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. Here’s every Souls game ranked from worst to best ahead of FromSoftware’s newest title – Elden Ring.
FromSoftware released Demon’s Souls in 2009 on the PlayStation 3 and it shook gaming to its very core with a unique approach to difficulty that hadn’t been seen before. It was the first proper test of brutality since the Metroidvania craze in the 90s where difficult combat and addictive gameplay came hand-in-hand, and it became a trial by fire for hardcore gamers.
What began as one game soon became an entire subgenre, though, and a loyal fanbase was born. Later on, they evolved into Soulsborne after FromSoftware released Bloodborne – a new IP within the same genre that focused more on horrific enemies and slightly faster combat.
The 2020 Demon’s Souls remake got the series running on the PlayStation 5, and Elden Ring is next. The newest Souls game looks to incorporate a lot more fantasy elements to it and we’re already very excited what it’ll bring.
Before then, though, here are our rankings for the best games in the genre, from worst to best.
Best Dark Souls games & clones ranked
Just because ‘Souls’ isn’t in the name, that doesn’t mean it’s not part of that lineage. Our list also includes a couple of FromSoftware titles that nixed the traditional name-branding and includes a couple of severely underrated titles in the genre too.
8. Demon’s Souls (original)
By no means are any of these games bad, far from it. 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, and as such, feels in many ways like a proof of concept – a very, very good template to be expanded upon in future successors.
The game immediately sets out its stall with its fearsome Red-Eyed Knights that can bring many quick deaths very quickly. Later entries positioned checkpoints closer to the bosses, so Demon’s Souls is less accessible in this respect.
Now, it’s been over 10 years since the game came out, and the recent Demon’s Souls Remake has almost made the original redundant. 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. Overall, though, it just lacks the mystery that made its predecessor special.
6. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Yes, sixth. We can feel a death blow looming over our heads. A game that won GOTY for several outlets and publications, there’s no doubting Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is 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 your playstyle – Sekiro doesn’t. It is insistent on its Posture concept.
One criticism that 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 – at least in our opinion.
Furthermore, it overplays its hand 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 all feels 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, so it’s comfortably middle of the pack.
4. Nioh 2
One of the key differences between the first and the second Nioh games 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 story events unfolding.
Overall, Nioh 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. This is ironic, really, as the game introduced one of the worst bosses and worst areas in the series: The Bed of Chaos and Blighttown respectively
Nevertheless, for high points, you can take your pick from the early-game tangle with the Asylum Demon, the battle in the void with the Four Kings, and the legendary battle of attrition with Ornstein and Smough. Despite technology and ideas moving along as years have gone by, 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.
3. Dark Souls Remake
Remakes can sometimes end up quite badly, and this couldn’t be further from the truth with Bluepoint Games’ remake of Demon’s Souls. They took a beloved title and perfectly captured the magic of the original whilst making it look like it belongs on the PS5.
Next-gen hardware allowed Demon’s Souls to come to life with the help of Ray Tracing, 60FPS, and true 4K visuals. The frame rate is something else to behold as the seamless, crisp nature of the gameplay gives players even more control over their actions and gameplay decisions.
The jaw-dropping encounter with the Flamelurker is now positively mindblowing. The Nexus feels even more realized than it did before, and Demon’s Souls finally got to be exposed to the newer generation in the form it deserved.
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. Developed 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, helping make for increase replayability.
Bloodborne 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, but the reality is that Bloodborne gets everything spot on and is an unforgettable game. Yharnam’s dark, gothic, Lovecraftian 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.
There you have it, the best Souls titles ranked. For more on Soulsborne games, be sure to check out everything we know so far about Elden Ring.