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The From Software Chronicles – Part 1

by on April 22, 2016
 

My long journey begins with the first entry in the series, Demon’s Souls. It was released in 2009 for the PlayStation 3. I remember hearing about this game when it was announced, but not really thinking much of it. My roommate at the time had recently purchased his PS3 and he was the first one of us to buy Demon’s Souls. He raved about it after it released. His excitement was catching and after watching him play for a bit, I went out and purchased it as well. One of my favorite memories of playing this game was remembering the two of us yelling back and forth from one bedroom to the other, trying to figure out how to get past certain areas. Despite playing on separate consoles we worked together to make it further and further into the game. My memory is foggy regarding most of the specifics of the game which isn’t surprising as the game is now seven years old. I remember having a lot of frustrations as I played but it also has stuck with me. This is the oldest game in the series, I think this is the one that I am most excited to return to. Seeing what the series has become makes it all the more exciting to go back and experience the origins. Before I begin my journey though, there is one thing that I need to mention. These games are huge, and they have so many things to offer. Because of that, I follow a walk through for these games. People can make arguments about how much of a gamer that does or doesn’t make me, but the fact of the matter is there are too many things in this game to miss. I do what makes me happy and using a guide allows me to experience everything this game has to offer And one final word, when I refer to the “series” in this chronicle, I am referring to all five games including Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne. I know full well that they are considered one-off’s as they relate to the three Dark Souls games, but for the sake of ease they’ll all be addressed as a series. Now that I have everything out there, here is your final warning!

*Spoilers Ahead!*

When I first booted up the game I was treated to a haunting and powerful cinematic that culminates with the appearance one of the most intimidating and awesome looking monsters I’ve seen in a video game. I enjoyed it so much that I have decided to share it with you.

How badass is that thing?!? It’s like Godzilla had a baby with Diablo, and when that baby grew up, it had a baby with a Xenomorph. After the introduction, I was taken to the character creation screen. I decided on Royalty as my class and was then treated to a far less visually stunning cut scene but one that was useful for setting up the cryptic back story. When that scene ended I was treated to another scene that showed my created character wandering in ankle deep water while a mysterious voice asked me to “Lull the Old One back to slumber”. When that scene ended, I found my character standing in what appeared to be a dilapidated canal. I finally had the freedom to move and I was immediately introduced to what would go on to become a staple of every game in the series, glowing messages inscribed on the ground. These messages are used as a learning tool to help explain the basics of gameplay in the beginning of the game, but take on a different meaning later on as players can leave their own glowing messages for other player to read. This initial area is home to weak enemies that allow you to become more familiar with the controls. In my case, they feel familiar now, but thinking back to the time of its release I think I had some trouble adjusting to the way the game played. Besides the benefit of familiarizing myself with the gameplay, this area is also a good introduction to the tone and look of the series. The area is dark and dreary, but it is well detailed. For a PS3 game from seven years ago I would say, at first glance, it still holds up rather well visually.

As I neared the end of the tutorial area, I came across a door covered in fog. This is another part of the series that has lived on in all iterations thus far. These fog-covered doors could lead to a continuation of a level or they could lead to something much more insidious. In this case, the latter held true. When I crossed the threshold, I saw standing before me a giant oaf of a beast that goes by the name Vanguard. He is about 20 feet tall with a large rotund body and comically small wings. His three white, glowing eyes fixated on me as soon as I entered the room. As he lumbered toward me I managed to get one Soul Arrow shot off as he bisected me with his giant axe. I was dead in one hit. Apparently you can beat him if you display some non-beginner techniques, but I’m okay with saying I’m not that committed to proving myself as such a player. The “You Died” banner overtook the screen and everything faded to black.

I awoke in an area called the Nexus. This area acts as the central hub of Demon’s Souls. It is a large area, with tons of verticality. At this point its largely empty aside from a few items and a handful of NPC’s on the ground floor. There is a blacksmith that will repair and upgrade my weapons and armor, someone that will hold my unneeded items, someone that will teach me spells and miracles, and a few other characters. The most important person though is the blind woman dressed in black. She is responsible for upping my character’s Soul Level. It’s not something I can take advantage of at this time, but soon it will prove to be invaluable. With nothing else really going on in the Nexus, it’s time to head to my first area, Boletaria Castle.

Whenever Demon’s Soul’s comes up in conversations, there is always one cut scene that pops up in my mind. This cut scene occurs when you enter Boletaria Castle for the first time. It shows a dragon swooping down and locking eyes with our hero before flying away deeper into the castle. I can’t explain why this scene has become the the foremost memory of this game, but I always harken back to that moment when the dragon lands and glares in my direction as the limbs of the dead bodies in its maw stick out in all directions. When it flies away we are left looking toward the main gate of Boletaria castle. Taking in the scenery surrounding my player still makes my head spin. The sense of scale and the level of detail are tremendous. This is an amazing opening level not only to this game, but to the series overall. It has all of the things a good area in the Soul’s series should have. The large castle laid out before you will show off the complex level design associated with these games. It is home to multiple paths, hidden shortcuts and items, beautiful vistas, and several different enemy types. The first time I unlocked the shortcut at the base of the tower with the spiral staircase was such an amazing moment to me. It made me feel like I wasn’t playing just another run-of-the-mill action game. Seeing the dragons in the background as you make your way down the backside of the castle walls help illustrate the sense of life this world has Despite the feeling that it is you against the world, the non-adversarial NPC’s help you feel like you’re not alone in this struggle. There are plenty of things to rave about, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the things that take you out of the world in a negative way. For example, that area I mentioned above that overlooks the dragons is also home to the first of what I’m sure will be several CHEAP DEATH‘s, which I’ll call out in such fashion. Cheap Deaths are an unfortunate side-effect of making such a unique game with such specific mechanics. In this instance, I attempted to set the trap that frees a half-dozen large boulders to careen down a decline mashing any enemies in their path. I hacked at it a couple of times trying to set them free but I could locate the hit box, so I moved a bit more toward the front of the contraption. This time when I struck the wood panels holding back the boulders, the panel’s gave way. It would have been perfect if I hadn’t positioned myself in the precarious position I did. I found myself dragged into their path. The first boulder hit me and knocked me to the ground. My characters animation intermingled with the boulder’s animation and I found myself smoothly sliding along with the boulders down the hill. By the time my character’s hit animation was done, there was another boulder destroying me. After the third boulder hit me my health bar, which was full prior to setting the trap, had diminished to zero. I died. If it wasn’t so painfully hilarious to watch, I might have been pissed. I knew though, cheap death’s will be a way of life in this game.

