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Why FromSoftware showed up at E3 2018 with two surprises (and no Dark Souls or Bloodborne)

The developer is broadening its portfolio

Deracine on PlayStation VR at E3 2018 FromSoftware, SIE Japan Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

FromSoftware arrived at E3 2018 with two games that might’ve surprised anyone who’s followed the developer for the last several years, when it created the Dark Souls franchise and Bloodborne. And that’s a reflection of some strategic thinking, according to Hidetaka Miyazaki, the developer’s president.

The studio’s first reveal at E3 2018 was Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a game teased last December, and widely speculated to be a continuation of FromSoftware’s Bloodborne or Tenchu brands. Surprisingly, it was an original game from an unexpected new partner: Activision.

Its second announcement may be the most surprising. Deracine is a PlayStation VR title, in which players take on the role of a fairy indirectly interacting with children in a Victorian boarding school. At E3 2018, Miyazaki told Polygon that these seeming departures are a way to broaden the developer’s portfolio while retaining, perhaps obliquely at first glance, the FromSoftware aesthetic.

“There were a few things that were going around in our own studio,” Miyazaki told Polygon, via an interpreter, of the period in which From began developing Deracine. “One is, obviously, we didn’t want to get left behind in terms of what was going on with VR and the technology — that we felt like we needed to at least be on par with or keep up with [it]. And so we knew that we were going to challenge ourselves to something, and get our hands dirty, and get to know what this VR technology was all about. So that was already kind of a given, but at the same time we looked at maybe widening our portfolio a little bit.”

Miyazaki, the director and designer of the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne, became the president of FromSoftware in May 2014. The two games that the developer revealed at E3 2018 seem to reflect his desire for FromSoftware to expand beyond the archetypes that pushed it from relative obscurity to the popular consciousness — and build upon the developer’s past.

“In recent years, yes, our reputation has kind of been built on the titles that have come out,” Miyazaki said, “but if you look back in time, our studio put out other types of games, especially adventure games. One great example, a title that was well received, was called Echo Night. We looked at those titles and thought, ‘Well, you know what? If there’s an opportunity for us to go back, or look back but also create something new that’s along the lines of the Borne and Souls series, why not challenge ourselves to that?’

“Thirdly, there was also this thinking about widening our portfolio also meant, OK, we may not have necessarily the resources to have another large scale production team, so now we’re looking at, something that is challenging but on a smaller scale. And that matches up well with a VR project, so that was actually a nice added bonus.”

FromSoftware’s other gameplay reveal at E3 2018, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, is an action game that fits better with the developer’s recent games, though just a bit. As different as it may look to potential players — Sekiro swaps European fantasy and knights for Japanese fantasy and ninjas, for example — it’s born of the same approach as other FromSoftware games, Miyazaki said.

“So the stance, the approach, hasn’t really changed that much,” Miyazaki said. “With Dark Souls and Bloodborne, obviously, these are FromSoftware’s original reimaginings of medieval fantasy or Victorian gothic horror. And Sekiro is no exception. It’s From’s reimagining — it’s From’s original take on the Japanese ninja setting. So that’s something we wanted to explore this time. And it allows us to go off the deep end even more, we feel, with something that’s closer to home.”

Different as it may appear, Sekiro has an oblique connection to Dark Souls and Bloodborne — and the developer in particular. It may be a different setting, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s gameplay may be different, but pay careful attention to the trailer, and you can infer FromSoftware DNA.

“It ties a lot to the story,” he said. “I hope you look forward to information later on. But at least from the trailer or what you’ve seen so far, hopefully you can pick up a number of key components, such as the shinobi prosthetic, such as the giant snake, and the resurrection mechanic. Obviously this ties into the mysticism and these kind of fantasy-oriented themes of the game.”

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