From Software's success story: From ugly duckling to deadly swan – Gamesaktuell

It all began in 1994: The Tokyo-based software developer From Software, founded by Naotoshi Zin in 1986, was fed up with producing boring office software. Instead, they were toying with developing a video game. The Japanese were particularly impressed by the capabilities of the first Playstation, because Sony said goodbye to the module technology customary at the time with its debut console and relied entirely on the still young CD-ROM medium.

This resulted in a small dungeon crawler called King's Field, which appeared in Japan in mid-December 1994 – just under two weeks after the Playstation was released. The game was simple in every way and, due to the 3D graphics, was reminiscent of a castrated version of established PC hits like Ultima Underworld (1992) or The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994). The player explored an extremely angular and mostly empty dungeon in the first person perspective, messed up a few monsters and had to find a key every now and then to open doors. The gameplay was very slow and the level of difficulty was very high – something that should sound familiar to fans of the later Souls games. While the thin story of King's Field is barely worth mentioning, it was never officially translated into English. One of the reasons for this may have been the delayed release of the Playstation in the USA and Europe, which only took place one year after the Japanese launch. In the meantime, From Software already had King's Field 2 (1995), which was technically much more modern than the first.

Royal name confusion

In contrast to its predecessor, the sequel made the leap across the pond – and was simply sold as the first part in this country. This marketing measure complicated the naming of all other successors, each of which had to be renamed for the US market. King's Field 3 (1996) became King's Field 2, and King's Field 4 (2001) was named King's Field: The Ancient City. Regardless of the confusing release policy, the reviews of all King's Field titles were very similar: on the one hand, the testers liked the dark style and the stately scope. On the other hand, there was scolding for the monotonous combat system and the rather slow running speed of your own character. King's Field was still reasonably successful commercially. From Software had tasted blood and increased the number of new games noticeably from year to year. With Armored Core (1997) the Japanese started a post-apocalyptic mech action game series that also debuted on the original Playstation.

Pixelated, but good: The first Armored Core for the Playstation was more popular with most players than the cumbersome King's Field. (1)

Pixelated, but good: The first Armored Core for the Playstation was better received by most players than the clumsy King's Field. (1)

Source: PC Games

This time a decent 3D engine was implemented, which was able to represent both the brute force of arms of the gigantic 'Mechs and the wide-area levels in a technically clean manner. Armored Core ultimately evolved into the longest-running From Software series. It continued into 2013, spanning three generations of consoles. At the same time, the developers repeatedly returned to their role-playing origins, but without insisting on the name King's Field. One of the better works from the RPG genre was Shadow Tower (1998), which put you in a large, multi-story tower. Also worth mentioning is Echo Night, published in the same year, which was conceptually based on classic 3D adventures à la Myst (1993).

False start in the next generation

The change from the first Playstation to the Playstation 2 was all the more bumpy for From Software because four new games were brought out in the console's release year (2000). Including two role-playing games, of which Evergrace in particular left a lot to be desired. Here, for once, the focus was not on depressing, dark caves or walls, but on a freely accessible forest and meadow world, whose bright color scheme and weird musical accompaniment shook all the optical and acoustic senses in the player.

With Armored Core 4, Hidetaka Miyazaki celebrated his debut as a director.

With Armored Core 4, Hidetaka Miyazaki celebrated his debut as a director.

Source: PC Games

From Software did significantly better with Armored Core 2, where the premise of the predecessor was skillfully packed into a technically more modern framework. And if you wanted to play a completely atypical work by the developer, you got a puzzle platformer called Kuri Kuri Mix. With its cuddly graphics it caused a real shock and surprised with an original concept: you had to steer two cute rabbits through a course full of jump passages and solve small puzzles at the same time. Despite the very different quality of the PS2 quartet, From Software stuck to the high output of new titles and published four to six games per year from 2002 to 2006. Aside from a few exotic outliers – which never appeared outside of Japan either – the company continued to drive diligently on the mech and RPG track.

A laudable exception was Otogi: Myth of Demons (2002). The action adventure, produced exclusively for the first Xbox, was thematically and playfully reminiscent of Capcom's Onimusha series and, curiously, was one of the technically best programs of the console generation of that time. The successor Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors (2003) was also very well received by both critics and gamers and once again fascinated with stylish graphics and flawless playability. Owners of a Nintendo Gamecube were less fortunate because they received "only" two average role-playing games called Lost Kingdoms and Lost Kingdoms 2 at the same time. In general, From Software just didn't want to deliver a really impressive RPG: No matter whether Eternal Ring (2000), Forever Kingdom (2001) or Enchanted Arms (2006) – none of the games made genre fans cheer. All of the titles were described by the trade press as slow, generic and / or even boring.

A visionary on the horizon

At the same time, a Japanese named Hidetaka Miyazaki began to dream: Highly fascinated by Fumito Ueda's PS2 milestone Ico (2001), he really wanted to get into the game industry – and initially came across rows of closed doors. From Software, on the other hand, gave the then 29-year-old a chance and involved him in the development of Armored Core: Last Raven (2005). Miyazaki's work obviously made an impression, as just a few years later he got the job as Director for Armored Core 4 (2006 ) and Armored Core: For Answer (2008). While these two episodes turned out to be somewhat mediocre, Miyazaki served as a springboard for one of the most unusual success stories in video game history.

The Divine Dragon from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is one of the few final bosses who, despite their simple level of difficulty, are among the favorites of From software fans.

The Divine Dragon from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is one of the few final bosses who, despite their simple level of difficulty, are among the favorites of From software fans.

Source: PC Games

At first, From Software was stuck in a minor crisis: there was a new project in the drawer that was originally supposed to come about under the direction of Takeshi Kajii. He wanted a return to King's Field and the so-called "Dark Fantasy" genre, with which From Software once entered the game industry. However, like Miyazaki in March 2015, the Japanese were stuck in a dead end Interview with the British Guardian explained: "The project had problems and the team was unable to create a convincing prototype."

Miyazaki only got wind of the project over time – and was immediately on fire: It might be the unique opportunity for him to make his Ico-inspired dreams come true and to create exactly the game he had in mind. And indeed he was able to snatch the director's chair under the nail and got ridiculous freedom because From Software was expecting a "failure" anyway. Of course you can already guess what this project was about: Right, we're talking about Demon's Souls. And suddenly everything was different.

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