Gaming Developers: FromSoftware
What is FromSoftware?
FromSoftware is a Japanese video game development company best known for its challenging and innovative action role-playing games. Its games are renowned for their difficulty and atmospheric storytelling while it pushes the boundaries of what is possible in video game design. The company has gained a strong following among gamers who appreciate the depth and complexity, making it easily one of the most respected developers in the industry.
The history of FromSoftware
FromSoftware was founded in Tokyo, Japan in November 1986 by Naotoshi Zin. The company began its journey as a developer of software applications for businesses but soon pivoted to game development. In 1994, the company released its first game, King’s Field for the Japanese market. Although it was considered a successful launch, the company wasn’t able to gain traction outside Japan. However, in 1995, with the release of King’s Field II, FromSoftware successfully penetrated the North American market. This was a significant moment for the company and led to more King’s Field sequels and new franchises including Echo Night, Shadow Tower, and Armored Core.
The early 2000s saw the release of the PlayStation 2 and a dramatic increase in console computing power. This led to a wave of new games from FromSoftware including Eternal Ring, Evergrace, Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, Lost Kingdoms, Murakumo: Renegade Mech Pursuit, and a handful of others. While the company continued to release sequels to its popular games from the 90s including the Armored Core series, it was a company without any significant blockbuster title under its belt.
FromSoftware’s status among gaming companies changed in the late 2000s and early 2010s with the release of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. The success of these games and in particular the style of gameplay spurred a new subgenre of action RPGs called Soulslike. This success led to its acquisition by Kadokawa Corporation in 2014. The company continued the success of the early 2010s with the release of the high-profile games Dark Souls II, Dark Souls III, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
In 2022, FromSoftware released its biggest game to date, Elden Ring, which is widely considered one of the best games of all time. Later in 2022, Sixjoy Hong Kong acquired 16.25% of the company and Sony Interactive Entertainment took on 14.09% injecting not only a wealth of capital but also the backing of two strong industry players.
Why is FromSoftware so influential?
FromSoftware has been renowned for creating some of the most challenging and rewarding games of the last decade. Its approach to game design, which emphasizes player agency and discovery, has been highly influential in the gaming industry. FromSoftware's games often eschew traditional storytelling methods in favor of a more subtle and atmospheric approach that encourages players to piece together the narrative through environmental clues and item descriptions. This style of storytelling has inspired many other developers to experiment with non-linear narratives and world-building techniques.
What is a Soulslike or Soulsborne game?
The term Soulslike is used to describe games that are similar in style and gameplay to FromSoftware's Soulsborne formula. Although games such as Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne defined the subgenre, newer releases such as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Elden Ring are considered Soulsborne games. These games typically feature challenging stamina-based combat, loss of experience upon death, intricate level design, a strong emphasis on exploration and discovery, and are set in a dark fantasy world. The term was coined by fans of the genre as a way to distinguish these games from other action RPGs that may share some similarities, but lack the same degree of difficulty and depth.
Why are FromSoftware games controversial?
FromSoftware's games have often been a subject of controversy due to their high difficulty level and unconventional storytelling approach. Some players feel that the punishing difficulty of these games is unfair and can be frustrating, leading to accusations of elitism on the part of the developers. They often cite that these games lack a less challenging game mode that supports new or casual gamers and that dying frequently can interfere with their ability to engage with the story and fully immerse themselves in the game world. Additionally, FromSoftware's narrative style can be difficult for some players to follow or understand. This has led to criticism that the stories are incomplete or confusing.
However, many fans enjoy the complex lore, world-building, and challenges that FromSoftware's stories feature. They view these games as a refreshing change from more mainstream titles. The controversial nature of these games has helped to fuel discussion and debate within the gaming community about what constitutes good game design and storytelling.
Famous games and franchises from FromSoftware
- Armored Core: A third-person mech combat shooter series featuring highly customizable options and challenging gameplay.
- Demon's Souls: This action RPG introduced the extreme difficulty and unique multiplayer mechanics that would help define the Soulslike genre. The game also won GameSpot’s Game of the Year in 2009.
- Dark Souls: Widely considered one of the greatest games of all time by fans and critics alike. Dark Souls refined and expanded upon the formula established in Demon's Souls and has had numerous sequels. The series has multiple entries on Best RPG lists and has won numerous awards including Golden Joysticks for Game of the Year in 2014 for Dark Souls II and 2016 for Dark Souls III. The original also brought home the Ultimate Game of All Time at the 2021 Golden Joystick Awards.
- Bloodborne: A gothic horror game with twisted monsters and a haunting soundtrack. It is the game that tweaked the Soulsborne formula and the Soulslike genre with faster-paced combat and a more aggressive play style. The game also won numerous awards, including the Game of the Year from Eurogamer in 2015.
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: One of FromSoftware's newer releases that features intense swordplay and new grappling hook mechanics. It features a more focused narrative than their previous games, while still retaining the studio's trademark difficulty and intricate design. Not to be outdone by other releases, it won multiple awards including the Game of the Year at the 2019 Game Awards.
- Elden Ring: A third-person open-world action RPG that combined the genius of Hidetake Miyazaki and George R. R. Martin. The game focuses on a combination of combat and world exploration and is firmly built with the Soulsborne formula. It also took home major awards including the Golden Joysticks for Ultimate Game of the Year and Critics’ Choice, The Game of the Year at the 2022 Game Awards, The Grand Award at the 2022 Japan Game Awards, Game of the Year at the 26th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards, and many more.
What's next for FromSoftware?
Although we are bound to see more Soulsborne games in the future, FromSoftware has shifted its focus back to the Armored Core series. In August 25, 2023, it will release Armored Core IV: Fires of Rubicon. It is the first since 2013 and is yet another high-profile release from the developer. The game also features Masaru Yamamura as director and Yasunori Ogura as lead producer. Fans wonder if the latest installment will follow the Soulsborne formula even after Miyazaki and Yamamura have been on record saying they would not “intentionally” do so. It’s an exciting time for FromSoftware and after a decade of hits, gamers and critics fully expect the highly anticipated release to deliver.