You know how something cool sometimes starts out small and weird and basically unheard of, say a game from a studio previously known for a series of obscure, brooding roleplaying games. But then this something attracts a cult following that leads to sales worthy of the label “sleeper hit,” at which point whoever made the thing decides to make another thing — properly marketed and with cross-platform support — that goes on to be even more popular, drawing in folks who’d usually skip this sort of game, and eventually you’re looking at a phenomenon with millions of copies sold.
Somewhere along the way, games like this can go off the rails, or hew too safely to the rails, at which point what once was niche, sophisticated and subversive becomes bland and rote.
Let’s hope the latter doesn’t happen to the Dark Souls series, because with over two million copies sold, it’s definitely popular, having busted through the games-as-Herculean-labors glass ceiling: according to publisher Bandai Namco (speaking to MCV), preorders for Dark Souls II, out March 11 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and March 14 in Europe, are up 50% over Dark Souls in the U.K.
That, according to MCV, is before the game’s marketing campaign kicks in — $1.7 million in the U.K. alone.
Demon’s Souls, From Software’s spiritual prequel, took a while to build momentum. For starters, it was PlayStation 3-only. And it was weird, and hard, and hard to explain to someone who’d never played it, and harder still (in my experience, anyway) to get them to stick with it long enough to figure out why, when you eventually do fall in love with it, you fall hard.
Dark Souls was different. It was easier off the block, for starters (the bonfire changed everything). And it was cross-platform, including Windows. Eventually the word-of-mouth plaudits from Demon’s Souls devotees paid dividends.
I have no inside perspective on Dark Souls II. I haven’t played it, and no one’s written much about it (in English) yet. It’s still a mystery. And with any luck, it’ll unfurl those mysteries as patiently and elegantly as its sterling predecessors.