You know what I love about the Souls games? Consequences. Particularly with the characters. If you save one dude, he’ll either help you out or he’ll completely fuck you over. It gives the world a sense of realism like it’s functioning with or without you. Plus, it makes you paranoid when interacting with new characters. Will doing a good thing now screw you over later? Can you trust this person?
That all plays into the bleak tone of these games perfectly. And few games in the series did it half as well as the very first game: Demon’s Souls. Particularly with one character: the archdemon Maiden Astraea.
For those of you who haven’t played it, let me briefly summarize the plot of Demon’s Souls. In the land of Boletaria, an ancient being called the Old One has reawakened. It releases a thick fog over the land, from which soul-devouring demons have emerged. Now you must gather powerful demon’s souls to earn the right to confront the Old One to either save Boletaria or become the most powerful demon to ever exist.
Playing through the game, it’s pretty easy to think that you’re the good guy. After all, you’re slaying these demons that mercilessly slaughter humans! By typical fantasy standards, that’s a pretty damn heroic thing to do! You’re a hero out to save the world! Right?
Well, if you pay attention, you’ll quickly figure out that there’s a bit more to it than that. There are some hints that maybe you aren’t the moral paragon you think you are. Particularly when you reach the Valley of Defilement.
To break it down simply, the Valley of Defilement is where all the waste of Boletaria goes. And I do mean all the waste. From simple trash outcasts to all the corpses of the dead and aborted babies (not hyperbole, there are actually zombified aborted babies in this area because Demon’s Souls is kinda super fucked up), all of them have been dumped here with no regard to the people who lived there. As such, they had to live in a deadly, miserable swamp.
Enter Maiden Astraea. Together with Garl Vineland and other knights of the church, she traveled to the Valley of Defilement. When she arrived, her faith in God was brought into question; how could a benevolent God allow such a terrible place to exist? How could such suffering be allowed?
So Astraea abandoned God. She embraced the Old One and his fog, transforming into an archdemon while maintaining her original form. Together with Garl Vineland, she betrayed her fellow knights and claimed their souls. With that power, she did all she could to help those in the Valley. From resurrecting the dead to aiding the ill, she used the power of her new demon’s soul to save those abandoned by God. In return, the denizens of the valley bring her souls to aide her. Thus began a symbiotic relationship, wherein everyone worshiped the demon Astraea like the virgin Mary.
The game’s quote, not mine.
Then your character comes along. Upon your arrival, Astraea begs you to leave, telling you that there’s nothing here for you. She demands that you leave her and the valley’s denizens be, claiming that you’ve caused them enough misery. When you refuse, Garl steps up to fight you. Should you defeat him and talk to Astraea, she realizes that there’s no hope left. She spitefully admits her defeat and kills herself, giving you yet another demon’s soul.
This makes you question your quest. Is defeating the Old One really necessary? Can humans and demons coexist? Or should humanity follow after Astraea and evolve into demons themselves? Can you still claim to be a hero after having taken away an entire civilization’s only source of hope?
There are plenty of characters like this later in the Dark Souls trilogy. They make you question what’s right and wrong, then make a difficult decision that could either help or hurt you later in the game. But personally, I think that Astraea is the best example of this. When people ask what makes Demon’s Souls so good, I will always point to this character.
Can’t wait for her to tear my heart out again in the remake.