7 Principles Hollow Knight Adopts From Dark Souls

hollow knight and dark souls crossover title logo

Over the past decade, the bar by which fans evaluate difficulty is tied directly to a singular franchise: Dark Souls. First released in 2011 by FromSoftware, Dark Souls is an action role-playing game that is as punishing as it is polarizing. As more players overcame the arduous kingdom of Lordran, the game spawned a fan base of “git-gud” gamers. Studios then began producing difficult games in other genres, and the label “Dark Souls of” emerged. Whenever fans mentioned a challenging new franchise, the default comparison was Dark Souls. However, branding Dark Souls for its difficulty alone is indolent and ignores countless elements that make the game a masterpiece. But a recent indie blockbuster employs many of Dark Souls’ overlooked features to create one of the best Metroidvania games of all time: Hollow Knight. In this latest GamingROI feature, we explore seven principles Hollow Knight adopts from Dark Souls.

Boss Focus

Boss fights are standard in nearly every video game genre. However, few series embrace the level of diversity, purpose, and difficulty quite like Hollow Knight and Dark Souls. While Dark Souls boasts 26 boss fights, Hollow Knight nearly doubles the total with 47 unique bouts. Each encounter is distinct and perfectly connects the battle with the theme and aesthetic of the area. Furthermore, both studios perfectly weave the lore of every boss into the story-line of each region.

While the quantity and variety of boss fights is impressive, scaling difficulty is what separates Hollow Knight and Dark Souls from other video game series. In short, the balance that FromSoftware and Hollow Knight maintain throughout the game is incomparable. Despite scaling abilities and talents, the first boss fight of each game is just as challenging as the last. Few video game franchises can boast such an accomplishment, which speaks volumes to the meticulous care of both studios.

Character Build

Over the last decade, western role-playing series introduced players to unprecedented levels of customization and freedom. Bethesda, Capcom, and BioWare quickly recognized that some gamers enjoy melee combat while others relish magic or ranged attacks. These studios were among the first to offer players the freedom to choose between these various gameplay styles. While revolutionary at the time, few studios have progressed this concept. Until Dark Souls. And then Hollow Knight.

Although Dark Souls offers customization like most other western RPGs, the series almost forces players to choose a gameplay style from the onset. Although the Chosen Undead can wield a variety of weapons, Dark Souls uses statistics and level caps to handcuff players. Each weapon requires a level of skill in certain statistical categories, which obligates the player to invest skill points. Because skill points are increasingly difficult to obtain and capped at certain levels, the game encourages players to specialize.

Adopting a similarly unique system in a Metroidvania title was difficult; however, Team Cherry accomplished the near impossible. As in Dark Souls, Hollow Knight encourages players to develop strengths. But instead of a traditional statistic and leveling mechanic, Hollow Knight employs a charm system. From increased range attacks to magic buffs, each charm offers a wide range of ability enhancements. However, the game limits the Knight to the number of charms he can equip. While players are free to equip a balance of different charms, Hollow Knight’s most difficult bosses require a stacked approach. In this way, Hollow Knight and Dark Souls almost force players to be judicious when building a character.

Linking Gameplay to Worldbuilding

No other form of interactive entertainment can generate a sense of immersion quite like video games. The gaming controller creates agency and consequence by connecting players’ decision to lead characters. While this vehicle is a powerful means of captivating an audience, the construct of these imaginary worlds needs to offer realism and authenticity to absorb the player. Story and narrative remain cohesive world-building elements; however, gameplay mechanics are often inconsistent and inexplicable.  

Perhaps no other gameplay element in video games is more unscrupulous than healing and revival. How can a tuft of phoenix down revive a character? And why does consuming food or potions magically heal a party? These are just a few role-playing elements that developers introduced during the early days of the video game industry. Directors and staff provided little explanation, and players blindly adopted these norms. As video game worlds expanded and lore deepened, studios refused to evolve established gameplay mechanics.

Hollow Knight and Dark Souls exchange standard role-playing norms for a more cohesive solution. Soul and Fire are the core facets of Hollow Knight and Dark Souls, respectively. The inhabitants of both worlds rely on these essential components to sustain life. But the lifeblood of every being in Hollownest and Lordran is slowly evaporating due to a widespread plague. So when the Knight or Chosen Undead conquer an enemy, the heroes collect these foundational elements thereby granting health regeneration. This is but one of countless examples both games employ. By tying gameplay to story and lore, the worlds of Hollow Knight and Dark Souls are credible and cohesive.

