By nabokovfan87 42 Comments
In the last bombcast, Vinny had stated some questions as to why this game is good, why he is even playing it, whether or not what he is doing is the “right” thing to do and so on.
As someone who cherishes this game above many others I feel like the following should help you on your quest of understanding the game. Following that will be a few paragraphs of context to set my background in terms of the genre as well as where this game falls in my list of “The Best Games EVER Made”.
Reason 10 , the boss battles and some of the sub-boss battles all seem like “There is no way at all that I can take that thing down”. A lot of this comes down to scale, some of it down to sheer visual style, but let me recall a story of my first few boss battles to show you what I mean.
Level 1-1, the Phalanx, it is around midnight on my first day of playing, and I stood at the gate into the boss debating whether sleep or “giving it a shot” would be the best way to finish a long afternoon of struggling to understand the systems of this game. I open the gate, destroy the boss by running around and struggling to stab things, while, eventually I understood “how” the boss battle worked. When I played through 1-1 on a different character, I saw the signs of how to do so that I didn’t understand the last time and everything became clear. On the second boss (Tower Knight), standing at the gate again debating the same decision, I called in someone to help me and we destroyed the boss. On the next one (Spider Fire Thing), I stood behind a pole hiding, while the only way to actually destroy the boss was to stop being such a weakling and actually attack the beast. Eventually I did so, cheering for what seemed like 30 minutes at my triumph.
This leads right into Reason 9. While the game is very difficult, it rewards the struggles instead of simply makes things hard. Sometimes the reward is getting a full health bar, the other times it is simply discovering some trick to make the level easier, but the overall reward is having the ability to be given some challenge, and every single time (for me at least) I wanted to push on and keep giving it a shot, whether I was ready for it or not. This is one of the few games where simply getting past a difficult spot feels so rewarding. It is not down to memorizing a pattern, or memorizing some sort of glitch, but through experience, trial and error, and the individuals own though process the game reveals its own intricacies and as the player overcoming what was an impossible challenge through my own mind power is one of the most rewarding things any game has ever done for me.
Reason 8 , this isn’t a linear FPS tactical style game where the player must follow a set path. While there are aspects of the game where you need a key to get past a certain spot, there is nothing in the game that says you have to start at 1-1 and end with 5-4 by going through 1-2, 1-3, then 1-4, and so on. In my case I went to the swamp level, found an amazing weapon that helped me with every other level I went back and played. Also, each “world” is contrasting and contains very different environments that nothing seems to lead from one into the next into the next. Basically, this game is not laid out to be an “A to Z” boring ass straight path type of game, it does things differently than everyone else and that makes it interesting.
Reason 7 is probably the main reason why this game got any attention at all, but it does one thing that no other game has done ever before. That would be the warning message system present within the game, the bloodstains, and what can only be described as one of the best co-op systems present in any game. Think about it, if you want someone to help you, then you simply put a message down asking for help and anyone out there can do it. No need to go and make friends, no need to know if they are good, the only requirement is that they are in your game to help you and not hurt you. While not every message is helpful, and not every bloodstain is worth a watch, everything in the game has its purpose and while they might not help you, there is no way that they can harm you unless you as the player let it end up bad (by standing there and getting hit while reading).
Another reason, let us call it number 6, is that the story is interesting. Some games have interesting stories because they actually have a story (rainbow six, splinter cell, ghost recon, etc.), while other games are interesting because the content of the story itself is unusual and becomes more about uncovering what is going on and trying to understand what is being presented (The Darkness, Heavy Rain, Metro 2033, Cryostasis, etc.).
Reason 5 is my personal reason for why this game is so good. Many describe this game as “the single most difficult game ever made.” I would argue that this game is not difficult at all. This game requires the utmost attention, that everything you do be carefully slow and intentional. It is not because the controls are twitching, monster closets, or anything like that, but simply because if you run around doing anything you want then you will fall and die, you will run into a monster that will fight you (that you might not be prepared for), or you could be surprised into one of the games puzzles, traps, or time based events where you end up some place you didn’t intend to. Bottom line, the game wants you to be sure of what you want to do, take your time, and thing about what you are doing by pressing that button, and about where you want to end up after it happens (don’t get backed into a corner, it will result in death). Also, if the game really was that difficult, then you would not be able to die more then once.
