A picture of the rumored forthcoming video game from the makers of Dark Souls and Bloodborne is beginning to form as we get closer to this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.
The biggest hook on the rumors of FromSoftware’s new game has been the speculation that A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin had been involved in the making of, and specifically the writing of, said forthcoming game. The speculation, previously thought to be a ludicrous long shot, has been confirmed, or at least hinted at, by Martin himself on his personal blog. But, even if Martin’s involvement in the game’s development amounts to more than just his blessing, which, by his admission, appears to be all there is to his involvement, the more interesting details about the new game are its setting and potential narrative.
Some earlier leaks about the game have described the game as taking place in a world of Norse mythology, wherein the player must travel to different countries to defeat their rulers. Some have speculated that these travels will unfold in an open-world game context, though that speculation seems to have been refuted. With E3 only a week away, it couldn’t hurt to finally look to FromSoftware’s catalogue of games to reach some tentative conclusions about what they might be showing at the convention.
Hidetaka Miyazaki, president of FromSoftware and the mastermind of the Dark Souls series and its variations, has set himself apart from other Japanese game makers for his particular obsession with Western-world literature, specifically of the Fantasy variety. Different from remix artists like Goichi Suda and Hidetaka Suehiro (otherwise known, respectively, as Suda51 and SWERY), video game designers behind idiosyncratic games such as Killer 7 and Deadly Premonition, Miyazaki doesn’t dabble in the material of contemporary Western pop culture when creating the worlds of his games. However, he’s no less a postmodernist artist than Suda and Suehiro, even if the source material he references, that of Fantasy literature set exclusively against a Medieval-Europe backdrop, is less fragmented — Miyazaki seems only interested in those types of stories only insofar as he can subvert them. This attitude toward Fantasy literature puts him in league with George R.R. Martin, and it can be reasonably speculated that Martin has always exerted influence on Miyazaki’s storytelling.
All of this is to say that there’s been feeling among FromSoftware fans that Martin’s involvement in the upcoming game might be a little redundant. Miyazaki has already proven that he can metabolize Martin’s style of world building in designing the Souls series. The more compelling comparison that the new upcoming game sparks might not be between the storytelling styles of Martin and Miyazaki but between Miyazaki’s take on Norse mythology and that of recent games that have also explored that same mythology.
It seems likely that Miyazaki will attempt to separate this upcoming game from other similar games the same way he made Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware’s latest release, stand out from other Sengoku Japan-based video games. That is, he hopes to tell a story void of nobility — an ignoble quest, not on its surface but in its core.
Sekiro, which came out this past March, stands out among other video games set in the Sengoku period of Japan because of the insularity of the story it tells. The history of the Sengoku period is typically told through the different provinces, or clans, that ruled portions of Japan up until the union of the country under one government. However, Sekiro tells the story of one particular province that has faced overturn of rule through internal strife. This leads to a quest undertaken by the main protagonist of the game that can be argued is one of dubious nobility: you battle with a clan that has been ravaged by its own internal conflict of duties while an outside force, in the form of a quickly growing state government, threatens to destroy the province altogether. The goal pushing you forward through this setting is the elimination of an ancient and supernatural power, one whose diminishing could bring about the ending of conflict throughout the land once and for all. The quest seems destined to fail because, as history shows, ending all conflict throughout the land was ultimately the goal of the incoming state government. The protagonist is laying waste to a land that’s already being wasted.
If reports about the upcoming game from FromSoftware are to be believed, it would be reasonable to guess that Miyazaki is steering toward a retelling of the Viking Age from the perspective of a Viking protagonist. The idea of the player travelling to different lands in order to defeat the rulers of those lands, and subsequently steal whatever power they possess, seems to evoke the history of the Viking colonization and conquest of the Western world that took place between the 8th and 11th century.
Obviously, a literal retelling of this time period from the perspective of a Viking would be one of the more ignoble stories one can find in history. There’s also a chance FromSoftware enters this time period through a heavy buffer of Norse mythology, as God of War and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice did. Neither of those games attempted a literal retelling of the Viking Age, though (in the case of God of War, Viking history is precluded by an ancient world that’s informed strictly by Norse mythology). Martin’s involvement signals that FromSoftware will more likely than not hew close to the history that bore Norse mythology, which is the time period around the Viking Age. Plus, Sekiro’s story gives some indication that FromSoftware (and Miyazaki and Martin) would much rather use supernatural elements and fantasy to infuse a faithful reproduction of history than vice versa.
Whatever the game ends up being, we can expect it to contain the familiar signature of FromSoftware’s ignoble storytelling. It will be shocking if we don’t soon find out at least some details about the company’s new game given the noise around George R.R. Martin’s involvement. Next week’s E3 convention will hopefully hold more answers.