You’ve only got to look at the title to know what sort of game you’re getting with Eldest Souls. The team at Fallen Flag Studio have admitted themselves that they used the word ‘Souls’ as a sort of tribute to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s famed series, whilst the style of gameplay and harrowing tone of world bear the hallmarks of the games too.
That’s not a bad thing though and it’s something we’ve seen done plenty over the years – sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much. Thankfully, Eldest Souls falls into the former category, with the challenging boss-rush adventure offering plenty of exciting thrills (and deaths… lots of deaths) across its deadly journey.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Eldest Souls’ tale tells of a world that’s in disarray following a conflict between humanity and the Old Gods, with mankind seemingly coming on top after trapping them in a Citadel. This came at a cost though, with the Old Gods unleashing a desolation across the world that tore it apart, with the now almost-inhabitable landscape seeing humanity dwindle to nothingness. Now, it’s up to the greatsword-bearing protagonist to try and bring an end to this time of despair, with his goal being simple: to venture within the Citadel and slay the Old Gods once and for all.
Much like the series that inspired it, Eldest Souls isn’t a cinematic experience that focuses heavily on telling its story through cut scenes. Instead, it’s the desolate world and its many decaying sights that weave the narrative threads, whilst the encounters with NPCs and information scattered across the environment fill in the little details. Players are expected to explore to learn more about the woes of the world, whilst a lot of it is also left to interpretation. You wouldn’t expect it any other way from a game inspired by Dark Souls though, really…
That being said, the world is of a much smaller scale in Eldest Souls, so players shouldn’t expect TOO much depth. There’s plenty to keep them intrigued though, with the melancholic surroundings proving the perfect setting for the game’s dark tale.
“It’s the desolate world and its many decaying sights that weave the narrative threads, whilst the encounters with NPCs and information scattered across the environment fill in the little details.”
Whilst Eldest Souls is inspired by Dark Souls in a lot of aspects of its design, the core gameplay loop is that of a boss-rush game. There aren’t encounters with random enemies in between battles here, but instead a string of ten boss fights to conquer, with some minor exploration and trap-evading in between. Whilst small in number, the ten bosses each bring something unique to the fray, with plenty of different attacks and tricks at their disposal to bring a swift end to the player’s life.
Combat is straightforward but intuitive, with the player able to unleash light attacks by pressing the attack button and unleash charged attacks by holding it down. Attacks are tied to a stamina bar so you can’t go swinging hits willy-nilly, but players do have a dash that’ll allow them to swiftly evade danger and increase their stamina recovery. Players will also increase their Bloodthirst meter by unleashing charged attacks, which when activated gives the player a boost across their stats whilst also healing them with each hit landed on an enemy. It’s a neat idea that can be a real game changer in battle, with it encouraging players to time their attacks efficiently in order to land charged hits to build up the meter. Whilst Bloodthirst runs out after the meter drains, it can also be completely emptied by hitting a Bloodburst attack, which deals some hefty damage. This can be performed anytime when Bloodthirst is active, though the fact it cancels the buff does mean that timing its use can be imperative to your success.
“Whilst small in number, the ten bosses each bring something unique to the fray, with plenty of different attacks and tricks at their disposal to bring a swift end to the player’s life.”
Combat is satisfying throughout, with the quick pace of battling complemented by the strategic use of charged attacks and Bloodthirst. There’s also a deep upgrade system in place, with the player earning skill points that can be used to invest in three different skill trees: Windslide, Berserk Slash, and Counter.
Windslide skills focus on player mobility, Berserk Slash skills focus on aggression, whilst Counter skills focus on prepping attacks and waiting for the right moment to strike. Players can prioritise making improvements to the skills they use the most or those that suit their playstyle, whilst upgrades can always be reassigned – it means that players can cater their upgrades to better suit the boss they’re facing off against. Interestingly, Shards are earned when defeating bosses that can be equipped to different skills in order to improve their effectiveness. Some of these buffs come with some caveats of their own, but it’s a cool mechanic that again caters itself to suit each player’s individual needs. I didn’t expect such a robust upgrade system given that the game only has ten bosses, but I found myself fully invested in shaping the protagonist’s skillset.
“Players can prioritise making improvements to the skills they use the most or those that suit their playstyle, whilst upgrades can always be reassigned.”
So it has been established that the combat of Eldest Souls is slick whilst the upgrade system is surprisingly deep. However, a boss-rush game is NOTHING without some good bosses to beat down, so how do they shape up? I’m happy to report that the boss battles of the game are nothing short of epic, with some truly monstrous foes to face off against that bring with them all sorts of deadly attacks and tricky arenas to battle in. The game does follow the age-old routine of simply learning a boss’ moves and the tells that it’s going to perform them, but there’s enough diversity and unpredictability between them to ensure each showdown is exciting.
I don’t really want to give too many details away about the bosses, but expect them to come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Their move set and actions change up between playthroughs too, so those who return to Eldest Souls for subsequent runs might be in for a few surprises…
It only took me around seven hours to beat Eldest Souls, so it’s not an especially long game. There are side quests on offer that flesh things out, but they’re few and far between and don’t really challenge the player in any way. I almost found myself wishing there were a few additional encounters; whilst I’m a fan of the boss-rush genre, Eldest Souls was so tightly designed that I just found myself wanting a bit more. Ten bosses is a bit of a low number too, especially for a game built around battling them.
“The boss battles of the game are nothing short of epic, with some truly monstrous foes to face off against that bring with them all sorts of deadly attacks and tricky arenas to battle in.”
Still, the time I spent with it was a lot of fun, whilst it is appealing to try and conquer the extra challenges that come with subsequent playthroughs. I was a big fan of the game’s visuals too, with the decaying world brought to life with some fabulous pixel art that was animated fluidly in-game. Whilst the world of Eldest Souls has seen better days, there’s a surprising amount of beauty still intact within it, even in the more sombre of locales. The enemy designs were fantastic too, with each one certainly fitting the tone of the world.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the difficulty of the game before ending this review. I mean, come on, it’s inspired by Dark Souls… what did you expect? Eldest Souls is a tough game and players can expect so suffer PLENTY of deaths during their adventure. There were times when this could get a little tedious, especially in some boss encounters where I would be on the cusp of victory only to die, but it never felt unfair. It’s all about trial-and-error, learning the moves of your enemies, and then exploiting them. The satisfaction of finally beating a foe that had your number is undeniably blissful… just don’t be surprised if you find your death count well into the hundreds by the time you’re through with the game.
Eldest Souls is a frantic and tough boss-rush experience that features slick combat, entertaining battles, and a beautiful yet desolate world to explore. Basically, it’s everything you’d expect from an indie Dark Souls title, which is exactly what it wants to be. It’d be a discredit to say that Eldest Souls doesn’t find its own ways to innovate though, with the Bloodthirst system and deep upgrade mechanics offering some cleverly implemented ideas that complement the gameplay.
At its core though, this really is a game made for fans of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s famed series. If you enjoy that sort of melancholic world and gruelling gameplay that punishes the player, you’re in for a treat with Eldest Souls – it really is a hell of a lot of fun to play. If you prefer games that aren’t so punishing, though? You might want to play something easier.
Developer: Fallen Flag Studio
Publisher: United Label
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC