I’ve been playing a lot of Demon’s Souls but I feel oddly hesitant to blog about it. It’s a fantastic game that doesn’t translate well into spoken words and I fear that trying to describe it will put people off it.
But I’m going to tell you a story. Every time I start playing I have to decide what my goal will be for this session. Do I want to explore a new section of the world? Do I want to try to advance my character level? Do I want to buy a new spell? Gather materials to update a weapon? Or just get a new weapon? So many ways to improve a character.
In the first world lives a red dragon. This dragon is a real pain in the backside. There’s no way I can melee it at this point and my crossbow is too limited to fight it safely. But with a bow, you can do “precise aiming” and snipe things from afar. One problem. Drake Chaser the Soldier doesn’t own a bow. I decide the time has come for him to get one.
First thing I do is search online to find out where a bow can be had. That’s in some ways a downside to Demon’s Souls — you’ll almost certainly find yourself searching outside the game for certain nuggets of information. Turns out there’s a bow at the top of the second guard tower along a parapet extending from the area of the castle you ‘zone into’. So off I go.
But that damned dragon watches the parapet and does straffing runs along it. How to get past the beastie in one piece?
First step: get to the parapet. I have to cross a room filled with Hoplites. These look like giant black slimes holding a sword and shield. There was a time when they left me quaking in my boots, but now dispatching them comes easily. I block or dodge their spear attack, then run behind them and impale them. Turns out they’re quite squishy from the back. Or I could use fire on them, but no sense in using up my Turpentine supplies (turp adds a temporary fire effect to a weapon). I dispatch the hoplites, in the process earning some stones used in weapon upgrading. Bonus!
Finally I get to the parapet. The first time I ran out onto this, the dragon swooped down and fried me to a crisp, sending my back to the warp-in point sans all the souls I’d gathered. But I learned. I creep out onto the parapet until I hear the cry of the dragon, then jump back. If flies over me, covering the parapet with flames. I spring after it, knowing my stamina (sprinting uses stamina) will run out just as I get to the first tower. It does and I make it to safety just as the dragon makes another pass. I look back to see the wall of flame peter out mere feet from where I stand.
OK so I’m at Tower 1. This is as far as I’ve ever been. The stretch to Tower 2 is much longer and worse, there are plenty of enemies stationed along it, many behind barricades. I creep out of the shadows of the tower and the first enemy sees me. It attacks. I dodge backwards, then step forward and give it a hard attack with my spear as it tried to recover from its wild swing. I follow the strong attack with a quick jab and it’s down. I’ve faced this kind of foe before. I move farther out and hear the cry of the dragon. I duck back to see what happens, and sure enough it strafes this section of the parapet. Where once there were enemies and barricades, now there are corpses and splintered wood. Bonus? For some reason I get all the souls from the baddies the dragon killed.
But still, how to get to Tower 2? Growing impatient and careless, I start running along the parapet. The dragon attacks, my health drops precipitously. With a sliver left, I run back to the safety of the first tower. Eat some herbs to heal up. I decide to climb to the top of this tower to see what I can see, and when I do I notice stairs going down as well as up. What’s this? I follow and they lead to a tunnel running under the parapet from tower 1 to tower 2. I’m thinking “this is too easy” when a pack of wild dogs attacks. These things are hard for me for some reason. They tend to leap and circle behind me, making them tough to hit, particularly since I’m holding a spear and the tunnel is narrow. Hard to spin around with so unwieldy a weapon.
Once again I’m almost dead as the last dog finally perishes. More herbs, and I press on. There are plenty of other enemies along the way. Someone has left a message by a gaping hole in the wall. I stop to read it. It says “Nice view” (which it is). As I’m reading it, another dog attacks. Dammit. I fight him off, then backtrack and add my own message: “Beware of distractions.”
I finally made it to tower two, scrambled up and dispatched the few enemies at the top of it, and sure enough, found the bow! But now I’m feeling greedy and I want to know what’s in Tower 3.
There’s no tunnel: I checked. And again the dragon is strafing the parapet. Again it sweeps off the enemies for me. I run, listening for the sound of the beast. As it approaches, I tumble forward. Tumbling is a way to avoid attacks: while tumbling you’re invulnerable. I time it perfectly, the dragon’s flame washes over my harmlessly and I bob back to my feet and keep running. I’m so focused on listening for the dragon that I’m not really looking at what’s in front of me. Turns out right inside Tower 3 is a group of crossbowmen and a couple of knights.
Suddenly I look like a pincushion and my health is about half gone. I attack, skewering the crossbowmen, who go down fairly easily, but now I have the knights to deal with. I’d like to back up, but I fear the dragon behind me. I panic, try eating herbs but one of the knights rushes me (you’re totally vulnerable for a few seconds when eating a healing herb). Foolishly I back up, try again. The other knight rushes me. Almost dead now, I start to block and attack. The knights have shields and my spear held 1 handed has a devil of a time breaking through shield defenses. I should be fighting these guys with a sword held in 2 hands, using my strength to break through their defense. But I don’t have time to switch so my only chance is to get behind them.
I try to do that, circling and jabbing. Had there been one of them I’d be all right. Now my back is to the third tower…and I have no clue what is behind me. I’m afraid to back up. I’m trying to block. Blows rain down on my shield, draining my stamina. I stab futilely, but it’s too late. My stamina runs out, I drop my shield, and one of the knights delivers the Killing Blow.
YOU DIED fills the screen. And I’m back at the spawn in point with zero souls. The only way to recover what I’ve dropped? Go back out there, get past those knights and click on the bloodstain that is all that is left of my prior life. But the Hoplites are back. The wild dogs are back. The enemies on the parapets are back.
On the plus side, I still have the bow I went for! You don’t lose items when you die.
I’ll stop this story now and pretend I went back to the Nexus to rest. In truth I tried to get those souls back, but the 2nd time I didn’t time my tumble right and the dragon fried me on the parapet, killing me again, leaving a new bloodstain and erasing the first one, and all the souls connected to it.
Hopefully this tale illustrates some of what is great about Demon’s Souls. It’s a game that rewards patience, planning and skill. Had I followed my original game plan, I would’ve been fine. I got greedy and paid the price, and paying the price is why people say Demon’s Souls is so hard and unforgiving. There is a penalty for dying.
The proper course of action, I think, would’ve been to recover the bow, head back to stock up on arrows, and then kill the dragon, allowing me to cross to the next tower carefully, able to scope out what’s going on rather than running blindly across and depending on a very skilled (or very lucky) tumble to avoid the dragon’s breath.
That’s what I’ll try tonight except…turns out I don’t have enough strength to use the bow effectively! So first I’ll wipe out bunches of enemies and use the souls to increase my strength. Or maybe rather than killing the dragon I should learn a spell that protects me from flame. Hmm. I’ve heard there’s a ring somewhere that does the same thing. Maybe I should look for that? Decisions, decisions.
No matter what I decide to do, I know I’ll have fun. This is a great game!