Thursday, August 23, 2012

'Demon's Souls' Debrief

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The following post contains spoilers for Demon's Souls.

This week at PopMatters, I finally wrap up Demon's Souls.

I actually finished the game several weeks ago and had been meaning to write something about it. The problem was that I couldn't figure out what to say. I think this was partly due to the general numbness one feels after finally finishing a game as brutally difficult as Demon's Souls.

A less hyperbolic reason is because the ending is strangely ambiguous. The entire game is about making your way through ridiculously dangerous environments in order to fight massive, deadly bosses. At first, it seems like this the last boss will conform to this pattern. After all, you fight him inside an enormous living beast that also happens to be the source of the evil you've been battling for the entire game. But then, you get to the final confrontation and are presented with what I see as a joke conveyed through game mechanics: for the first time in the whole game, you're able to easily dominate your opponent.

I actually didn't get a chance to talk about the most amusing thing about the ending in my column: after you finish the game, you're immediately dumped into newgame plus mode. As if after dozens of hours and thousands of lost souls, the first thing you'll want to do is start again on an even harder difficulty setting. Imagine the research and the skills necessary to go through the whole thing again. Actually, when you put it that way, it would be interesting to see just how powerful the revamped enemies are...

It's this feedback loop that ultimately made Demon's Souls so compelling. Things start out pretty discouraging, but each time to try something new or progress a bit further you learn something that will help you next time. Eventually, you've constructed a plan and developed your reflexes to the point where you can succeed. On top of this iterative mindset, you also develop a brutal disposition, similar to the one your enemies have towards you: when you encounter a new enemy, you know that survival is about decisive, merciless action. When you reach the end and employ this mindset against the final boss, his pathetic strength serves to highlight how much you've come to resemble the brutal demons you've been fighting.

I guess the fact I was essentially transformed into a monster via systemic interactions should be disturbing, but my I suppose my mind has been warped: I just think it's funny.


  1. Oddly enough, it's that feedback loop that often makes competitive gaming so rewarding to me.

  2. Something interesting about the NG+ feature is that, while the enemies are harder, your character is probably speced out and equipped properly, and you know the enemy patterns now, so on one hand, it's much easier.

    On the other hand, there are a number of traps which only happen once
    per game, such as the big iron death-sphere when you're climbing up to
    the battlements in 1-1. If you're anything like me, you'll get a little
    relaxed because you're having an easy time of it, and forget about
    those traps. Either way, once you encounter the first trap, you'll find
    yourself getting paranoid.

    Plus, since you can't spend your souls which you got from defeating the
    game until you finish 1-1, you'll find yourself a wee bit anxious any
    time you're threatened or take on a new enemy game. So the game keeps that level of anxiety, but for a whole new reason.

  3. I encountered that exact anxiety on 1-1 of Newgame plus, since I had a ridiculously high number of souls after finishing the game. Ah, Demon's Souls, you're so crazy.

    Good point about the stats and gameplay experience though. I'm so much better at the game now than I was when I started. Maybe I should venture back in...maybe this time as a brawler...?

  4. The wild thing about competitive gaming is that the other humans you're playing against don't have some predetermined improvement rate. At least with Demon's Souls, the game just gets harder; it's not really learning or improving against me specifically. Competing against other people is cool because you're dealing with their feedback loops as well!