Dark Souls is one of the most original game series out there. It’s influenced so many modern games, we liken it to a modern (albeit extremely dark) Zelda. But the Souls series itself has a major inspiration that it simply would be the same without: Berserk.
Berserk is a Japanese take on Medieval Europe, with an suffocatingly dark world. It deals with some pretty serious themes even before it gets into demonic invasions and psychotic religious figures. Sound familiar?
Hidetaka Miyazaki, the mastermind behind the Souls series, is self-admittedly a massive Berserk fan. If you’ve played a Souls game but haven’t yet watched the anime, it’s worth heading to a streaming site and binging the whole thing. Chances are you’ll be hooked.
But for now, here are the main elements Miyazaki clearly had in his head when he was making the greatest modern action RPG.
Guts and Artorias
The connections between these two important characters go far beyond the cosmetic. Guts is the protagonist of Berserk, and Artorias is a major Souls lore figure, as well as boss fight, and namesake of the Artorias of the Abyss expansion. The Artorias fight is designed to be a relentless onslaught from his greatsword – much like Guts’ fighting style – forcing the player to make economical stamina decisions.
This image with both pieces of promotional art has done the rounds:
On the left is Guts in his Berserker armour, in which he takes on the form of a wolf or wild dog. On the right is Artorias, also associated with the wolf. He wears (and drops) the Wolf Ring, and has a pet wolf Sif.
Both characters were knights for their king. Guts for Griffith, and Artorias for Gwyn. The former was more demon than divine, but Berserk makes a point of questioning the difference between gods and demons.
As this video points out, there are also similarities in their themes of darkness. However while Artorias lost himself to the Abyss, Guts has not yet succumbed. Artorias was pure, and braved the Abyss with heroic aspirations. He had no darkness within him, thus no defence. Guts, on the other hand, has plenty. He meets demonic attackers with fury and force of will.
Guts was also warned against the fate of succumbing to the darkness of his own armour, by the Skull Knight — the more he uses his Berserker armour, the more he’ll be irreversibly transformed.
Speaking of skull knights, the powerful warrior in Berserk bears a striking resemblance to the Darkwraiths of the New Londo Ruins. Enemies who display some mastery over the Abyss.
The Right Tools for the Job
The Greatsword in the Dark Souls series is a direct homage to Guts’ Dragon Slayer. They look and operate the same, and the Greatsword’s description makes Berserk-like comments about how a human shouldn’t be able to lift such a thing.
Before Guts gets his Berserker armour, he rides around in a set of armour that looks a lot like the Balder Set. Players have done their best to create Guts cosplays in Dark Souls games, and the results are pretty impressive:
Even the blacksmith who crafts such gear for you is quite similar, the gruff, hairy men who sit there clanging away. Andre and Godot are reliable for metals, refuge, and advice. There’s even a younger blacksmith in both universes named Rickert.
Marked With a Curse
At the time of the Eclipse, Guts is marked with the Brand of Sacrifice. From that point he is “cursed,” and wherever he goes, evil will follow. He has to be a lone wolf at that point; to be around innocent people when demons attack would be irresponsible.
Dark Souls is based on an Undead Curse of its own. The Undead are branded with the Darksign, also becoming known as “cursed.” They are eventually corralled and taken to the north, where they await the end of the world.
The Darksign is seen as evil, yet much like the Brand, those marked are not necessarily evil. The Undead still have free will, and can choose to act positively. It’s possible for them to succumb though, if they don’t fight, and become Hollow. In Dark Souls you’ll come across many Hollows who succumbed and gave up hope. They’re now your enemies.
And on a meta level, if you ever quit and put away the controller, your character is as good as Hollow too. Guts was made for fighting, and if you persisted in Dark Souls, so were you, and that’s why you made it through the curse.
Even the Red Eye Orb is quite similar to Berserk’s Beherit — specifically, the Egg of the King. Though in Berserk this item has massive importance, being what ascends Griffith into the demon Femto. In Dark Souls, the Red Eye Orb simply lets you invade the worlds of other players.
The Horrific Enemies
Many of the enemies in Dark Souls were taken pretty much wholesale from Berserk, and we wouldn’t be surprised if we see some in Sekiro too.
The Serpent Soldiers in Sen’s Fortress are a great example. These lizard people were abundant in the Berserk manga, and you don’t have to go farther than the first episode of the anime to find one:
Although this baddie is more of a boss. When he dons his lizard helmet, he becomes a boss lizard.
Both the Capra Demon and Taurus Demon have their counterparts in the Berserk anime, the latter of which is an important demon who wants to serve the God Hand. Berserk even has a dragon that perches itself atop a castle. There’s the equivalent of a Moonlight Butterfly in the manga, as well as a Hydra.
What about one of the most hated enemies in Dark Souls, the Bonewheel Skeletons?
Yep, they were in the manga and the 2016 continuation of the anime. Guts made short work of them in both. We wish we could say the same.
No Arm? No Problem
A major feature of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the transforming prosthetic arm. You’ll be able to upgrade it and convert it into whichever tool is most useful at the time. An axe to break someone’s guard, fireworks to blind them, the grappling hook to get around swiftly, or even a big ol’ cannon.
It is, of course, one of Guts’ main gimmicks. After losing his arm – well, chopping it off himself – during the Eclipse, he attached a number of different tricks up his sleeve. A cannon was one of them, powerful enough to take out a larger demon.
He also attached a repeating crossbow to his wrist, which was great for all those unfair fights into slightly fairer ones. Sekiro will have a ranged attack on its prosthetic arm as well, though these may only take the form of shuriken.
There are many other, smaller connections between these three properties. From very specific things like the Titanite Catch Pole connecting to the weapons of the Executioners, to less tangible things like the overall oppressive feel of the world.
Also, that's almost certainly Sekiro himself speaking in the trailer. A few people have commented it sounds almost identical to the VA for Berserk's Guts…I think they're spot on. Do you agree? That's so perfectly fitting if true!
— Vaati (@VaatiVidya) September 10, 2018
It’s a formula that’s worked great though, and we have absolutely no problems with Miyazaki continuing to slot Berserk flavour into Sekiro, if he so chooses.