Okay, I know I’ve talked about it a lot now. But I’ve never actually sat down and reviewed the full game. So, I’ll do that, then leave it alone until the remake comes out. And until I talk about the Dark Souls trilogy. And revisit Bloodborne. And maybe try some of the other Souls-like games, I dunno.
Everybody knows Dark Souls nowadays. You’ve either played it and have the whole thing memorized or you’re only familiar with its infamous reputation. Love it or hate it, the Dark Souls series has become iconic, with each game earning the title of modern classic.
Except for Dark Souls 2. Fuck that game.
Demon’s Souls, however, missed that hype train. People only know it as ‘the one before Dark Souls that five people have played’. There are even a select few that are so stupid that they think Demon’s Souls is a Dark Souls ripoff! Its legacy is that of a cult classic, not a genre-defining masterpiece like its successor.
Granted, Demon’s Souls is anything but a masterpiece. It’s damn good! But it’s definitely showing its age.
Story: Conquer the Fog
You know all the fog gates that show up in every other FromSoftware game? Well, there’s actually a story-related reason for those existing! And it’s super cool!
The game takes place in Boletaria, a land swallowed by a colorless fog and infested by soul-devouring demons. When your character arrives, they’re swiftly killed, and their soul is captured by the Nexus. Now, you must travel across Boletaria, slaying demons and consuming their souls to earn the right to face the Old One, the progenitor of the demons, and lull it back to slumber.
Out of all the FromSoftware Souls-like games, this one is probably the most cinematic and straight-forward. Not long after you start, you get several cutscenes and exposition dumps telling you exactly what’s going on and what you’re doing. This isn’t like Dark Souls, where you only have a loose grasp of what you’re actually aiming to do. Your objective in Demon’s Souls is simple and clear: put the Old One back to sleep.
However, the finer details of the world aren’t so clear. If you want to know more about the characters, you’ll need to exhaust every line of dialogue. Want to know more about the area you’re exploring? Check some item descriptions! If you want to explore the world of Boletaria the same as in the other Souls-like games, that is still very much an option!
My favorite part of the story here is the tone. It’s completely oppressive and bleak, more so than any of its successors. It feels like the whole world has depression, like hope has completely disappeared. It kind of reminds me of Berserk, which Miyazaki has made clear he’s taken inspiration from! It’s great!
Plus, it does a great job of painting the world as morally gray. Good and evil may seem simple, but it subverts your expectations in many ways. The best example is Maiden Astraea, an archdemon that uses her powers to help people and won’t even fight you! It makes you wonder if the demons are even that evil. Are you the hero? That’s for you to decide!
TL;DR: the story of Demon’s Souls fucking rules! It takes a simple premise and spins it into something incredibly unique and interesting! This is the one aspect that time has been kind to!
Because God knows that the visuals and gameplay didn’t get the same treatment.
Presentation: 2009 was rough, man…
Were people impressed by these graphics back then? Cause a decade later, it does look kinda… rough. I’m pretty sure the only thing keeping this off of the PS2 is the resolution!
Yeah, this game hasn’t aged gracefully. The character models all either look like a rubber costume or a plastic model; neither the monsters nor the people look convincing. Most of the environments are pretty nice, especially the Nexus, but they’re definitely lacking in detail, with a lot of obvious repeated textures. And the music, while good, isn’t as notable as it is in the games that would come after this.
But all of that is forgivable. They’re products of the time. Plus, it helps it stand out compared to the later games. Put a screenshot of Demon’s Souls next to one from Dark Souls, and you’ll be able to tell which is which without even having played either one!
What isn’t forgivable are the frame dips. The framerate drops so frequently that it makes me want to tear my beard off and the drops are so severe that it makes it borderline unplayable! These frame dips make Blighttown look smoother than silk!
In short: thank God they’re remaking this. Cause god damn, does it need it!
Gameplay: So. Much. JANK!!
This might sound mean, but it needs to be said. This game is straight-up broken! Not like Superman 64 levels of broken, mind you; it still works. But I hesitate to say it works well.
