For someone so proficient at channelling the macabre, Hidetaka Miyazaki's vivacious, upbeat demeanour is surprising. The visionary Japanese creator fathered the Souls series in 2009 with the release of Demon's Souls, a game which garnered a passionate but niche following.
His next title Dark Souls received widespread critical acclaim for its fascinating yet esoteric narrative, complex characters, and intricately interwoven game world.
Since then, Miyazaki has directed Bloodborne, a PlayStation 4 exclusive that follows the framework of his Souls titles, but draws from H.P. Lovecraft and the cosmic horror genre instead of classic dark fantasy.
With over eight years spent dedicated to iterations and reinterpretations, you'd think Miyazaki would be weary of taking on another entry in the Souls series. And yet, when discussing Dark Souls 3, he talks with an infectious enthusiasm. It's not the drilled-in-as-part-of-media-training kind enthusiasm, it's the I've-had-an-epiphany-and-I-want-to-show-you-something-cool kind.
We know because he told us. At Gamescom 2015, we sat down with Miyazaki (and a translator) to discuss the inception of the Dark Souls 3 project, the lessons he learned from Bloodborne, the Souls series' fandom and more.
Question: When did the Dark Souls 3 development project begin, and when did you become involved?
Miyazaki: Dark Souls 3 began development when From Software was working on Dark Souls 2 DLC. Initially, I wasn't involved in the project, I joined at the midpoint of the prototyping phase. That was the milestone where I started taking lead.
Honestly speaking, when the team was working on the prototype build overall development wasn't in a good shape. We were at the very late stage of Bloodborne development and I had settled on a lot of the ideas for what I wanted to bring to Dark Souls 3.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about the world of Dark Souls 3? It seems to be set during the apocalypse, as opposed to after it like in previous Souls games.
Miyazaki: I'm not good at and I'm not a big fan of spontaneously explaining the world to players. I like for people to discover the world themselves. Having said that, I will say that the storyline is based around the Lord of Cinders, and the player acts as the dark hero who hunts them down. There was also a fire succeeded by a legendary lord from the past to the present. It's like the grand finale of the story around the Lord of Cinders.
The original Dark Souls was about killing gods, that was one of its themes. The third game is about the kings that succeeded the power of those gods. The play is basically trying to kill those kings. That's the basic plot of the game.
Q: Are you familiar with something fans of Dark Souls in the west call "The Miyazaki Touch"?
Miyazaki: Miyazaki Touch?
Q: Yes, The Miyazaki Touch!
Miyazaki: What? What is this? I've never heard of it?
Q: It's a line of thinking that says a Dark Souls game lacks that something special if you're not directly involved with it. Dark Souls 2, for example, is a great game, but didn't have the magic of the first.
It lacked the Miyazaki Touch, which elevates the design of a Souls game. How does that make you feel? Knowing that your involvement in the franchise is that important to fans?
Miyazaki: I knew that my way of designing a game had unique direction to it, but after hearing there's an actual term called "The Miyazaki Touch," it's a little scary. Dark Souls 3 will be unique, it'll have unique level design and gameplay design because of the Miyazaki Touch, but now I am a little bit worried about whether that term will still be used positively or become negative after the game's released.
Q: I'm surprised you haven't heard of it, it's a very common shorthand for describing the unique qualities of Miyazaki's games among fans. It's definitely used positively at the moment. It's an imperceptible magic, kind of like Disney's; anyone can make an animated feature, but only Disney can make a Disney film.
Miyazaki: Wow. If that's the case, I'll have to work hard to make sure that "Miyazaki Touch" continues to be used in a positive way then. I'm aware that the way I give direction to the team when working on a game is a little bit different from other people. I call it "total direction," which means I get complete control of how the game is made, not only with regards to the level design, but also the background music, sound effects, and everything else. I think that may give it a unique quality.
Q: What lessons did you take away from Bloodborne for use in Dark Souls 3?
