What I Miss From Demon’s Souls

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In the middle of a new game plus run through Demon’s Souls in these last few days before Dark Souls III drops, I think I’m gonna lay down why Demon’s Souls is my personal favorite Souls game. The first Dark Souls might objectively be the best one in terms of level design or UI or combat mechanics, but there are some things I personally prefer about how Demon’s Souls was put together. I should probably preface all this by saying I still haven’t played Bloodborne, and don’t know when I’ll acquire a PS4 on which to play it.

The first thing which is completely subjective is probably the atmosphere of each game. All the Souls games have a look to their worlds that feels a bit more authentically medieval than most western fantasy RPGs, from the armor designs to the environments. A big difference with Demon’s Souls comes down to its color palette which I just prefer. Its first area: Boletarian Palace, is about as generic a medieval setting as you can get, but the thing is that console video games hadn’t really done that kind of setting it in recent times. The way it approached the classic “storm the castle” narrative, complete with dragons, felt more pure than anything I’d seen from BioWare or Bethesda. The game’s overarching sense of mystery probably enhanced this.

The main thing though is how all the different areas are in relation to each other in each game. People look at the interconnected world in Dark Souls as a sure evolution over the disconnected worlds in Demon’s Souls, and that may be true. However, I still think Demon’s Souls was a bit better in terms of the final execution.

The world map of the first Dark Souls is so ingeniously planned out that you can reach any area fairly quickly from any other area. The fact that From Software managed to do this while creating challenging level design and letting players physically see different areas from other areas is a real feat of design. …Until you reach Anor Londo. The second half of Dark Souls turns into a succession of much more linear and overtly fantastical areas that feel a bit more disjointed than the former half. Dark Souls II pretty much always feels this way, but I understand that something happened late in its development that forced From Software to drastically reorganize the game.

Ironically Demon’s Souls is also pretty much like this all the time, but I consider its worlds to be more even in terms of how well designed they are. Each one is sort of its own interconnected world with smartly planned shortcuts instead of conventional checkpoints. There’s no point in the game where this quality lessens either. In my NG+ run of Dark Souls I started to lose interest right before Anor Londo, but there wasn’t really a point where I lost interest in Demon’s Souls on my repeat runs.

The last thing about Demon’s Souls I miss in its successors is how the bosses tend to be designed. It was only on my second character that I noticed the bosses in Demon’s Souls mostly aren’t as brutal as the ones in the later games. They’re intimidating at first, but almost all of them actually have some kind of gimmick that, once learned, makes defeating the boss relatively simple. You normally beat the Tower Knight be destroying its ankles, then its head once it falls. Getting through the Fool’s Idol is about avoiding the landmines and discerning the fake copies for the real boss. This rule in Demon’s Souls has three exceptions: The Firelurker, the Maneaters, and King Allant. These bosses, the most infamous in the game for their difficulty, are pretty much just battles of attrition where you have to stick and move while exploiting their openings.

Basically all the bosses in the Dark Souls games are more like the “attrition” bosses in Demon’s Souls. You pretty much just dodge and strike. Maybe the designers just like those more. Maybe they found them to be more challenging and thus representative of the franchise’s selling point. I guess I would just prefer it if From Software included a balance of the types in Dark Souls III, but I’m not holding my breath.

I think the main reason Dark Souls is more popular is because it got more attention at launch and because a lot more people played it on Xbox and PC, but I get the improvements people appreciate. World Tendency is a mechanic of Demon’s Souls that never really panned out perfectly, and the later games definitely have control and user interface improvements. I’m just saying I still like Demon’s Souls better, even if it isn’t mechanically the better game.

BULLETS:

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