Every other week on Game People Calling, I’ll be bringing the best of our reviews, art and other novelties to The Escapist. This week I’m exciting to introduce Adam Standing, our writer who likes to get to the heart of his games.
His Soulful Gamer column picks a path through titles that have come to mean something more to him than just leisure. Games that tell a meaningful story, tackle larger issues or connect him to an inspiring story. Games that are quite often overlooked.
A month or so ago Adam wrote our review on Demon’s Souls, and here he is revisiting both the game and his write-up to see how it sounds in hindsight. Over to Adam.
I started my review by reflecting on the unusual nature of Demon’s Souls:
It took me a handful of failed attempts at the first level before I realized this needed to be played differently. Instead of expecting to waltz through the opening levels and have the strategies of the game explained to me in a digestible form, I had to use each of my attempts as a self-styled tutorial, teaching me the intricacies of the environment and the methods which worked best to advance.
At times this was more a puzzle game than a fighter – the further I progressed, the more pieces of the puzzle I unlocked. Whether it was merely opening a side door to serve as a shortcut or memorizing the enemy locations, the way through became shorter with each attempt until I nailed it down to an almost rhythmic level of speed and precision.
Even though all the levels are open from the start, I still return to the Boletaria Palace level time and again. The sense of satisfaction of taking a new character through those familiar ramparts and getting to the Demon to reclaim my body in one go is still incredible. It’s like completing Through The Fire and Flames on expert or, God forbid, finishing a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game with your sanity intact. I still believe that these are some of the best levels ever created in a videogame – the subtle nuances sit wonderfully at odds with the harsh nature of instant death in a way that I have come back to time after time.
I went on to talk about multiplayer in Demon’s Souls.
Multiplayer is never an aspect of games I talk about because it lacks any soul or heart to its creation. The prime directive for most games is the wholesale slaughter of your opponent. Nothing too complicated or deep about that, but Demon’s Souls integrates a system that fosters such a sense of community, in a subtle and anonymous way, that makes it worthy of mention. At any point during the game I was able to observe ghosts battling unseen foes or running alongside or through me.
I didn’t realize at the time, but playing co-op in the latter stages is pretty much the only way to could beat the game. It sounds odd, but the fact that the co-op was so visually ethereal made these experiences feel part of the whole fiction of the game. It never felt like I was playing with Dave from my friends list but rather like I was blessed by having a charitable soul donate its time and power to my cause. I remain impressed with the manner in which Demon’s Souls integrates its multiplayer and still embrace it with a fanatical fervor.
I wouldn’t see my time with Demon’s Souls as fun in the usual sense. This is a game that only rewards those that put in the hard work. Every piece of equipment, every item and every inch of progress was a bloody battle that I had to fight tooth and nail to achieve, making the defeat of a certain enemy or completion of a level that much sweeter.
At the time of the review I had skipped over the whole World Tendency mechanics that formed the larger meta-game, but these made sense more recently as the events at Halloween and Christmas added new content that changed the nature of the game.
I now realize this creates a great blend of an RPG with MMOG components. There’s none of the ridiculous grinding that make MMOG’s so soulless, but there is that sense of being connected to a wider world that gives Demon’s Souls a living and breathing life-force and keeps the game evolving and developing. I don’t think of Demon’s Souls as just ‘that difficult RPG,’ I now view it like so many World of Warcraft players do their game: as a separate world that my alternate character lives and exists in.
Because of this, Demon’s Souls stands tall within a tired genre. Its dark atmosphere and grim storytelling create a masterpiece that has no equal and gave me my most affecting game experience to date. Standing there unflinching and unwilling to pander to the casual gamer, Demon’s Souls was a campaign I couldn’t walk away from. It refreshes the RPG genre without clever tricks or overly impressive visuals. It is what it is, a mountain to be conquered.
The more I think about this wrap up statement, the more I’m convinced that Demon’s Souls is going to be an anomaly in the RPG genre. I feel sure there will be a sequel, but outside of From Software I can’t see anyone else taking the risk of innovating so much within the existing framework. If anything, the success of Dragon Age: Origins and Final Fantasy XIII show that traditional mechanics are what the masses want. For me though, I’ll still be playing and waiting for another game in the Demon’s Souls universe.
Game People is a rag tag bunch of artisans creating awesomely bizarre reviews from across the pond.