More Thoughts on Demon’s and Dark Souls

Alas, my friends, I didn’t get as much writing done last week as I’d hoped. Why? I got caught up in the Souls games again. Not Dark Souls 2, this time. Caught up in a rush of nostalgia, I decided to replay the heck out of Demon’s Souls and spent many hours on it.

…And after doing so, I think I may have to revise my rankings of the Souls games I produced here. It seemed nostalgia was clouding my vision, as the original Demon’s Souls hasn’t held up as well as I thought it would.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a worthy game, but after playing its sequels, I notice there’s so much there to improve that I can no longer think as highly of it as I did. As some friends of mine mentioned, it does seem “less evolved” than the other games How so? Let me list what Dark Souls advanced:

1: Various small gameplay tweaks. In Dark Souls, you could slide down ladders, while in DeS, you can only descend at a snail’s pace. You can level up multiple stats at once in Dark Souls, while it’s time consuming to increase each stat one at a time in DeS. Also, the addition of the poise stat in Dark Souls (a measurement of how hard it is to stagger a character, essentially) adds a bit of depth to combat absent in Demon’s. I’ve also encountered some slowdown/FPS drops in Demon’s Souls, especially when using a spell called “Anti-Magic Field.” There was very little of that in Dark Souls aside from one level (Blight Town).

2: Better multiplayer. Demon’s Souls had a really cool idea in the form of “World Tendency.” The way it worked was that each level in the game could be either good or evil in atmosphere. You’d turn levels good by killing the evil demon bosses, and turn them evil by killing humans you found (or dying as a human). At pure good (or Pure White) world tendency, special events would occur, and at pure evil (Black) world tendency enemies would be much tougher (but drop more items and souls, which are both money and experience in this game) and other events would occur.

The problem is, World Tendency would change if you played on multiplayer! The game would look at the average world tendency of all Demon’s Souls players online at the moment, making it essentially impossible to get to maximum black/white world tendency unless you played offline. As a result, I haven’t been playing multiplayer at all, and I suspect many others do the same, at least until they’ve gotten all the pure white/pure black events. It’s not a terrible deal, since Demon’s Souls is a decent single player experience, but compared to all the fun I had in Dark Souls’ multiplayer (since that game didn’t have a World Tendency system), it’s a bit of a loss.

3: More Content! I can really appreciate Dark Souls II a bit more, now. Despite the fact that Demon’s Souls blows it away in terms of level and enemy design (I’ll get to that later), looking at it now, there’s really not that much stuff to do or get in the game. Not as many weapons, not as many areas, not as many bosses, not as many secrets, and so on, and so forth. Again, that’s understandable, since it was released a long time ago, but still…

4: Some odd design decisions. There are parts of this game which seem unnecessarily frustrating. For instance, there are no cool shortcuts (an example of which I’ll give later) in the second part of Stage 4, making it very much a tiring, miserable slog. Enemies called Crystal Lizards drop rare stones you need to improve your items, but unlike in Dark Souls, where they respawned if you didn’t kill them before they escaped, they disappear forever in this game if they escape. They also give a curiously limited amount of stones, there are several types (Cloudstones, Bladestones, Marrowstones, Suckerstones, and Mercurystones) which you have to collect off the corpses of enemies. Getting Pure Bladestones in particular is a humongous chore since it’s such a rare drop, which is strange since pure versions of all the other stones can be found easily in most stages. Though those stones aren’t necessary except for achievements,  making them so ridiculously tiresome to get (not difficult, you just have to grind monsters over and over again until the item drops) strikes me as a strange decision in a game that emphasizes skill more than grinding.

I do have to hand Demon’s Souls one thing, though. A few things, actually. What it does well, it does *magnificently* well. The plot, though sparse (King Allant of Boletaria has awoken the demons, kill them all and save the world) at least makes sense, and gives you more direction than Dark Souls II’s story did (thought DS1 had a decent story). It also ties the story and level design together quite deftly, and the levels themselves have both great atmosphere and nifty shortcuts that tie in to the story behind them. For instance, Stage 3 is the Tower of Latria, where one of the villains imprisoned everyone he didn’t like and performed vile experiments on them, turning them into twisted insect monsters. The first part of the stage is the prison. It’s dark and dreary, with no music aside from the screams and groans of the tormented prisoners. It captures a feeling of desolation, despair, and misery extremely well, creating a more horrifying, tension-filled experience better than even full-out horror games. In the prison, most of the shortcuts come from unlocking doors with jailor’s keys, but in the next area it’s more inventive. The second part of Stage 3 takes place in the towers where the villain was performing his experiments. The main tower of 3-2 is blocked off by the gigantic, beating heart inside which prisoners were condemned to be transformed into monsters. Thus, you first have to trek across two of the smaller auxilliary towers (fighting the monsters being created inside the heart all the way) to destroy the pair of chains which are holding the heart up. When you break those chains, you see a cinematic of the heart plummeting down, breaking when it hits the floor and releasing all of the insect monsters it contained. However, it also unblocks the way to the upper sections of the main tower, meaning you can just waltz right up the stairs and fight the boss! That’s a really cool example of tying a level design element (a shortcut in the stage) to the story behind the game, IMO.

Secondly, the boss fights and music are *excellent* in Demon’s Souls. I was able to beat pretty much every boss in Dark Souls II easy enough, with a few exceptions like the Darklurker. While many bosses in Demon’s Souls are easy too, some are very hard. The last Boss, False King Allant, is a real tough fight in particular, at least if you don’t fight him with cheesy, unfair tricks XD They gave me more of a feeling of accomplishment than most Dark Souls II bosses. However, Dark Souls I had some excellent bosses as well, so I wouldn’t say it’s too far behind. But while DS1 had okay music, and DSII utterly forgettable music, Demon’s Souls’ soundtrack, as I mentioned before, is fantastic. False King Allant’s theme, in particular, is a fabulous remix of the game’s main theme, and makes the final fight with him even more of a breathtaking experience.

So, overall, Demon’s Souls has enough flaws that I can’t recommend it as much as I would have before replaying it, but it has enough strengths that I can still recommend it. I think, at this moment, Dark Souls is my favorite, with both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls II behind it, contending for second place with their various flaws. I do hope there’s a Demon’s Souls II, though. If the original director, Miyazaki, came back and improved:

Demon’s Souls’ interface, the mechanical issues, the frustrating, shortcut-free levels, and the multiplayer (perhaps by separating World Tendency from the online median), and put in more content,

while keeping:

The awesome music, level designs, and boss fights,

I would be a very happy man. 8)

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