Screen Critics takes a look back at the humble beginnings of FromSoftware’s acclaimed Souls series in 2009’s Demon’s Souls.
Demon’s Souls was but a blimp on the mainstream gaming radar when it first launched, but word of mouth gradually spread about its incredibly punishing difficulty. Instead of pushing away curious gamers, however, it had a complete opposite effect and the industry began to pay attention to FromSoftware’s action-RPG that dished out punishment as much as it rewarded players the satisfaction of conquering the experience. After recently re-playing Demon’s Souls, and in light of the Souls series refining every possible detail to perfection, it surprised me how much the game still leaves a profound impact during its lengthy playtime.
As much as I’d like to summarize the story of Demon’s Souls, I can only give you brief blurbs of what I really grasped about the plot. Set in the fictional fantasy kingdom of Boletaria, Demon’s Souls puts players in the role of a warrior who aspires to journey through the “Deep Fog” that has engulfed most of the kingdom, and face the horrifying truths of what transpired in Boletaria following the unfortunate turn of events. From then on, it’s a battle of survival as the player must travel to each part of the kingdom to retrieve the demon’s souls and end the reign of the mythical, powerful Old One. (if you’d like to learn more about the lore of Demon’s Souls, I’d recommend checking out YouTuber VaatiVidya who gives excellent in-depth breakdowns of each Souls game).
The one thing that draws me into Souls games time and time again is the incredible lore it sets up, with Demon’s Souls being no exception at all. While the story is never clear-cut, much like any Dark Souls game, the plot is revealed through NPC’s, item descriptions, and tidbits of lore scattered all over the kingdom. It’s up to the player to piece together most of the story, which has made for plenty of great theories and speculations in the community. For the most part, Demon’s Souls does tell a more straight-forward tale than its newer counterparts. Exposition does often arrive in large dumps which gives the player enough purpose to battle until the end, but at the same time, never holds your hand in explaining the exact situations you’re in, building up enough mystery to keep players invested as well.
The gameplay might seem primitive in light of the Dark Souls series, as the combat is admittedly clunky and stiff in retrospect. Quick parries and roll dodges aren’t an option, so everything boils down to immaculate timing and strategic planning. Because of the design setbacks, Demon’s Souls can often prove more difficult than the other games, not because of the challenging nature of the gameplay, but due to players battling with timing as perfectly as possible. In hindsight, the game might actually be the easiest in the entire series. Some enemies are insanely challenging, such as the tutorial-level Vanguard (why was this approved as a worthy introduction to the game?), but for the most part, if you’re a veteran of the Souls games, you might find the difficulty a bit toned down.
I noticed this especially when battling the bosses, who never quite imposed as much of a challenge as the mind-numbingly brutal bosses of the first Dark Souls. In fact, with enough patience and an understanding of how the boss fights work, one can overcome their onslaught fairly easily. The smaller, more nimble bosses are the far superior challenges, but even then, it’s a matter of watching your steps and knowing when to pull back after attacking. The satisfaction of landing that final killing blow is still unrivaled, and the scale of which boss fights escalate are absolutely mindblowing; evident with the stealthy battle against the colossal, intimidating Dragon God and the jaw-dropping aerial fight against the Storm King, my personal favourite boss in the game.
Demon’s Souls is wholeheartedly worth revisiting if you can look past the clunky controls and combat. The experience itself is absorbing and the boss fights, while not the most challenging, are all great spectacles. It satisfied my thirst for old-school Souls, and I look forward to having another run at new game plus. The only hindrance is the fact that the game resides as an exclusive PlayStation 3 title, but inevitably it should arrive on current or next-gen consoles in a remastered bundle which I will most definitely be picking up as an avid fan of the Souls series. It’s the first masterpiece in a long string excellent RPG’s from FromSoftware.