challenging battles aren’t met with triumphant blasts of music, or flashy visuals. In fact, the beautifully melancholic music would suggest that the game, nor its creatures find this battle important. They simply continue attacking, perhaps for the sake of aggression or defence, yet with the same indifference as when you walked into their biome. There is no fanfare when one is defeated either, just a black screen and a mutilated corpse. It gives the player time to question the morality of their journey; does the end goal, which we have no idea about, provide a justification for these deaths?
Just as the title of this video suggests, Titan Souls is not Dark Souls. Nor is it related to dark souls. It is a difficult game, where the player’s melancholic journey is paired beautifully with its harrowing music and symbolism. It feels fresh, with innovative gameplay and unique storytelling, taking what might be perceived as bland and smearing it with sometimes overlooked meaning. It’s a game that takes so many risks; boss battles and lots of down time can be the worst parts of a game, yet Titan souls has turned those features into a highlight reel.
Don’t buy this game because its “like Dark Souls”, or because, as many have pointed out, it’s similar to “Shadows of the Colossus”. Buy it for its ability to take an oversaturated genre of games, create something incredibly unique, and executes it exceptionally.