It's October! With games like Borderlands 2 and Resident Evil 6 out and about, naturally I bought Demon's Souls for less than twenty dollars and played it to completion. I tend to do that thing where I play a sequel or spiritual successor and eventually develop a need to play the first games in the series. It's not quite as crippling as Vinny Caravella's need to play games in order before moving on (or soak up all the media associated with a game) but it happens occasionally.
What makes this blog complicated is that I played and beat Dark Souls first, so... I realize my opinion may not mean a damn thing in the long run. I had already developed the Souls mindset, so it can't really compare to the experiences of the people who were there when it first came out. The "Rule of Firsts" is definitely in effect here.
Demon's Souls (and Dark Souls): Unforgiving Fantasy Adventure - The Game
After braving and beating the two Soul games from FromSoftware (that will never not be awkward to read) I can say with certainty that I like Dark Souls way more out of the two. This is mostly because Demon's Souls feels less creative when it comes to their enemy designs and overall setting, which is the thing that brought me to this series in the first place. You visit a fantasy castle, a fantasy mine, a fantasy prison, a fantasy island (but not the TV kind) and a fantasy swamp. There are a few levels with some cool parts to them, but areas in Demon's Souls could easily fit into any medieval video game. The bosses also lack the vicious twist that Dark Souls had, with a few exceptions. I never found any creature as visually menacing as the Chaos Eater or Mimic in this game. Or any area as strange as the giant tree growing on top of a giant bell deep underground next to lava and demon ruins. Those giant flying Manta Rays that fire ice spikes were pretty cool though.
Not to say I didn't have fun (or as much fun as you can have with this kind of game), so I don't mean to sound down on it.
One thing Demon's Souls has going for it is that it feels way less harder than its successor. Whereas Dark Souls is ready to kick you in the balls at every turn, the levels and enemy placement here are much more kind. Some enemies still camp out next to doorways ready to jump you as Soul games tend to do, but for the most part it pulls back on trying to lure you forward so hordes of dudes can attack from behind. The placement of checkpoints from boss fights are also better, cutting out some of the long grueling treks between dying and going for another attempt. Demon's Souls still has its moments though, like Squid Faced Assholes hanging out on spiral staircases where your lock-on has trouble targeting them with the added difficulty of zero room to maneuver. Or more frustrating, placing giant pillbugs in small ass tunnels that soak up so much damage, you'd think they were made of fucking adamantium. And when you kill them, they explode like mini-nukes.
Those Souls games, man. I'm telling you.
Souls... Souls Never Changes
Probably the weirdest part of playing Dark Souls first is catching all the references made to this game before I knew they were references. And it's not throwaway lines or characters with oddly similar names (try the exact names). They're whole scenarios and levels, boss fights and NPCs. In one way, that means that these references work both ways, but it still feels weird thinking about all the tricks FromSoftware decided to bring back... like poisonous bogs lined with shanty towns that kill the frame rate, a boss that calls in reinforcements when it's almost dead, dragons that fry bridges with little warning, enemies that hide out and spawn other enemies in a tomb, a traitorous asshole NPC that kills your friends after you free him from jail, a traitorous asshole NPC that tries to rob you blind and becomes a merchant later, and a disheartened NPC that thinks you ain't shit. I find it hard to fault them for it though. I guess it would be like faulting Mario for using ice worlds or Mega Man for using spikes or those disappearing blocks. They're just part of the game's personality.
What's also similar is the flow of the boss fights in this game. Once again, the dual bosses are the hardest bosses (because the Soul games can't handle group combat) while everyone else, especially the final boss, feels like a chump in comparison. The Maneaters specifically should have been the last boss in the game. Instead, they show up in the third level. Fighting two of those fuckers on a narrow bridge while they jump all over you like rabid flying gorillas caused me Capra Demon levels of rage. Every other boss is just a matter of patience. Or in the case of the Penetrator, luring it into an easy pattern of leaping attacks and side slashes until it penetrates no more. After the Maneaters, I really can't complain about the last boss harmlessly rolling on the ground while I incinerate it with fireballs. It was cathartic, for sure.
Sticky White Stuff
Maybe it's just a sign of my skill, but I feel like these games have a common thread where there is no special weapon or all powerful magic that will carry the day. I remember in Dark Souls unlocking the final Pyromancy spell and finding how utterly useless it was (even though it's an area attack spell). I missed Seath the Scaleless with it, a three story tall crystal dragon. Spending time at the blacksmith with rare souls also came up with disappointment as I craft swords and bows I don't have the stats to use. Or in the case of Demon's Souls, never having the right materials. I have to respect these games leaning on the side practical equipment rather than flashy ultimate weapons. I used a fireball and a fire sword to beat the game, and that didn't work half bad.
I was surprised to find lots of people still playing this game well after its release date, as levels were littered with bloodstains and messages. Invasions were a different story. I was only invaded once and didn't even see the guy before he somehow died on his own. But that was welcome considering how broken player combat is in Dark Souls. I don't imagine it would be any different here. There are also other things like level select vs. an open world, item equip load vs. carrying as much as you want. Most of that feels like minor details in the grand scheme of things as the delivery method doesn't change how unforgiving these games are that much. You're still going to die.
(Which boss has the funnier name? The Penetrator or Ceaseless Discharge? I can't decide!)