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The prevalence of parrying: Why is it so popular?

Elden Ring parry
Image: Elden Ring (Bandai Namco)

To say parrying is a new feature in video game combat would be a lie. it’s been around in games for almost as long as they’ve had swords and shields. Avoiding damage while dealing plenty of your own is a concept that has mainly been part of the scenery, as a byproduct of your actions and not necessarily something to be conscious of.  

In Devil May Cry, for example, your attacks could parry incoming projectiles with proper timing, but they were such frenetic games where you are in a constant state of movement that it was never really a viable option. Rather, parrying was an additional boon that made very little difference to the outcome of encounters. 

Old Zelda titles and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (still no word on that sequel, by the way) had more complex approaches to parrying, but those never caught on. Other takes made it a more automated counter-attack. In the likes of the Arkham series, for example, where combat was geared towards long chains of combos, the “parry” here was more of a dodge mechanic allowing you to evade incoming blows and continue your streak of justice with your fists and array of gadgets.  

But lately, the parry mechanic has been creeping into more and more games, with almost every high-profile title of the last few years featuring it in some way.  Why? 

The new way to parry 

Enter Dark Souls, the series of games that overhauled third-person combat games… and the concept of parrying along with it. By making it harder. 

Through precision timing, players could raise their shield to deflect enemy attacks with the added effect of opening up their attacker to critical hit. This even had its own rather visceral animation and did masses of damage to further incentivise players to perfect it — but of course, with varied timings for each enemy type, it was a difficult skill to master.  

Dark Souls Remastered
Image: Dark Souls Remastered (FromSoftware)

This new way to parry was much more in line with fighting games, with its very tight input window: high risk, high reward stakes giving players a whole new dynamic to play with. While less confident players could hide behind their shield and absorb damage, it offered more adept players the opportunity to find even greater challenges in an already difficult game. 

What makes parrying so great is the sheer sense of power it gives the player. It adds an extra layer of thought and strategy to any encounter and offers the opportunity to turn the tide in any battle when the chips are down. In those battles where health is so low that guarding is no longer an option, and the enemy is close to defeat, a perfectly-timed parry and riposte could well turn the tide — and clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. 

What better feeling is there? 

The man behind the parry 

But how did this bold approach to parrying come about? In an interview with PlayStation Blog, the man behind Dark Souls, Hidetaka Miyazaki, discussed his approach to the games and what kind of experience he strived to create. To him, death in games wasn’t the end. Rather, it was more of an opportunity to reflect and improve. 

While his games have a reputation for being relentlessly hard, this is part of the design to encourage players to overcome adversity through cunning and learning from their mistakes. The games are designed to be “challenging yet fulfilling”; a cycle for players to improve and master the mechanics at hand to eventually come out on top.  

Of course, it makes sense that parrying would be difficult to pull off because the resulting reward is a critical hit to deal extra damage and a chance to press the advantage. Get it right, and it’s a real cathartic thrill and fist-pumping moment.  

Now everyone’s at it

Dark Souls has had a massive influence on gaming since its release. And like it or hate it, you’ve likely played something that owes a debt to that series of games. Over the past decade it has seen a drastic rise in its popularity, even jumping across genres into places where you would assume it has no right to be — but somehow fits perfectly.  

As many tried to emulate the success of the FromSoftware formula, games started adopting the shoulder buttons for attacks (because let’s face it, it does feel better) and their concept of parrying too. 

Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima (Sucker Punch Productions)

It went indie with a slew of ‘Soulslikes’, a term coined for a genre of games that were known for their high difficulty, environmental storytelling and their startling similarity to Dark Souls. It even went AAA when Ghost of Tsushima, God of War and Assassin’s Creed embraced it. But of all the places for it to end up, the one that really surprised me was when it turned up in 2023’s Resident Evil 4.  

Using the combat knife, when prompted you can parry certain attacks — from a chainsaw to be exact, in true Resident Evil fashion. But then you can also time your knife attacks to parry incoming projectiles (not recommended on dynamite) but also pitchforks, swords and even a bloody chainsaw. Parry a swipe from those weapons and enemies will stagger, allowing you to drop them with a headshot, or go the more creative route with a kneecap and suplex.  

Parrying by definition revolves around melee-oriented combat, so for it to feature in a game whose core gameplay loop revolves around guns, it just goes to show how widespread the popularity of this new parrying has become.  

But is it that much of a shock? Trends in gaming always occur when there is one hugely successful title. Those who finance games want to mitigate their risks, so  

Not the first trend-setter

This isn’t the first time a new mechanic has taken gaming by storm. In 2001, Remedy and Rockstar released Max Payne, a third-person shooter following a cop with nothing to lose on a one-man mission to clear his name as he’s hunted by cops and the mob.  

That game gave us “Bullet Time”, a neat little trick where Max could slow down time to line up headshots in style. Of course, this set off a chain reaction of games that sought to jump on the bandwagon and come up with their take on Bullet Time. Just to name a few, F.E.A.R., John Woo’s Stranglehold, Call of Juarez, Mirror’s Edge and even Grand Theft Auto V copied Max Payne’s homework. Of course, to avoid any problems with copyright, they all came up with their own names. 

Like Remedy, Miyazaki-san’s influence on gaming could well be felt for years to come, in what is now looked upon as a real turning point in gaming. Could we see parrying end up in Call of Duty next? Probably not, but with Shadow of the Erdtree on the horizon, soon we’ll all be wondering what he’ll turn his attention to next, and how it may leave another indelible mark on gaming.  

And will anyone else ever have as big of an impact as he has?  

Danny grew up on a diet of Resident Evil, Half-Life and Halo. Nowadays, in between life as a freelance writer, author, parent and dog owner, he’ll try anything, but has a penchant for all things FromSoftware – and won’t hesitate to tell anyone about how Sekiro is the greatest game he’s ever played.