Once a regular Japanese salaryman working as an account manager at Oracle, Hidetaka Miyazaki – at the suggestion of a friend – gave a little game called Ico a try. It changed his life. Ico, as legend has it, inspired him to swap the secure confines of a corporate cubicle for the much less certain world of game development. His first job turned out to be his last: Tokyo-based From Software, a developer best known for the complex Dungeon & Dragons-style King's Field and the nerdy Armored Core mech franchise.
Twelve years later, Miyazaki is running the company. Although he was eventually tasked with directing sequels for Armored Core, the ascendance of Hidetaka Miyazaki to president of From Software was the result of two successful, original games. The first, Demon's Souls, a spiritual successor to the King's Field series, was the PS3-exclusive sleeper hit no one saw coming, selling close to two million copies in 2009. Dark Souls, the harder, better and multiplatform, followed two years later, and it tripled the sales of Demon's Souls, firmly cementing Miyazaki as one to watch. It also established the Souls series as the new torchbearer for action-RPG games, with some critics comparing it to Nintendo's mighty Zelda series.
Since the original Dark Souls' release, Miyazaki has been riding a wave of creativity that has seen him personally direct or oversee the development of three of the most well-reviewed games of the past few years – Dark Souls II in 2014, Bloodborne in 2015 and Dark Souls III in March of this year. That's a lot of dark fantasy in a short time.
With the latest Dark Souls III DLC Ashes of Ariandel on the horizon, Miyazaki met with Glixel in his Tokyo office to talk books, influences and the principles that make his games so distinct.
Many journalists over the years have said that the Souls games, from Demon's on up through Bloodborne and Dark Souls, is what The Legend of Zelda should have evolved into. How do you feel about that comparison?
When I was a student, The Legend of Zelda was truly monumental, so to be perfectly honest, I feel deeply unworthy of the comparison. The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls are different games belonging to different genres though, and they're guided by different concepts of game design. They don't need to aspire to the same ideals. If there are similarities, they probably stem from the fact that The Legend of Zelda became a sort of textbook for 3D action games.
Zelda producer Eiji Aounuma thinks it's "a sin" to let players get lost in a game, and that has ultimately led to the series holding players' hands throughout. Conversely, the Souls games give players very little in the way of instruction or direction. You don't even implement a map in-game. Why?
Our goal was to allow players to do what they want, define their own goals, make their own discoveries, embrace their own values, and find their own interpretations. Core to that was the importance of getting lost. This gives value and meaning to finding one’s way. Also, we're just not very nimble when it comes to giving good guidance, and rather than try to overcome our own shortcomings, we decided to focus on things that we were good at.