With the release of Dark Souls 2 still in our rear-view mirrors (you can read our review here, by the way), developer From Software has been bought out by the publishing conglomerate Kadokawa. The news comes on the heels of Dark Souls 2’s PC release which hit just this past Friday, and has thrown the future of the Souls franchise into the air. Although From Software boss Naotoshi Zin has stated that both sides will benefit from the shift, eager Souls fans still have little to go on. However, a look at Kadokawa’s history sheds some much needed light on why the corporation may have wanted the Souls IP, and what we can expect from it in the coming years.
But first, a brief recap of Souls history. Rather than dive into the lore of Boletaria and Lordran and Drangleic, let’s talk release dates. Demon’s Souls, the series’ PS3-only progenitor, released in 2009 and was soon followed by the multiplatform hit Dark Souls which cemented From Software’s seat of honor. And of course Dark Souls 2 released only recently but appears to be maintaining the momentum of its predecessor. (Though the blunders of its PC release aren’t helping with that.)
Meet the new neighbors.
Tucked between the now two-part Dark Souls series is an unlikely but telling addition: the Dark Souls 2 graphic novel Into the Light. A three-man project by writers Rob Williams and Andi Ewington, with art by Simon Coleby, Into the Light began its multi-part release in January 2014 and has busily chronicled the lore of Dark Souls 2 since. More pertinently, Into the Light is perfectly in line with Kadokawa’s focus on Japanese manga, books and magazines.
Kadokawa Shoten, of parent company Kadokawa Corp., only ventured into video games in recent years; before incorporating digital media, the publisher was content with dominating a sizeable portion of Japan’s printed market. Thanks to releases like Lollipop Chainsaw and upcoming original title Natural Doctrine, Kadokawa has broken into interactive entertainment relatively quickly. With that said, the company has never acted in a way that foreshadowed such a large purchase.
Dark Souls has developed into a veritable cultural phenomena among gamers, and many more prominent publishers would undoubtedly like to have it on their lineup. And yet, rather than Atlus or Namco Bandai whom From Software worked with on Demon’s and Dark Souls, a small-time games publisher and big-time print company swooped in and snatched the entire studio. It’s strange, and in some ways worrying. After all, there’s no guarantee that Kadokawa will be able to properly handle such a large IP; their track record certainly can’t prove it. Fortunately, Kadokawa is primarily a publisher, meaning From Software should keep the reigns of the Souls franchise.
Be that as it may, the deal is an unlikely one. Jumping from a release here and there to outright buying out a studio is a radical jump indeed. However, it becomes much less so when you factor in Kadokawa’s strong position in printed work and what that means for Dark Souls.
It’s highly likely that Kadokawa jumped on the Souls IP not for its popularity as a game, but for its potential in multimedia endeavors. Through the eyes of a games publisher, the success of the Into the Light graphic novel is hardly more impressive than a well-received expansion, but for a manga and magazine specialist, it’s a golden opportunity. An IP that can hold its own as both a game and a GN? That’s a unicorn in this industry, and a uniquely valuable asset for a publisher looking to extend its reach.
That From Software sanctioned the graphic novel to begin with is proof enough that the studio is interested in taking Souls beyond the screen. Moreover, Kadokawa’s power in manga and the like means the publisher would be better able to further the multimedia presence of the Souls IP compared to more games-centric publishers. Many eyebrows would have gone up if the prospect was proposed months ago, but because Kadokawa only made their move after the success of Dark Souls 2 became certain, there’s no need for speculation. It’s a safe bet that the buyout will yield more than a fourth Souls game. Whether that means a book, another graphic novel, a manga or anime series or even a movie, I couldn’t say, but we should expect to do more than die in the kingdom that assumes Drangleic’s throne.