Cognition Dissemination: Why Didn’t Atlus Develop Their Own Demon’s Souls Replacement?

The success of From Software’s Demon’s Souls caught everyone off guard when it released for PlayStation 3 in 2009. From Software’s games have never been that popular worldwide, and they and their then-small fanbase likely expected a modest success. But it was Sony who had the least amount of faith in it, as despite them publishing it in Japan, the western arms passed it to other publishers. The game was one of the biggest sleeper hits of the last console generation, which led to Sony execs admitting how big of a mistake they made in skipping it. From continued the Souls series in a multiplatform fashion with the Dark Souls series.

It’s worth noting how big of a success this was for North American publisher Atlus USA. At the time, they knew it would be popular thanks to the buzz it generated online. But they weren’t expecting high sales after several imported the Asian version, which contained English options — though with typos and grammatical errors. They only expected it to sell 75,000 copies in America, but were delightfully surprised when it sold twice that in the first month. It sold 280,000 by the end of the fiscal year in 2010, and 500,000 after its first year. It was one of the most successful games in Atlus USA history, and outsold most of their own games. It’s possible Persona 5 has matched it, a game that only released this year.

The Souls series wouldn’t stick with Atlus’, since From Software chose Demon’s Souls’ European publisher Bandai Namco to publish the Dark Souls games outside Japan due to their worldwide presence. But that raises a good question: Why didn’t Atlus make their own Souls-style game to maintain that source of revenue for the west, and establish it in Japan? It’s an especially relevant question with news that Demon’s Souls’ servers are being taken offline at the end of February, and there are two hypothetical reasons.

Demon’s Souls was a big success for Atlus USA, but they couldn’t follow it up with anything.

The first one is that Atlus’ development teams were simply too busy with other matters. The Persona team (P-Studio) spent the entirety of the last console gen adjusting to HD development. Catherine was their first HD experiment while Persona 5 was the main course, though the latter took considerably longer to release than expected when it arrived in Japan late last year and in the west this year. Meanwhile, the other teams didn’t want to be bothered with the horrors of HD development, and remained on handhelds by working on franchises like Etrian Odyssey, Devil Survivor, and Shin Megami Tensei installments. Between those, it was easy to believe they simply didn’t have the resources.

There’s also a chance they could have handled a project like this, and simply didn’t pursue it due to lack of interest. Japanese developers and publishers have a long history of not caring too much about the successes of their overseas subsidiaries, and this could be yet another example. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear if Atlus USA suggested the idea to the Japanese arm, only for them to silently ignore it.

Of course, that’s not to say that they can’t do it now. It’s clear Atlus Japan has now adjusted to console development with the releases of Persona 5 and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, and the first HD mainline Megaten game in Shin Megami Tensei V is on the way (worldwide, notably). They now have the resources to handle larger simultaneous developments, thanks to Sega providing them with more support than previous owner Index Corporation ever did. So, it’s not too late for them to pursue such a project, since they care more about the worldwide market these days.

This would also be the kind of game where Kazuma Kaneko’s art would shine, since his style is both visually appealing and harrowing. He hasn’t contributed designs for a game for a while, but he still draws and remains an Atlus employee.

They would follow Bandai Namco’s lead if they pursued this now. As mentioned above, Bandai Namco published the Dark Souls games in western territories. However, Dark Souls III was the last game in the franchise. Though From is working on several other projects, one of which might be a spiritual successor, there’s no guarantee that Bandai Namco will receive the publishing rights.

Now that Bandai Namco’s lost Dark Souls, they’re making their own replacement.

That’s why they’re developing their own in cooperation with the God Eater team: Code Vein. If you’ve played the Souls games or have seen them in action, you only have to observe this title to realize how inspired by From’s games this. Though given how remarkably similar the animations are, and the game including a checkpoint system that heals the player and respawns enemies, “inspired” might be putting it lightly. It could use some polish, but hopefully Bandai Namco creates a game that feels unique, and is successful for them if it’s good.

You could also say Sony pursued their own, too, to make up for the mistake of passing over Demon’s Souls worldwide: Bloodborne. This one only somewhat counts, since From Software also developed it.

It’s not too late, but Atlus seems rather busy at the moment. If they give the concept a shot, it will likely be handled by Studio Zero, Atlus’ new development establishment from ex-Persona team members. The first project they announced was Project Re Fantasy, an initiative announced early to increase hiring for it and other initiatives. Fantasy-related titles tend to have general appeal in all markets, and the announcement was also shared by Atlus USA around the same time. It’s also been confirmed that Studio Zero is working on another project besides this, but there’s no indication that it’s a Souls-like game. Don’t expect Atlus to develop such a title, but it’s tough not to think about how unique the result would be.

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