Apparently I'm Not Playing Demon's Souls The 'Right Way'

Apparently I'm Not Playing Demon's Souls The 'Right Way'

I've never encountered a more tribal community of fans than worshippers of the Souls games. There may not be another game series where more people are ready to tell you how wrong you are. For me, the criticism began when I picked my class for a playthrough of Demon's Souls.

Demon's Souls was released in 2009. It's 2015! What am I doing playing through a game from six years ago? Assuming there's not yet another delay, Sony and From Software will release Bloodborne, a spiritual successor, for the PS4 at the end of next month. I wanted to know more about Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki's design legacy, so Demon's Souls entered my life.

One of the most effective Souls tactics, especially for newcomers, is to load up on armour, equip a sword 'n shield, and endlessly stab things in the back. Bulking up worked wonders for me in previous Souls games, but in the interest of trying new things, I wanted a fresh approach. Outside of the occasional fire spell, magic has never been part of my repertoire. The royal class sounded interesting because it's a magic-friendly user from the very start. A change of pace!

It's so easy to stick with what you're used to, and I've found this to be rotten and pervasive. It's why we play the same kinds of games over and over again. It's why we approach games the same way over and over again. I try to push back on this. So even though I had a tried-and-true strategy for the other games, it seemed the right time to do something different. Maybe I'd learn something about Souls' design. At the very least, it'd be possible to accidentally build a character ill-equipped to beat the game, which would result in my dying a lot. You know, entertainment.

But boy oh boy, the moment I entered into the realm of magic, people rolled their eyes. Emails, tweets, private messages. People had very, very strong opinions about going deep into magic.

There's some history behind this, of course. Magic has slowly but surely been pushed out the Souls series. It's overpowered in Demon's Souls, slightly nerfed in Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, and appears to have been minimized completely in the upcoming Bloodborne. I knew this coming into Demon's Souls, and the idea of a helping hand through an otherwise difficult game was appealing. I was more interested in finishing Demon's Souls than the purest experience.

Apparently I'm Not Playing Demon's Souls The 'Right Way'

This idea of purity gets to the heart of the matter. The Souls games inspire love or hate, and there's no in-between. I didn't understand what was so appealing about them until my wife went out of town for a few days, giving me a chance to barrel through Dark Souls. While fighting two gargoyles on the roof of a church for a few hours, it clicked. Playing Souls is like climbing a mountain. If you're at the top, it's worth bragging about, since plenty gave up along the way.

This can lead to a feeling that there's a "right" way to experience the game, and because the royal class in Demon's Souls lets you cheese through a few encounters and bosses, it's not the "real" Demon's Souls. The "real" Demon's Souls is a much harder path, and deviating from said path flies in the face of what the developers "intended" for players. Furthermore, the way you experienced Souls is the way other people should experience Souls. In some sense, the sentiment is appreciated. It doesn't come from a place of hostility but to share one's passion.

When I talked about some of this on my stream, an intrepid reader by the name of Stewart Burns wrote me. He brought up some interesting points about the series' relationship with fans:

"The Souls games have done a great job of creating a community that hugely value the intention behind their design, and from later iterations of the design, and from interviews with people involved in the game, it is clear that there are areas of the game design that were not as intended. Certainly it is fair to play the game however anyone wishes, but if the intention of the player is to have the experience the developer actually wanted for them, then various elements of the games aren't optimal, especially if they greatly reduce the difficulty, such as magic.

While the potency of magic was somewhat diminished with Dark Souls, it was still too easy, which has seemingly lead to the outright removal of the system with Bloodborne. A typically cited example would be the parries and backstabs. Within Demon's Souls, parrying is criminally easy to achieve, and people were doing absurd runs using them and backstabs. In order to address this, the windows were reduced for Dark Souls, and positioning made more exacting. In Dark Souls 2, enemies could fall backwards, and invincibility frames were removed, adding a greater risk/reward aspect. In Bloodborne, backstabs are only possible when using a powered up heavy attack, which means having to position yourself where you can hold the attack button for a period before releasing, while still being able to hit the enemy, and without them turning around in the process. Similarly parrying is now tied to your gun, and ammo is limited, meaning spamming it is seemingly no longer possible.