The basic loop of a Souls-like game all started here, so you might already know how this plays. You create your character and head off into Boletaria to kill demons and gather souls to level up. As you progress, your character will get stronger armor and weapons, maybe learn some spells, typical RPG stuff. After fighting through a brutal area, you’ll be faced by a boss fight. Defeat every boss, roll credits, the end.
On paper, this sounds great. And as FromSoftware would later prove, it is! But as it is in this game, there’s a whole lot holding it back from true greatness.
First is item burden. See, you can only hold so many items, or else you’ll run out of inventory space. If that happens, you won’t be able to pick up anything else. And if you try, then either die or leave the area, that item will permanently despawn. This mechanic isn’t just downright infuriating, but it’s also tedious and forces the player to do an unnecessary amount of micromanagement. Make sure to visit Stockpile Thomas often; otherwise, this game can and will make you scream.
Another big problem is magic. It’s just a bit too much in this game. Seriously, if you start as a magic-user, you’ll have an advantage that carries over through the entire game! And some of these spells are legitimately game-breaking! If you get the Firestorm spell, you can straight-up one-shot certain bosses! It’s ridiculous!
Not that the bosses are especially hard. Magic or no, none of them are all that challenging. They’re each more like a puzzle than an actual fight. Some of them are cool, even if they’re easy! But others, like the Dragon God, are just… so bad. And tedious. Christ, I wish they were harder than they are!
Movement itself is also very stiff. You can only roll in four directions, which can completely screw you over in certain areas where you don’t have much room to walk. It’s never painfully bad; it does work, at the very least. But it does lead to some unfair deaths.
Speaking of unfair, let’s talk about World Tendency. This is a special mechanic wherein the game will either become harder or easier depending on your actions. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the general gist of it. Again, that doesn’t sound bad on paper. But to punish struggling players by making the game harder? Sure, that’s hilarious! But it does contribute a lot to pushing away new players. Maybe that should have been an optional thing that the player can toggle?
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand. Yes, this game is old and clunky in many ways. But it’s still fun and rewarding to play! There’s plenty here to love!
For one, this is the most easily replayable game out of any of the Souls-likes. See, after killing the first boss, you can freely choose which areas you visit and when. Did you start with Boletaria Castle in your first playthrough? Why not try doing the Valley of Defilement first in your next one? Or you could go straight to the Shrine of Storms! This open-ended design makes each playthrough unique, which can lead to all new challenges! It’s insanely replayable!
While the bosses aren’t hard, they do offer a ton of cool and interesting ideas! The Old Monk is literally blind, so it attacks you based on what it hears! Adjudicator’s body is completely immune to all damage, except for an old wound that you can exploit! The Tower Knight’s weak point is his head, so you need to hit his heels and knock him down to hit it! Not all of these puzzle-like elements work well; Adjudicator’s weak point makes him a total pushover. But when they do? They’re excellent!
This game is definitely old, janky, and weird. But it’s weird in a good way! It has the balls to experiment with ideas that no other game would even consider! Some of them work and some of them don’t. But I commend the game on trying! It gives it a unique identity that stands out, even to this day!
Even if it was the bane of a good many PS3 controllers. But hey! It’ll prove a nice durability test for PS5 controllers!
Playing this game after having spent so long playing Dark Souls 1-3 and Bloodborne was definitely rough. It made it abundantly clear exactly how old and busted it really is. But it also gave me a new appreciation for those games! Sort of like hearing your grandpa’s war stories and going outside! It puts things into a more positive perspective!
With that said, I have a hard time recommending this game. Not because it’s bad! But because it can be hard to get a hold of. If you’ve still got a PS3 and you’re down to do some hunting, then you should give it a shot! But if you can’t find it, or you don’t have that old console, then I’d say you should wait for the PS5 version.
We can only hope it doesn’t take too long to come out. Please, for the love of God, be a launch title!
If you don’t like any of the Soulsborne games, this one won’t change that. But if you love that stuff? Then you absolutely need to play this one! It’s the game that started it all and it deserves far more love than it gets!
And now you dummies that thought it was a Dark Souls ripoff are properly educated. You’re welcome.