A Manga's Influence
Through four games (five, if you count Bloodborne) in the Souls series, a few things have stayed consistent with Hidetaka Miyazaki's difficult action RPGs. From Demon's Souls to Dark Souls III, there are a handful of elements you can expect to see in each and every one of his works. There'll be punishing difficulty, an excess of strange monsters, and there will always, without fail, be a handful of references to Berserk.
For those unaware, Berserk is an-ongoing dark fantasy series written and illustrated by Kentaro Miura focusing on the brutal antihero Guts and his most hated foe Griffith. At the time of writing, there have been 343 chapters since the manga's 1989 debut, with progress sadly plagued by frequent and lengthy hiatuses. Yet despite Berserk's rather dense nature, it's managed to acquire quite a following both at home and here in the West. Sadly, despite the series' success, it's only gotten two video games.
That's where the Souls games come in.
While the settings constantly vary, the Souls series is always dark fantasy stories with a heavy dosage of cultural inspirations. From JoJo's Bizarre Adventure to the works of HP Lovecraft to real life, all sorts of outside influences have helped shape the Souls series into what it is today. However, none of them have done so to such an extent as Berserk.
Need any proof? Look no further than the franchise's infamously difficult bosses. The most prominent example may be Artorias the Abysswalker, the face of Dark Souls' Artorias of the Abyss DLC. Not only does he share a very similar design to Guts (as seen in the header image), his beastlike mannerisms and crippled left arm match up with the Black Swordsman to a T, and he's just one of many Berserk-inspired bosses the franchise—from Nosferatu Zodd as the Taurus Demon in Dark Souls to Ludwing the Accursed bearing a striking resemblance to Berserk's infamous "rape horse" in Bloodborne: The Old Hunters.
But it's more than just an ensemble of familiar bosses—weapons, armor, enemies, and items all take strong cues from some of Berserk's more creative aspects. Miyazaki himself once discussed how minor Berserk villain Bazuso inspired Siegmeyer of Carina, one of the original Dark Souls' allied characters. Demon's Souls has a sword called the "Dragon Bone Smasher" with a description almost identical to how Guts' iconic Dragonslayer blade is described. The Hunter's Mark in Bloodborne is only two lines away from forming the Brand of Sacrifice found on two of Berserk's main characters. Normally, this could be written off as mere coincidence, but soon the similarities start to pile up.
The red eye orbs, the bonewheel skeletons, the Crypt Blacksword, the celestial children. Nearly everywhere you look in these games, you'll find some sort of subtle (or not-so-subtle) wink towards the world and characters of Berserk. And while not necessarily a shoutout, the very theme of struggle found through Souls' cramped lore and mechanics echoes the hardships Guts faces in his impossible quest for revenge just makes everything fit together all the better.
The truth is that we don't have the luxury of good Berserk licensed games. In fact, we haven't had one release stateside since Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage in 2000, and the 2005 PS2 title Berserk: Millenium Falcon never left Asia. Yet, despite this, the spirit of Berserk lives on within the Souls games, and series fans have noticed. You can't go far online in one of the Dark Souls games without running into a burly warrior named Guts or an effeminate Griffith at least a couple times. So while we may not have gotten an official Berserk game for over ten years, and we may never get one again, comfort can be taken in the fact that the Souls games are more than enough to do the series justice.