This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Demon's Souls.
Friends, I have an awkwardly-titled monkey on my back that has been stealing my peanuts for many years: a monkey named "Demon's Souls". Ever since my Dark Souls epiphany when I realized I loved FromSoftware's grim, high-difficulty action-RPGs - hurt me more, Daddy - the monkey keeps asking if I'm going to redo my pre-epiphany Demon's Souls review where I complain about how it's too hard, and my feet hurt, and the waitress was very disrespectful. And I keep replying, "I can't, because it was a PS3 exclusive, and the last time I saw my PS3, it was around the neck of Ride to Hell: Retribution as it broke surface one last desperate time." But now, Demon's Souls has been remade for the PS5, and my editor finally sold enough of his organs to get me one, so I have now played Demon's Souls again, and finished it, to my own surprise; there were a couple of hard bits where progress stalled, but eventually, I realized that this was before FromSoftware figured out how to counteract the all-purpose Dark Souls strategy, i.e., roll behind them when they attack and administer a violent suppository.
"So do you like Demon's Souls more than you did the first time, Yahtzee?" Certainly do! "Do you also see why Dark Souls was the more popular one?" Certainly do that as well! I'm getting the Persona 4 feeling again, seeing all the little squirts that will one day become the game I loved, but not quite adding up to the full money shot yet. For one, Demon'SSS Souls - Jesus Christ, why did they call it that?! - is not a sprawling, interconnected open world, which surprised me, as such things are now as indelible a part of the Souls-like genre as funny walks are of scrotal psoriasis. Instead, you go to five unconnected, broadly linearly laid-out areas accessed from a hub castle; it's like Mario 64 if Princess Peach had had her eyes waxed shut.
You can tackle them in any order and go back and forth as much as you like, which creates the usual issue that they all have to have roughly the same difficulty, so once you're in the late game and have fully upgraded your suppository equipment, then the last few areas roll over like a friendly dog with an itchy back. In fact, the final boss of almost every area is a complete cop-out, generally too easy and often a gimmick boss, like the Dragon God, who looks terrifying, and is the size of your mum's buffet plate, but is actually a proto-Bed of Chaos, and he's only harder than fighting a kitten in a blender 'cos you have to press two buttons instead of one. Then there's Latria, which is one of the harder worlds, full of striking, horrific Lovecraftian visuals; then at the end of it, you just fight some random cunt with a Walnut Whip for a head.
It's only the final boss of the first area that puts up a decent scrap, and of course, he's the one who's an infuriatingly long way from the last checkpoint, and every time you want to face him, you have to plow through three castles, one dragon, and an elevator ride slow enough to pitch an entire Hideo Kojima project. Oh, and I won't spoil it, but as for the final final boss of the game, I've had bigger struggles working caramel out of my teeth. "That was the point, Yahtz; it's an illustration of the rot that's set into this dying world that even the final boss could barely peel himself off the couch long enough to put up a fight." Yeah, I know! Dark Souls does the same thing, but it managed to not be completely anticlimactic about it.
I left Demon's Souls feeling it had engaged me a lot less than other FromSoftware self-abuse simulators, especially in the story area; maybe the less cohesive world made me feel a little more detached from it, if it wasn't all the underwhelming boss fights that felt more like getting coughed on by a stoat. But this is a remake, remember, and as for whether it benefits from that, the graphics have certainly been significantly shined up in contrast to the disappointing Dark Souls Remastered, which just felt like playing the old version after you've gotten better contact lenses. I was impressed by the PS5's short loading times, but if I'm going to have to host a liquorice allsort as big as that, it better have some fucking hardware improvements.
When it comes to gameplay, however, this is very much a "warts and all" situation. I mean, the biggest and greasiest wart that I'd have thought the game would want to hack off given the chance to rethink things is the limited inventory space, which is the little dog turd seed from which grows a many-branched dog turd tree: having to constantly manually replenish items; the having to press an extra button that sends found items to the stockpile when you might have three fetid buggerbears closing in of a mind to administer suppositories of their own; leaving behind your useless pile of tendonitis cure potions and then getting fucked 'cos you ran into the one enemy in the game that bestows tendonitis three miles from the checkpoint. And by the tiny stroke of removing inventory limits, all that embuggerance would disappear; we could stop having to deal with that Stockpile Thomas weirdo in the hub castle, who keeps talking like he's in actual physical love with me 'cos I let him hold the four Dregling Shields I am never going to bloody use.
And while we're nitpicking, in Dark Souls, you use Titanite Shards to upgrade your weapons some of the way, and then you have to use the rarer Large Titanite Shards instead; this is a fine system. In Demon's Souls, once your weapon is upgraded past a certain point, you have to use both small shards and large shards; this is a bad system, designed by evil footwear companies who want you to wear out your shoes grinding small shards in old areas, or going back and forth buying them in bulk from that weird bloke who looks like Charlie Manson taking a beach holiday.
But you know something, viewers? You have to get really into a game to start being bothered by stuff this deep in the systems, and I was. Really into Demon's Souls, I mean. It was interesting to see all the little prototype ideas that would later go into Dark Souls and even Bloodborne, in parts; there's proto-Blighttown, there's Iron Golem Jr., and the granddaddy of the entire spectrum of "generic dude in armor" boss fights, old Mr. "No, Seriously Now, What's Your Actual Name?" The Penetrator.
But I'm left wondering what Demon's Souls' purpose is in the present day, considering that it was, in many ways, a prototype for the vastly better and much easier to pronounce Dark Souls. I would've said it might be a nice starter game for players who are turned off by the way newer From games have gotten even harder and sprawlier, and might appreciate something a little more straightforward and easier-going, but the game's actually harder in some ways; it's a lot stingier with checkpoints, and lest we forget, you're punished with having to make do with half health for the disproportionate crime of dying once, and not knocking out every boss on your first go with naught but a swing of one mighty testicle, which isn't exactly friendly to new players, or healthy genitalia.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate getting the chance to replay it, but I'm a Dark Souls fan; it was interesting to me, the way dads are interested in model railway museums that bore the earlobes off everyone else. Look, kids! This dragon guarding Castle Boletaria must be the progenitor of the Hellkite Wyvern from Undead Burg! Isn't that fascinating? "DAAAD, we're really BOOORED! And my iPad melted!"
- Souls in all his holes: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- My hot tip: Goad the Penetrator into doing his dive forward attack and then dodge roll behind him and nothing of yours will be penetrated that day
- Just calling it "Demon Souls" could've saved so much apostrophe money