Two game developers are influencing the action game market.
In the world of brawler style melee action games, there are many sorts of styles that can be adapted to make the players feel comfortable with the action. With the popularity of two major game developers, it’s pretty cut and dry that there are two methods of designing the playstyle. From Software and Platinum Games are those two developers, and both of their games have a signature style that their studios are notorious for employing. They both also make for great combat. Yet, by and large, they are polar opposites from one another. These prevailing gameplay styles can thus be broken down on a simplified scale from 0-10 with one developer on each side. Let’s talk about those styles for a bit.
Let’s start with From Software. They are notorious for the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne, and in case you’ve been living under a rock, they are quite popular. Indeed, Souls games are known for their difficulty, range of playstyle choices, and thoughtful combat practices. In older times, you could mash a button to attack enemies a la Warriors games until you win, but that discipline is a good way to get yourself killed over and over if you’re playing Souls. Nay, when playing a Souls game, one must exercise caution and patience when playing. If you try to run up to enemies and smack them about as much as you can, you will quickly run out of stamina and get the stuffing beat out of you.
Souls games have the ongoing memes attached to them. There’s “Git Gud,” which implies that if you find the difficulty too hard, tough shit, you just have to get better. This game will not accommodate an easier setting. And of course, the well known “Prepare to Die” also sticks with the games, as the challenge of the combat will find you dying many times as you figure out the best ways to fight. That’s how the games are. Every new enemy encounter is a new experience. You have to take things slow and learn your combatants’ patterns and flows in order to best them. You watch them and you adapt. Soon, you learn that different animations mean different attacks, and you learn how to anticipate them and act accordingly. You can only get by with perseverance, getting to know your enemy’s line of attacks. Once you have them figured out, as long as you stay diligent, you can hold your own. Or at least until a boss shows up.
Before we dive into bosses, let’s talk about the other end of the spectrum. We have Platinum Games, makes of some of the most purely awesome combat encounters. Platinum throws common sense and logic right out the fucking window in favor of a coolness factor. It doesn’t matter how impractical or absurd everything gets, you are there to wreak absolute havoc upon anyone who stands in your way. In stark contrast to the methodical nature of Souls, these games want you to absolutely wreck your opponents. Now, mashing buttons may be the key to these games, but it sure as hell isn’t brainless, instead it is a solid flow. You learn how to take visual cues from the fighting to know when to press dodge, when to fast attack, when to strong attack, and then you sting up that series of button stomping action right on into the latter half of the double digits. Keeping your combos going is key, and any moment you are spending on not attacking your opponents is basically wasted time.
Platinum’s repertoire is vast but often features key similarities. They have a lot of successful releases, like Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance- Lightning Bolt Action, Transformers Devastation, and new critically acclaimed Nier Automata. All of these feature combat based on stringing together tight-knit button combinations while being mindful of visual cues. As long as you’re smashing the dodge button, you’ll get out the way of being hit hard. Enemy attacks are far less telegraphed in these games, as a very short gleam appears on an enemy, giving you a fraction of a second to dodge, and then continue your full frontal assault. You don’t exercise any caution in these games. Instead, as soon as you see a single enemy, your first move will likely be to charge right on into them at full speed to destroy them before they can even sneeze.
Let’s talk about boss fights. When you encounter a boss in a Souls game, there’s a strong chance you were never prepared for it. They will also terrify the everliving hell out of you as they morph and grow before your very eyes and menace you to an extent where you’ve already accepted your fate and thus “prepared to die.” You learn how to fight bosses by dying. These giant, imposing bastards will pound you into the ground over and over until you finally get just the right amount of focus. Once you’re in the zone, you can carefully pay attention to all of their attacks and strike when it’s your turn. You know you’re in for a long fight in these, and learn that getting hasty is a mistake you can’t afford. When you see a boss in a souls game, you’d be lying if your first reaction isn’t “oh shit”.
Contrast this with the aggression that Platinum encourages, and you’re in for a completely different ride. When you encounter a boss in a Platinum game, the mentality isn’t fear. You internally say yourself, “Wow, I cannot wait to fuck that guy up!” and proceed to have at them, even if they are frequently 3-6 times your puny size. Here, you run in and you start beating on them no matter what and you keep the pressure going, never allowing your target to catch their breath. Instead of learning from dying, you simply learn what does and does not work as you fight. Are certain attacks not working? Try others. Are all of your attacks simply chiseling down the boss’s HP? Just keep at it and they’ll go down. You have to be fierce and vicious to win. Don’t think about your attacks, just act and react. Fight, fight and fight, and if the boss hits you hard you just gotta hit them back harder.
And so, the influence of these developers brightly shines through, even as I play more and more games that aren’t made by them. It’s popular for ‘games journalists’ to compare difficult melee games to Souls, but it’s not their fault. Games are starting to borrow elements from the style of this unfathomably popular new game series. Not all games though; while some tend to take a leaf from the Souls book, others lean in on the sharp and fast action of Platinum. I’d like to introduce a scale to rank games based on how similar their fighting styles are to the repertoire of these two developers’ groundbreaking series. It’s called the From Platinum scale, and it goes like this:
It’s 0-10. On the left-hand side, you have From Software occupying the space of 0. Not because it’s bad, think of it as more of a scale of speed and forgiveness. Souls are not forgiving, nor are they expedient, thus the zero. Only a game made by that developer can receive a 0, everything else can get a “1” at best. On the other side, it’s Platinum Games holding up the 10. I chose them for 10 because “platinum” is a precious metal, which implies high monetary value. Only games by that company can get a 10, the rest can only get a “9” at best. How does that factor into games that are recent or popular? Let’s have a look at a few games.
Dark Souls: 0
In case you skipped every paragraph and jumped right here, then listen. Once again, Dark Souls doesn’t get a zero because it’s bad. It gets a zero because the combat gives you ZERO hope. You will die, it is inevitable. No other game can get a zero.
Bloodborne isn’t quite as damning as the Souls games. It also has a faster and more active approach, so it gets a different rating.
Nier: Automata: 10
Nier Automata takes the cake for the most Platinum of Platinum games, being a title that not only has fast-paced combat but also makes you fight while making playing a bullet hell shooter.
Transformers Devastation: 9
The action is fast and furious, but not quite as insane as Platinum’s other titles. Still, it maintains the fury and finesse that makes them so special.
Batman Arkham Series: 5
It strikes the perfect balance between being aggressive to exercising caution. You face enemies head-on or through the shadows, but you must still keep moving, otherwise, you’re a sitting duck.
This game had a very slow and methodical combat system that some Souls veterans found to be not so challenging. The game lacks the depth that Souls has to offer, but if you encounter a boss you’re unprepared for, you’re gonna get wrecked until you either leave completely to level up or just face them and chip away at their health for 20 minutes.
Hyrule Warriors: 7
In Warriors games, you lay the smackdown on waves of enemies, often killing grunts in the higher double digits in single blows. Although you can mash buttons at the base enemies, you’ll encounter miniboss characters who require a nuanced but aggressive approach.
The Surge: 2
What if Dark Souls but sci-fi and shitty?
That is but a few examples. I fully expect to use the From Platinum™ scale of melee gaming for future releases. What do you think? Am I onto something, or full of shit? Tell me in the comments.