When I was growing up, video games beat the hell out of me. They threw punches that reduced me to a crying, purple pulp of human batter. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles enjoyed kicking me while I was down, the Vectorman titles got in their cheap shots, and X-Men on the Sega Genesis laughed while twisting a serrated blade in my chest. Even Blast Corps on the Nintendo 64 pushed me around until I could return the favor. I’m no stranger to hardship in the virtual realm; however, as the years marched on, I’ve found my play style shift.
As a kid, I received quite a few new games; I played through — or at least tried to — what I was given. As an adult, I can buy even more of them for myself, too, due to working full time on a reasonable salary. But my free time diminished with the increase of my income. I no longer desire nor have the time to spend all my efforts tirelessly trudging through arduous obstacles.
When Demon’s Souls came onto the American market in October 2009, I immediately picked it up. Developer From Software crafted a marvelous blend of third-person, skill-based combat with a high-fantasy world of swords, magic, and dragons. The premise spoke to me, promising stories of action and adventure that would delight my visual and audible senses.
While it did deliver such a tale, it also brutally smacked me around like its 1980s and 1990s brethren. From Software took the design concept of old-school cruelty and brought it to the current generation on the PlayStation 3. They threw punches that again reduced me to a crying, purple pulp of human batter. Nevertheless, in 2011, I rose to glory and defeated the beast known as Demon’s Souls and concluded that it’s not too difficult after all.
When I began my adventure in the Nexus and onto its out-world lands back in 2009, I quickly realized that this experience might not suit me. Demon’s Souls doesn’t forgive players for dying; it punishes by returning them to the beginning of a level and depleting all their collected souls.
The Demon’s Souls Wiki explains: “Souls are the catch-all in the game; they are both currency and experience. You will use these at shops to purchase, repair, and upgrade equipment […] and you need them to buy increases to your stats, which is how you level up.” Souls mean everything in this domain. Loosing your souls means loosing your time. A cheap death will result in immediate frustration, and Demon’s Souls overflows with cheap deaths.
The first province after the introduction and tutorial sequence is the Boletarian Palace, commonly known as world 1-1. This area features a fantastical, massive castle with enormous towers, underground passageways, long corridor bridges, and (eventually) monstrous dragons. It’s the quintessential setting for fantasy and my first taste of the demanding gameplay. My blood, sweat, and tears stain the concrete floors of the palace 50 times over. I stumbled through the waves of enemy soldiers, both undead and not, who wielded knives, swords, and spears. They stabbed, cut, and skewered my character over and over while I gained the gist of just how one should interact with this universe.
Generally, third-person action games focus on combat and give you options on how to tackle the various adversaries presented throughout the levels. Take the God of War series, for example. Kratos holds the power of the gods in his hands and uses variations of blades, swords, and bows to plow through hordes of foes. On higher difficulty settings, this mechanic proves strenuous. Dodging, countering, and attacking flow fluidly during encounters. This fuels the player’s enthusiasm for embodying a demigod. The action in God of War provides high-thrills — everything is a spectacle. The fast speed, fierce battles, and crazy set-pieces wrap the game in a grand experience of button mashing.
Demon’s Souls takes a methodical approach to warfare. The game expects players to choose their attacks wisely and murders them in mere seconds for simple mistakes. Spells, swords, shields, two-handed weapons, daggers, and more allow players to find fighting styles they prefer. Regardless of choice, players must enact careful planning with each new enemy encounter. Just because a few cuts took down the previous bad guy doesn’t mean the next one with glowing eyes and plate armor will die as easily.
Additionally, every physical action in Demon’s Souls depends on the Stamina statistic. For melee-centric characters, this determines the amount of sword swings you can make, incoming attacks you can block with a shield, or number of dodge rolls you may perform before your character tires out and becomes extremely vulnerable.
Block a barrage, and your character will momentarily lower his shield while trying to regain his posture; this split second gives an attacker prime access to deliver a deadly blow. It’s a design choice employed in the industry before, but From Software implemented it in a way that quickly molds you into a tactical, decisive warrior.
This all relates to how relentless Demon’s Souls really is. Not only does the combat get your heart pumping, but the environments, lighting, death traps, and bosses all cumulate into an experience that dispenses both fulfilling enjoyment and bitter despair. You will either absolutely love it or utterly despise it. After downing a few beginning bosses and progressing a bit, I hit a brick wall and became someone who utterly despised it.
So, I put it away…back onto the shelf expecting to never play it again, and for over a year, I didn’t.
On a beautiful but ridiculously humid Texas day in June, I made a new friend. She’s a geek, a nerd, and possibly plays more video games than I do — if you can believe that. She and I were chatting, and the topic of Demon’s Souls came up. She never finished it either, but her excitement over how much fun exists within it sparked something inside me. Alice: Madness Returns and Infamous 2 were both releasing soon, and this friend convinced me to pop Demon’s Souls back into my PlayStation.
Depending on how complex the mechanics are, those who step away from a game only to come back weeks later find themselves at odds. In this case, and the 70-or-so-week gap, Demon’s Souls came off as extremely foreign. I recalled the difficulty, the general movements, and the standard practices for combat, but the overall essence of the world was lost. Picking up again seemed just as grueling as starting for the first time. Despite this, I pushed onward.
I forced the Storm King Archdemon out of the sky in world 4-3 of the Shrine of Storms; I punctured the head of the Blue Dragon with over 300 arrows in world 1-4; I even defeated the Boletarian Palace’s final boss, the False King, in under 15 tries and four lost levels. Yes, the False King can literally de-level you mid-fight with a certain soul-sucking move; I fought through it and arose victorious.
A new sense of invigoration for Demon’s Souls came about during those triumphs — a fuel that persisted to the very end. I even kept Infamous 2 and the new Alice on my shelf until it was all over. I couldn’t stop. I was determined to finish; this drive had lain dormant for a long time, and I wouldn’t let it fade away. This completion also set my level of desire for Dark Souls, the spiritual successor, higher.
Now, I won’t lie. I referred to walkthroughs, I looked up FAQs, and I watched a few YouTube videos for key parts; however, I still finished the game, and that’s more than I ever expected to do after quitting. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m proud to say I’ve beaten Demon’s Souls, and any “hardcore” gamers who jeer at my use of help can — honestly — go eat themselves.
The most important knowledge I gained from my continuation was that the entirety wasn’t as hard as originally perceived. Once I regained my steps, acquired a decent gear set-up, and properly learned how the system works, I found a new appreciation. An admiration for the way From Software created their product and their devotion to its purpose.
Demon’s Souls most certainly epitomizes a game for the enduring and the nostalgic — something magical for those who choose to explore its atmosphere. I employ you, reader, to give it a chance; use a walkthrough, FAQ, or video guide if you have to. Simply immerse yourself in the belly of hell and enjoy your trek through its bowels. You won’t regret it.