in which I make all kinds of excuses for bailing out on a challenge
I liked Demon’s Souls. Like, even. In fact, when I evicted that fucker from my PS3, slapping it into its case and banishing it from my apartment, there was the slightest hint of regret. I had failed you, Demon’s Souls.
It didn’t start that way. I took notes, in a little notebook. Notes like “It works (for me, for now) because it isn’t unfair. There are rules — strict ones — but no ‘gotchas.'”
Or “Feels like a platformer with RPG elements; Shoehorning Super Mario 3 into Diablo.” And “I’ve spent more time on 1-1 than World 1 of Mario 3.” Which actually sums things up rather succinctly.
Because I figured it out. Demon’s Souls is hard, sure. But my biggest issue wasn’t difficulty. It was time.
Demon’s Soul, in a nutshell: Humans fuck with magic. Humans wake up “The Old One,” who summons demons and makes things generally unpleasant. Humans get together, put the big baddy down with 5 or so Macguffins of power. Time passes. Humans forget. A new batch of Humans fuck with magic. Second verse, same as the first.
This time, there’s You (and you, and you, and you) the only hope for this beleaguered kingdom, and the rest of the world… Yeah. It’s not exactly unique. Also, I’ve never been able to rationalize the Massively Multiplayer Hero’s Journey, but that’s a rant for another day.
The game kicks off as your boiler plate Action RPG, but you discover its chief mechanic pretty early on, when you get WTFPWNED by a colossal… ogre thing, at the start of the game. See, death isn’t permanent here. You die, and you duck into your soul form. And then the game begins.
Being alive, “in your body,” grants you a massive HP boost. Being dead, in soul form, offers up half as much HP. But you’ll do more damage, and make less noise whilst shuffling around, having shuffled off that mortal coil (stealth-y types, take note). The primary, narrative-driven way to leave soul form and get back into your body is to kill a particular level’s Boss Demon.
Naturally, there are other options. Special items can be used to pop you right back into the flesh. I chose to maintain a persistent internet connection, as that’s the way the game is ostensibly meant to be played. When you’re online, you can drop a blue stone to join up with other players, help them kill a boss, and be rewarded with life. Or you can drop a black stone, pop into a living player’s game, and gank them, to live again.
So I trudge through the first world. I roll a thief, because Stealth is where it’s at, amirite? No. Apparently I’m the only person on the planet who thought robust stealth mechanics (see: Thief) were a good idea. “Stealth” does fuck-all in PvE (player vs environment), and backstabbing is actually a matter of pirouetting behind shambling demon hordes.
I park the thief and roll a mage. “Classes” are a bit of an anomaly in Demon’s Souls because they only actually affect your starting condition. The only difference between my Thief and my Mage are bits of armor, and the fact that the mage starts with a fireball spell. Once I’ve run out of mana (Passive mana regeneration? Lulz) I’m back to using my dinky little sword and shield. Fuck. This.
Third time’s the charm: I pick the “Royalty” class, which is literally easy mode: they start with a stronger combat spell than the mage, and get a neat ring that brings mana regeneration. And just like that, I’m off, one-shotting the bad guys, with minor breaks to recharge my spellpower. Studying the level, worming my way through its nooks and crannies.
There’s currency at play here: Souls. Kill a bad guy, and you get some souls. You spend the souls at vendors, to buy / beef up your equipment , or (after you’ve defeated the first boss) boost your stats. Progression. If you die, all of your collected souls drop where you do. You’re dumped at the Nexus (quasi-town hub), and you’ll need to re-enter the level, find your bloodstain, and tap it to get the souls you’ve collected back (provided you haven’t ragequit or something). It’s onerous, particularly since a level resets once you leave, and all of the baddies come right back. But it’s also handy for farming souls: Kill a ton of enemies, pop out of the level, then jump back in to do it all over again.
Like I said in my notes, it isn’t unfair. There’s a strict rule set, but I’d figured out the rules, and I was quite literally rocking it. It only took an hour or two this time around, and I’d eventually mentally mapped out the navigable spots of the first section of the first level (!). Barring one baddy with glowing red eyes who kept one-shotting me, I was good to go. Boss Demon killed. Level 1-2 opened up. Oh yeah, I’m ready. So ready, I ditched easy mode, and — armed with my knowledge of the terrain, and the tactics — fired up my thief character.
The game starts to shine, and I’ll admit, I was in love. I’d gone from flinging the same damn spell to Bayonetta-lite, parrying and counter-attacking and working in the occasional backstab. As I’d already mentally mapped where all of the baddies are, it was just a matter of carefully and artfully darting to or around them, dispatching them one at a time to avoid being overwhelmed.
I plow through the boss, and decide to follow a walkthrough’s advice and head straight to World 2-1 — there is no strict order to the levels, and doing them out of order will help me progress a bit more efficiently.The second world offers up an entirely new environment, but I’m ready to start exploring.
I’m diligent, too. I’d spent a few extra hours grinding World 1-1, stocking up on supplies and ammunition and boosting my stats (you only lose souls when you die). So I’m in Body Form with a full health bar, and prepared. And then, about 15 minutes into the second world, black letters flash across the bottom of my screen.
I shit you not: “black_Klu_Klux_Klan has invaded your world!”
I do some quick, mental calculations. I’m at a spot about 45 feet from the entrance, having decided to check out an elevator I’d activated. That should give me abou–and I’m ganked.
A quick, unceremonious backstab, then a kill-animation that shows me being booted off the platform I was standing on. I was wearing the same armor I started the game with, having earned 3 soul-levels. This dude looked not unlike Sauron, and clearly didn’t need to gingerly step around the baddies I was so careful to avoid.
That feeling, that crushing moment of defeat? It doesn’t happen. Not to me. I’ve spent 5 years playing EVE Online: You don’t stick with the most brutal of spreadsheet simulators if you’re squeamish about overwhelming odds. I jumped right back in (now in soul form), grabbed the souls off of the bloodstain that was once my corpse, and marched on. Baddies killed me in a tunnel a few feet later.
This time, I reach that moment. I had already mapped my approach to this first section. Invasions from high-level players would be tricky (Hell no I’m not turning off online mode), but I can find some hiding spots, figure out how line-of-sight works for PvP. I can do this. Probably.
Instead, I tell Demon’s Souls to GTFO.
Actually, what I wrote down was “In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth the commitment.”
I took a look at the (admittedly attractive) world before me. And then I remembered Pokemon White, and RIFT, and Dragon Age 1 before I can let myself play 2, and EVE.
I’m not one to back down from a challenge. But this wasn’t a challenge, so much as an ordeal. A time sink. And at this point in my life, I should devote my limited gaming time to a single title that relishes every opportunity it can take to toss a deck of cards into the air, and kick me in the nuts as I try to re-build the deck?
Yeah. My Crysis 2 download is being a bit sluggish right now, but tune in next time when I’m either talking about shooting aliens in the face, or bluffing my way through Japanese history in Total War: SHOGUN 2 (caps theirs).