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LTTP: Demon’s Souls

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I read that From Software’s Demon’s Souls was “tough, but fair”. I’d have to disagree. I’d say that it’s “tough and mostly fair”. I had the misconception of believing that Demon’s Souls was more like another “tough, but fair” game, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, but it doesn’t have nearly the consistency. I’d like to understand the rules of a game and see those rules upheld as I progress though the game. Unfortunately Demon’s Souls didn’t do that.

My deaths in Demon’s Souls can be categorized as follows:

  • Due to recklessness
  • Due to unforeseen circumstances
  • Due to inconsistencies

Reckless deaths were my fault and mine alone. I either didn’t heed the warnings left by other travelers or I underestimated the relentlessness of the enemies. Sometimes I died without the warning from enemies or other players, so I attributed those uncommon deaths as “unforeseen circumstances”. That may seem frustrating, but it wasn’t for me — I considered it part of the learning process.

The most annoying and aggravating deaths were due to the inconsistent application of the world’s rules. Normally, the blade of a sword and the magical energies of a spell are blocked by walls. If I used a long blade in a narrow hallway, my sword can hit the wall and bounce off it. It’s easy enough to understand: things can’t go through walls, be it magical or physical. To my surprise, that simple rule doesn’t always hold in Demon’s Souls. Sometimes a magic spell can go through a wall and sometimes a giant broad sword can phase through a giant pillar and strike me down. It happens randomly and while it was beneficial to me on the rare occasion, it usually benefited the enemy more often. Needless to say, this was infuriating.

The inconsistent nature of Demon’s Souls wasn’t isolated in the combat either. It was in the level design as well. Why did some doors operated like textures on a wall while others lead places? Why are some rocks destructible and others aren’t? Even the delivery of vital information was inconsistent. Nearly every piece of vital info was displayed in English text or represented by easy to understand symbols, but not the vital stat categories. The stats such as strength and dexterity required a legend to decipher. Why?

Even the controls weren’t reliable. They were finicky at first, but even after I got used to it, I was still experiencing unpredictable results — particularly with the character response after leaving the menu. Sometimes I exit fine, while other times I exited the menu and took a step back. This wasn’t a big deal until I took a step back off a cliff to my death. I laughed, but it was still annoying to restart the entire level due to a mishap like that.

I hoped most of these inconsistencies could have been mitigated by spending more time with the game, but that wasn’t the case. Throughout my entire playthrough, I was taken out of the experience regularly by something of a similar nature which was a damn shame because Demon’s Souls was rich with atmosphere.

I can honestly say I was fearing for my digital life with Demon’s Souls in a number of levels. I’d keep my shield up and trekked as carefully as possible. I inspected every message left by other brave adventurers and touched every blood stain to watch how the unfortunate player met his or her end. Even though I was physically alone in the world, the player messages and phantom images of other live players was comforting. I recommended many useful messages which gave the author a free heal in their game and also left messages of my own. But I never received the heals when I needed them. I usually got them when I was already topped up with health. Hopefully, my recommendations were more helpful.

Reading messages and learning from the mistakes of others is a key component on solving Demon’s Souls. Most of them pointed me to the right direction, warned me of ambushes, traps and even helped me exploit glitches to take down the Demon bosses with relative ease. They were incredibly useful and I cannot imagine playing through the game for the first time without connecting online.

However in-game messages and death replays can only get you so far in Demon’s Souls. There’s a lot the game didn’t tell me, but as soon as I actually started reading the Demon’s Souls wiki, things began to fall into place and became a lot more interesting. That’s the part which intrigued me the most about Demon’s Souls. It wasn’t the combat, the atmosphere or the loot; it was working out how to beat Demon’s Souls. I found the most enjoyment trying to figure out the levels, the Demon bosses and what to do next. Using clues left by other players and doing my part to help the poor bastards who chose to subject themselves to this foreign and scary world was satisfying. I certainly couldn’t rely on the game, so I had to rely on others.

I feel like a Demon’s Souls sequel could address the issues I had with this game. It seemed like this rendition was bit too ambitious on the technical level which resulted in a number of bugs as evidenced by From Software’s use of the Havok engine. It did more harm than good since it triggered slowdowns and mood shattering ragdoll snafus. If they could iron out the inconsistencies and retain the rich atmosphere and the “tough, but fair” attitude they sought after, I could see myself enjoying this kind of game a lot. But even though this game isn’t quite the Demon’s Souls I wanted it to be, I’m glad I have it a shot and I think others should as well.

Just remember that death is the norm.

Worth a Try

Ratings Guide

For more information on Demon’s Souls, visit the official website.

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