October 6 marks the 10th anniversary of Demon’s Souls‘ western release and I’d like to highlight it as both one of my favorite games of all time but also a game that changed and reinvigorated how I felt about the medium as a whole. But first a little background.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the game that made me realize how much grander video games could be. My first Zelda, sure, but also the first time I had experienced so much more. Before OoT I had really only played some classic arcade games, Sonic the Hedgehog, Vectorman, DOOM, and Mario Kart. This made OoT my first 3rd person 3d game. My first melee combat game in 3d. My first game with long story cutscenes. The first with an equipment menu. With towns filled with NPCs and quests. With hidden collectibles and secrets. The list goes on and on for quite some time.
Naturally, that makes OoT tough to beat in my mind. There were so many formative moments wondering Hyrule where I was in awe and had absolutely no clue what was around any corner. I loved it. The game established my gaming lexicon from almost scratch and it sparked a much broader love of games. Years went by and, unbeknownst to me, that feeling of wonder and discovery faded away.
It wasn’t until I bought Demon’s Souls on a whim that I rediscovered the long-forgotten feeling. It was scary to turn every corner. I had to seriously consider every move again. Is there a boss behind this fog or just more of the level? Do I risk it? Can I win? Should I turn back? I’d see a new enemy in the distance and freeze. Did it see me? What’s it doing? What could its attacks be? Ok, I’ll inch closer. The wonder and discovery came back in full.
These almost primal feelings were ones I had experienced long ago with OoT and they are ones you don’t find in almost every other game. A boss in most games is perfunctory. A new enemy doesn’t make you pause, you just go and fight it. You’re the hero. But in Demon’s Souls, you’re not the hero— just another lost soul. The game demands and expects your patience and respect. It’s rude and obtuse but never too harsh. The mystery is more than enough to pull you through.
Demon’s Souls took me back to how I felt playing games when I was 9. A feeling of deep personal nostalgia that is almost impossible to describe but intoxicating in how all-encompassing it was. It’s rooted in how I interact and see games at the basest level. It was like discovering video games all over again, seeing them with fresh eyes. And Demon’s Souls remains as the only game to ever elicit this feeling so strongly (the other Souls games do too with ever diminishing effects). And that’s why it is so special to me.
For f#$%’s sake, it started a GENRE, I’m not alone in feeling this way about it. Think about how common the ‘Souls-like’ descriptor is today. In the last ten years, you’d be hard-pressed to name a single game that has been more influential to games. Maybe PUBG or Fortnite, maybe Skyrim. But that’s a pretty shortlist of candidates.
In honor of this anniversary, I started a fresh playthrough of Demon’s Souls for the first time in many years, at least since Bloodborne, Nioh, and Sekiro and perhaps even longer. I was worried it wouldn’t hold up, that the chunky controls would be too much after so many years and improvements to the formula. But it holds up extremely well. Sure, it’s rough, but the game is so much smaller in scope compared to Dark Souls and other future entries that its shortcomings don’t get in the way. I may be playing through several 2019 releases right now, but Demon’s Souls remains captivating and I’m excited to experience it all again. And maybe catch a glimmer of that feeling one more time.