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Great 'Soulslike' Games Made Before Demon's Souls – GameRant

With the recent release of Elden Ring, the gaming community’s love for Soulslike games began anew. Despite it being a tough game to play, the brutality faced by players is part of its charm, and it has been since the first Soulslike game – 2009’s action RPG Demon’s Souls. Although the dark, broody medieval death simulator is considered a pinnacle of the genre, there have been plenty of games that preceded the popular FromSoftware game with the same idea.


While the mood of the Souls series helps make it a Souls game, that’s not the key to a Soulslike game. The general definition of ‘Soulslike’ that seems to be agreed upon by the majority of gamers online is that the game should hold extensive lore with bare minimum plot, allow players to explore the game the way they choose rather than be handheld by the game’s story, and feature punishing combat that encourages skillful execution. With that in mind, Demon’s Souls may have been the origin of the name of the genre, but a lot of gamers can agree that wasn’t the first ‘Soulslike’ game.

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The Legend of Zelda

One of two video game series that inspired FromSoftware games director Hidetaka Miyazaki to make video games, the ‘Soulslike’ genre has roots in Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda franchise. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link and Ocarina of Time were particularly influential, with the former providing a brutal combat experience and the latter deemed by Miyazaki as the ‘father’ of 3D adventure games.

Although the aforementioned Zelda games didn’t exactly give players lands to explore that were as vast as Demon’s Souls, which is understandable considering the difference in technology, it did check two other ‘Soulslike’ criterion. The Zelda series does hold lore that’s deeper than the stories players follow, and the games increased in combat difficulty from Zelda 2 onwards with the introduction of stamina bars.

King’s Field

The first-ever game created by FromSoftware, the games’ company even considered the Souls series to be a spiritual successor to King’s Field. FromSoftware originally released King’s Field back in 1994 for the first-ever PlayStation. Despite its complicated reception due to its difficulty, FromSoftware only pushed itself further since. The studio went on to publish two more sequels for King’s Field before turning its focus elsewhere.

Despite the technology of its time, King’s Field emphasized exploration, and it did have a deep backstory. To round off the ‘Soulslike’ trifecta, FromSoftware’s inaugural video game also featured difficult combat and progression, as well as a stamina meter to make things even more difficult. However, King’s Field itself had based its difficult combat system on another game series: Ultima.


1981’s Ultima: The First Age of Darkness was the first of the vast Ultima series of games. Originally released for the Apple 2, this top-down role-playing game may not look like much by today’s standards, but similar to the Souls games, its difficulty was a key aspect to the series and the level of exploration only expanded from the first. More specifically, ‘Soulslike’ fans have pointed to the Ultima spin-off series game Ultima Underworld as being the closest to the genre.

Ultima Underworld was a 3D first-person RPG that featured tough, real-time combat. It placed an emphasis on item gathering, which is also core to the Souls series, since weapons could deteriorate and break, and made NPC trading a key element. Ultima Underworld was also the first in the series to feature eating and resting, although not at campfires.

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Shadow Tower

Shadow Tower is a first-person role-playing game also created by FromSoftware. Building upon King’s Field, this game and its sequel brought over the difficulty of FromSoftware’s first series alongside its exploration and added gathering mechanics. Items picked up by players had weight and each weapon had its own level of durability, so a level of caution needed to be taken as players explored the nooks and crannies of the game.

The sequel Shadow Tower: Abyss, launched on the PlayStation 2 in 2003 as a Japan exclusive title. Abyss introduced dangerous elements to the environments explored by players, in similar fashion to that of future Souls games. Unfortunately for non-Japanese players, an English export was canceled due to projected sales concerns.

Severance: Blade of Darkness

One game that a lot of gamers on Reddit agree has ‘Soulslike’ vibes is Rebel Act Studio’s Severance: Blade of Darkness. Not only is the atmosphere of the 2001 game Souls-esque with its dark mood and brutally difficult gameplay, but the game had environments that were begging to be explored. Weapons were also perishable and had limited durability, meaning players sometimes had to be resourceful.

Recently re-released on Steam and GoG, Severance‘s combat system had the added perk of being able to use the dismembered body parts of slain enemies, making this incredibly difficult Dark Souls predecessor at least satisfying to play. Unfortunately, the game never kicked off due to poor marketing, and it’s doubtful that the series will see the light of day again.


Another game that inspired Miyazaki to enter the world of video games was 2001’s Ico. The PlayStation 2 game was created by the same studio behind the industry-changing Shadow of the Colossus, Team Ico. Ico featured a unique pairing system that had players take the role of two characters, Ico and Yorda, who both have different abilities that help players progress.

Although Ico doesn’t focus on challenging combat, since combat has more to do with enemy avoidance than anything, there is an emphasis on its vast lore based on folklore and myth that revolved around a simple storyline. Still, despite its lack of direct fighting, it was still a challenge to avoid the creatures and enemies that tried to harm the two protagonists.

Although not perfect ‘copies’ of the well-loved Demon’s Souls, one can definitely see a lot of the above games as pioneer of the ‘Soulslike’ game label. There have been games before FromSoftware’s 2009 title to feature brutally challenging gameplay and thorough backstories, including early FromSoftware titles. The video game industry is constantly evolving, but not merely by means of more realistic graphics and massive map sizes. The proverbial hat should always be tipped to the many wondrous titles that have come before.

Demon’s Souls is available now for PS5.

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