Yes. Yes, I did.
Going from “OK, I’m going to man up and try this Demon’s Souls thing” to, two months later, finishing the last of From Software’s series of rather brutal RPGs has been an interesting experience. It’s made me take a second look at how I think of difficult games – which I’ve never been a fan of, traditionally – and why the Soulsborne series turned into such an exception.
I think it comes down to the way they make it easy to fail, but also don’t punish you for failing. The series is defined by its bosses; but almost every boss fight has a, let’s call it a pre-fight stage, where you grind through the level to GET to the boss and, just before you actually fight them, you unlock a shortcut back to the last checkpoint. When you die, you respawn at the last checkpoint, run back to the boss in a fraction of the time it took to clear to him the first time, and take another crack at him.
There are obviously some exceptions to this, but MOST bosses share this design.
It also doesn’t rub your nose in the fact that you died. As an example of what I mean by this: a few months ago, I tried playing Aliens: Colonial Marines, a roundly-panned first person shooter known mostly for terrible enemy AI and graphics that came nowhere near the quality of the trailers.
I’ve played plenty of games with bad enemy AI and games with dodgy graphics, so I figured it would be good for a laugh, if nothing else.
I hated it, largely because every death was accompanied with an annoying unskippable cutscene wherein your character got murdered by an Alien, and then some loading screens, and then you had to fight through the level from the last checkpoint, and there were so many bits in the levels where you were tapping your fingers impatiently waiting for an NPC to do something… cinematic. It was a game that was so full up in How Awesome It Was that it made me hate playing it.
The Souls “YOU DIED” screen is, by comparison, brilliant. You died, the game acknowledges it, you can try again in a minute. If you don’t feel like fighting everything in the level, there’s probably a way around them or through them if you have one finger on the dodge button. If you die a second time, well, there go those souls you were trying to get back to, but now you don’t have the stress of trying to get back to them. You can let them go, because now you have license to goof around and try new things.
It also doesn’t hurt that they are absolutely dripping with atmosphere and – even when you’re slogging through Yet Another Poison Swamp Zone – the games make you want to see what’s around the next corner. Usually it will be something that tries to kill you, of course.
I’m trying to avoid turning into a Souls evangelist around friends and family, because I recognize that they’re not for everyone and I really think that Demon’s Souls is essential to play AND my favorite entry in the series and not many of the gamers I know even still have a PS3 hooked up. Should From/Sony put out a PS4 or PC remaster, they will be “encouraged” to play it.
Oh, and on that note: My final ranking. Entirely personal opinion here, with all that entails and acknowledging that every one of these has been an A+ game. Some have just been that tiny bit MORE A+ than others:
- Demon’s Souls
- Dark Souls II
- Dark Souls I
- Dark Souls III
Now I guess I get to join the ranks of the fans hoping that Miyazaki was kidding about that whole wanting to do something different thing. 🙂