FromSoftware's 'Soulsborne' series of titles is beloved for a wide range of reasons, but one thing that titles like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Elden Ring have in common is that each is underpinned by a wonderfully foreboding 'grimdark' fantasy setting positively dripping in lore.
Every place, person, enemy and object seems to have a tale behind it, and while a lot of the narrative in these games is deliberately obtuse, it's nonetheless entertaining to try and piece together snippets of story to see how they fit into a wider whole – if they even fit at all.
Artist Plastiboo would appear to be something of a fan of the series, if Vermis is anything to go by. It's the first in a series of artbooks and is described by publisher Hollow Press as "a pure act of world-building inspired by old dungeon crawler games. It could be considered an official guide of a game that doesn't exist, since it's not a game at all!"
Vermis takes place in a world that will be very familiar to anyone who has played a Souls game previously. Populated by shambling monsters, foolhardy heroes and a host of other tragic characters, it has its fair share of dark graveyards, dank catacombs and crumbling fortresses. Vermis attempts to guide you through these fetid locations, offering captivating descriptions as well as occasional snippets of advice ("If you face a witch's head, remember to cut off her tongue"), all of which helps to create the very convincing impression that it is based on a game that actually exists. The stunning illustrations take all of this to the next level, creating a genuine feeling of unease – despite the fact that you can't stop turning the pages to find out precisely which horrors come next.
It would have been easy to simply create some authentic-looking images and concoct some text, but Plastiboo has crafted a vivid world within these pages that is just as convincing as Lordran, Boletaria or the Lands Between. You'll encounter characters such as the False Witch, The Lost Paladin and The Stench Champion, the latter of which is a horrific amalgamation of corpses that moves "in a strangely human way, trying to mimic the warrior they once were, as if they are unconscious of their new body."
The writing is every bit as evocative as that seen in FromSoftware's titles – perhaps more so, given Vermis' tighter and more intense focus on the macabre and disturbing (another page describes your character sheltering in a fireplace and noticing a "strange smell" coming from the chimney; after a pause in the text, it simply advises that you "avoid looking up" before moving onto the next location).
Plastiboo is already hard at work on volume 2 of Vermis, which has since been reprinted thanks to the initial 1,500 copy print run selling out. If you're lucky, you can still find copies at select retailers, and we'd recommend you take the plunge, because this is a fantastically atmospheric book which reminds us why we can't help but probe and explore the dark, scary places in the video games we love.