This is more of a subjective thing, but Reason 4 is all about the visual style. This game has a very realistic visual style while everything in it is out of the ordinary. All of the people seem real, the magic is not so insane that it seems impossible, but essentially, the game itself presents a world that can be easily entered and seen as a place that could actually exist. While dragons and magic, and so on the creatures are not something we have in everyday life, it looks like a world that is not in my head, but a place that is just a ways off or from the past.
Reason 3 is all about how things work. The combat in this game is super realistic, feels natural, and everything about it is precise and always under the players control. The aiming in the game allows the player to face the enemy and use the shield and sword appropriately and the parry system in the game is of the “easy to learn hard to master” variety that makes the combat approachable and fun.
One of my favorite traits in this game, and something more game designers need to take into their own works is the Level design (Reason 2). It would seem that everything in this game is meant to be there, that every item, enemy, and NPC is in just the right spot, the boss fights are designed perfectly, the dragon cliff thing in world 1 is perfectly designed along with all of the other challenges and “puzzles” in the game that are timing based. There are very few games out there that respect the level design to the point of making sure every inch works perfectly, in this game it seems they did take the extra time and ensure that it was perfect (something borderlands needs to do, for instance).
The final reason, number 1, is best said by saying, “the more you know the better”. As Vinny mentioned, this game has many intricacies and enemies that seem to be arbitrary but are very crucial to the experience. The collector’s edition came with a superb guide that is not available on ebay for 2 and even 3 times its original value. There is the demon’s souls wiki, and many podcasts out there as well that will recap what you need to know in order to survive. For instance, there is an NPC that when you rescue him, he will kill off every other NPC unless you kill him first (that is how you lose the ability to store items). Again, if you don’t notice it, if you don’t pay attention then the game is going to make you pay. In short, there are games like Metroid and Castlevania where you need to know the tricks in order to enjoy the game, demon’s souls is not this type of game, but the rule is “the more you know the better.” Also, if you do not want to have the guide and know everything, then just be sure to follow the overarching idea in demon’s souls, “Make sure that everything you do is a calculated decision, pay attention to your movements and actions, and be very aware of your surroundings”. If you do this, then you can beat the game.
Context: Now, keep in mind I say all of those with one very important fact missing. Demon’s Souls was the first RPG I have ever played. Sure I played Pokemon as a kid, and I played Earthbound, maybe an hour of Metroid, but this is the first game in my mature gaming life where I actually went to the RPG genre and decided to dive in. I mostly play tactical FPS and TPS games, things like RS, GR, and the like, as well as shooters (arcade shooters), racing, and sports games. I followed my play through of Demon’s Souls (3 of them, lost 3 saves, see previous blog post for why, and no I haven’t beaten it yet) with Fallout 3, Borderlands, The Witcher, Mass Effect 1 and 2, and Dragon Age: Origins. Needless to say I appreciate the genre now, I am noticing the trends of the genre, and still, even though everyone declares it as super difficult, Demon’s Souls is by far my favorite of the genre. In Mass Effect and others, the difficulty is based around having many enemies storm you, around being limited by ammo and limited on time, but the game itself is cheap in terms of how the difficulty challenges you. To contrast that, Demon’s Souls is very fair about its rule (the “pay attention” rule), and everything in the game is not out to aim only at you or attack only you as a COD game does in order to make things difficult. In short, this is a very strategic game, where everything needs to be precise and calculated, in other games you have shields and regenerating health, and yet you still die every 5 minutes in some cases because of the Enemy AI. Demon’s Souls, is one of the few games where everything must follow the same rule, the AI must pay attention to what you are capable of, your location, weapons, and strategy, while that is the same challenge you face.
Thanks for reading, I know it is long, apologies, but this game deserves every word.