Main Character Fate

Self-sacrifice and preservation are by no means new concepts in video games. From the harrowing sacrifice in Metal Gear Solid 3 to the heartbreaking exchange in Final Fantasy X, developers routinely use this emotional trope to add immersion and depth. While captivating, studios rarely present the player with choice. Instead, studios focus on story arcs, character development and plot twists. But the end is most often the same: a main character is mundanely unselfish and heroic.

Hollow Knight and Dark Souls not only give the player multiple options but also offer dissimilar alternatives. Although linear, the story arc strikes the perfect balance between ambiguity and explicitness, which leaves room for interpretation. While ending the game in martyrdom is the recommended course, survival is a righteous path for a variety of reasons. This innovative design provides a framework by which players can naturally consider the plot from multiple perspectives.

Level design

As studios began creating larger game worlds, routine travel from one area to the next became mundane and tedious. Consequently, developers began abusing and exploiting fast-travel systems more so than any other modern video game trope. Instead of crafting larger and more cohesive worlds, studios simply increased the number of way-points. This creative solution led to a growing number of loading screens, which both frustrated players and detracted from the immersion.

Enter Hidetaka Miyazaki and the Helix Design theory. Instead of blindly increasing height and width, Miyazaki’s levels rely on a series of interconnected circles and spirals. So as players progress, they unlock a series of doors and ladders, which lead back to prior areas. Although Dark Souls employs a limited fast-travel system, it is much smaller in number and scale in comparison to similar games. In fact, players find it easier and more effective to travel by foot to each of the game’s sprawling regions.

The two-dimensional limitations of Metroidvania games make for challenging adaptations to level design. While hamstrung to height and width, Hollow Knight employs many similar concepts of Helix Design theory. As the Knight progresses to new areas, players unlock a series of shortcuts back to other portions of the map. As in Dark Souls, these alternative routes are often much faster than Hollow Knight’s limited fast-travel system.

Checkpoint mechanic

Few discoveries in video games excite players more than a checkpoint. After an exhausting and challenging boss encounter, players need a momentary pause from the action. The checkpoint offers a quiet respite that serves as both a means of health regeneration and story-line bookmark. But suppose a video game were to add elements of risk-and-reward to this mechanic.

Such is the case of Hollow Knight and Dark Souls. In both games, players can rest at benches and bonfires to save progress and replenish health. In addition, an untimely death will send the player back to the last visited checkpoint; however, there is a drawback. As the Knight and Chosen Undead enjoy the leisurely pause, all defeated enemies re-spawn. While at first glance this might not appear daunting, both games force players to fight through waves of enemies in previously visited areas. This perilous hiatus is equally welcoming and frustrating.

Cryptic Storytelling

Modern video game series are trapped in a paradigm of protagonists being the epicenter of gaming worlds. This creative decision lends itself to cinematic storytelling that is manifested in the form of lengthy cut-scenes. Instead of allowing players to discover narrative and lore, directors coddle fan bases with movie-quality scenes. But the result is that the protagonist becomes an epicenter as opposed to an active member of an ecosystem. In addition, the purpose of NPCs and enemies is exclusively intertwined to the main character. While engrossing at times, this method leads to worlds that feel forced and artificial.

Dark Souls and Hollow Knight approach storytelling from a different angle. The Knight and Chosen Undead are merely participants in the thriving and desperate lands of Hollownest and Lordran. Consequently, it falls upon the player to uncover meaning and purpose in the world. Instead of elaborate cut-scenes and clearly defined objectives, Dark Souls and Hollow Knight rely upon item descriptions and cryptic NPC dialogue to drive the narrative. With each discovery and interaction, the player slowly uncovers the mystery and suspense of these tormented worlds. While the stories are convoluted and hidden from the naked eye, this gameplay decision encourages exploration and makes the player feel like an immersive member of the universe.


And there you have it: the seven principles Hollow Knight adopts from Dark Souls. But we want to know what you think. Do you enjoy Dark Souls? Have you tried Hollow Knight? What do you think of our comparison between the two games? Let us know in the comments below or the social media links on the right. Also, be sure to check out our other On This Day in Gaming articles to learn more stories about your favorite video games.

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