The original Demon’s Souls has had a profound effect on gaming, playing a huge part in paving the way for the notoriously difficult action role-playing genre players know and love today.
FromSoftware released Demon’s Souls in 2009 on the PlayStation 3 where it received mixed reviews from gamers and critics alike. It was the first time since the Metroidvania craze in the 90s where difficult combat and addictive gameplay came hand-in-hand, and people didn’t know how to feel about it.
That uncertainty soon developed into love, though, and a loyal fanbase was born. Once it found its footing, the game went on to spawn an entire series known as Souls, and later on evolved into Soulsborne after FromSoftware released Bloodborne – a new IP within the same genre.
With Demon’s Souls getting a remake on the PlayStation 5, what better time to have a look at the series as a whole. Here’s our rankings for the best games in the franchise, from worst to best:
8. Demon’s Souls (original)
By no means are any of these games bad, far from it at all. But it feels only fitting to start this list with the title that started it all. In comparison to later games, Demon’s Souls just feels, different. The general levels feel tougher, and it feels more unforgiving if you fail – especially with bosses. This was the beginning of FromSoftware’s vision.
The game immediately tells you what it’s all about with its fearsome Red-Eyed Knights that can bring many quick deaths very quickly. Later entries positioned checkpoints closer to the bosses, Demon’s Souls was less accessible in this respect.
Now, it’s been over 10 years since the game came out, and perhaps the upcoming revisit will jog the memory. So perhaps some clarity is missing. Again, by no means is Demon’s a bad game, it just feels less satisfying than the rest of the titles on this list.
7. Dark Souls 2
Dark Souls 2 is considered by many to be the outlier of the three main Souls games.
It’s certainly not as bad as people make it out to be, but some niggly issues hamper it. The locations and their interconnectivity feel disjointed and some of them don’t feel all that special. Plus some of the bosses didn’t feel like “bosses” – we’re looking at you, Royal Rat Authority and The Skeleton Lords.
But there is plenty here to enjoy, and it has some fun boss battles like The Pursuer and the Old Dragonslayer.
6. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Yes, sixth. We can feel a deathblow looming over our heads. A game that won GOTY for several outlets and publications, there’s no doubting it’s a solid title. But its lack of variety and rigid approach to gameplay are overlooked in favor of its aesthetic. Whereas other Souls entries give you a selection of different weapons to hone you playstyle – Sekiro doesn’t. It is insistent on its Posture concept.
One criticism which will naturally rile up the git gudders is that there’s no leveling up. Sekiro is very grounded in its approach to combat. There’s no grinding to increase your health, strength, defense, etc. Your progression hinges on your understanding of the game’s mechanics and your adaptability. Whilst it’s a commendable approach, it’s also to the detriment of it too.
Furthermore, it overplays its hands sometimes too – mainly with too many hidden phases for bosses e.g. Guardian Ape. Sekiro is definitely the most different and in many ways it is a hell of a lot of fun. The game is gorgeous, the regular enemy combat is a blast, and there are lots of cool secondary weapons to mix things up.
5. Dark Souls 3
Dark Souls 3 is a game that is either loved or disliked. Some of it is basically an extension of Bloodborne as it plays slightly faster than the other entries in the series. It feels the most complete title in the franchise in many ways and handles like a dream.
It loses a point for bringing back Anor Londo, which it didn’t need to, and the Irithyll jailors are irritating. The game also feels indistinguishable from Dark Souls 1 and 2. This isn’t a bad thing, but it felt a bit by the numbers.
Regardless, some cool locations and badass bosses such as the Abyss Watchers and epic Dancer of the Boreal Valley lead to a titanic end of game fight.
4. Nioh 2
The only problem with Nioh 2 is that it’s too much like 1, that’s a tremendous criticism. One of the key differences between the first and second game is that we now control a customizable yokai. William is gone. But some awesome new additions include transforming into a yokai demon, the game-changing burst counter, interchangeable yokai forms, and the ability to summon players.
Nioh incorporates its story far more directly than the Souls titles. Instead of inferred lore hidden throughout locations and minor dealings with NPCs, Nioh features many full-scale cut-scenes that depict the events unfolding.
Overall, 2 doesn’t feel quite as memorable as the first installment, but it’s an incredibly deep Souls game. It’s also aided by its spellbinding visuals and sprawling levels filled with various missions enhancing its longevity.
3. Dark Souls
The original… Slow. Methodical. Punishing. Yet brilliant. A more unforgiving game that has tight hitboxes and little patience for incompetence. Dark Souls has the best world and selection of areas in the original trilogy. Which is ironic really as the game introduced one of the worst bosses and worst areas in the series. The Bed of Chaos is a weird one, and Blighttown can be a major blight on your fun!
Nevertheless, take your pick from the early-game tangle with the Asylum Demon, the battle in the void with the Four Kings, and Ornstein and Smough. Despite technology moving along, some of the fights still live long in the memory. It is deep, its world is magnificent, and it’s a game that will stand the test of time for many years to come.
2. Nioh 1
The first Nioh game manages to take the Souls formula and put its own amazing spin on things. Gone are the gothic settings, the skeletons, and the souls. In comes 17th century Japan and our Irish traveler, William Adams. He must battle some of Japan’s meanest, and biggest, Japanese demons – the yokai. Mythical creatures of awesome power that inhabit the land.
Nioh’s combat is exceptional and offers so many different ways to approach it. If that wasn’t enough, the game’s unique Ki system adds a layer of depth to combat and makes the player aware of what they’re doing at all times.
Make no mistake, it may not have been made by FromSoftware, but it’s a fiendishly difficult title. Made by Team Ninja – the developers of the infamous Ninja Gaiden series – it is packed full of difficult bosses and long, challenging levels. One big difference with Nioh is its mission system. Instead of one seamless world, each area has missions and new ones can be unlocked upon completion.
This is quite simply FromSoftware’s magnum opus. Some will consider it to be a bit too fast compared to Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls 2. But the reality is that Bloodborne gets everything spot on and is simply an unbelievable game. Yharnam’s gothic, Lovecraftian, dystopian world is horrifyingly fun. From oversized, disfigured pigs to giant brains with many protruding limbs, it ticks every box in the horror book.
The game was the first real foray into faster and more aggressive gameplay. Previous Souls titles were geared towards a more methodical and tactful philosophy. Whereas Bloodborne actively encourages you to be aggressive and forceful. Doing so can reap rewards including health recuperation and attack interruptions.
The speed of your hunter is also increased, and features much quicker rolling. The levels are cool, there aren’t really any bad ones, and the Chalice Dungeons are the cherry on top of the sumptuous cake.