Demons, ninjas, and rabbits oh my!
Okay, we lied. They’re not beloved, but more like “tolerated” and “garnered a cult following”. From Software aren’t like Capcom and Platinum Games; they like making action games but they’re mostly competent, never landing that sweet spot when it comes to controls, action beats, and fast action.
Let’s take a look at them and see if any of these pre-Demon’s Souls era games are worth revisiting. We’ll be judging these games based on their relevance and contribution to From Software’s status pre-Demon’s Souls.
Spriggan: Lunar Verse (1999)
Way before Devil May Cry 1 made action games a huge trend in the 3D space, we had to suffer through imports and tryhards like this Spriggan game.
With unrefined cameras, unwieldy controls, and lackluster design & level beats ,we had to make do with this. From Software had to start somewhere, right?
Should you play it? No. Don’t touch this unless you want to scar yourself with pre-2000 videogames with janky controls.
The Adventures of Cookie & Cream (2000)
One of the few cutesy and bright games From Software developed, which is a far cry from their usual King’s Field grimy dark fantasy schtick. This game lets you control two bunnies simultaneously using the left and right analog PS2 controls as they navigate from start to finish through fiendish obstacles. Pretty creative stuff.
Should you play it? Yes. It’s a rarity to play a saturated mascot game from a developer like From Software. Kinda like how people realized that the same makers of Doom and Rage created Commander Keen way, way back then.
Lost Kingdoms, Lost Kingdoms 2 (2002)
An action game mixed in with CCG mechanics, you play as a sorceress who can use up to four cards at a time to perform attacks and spells. The game is presented in a top-down 3D action game view, so you’ll be doing a lot of killing and card-looting to beef up your deck.
Other than that, there’s not much going on for this game. The aesthetics are lacking and the game feels average at best, with not that many standout battles and moments. At least things were beefed up for the second game, though it became less action-ey and more RPG-ey.
Should you play it? Play the second game. The first one has that janky arcade/mission RPG rhythm that feels underdeveloped. At least the second game is a bit more lenient with exploration.
Otogi: Myth of Demons (2002)
Talk about a 180-degree turn to a feasible action game. From Software proved that they’re capable of the action game genre with this fast and stylish action game where you play a mythical figure Raikoh who slays demons to cleanse the whole of Japan.
You do all of this while you fly around and experience the surreal “zen” and “Shinto-like” qualities of the game’s atmosphere. Think Asura’s Wrath’s shinto-esque trappings but with less of the zany and more of the trance.
While its production values are top tier for its era, its gameplay can be a bit simplistic. There’s not much you can’t do with Raikoh’s regular attacks, and mixing them up can take one’s attention span toll. However, they sure feel polished and Raikoh himself controls just dandy.
Should you play it? Yeah, but if you find the sequel, play that one instead. We’ll tell you why later.
Murakumo: Renegade Mech Pursuit (2002)
Not one of From Software’s finest. This is an action game that’s technically inept and is way too simplistic even for action game standards. All you do is fly a mech and shoot targets in a rail shooter setting.
And even then, From Software botched it up royally. Probably because they were working on other games like Otogi and Metal Wolf Chaos.
Should you play it? Hell no. This is definitely one of From Software’s worst games, then and now. And this is coming from the guys who made the early King’s Field games.
Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors (2003)
In this sequel to Otogi, you play undead warrior Raikoh as you once again fight demons and rid the evil infestation of Japan. This time, you have improved combat mechanics and badder enemies to contend with. The game still retains its zen-like qualities, but in a bigger and better package.
For starters, you can play as new character Seimei, an even faster and magic-oriented character than Raikoh. Second, you also have a collection of bonus stages in a new area called the Forest of Havoc, where you can test your Otogi skills through time trials and puzzle-based challenges. Finally, the combat of the game has been improved thanks to the aforementioned playing styles, camera improvements, and overall fluidity of the game.
Did we forget to mention this game looked even better and ephemeral than the first?
Should you play this? Yes! This sequel proved that From Software can make ephemeral and moody action games that pay tribute to Japan’s mythology, way before most game companies did.
File this one under “game that needs to be on Xbox Game Pass”.
Metal Wolf Chaos (2004)
God bless America, especially when you control the President of the USA piloting his personal mecha to save the world from his backstabbing VP. For action gamers who want to play an Armored Core game without all the customization and obsession to detail, this guns-ablazing mech assault is for you, especially if you love dumb-as-rock action stories with heavy American jingoism.
From slick controls to a huge amount of weapons at your disposal, Metal Wolf Chaos is unashamed at being a rough-and-tumble arcade shooter while also entertaining people with its ludicrous story. The game also has a dash system that not only uses up its separate energy meter, but can also use up your shield meter if you wish to prolong your fast movement. This gives players a decision to either take it slow with more shield energy or just speed through obstacles at the risk of dying with a few well-placed hits.
As a bonus, the game looks good and also gives you an abridged tour of the United States of America as portrayed by tourist handbooks. With explosions.
Should you play this? Yes! Unlike the two Otogi games, this mecha title is available on PC via Steam thanks to a remastered edition from Digital Devolver.
Plus, it’s hard to hate on a game that spouts out lines like “Suck on my missile punch!”.
Shadow Assault: Tenchu (2008)
This game is a far cry from the stealth action titles the series is known for. This Xbox Live Arcade game is essentially Bomberman with ninjas. And it’s not even as polished as its source material.
Should you play it? No.
Ninja Blade (2009)
This action game is the last title From Software did before revisiting the action RPG genre with the Soulsborne series. And it’s a laugh riot tacked on to a pretty decent game.
It’s obviously apeing Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox, but it surprisingly is its own entertaining beast. Sure, its controls are loose and janky unlike From Software’s past efforts, but it makes it up with its action beats and pacing, as well as the usual Quick Time Events via Ninja Vision techniques that lets you rewind the segment if you fail a single prompt.
Also, there’s a huge amount of leather, night skies, and crazy spotlight effects to tie the whole package together. It’s like as if From Software were binging the Matrix trilogy before making this ninja game.
Should you play it? Yes. While not as campy as Metal Wolf Chaos, Ninja Blade has its own brand of style and From Software qualities pre-Demon’s Souls that should be experienced once.
Can we get this on Xbox Game Pass, please?