The community can be vocal, even brutal at times, but I believe it comes from a good place. They want new players to have the experience they had, and value so highly. Personally the games provide a unique experience, in that they meld that sense of wanderlust with trepidation. I want to know what's next, but I have to be very careful how I go about finding out. Without the difficulty, there's no cost to the exploration, and it seemingly has less value."

It's tough to argue with his final line, as it summarises the Souls experience. Souls punishes the greedy, asking you to play by its own rules. It's possible to subvert those rules, but at what cost? In my case, I've already had the Souls experience, thanks to Dark Souls. I don't think it's possible to replicate that a second time. My time with Demon's Souls is about curiosity and filling in the blanks. I might be sacrificing some of the pure experience, but I'm OK with that.


    My 2 cents: Play the game you bought however you want.

      I don't think that was the right way to comment. You should comment the way I want you to comment or I'll get mad.

    It's kinda ironic that you often get called a noob for using the 'wrong build'. Isn't it more noob to play optimal all the time thus making the game easier for you than say going with your instincts? I dunno about you but I never look at builds for RPGs. It might make my character crap but who cares, it's my choice. It kills the immersion for me when I'm just looking up something that someone else had the fun of devising.

    Whats this?! YOU'RE PLAYING A GAME FOR FUN?!?



    Welcome to the world of online gaming? Where everyone everywhere is all about effeciency instead of fun and interesting builds? You know the same thing Blizzard said they were doing when they removed stat building because "no one likes builds". But then brought in Paragon points to you know... "build your character". Basically making the slog to max level a veritable "tutorial" on your class until you can finally have fun *building* your character.... oh sorry I drifted off topic there..

    as I was saying... NON PROPER BUILDS?! GTFO!

    Never a fan of the Souls games.
    I really dislike the combat.

    The endless heavy attacks of almost all enemies, where they leaves themselves open to being defeated, is really bad suicidal AI. It's all or nothing from the enemies. A gigantic trade off, of good AI vs the stress/panic of the player being hit by that heavy attack.

    It's got nothing to do with the slowed down, contemplative, pattern reading aspect of the Souls enemies, but the absurd devaluing of most of the enemies lives by the developers.

    Last edited 21/02/15 4:39 pm

    I sat down to play Demon's Souls two nights ago for the first time, it being in my PS+ backlog, and after having died for the first time at some bridge with a knight with red eyes, the game took literally 10 minutes to reload and through me all the way back to the start of the level. Now, I don't really mind that aspect, as I'm sure it's part of the challenge, but that load time is not something I'll be enduring playing this game.

      As Freeze said, that's just not right. There might be corrupt data or bad segments on your HDD. If it happens again, I'd try reinstalling the game.

    Play the game however you want and don't listen to the haters...

    ...that said, the most meaningful Souls experience is melee. Only in DS2 was sorcery brought more in line with the main combat system, using stamina. Up until then, sorcery was Souls' hidden easy mode.

    Case in point:

      Wow, cheesy...I've never played any of the Souls games, is that a + game or is that magic available on your first playthrough?

        First playthrough although the gear he has (Tin Crystallisation Catalyst and I can't see in crappy phone res but assuming Dusk Crown along with Bellowing Dragon ring) is very much tailored to maximising magic damage with a bunch of trade offs. Useful boss killer but useless in the rest of a game. Left depleted way too quickly.

      Point blank Dark Bead can be even more brutal, one-shotting SL125 players with good armour in PvP

    Furthermore, the way you experienced Souls is the way other people should experience Souls. In some sense, the sentiment is appreciated. It doesn’t come from a place of hostility but to share one’s passion.

    Lol, this is nice but i'm gonna say it; they're just assholes.

      I disagree... I had a mate that used to play single player FPS campaigns on easy mode (and sometimes with cheats enabled), because he wasn't interested in the game and just wanted to know how the story played out.

      I managed to convince him to replay HL2 on a higher difficulty with no cheats... and it changed his outlook. There is no sense of risk when you play the easier setting - you can run into a room of enemies and feel fairly confident that you will come out relatively unscathed... When you play on higher difficulty, where even a single enemy can take you out, the tension can be almost palpable. The entire gameplay experience changed for him, and now he plays the 'proper' way - where the game is actually a challenge, and you can fail - and finds it a much richer experience than his previous easy god mode romps.

    People criticizing the way people play have too much time on their hands. Just play it.

    All I can say is Tower of Latria what a glorious level design.

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