Miyazaki: There's some good things I've taken from Bloodborne, but at the same time there were several things that were created because they're uniquely Dark Souls and only work in this series. From Bloodborne, I've taken the limit on resources, which will add additional gameplay strategy. Having certain items give certain effects is another thing that I took over from Bloodborne.
While working on Bloodborne, I realised several unique things that I can only get in Dark Souls. For example, letting players have a variety of character builds, in Bloodborne I tried to embed characteristics into certain characters and weapons, rather than letting players build their own characters.
Bloodborne was also based on gothic, cosmic horror, but I realised I missed working on dark fantasy. That brought me back to Dark Souls. I was always thinking "classic metallic knight armour is awesome," but couldn't use that in Bloodborne because it's a different genre. That's something you can only get in the Dark Souls series.
Dragons too! And magic! That actually led to me coming up with a new way to evolve the franchise.
Q: Fans often speculate about whether the Souls framework and style of gameplay will ever extend to genres outside of dark fantasy. Have you thought about that, perhaps sci-fi Souls?
Miyazaki: Dark Souls is my life's work. Everything I came up with for Dark Souls 3 is based on my personal preferences. However, Dark Souls 3 is also actually the turning point for the franchise. This project was launched by the previous From Software management, before I was appointed president. In that sense, Dark Souls 3 is the turning point for the series.
As president of From Software, I am planning to launch several new projects. I can't quite specify exactly what they are. Those could be something sci-fi, but you'll have to stay tuned for more about that in the future.
Q: You regularly mention Berserk as a big source of inspiration for Dark Souls, I always think about what you could do if you moved to a grounded sci-fi dystopia like in Akira. Of course. Then there's mechs, which you're familiar with thanks to Armored Core.
Miyazaki: I definitely want to bring the Miyazaki Touch to those genres [laughs], both sci-fi and Japanese mechs.
With regards to Armored Core, there are several barriers that From Software as a whole needs to overcome in order to give new games to the fans. If the fans out there really want that, I suggest contacting Bandai Namco.
But yes, I do want to work on something new, and I'm please to hear people are interested in seeing that.
Q: One of the big features in Bloodborne was the Chalice Dungeons. Will we be seeing something like that in Dark Souls 3?
Miyazaki: In the case of Dark Souls 3, there's no specific plan to reproduce Chalice Dungeons. The approach is to ask players to complete the game and then create new characters and builds then play the game. As always, there will be additional value and challenge in new game plus. We can't go into details, but the online multiplayer in Dark Souls 3 will give additional values to players of the game. Those are the basic elements that will provide replay value in Dark Souls 3.
Q: You've said your approach is to give full direction on games. But there is the matter of Bloodborne DLC, which many fans have hoped you'll be involved with heavily. Can you clarify the level of commitment you're giving to that?
Miyazaki: The bottom line is, I think I can do it. I believe I can do both the Bloodborne DLC and Dark Souls 3. The reason is because this isn't the first time I've had to work on two projects at the same time. When I was doing Demon's Souls, I was also working on Armored Core: For Answer. Even for the original Dark Souls, I acted as producer and director.
In the case of Bloodborne, although I was the lead game director, there was another director level person that also contributed. This is the same for Dark Souls 3. Actually, [Yui] Tanimura-san, the director of Dark Souls 2, has already joined the [Dark Souls 3] team, which will allow me to work on core gameplay design while other things are taken care of.
As long as I am listed as game director on the end credits, there's a certain level of quality the game needs to meet. I can guarantee that the game quality will reach that.
Q: Both Dark Souls 3 and the Bloodborne DLC will reach that quality bar?
Miyazaki: [In English] Yes!
Q: Even though you're also president of From Software now too?
Miyazaki: Yes. Even though I am super busy. Working as a president and also director of Dark Souls is keeping me busy, I'm getting a lot of stimulation, which motivates me to work hard.
[Laughs] As a last resort, I can always skip my duties as a president to focus on Dark Souls 3.
Q: I'm glad your priorities are in order.
Miyazaki: [Laughs] Yes.