I Call Him the People Tooth Dragon

I Call Him the People Tooth Dragon

As I made my way toward the end of the level, I found a switch. When I flipped that switch I was treated to a cut scene that showed the large gate from the beginning of the level opening up. As the gate ascended I noticed in the distance, a large, mound-like shape. The camera zoomed back as the creature launched a giant spear that lodged in the cement just outside the gate. I’ve just caught a glimpse of the first boss in the Soul’s series that I’m actually meant to defeat, Phalanx. I made my way toward the beginning of the level (which was made easier by the discovery of another shortcut) and entered the gate which now had dense layer of fog over the opening. When I got into the area I saw the creature I would face. The best way to explain it would be to call it a heaping pile of slime enemies. These foes were introduced in the latter part of this first mission, and essentially are slimes with shielding covering the front of their bodies. Phalanx itself is completely harmless and has no way of hurting you or defending itself. The slimes that cover its body though are the main issue. A couple dozen or so have to be dealt with in order to find the soft, cushy, underbelly of Phalanx. Eventually, I was able to chip away at the large numbers and easily dispatched of this first boss. This activated a archstone that allowed me to return to the Nexus.

Phalanx

Phalanx

When I returned to the Nexus, I was tasked with locating The Monumental to learn a bit more about the dire situation I’ve found myself in. I got a bit more of the back-story and agreed to help the Monumental. Defeating Phalanx also allowed me to start leveling my character by speaking to the blind woman.

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After getting my character all buffed out, I took the next arch stone to the Stone Fang Tunnel. The Stone Fang Tunnel is essentially a fortress that is built into the side of a mountain. Climbing the stairs that lead from the arch stone brings you to an elevator that isn’t running and a merchant, which I thought was strange as he situated 15 paces from the starting point of the level. The enemies in this area consist of miners that have rather high physical defense stats, but can be easily dispatched with one or two Soul Arrow spells. There is a rotund, jovial, mage-type enemy that I could typically hear creepily laughing before they conjured powerful fireballs and hurled them in my direction. There are dogs in this level as well which weren’t exactly difficult, but because they attack in packs they can be really annoying to deal with. In fact, the dogs did kill me once, because I simply couldn’t find time to recover between and they overwhelmed me. The final enemy type that I ran into were glowing-orange fire lizards which again were easily dispatched with Soul Arrow spells. In my opinion, the level design for the Stone Fang Tunnel isn’t as impressive as Boletaria Castle was. This area did help illustrate though just how different each region could feel. Sure, it is still home to shortcuts and branching paths, but it definitely feels like a different part of the world. Again though, not everything went swimmingly. As I made my way through the level, I was eventually able to unlock a shortcut that brought me to the elevator from the beginning of the level. A switch that I had found prior had powered this elevator on. It turns out that getting on and getting off of elevators is one of the most stressful things you can do in this game. In this case, I simply mistimed my step. When I took a step forward, instead of finding myself taking a nice casual ride down an elevator, I instead found myself plummeting down the shaft toward another CHEAP DEATH. In all honesty it was hilarious, and I couldn’t help but think of the blacksmith who resides at the bottom of the elevator. He must have seen a lot of random people splat themselves right next to his forge. My new motto for this game will be “Forget the bosses, fear the elevators”. That’s t-shirt worthy!

Eventually I arrived at the end of the level and I began to have flashbacks to the boss fight I was about to enter into. The Armor Spider is… well… a giant spider. The arena the fight takes place in is unique in that the area is basically a tunnel with a large opening at the end in which the Armor Spider exists. Getting through the tunnel to engage the boss with melee attacks is tough sledding for sure. The Armor Spider mainly attacks with fireballs that he launches down the tunnel. Some fireballs were large that homed in on me but moved slowly, while other fireballs were small and were launched in rapid succession usually three at a time. The spider also shot webbing at me that could greatly reduce my speed and evasiveness. Looking at the arena makes you think that if you can get past the tunnel you should have a pretty easy fight. However, I have prior experience on my side and knew that getting close to this boss is just as deadly as remaining in the tunnel. Instead I found a nice area to settle into just ouside the range of his rapid fire fireballs. I set up shop and spammed my Soul Arrow spell while avoiding his other attacks and ended up defeating him rather easily.

Armor Spider

Armor Spider

I used the new archstone, returned to the Nexus, did what I needed to do and went to the next area, the Tower of Latria. As soon as the level generated I recalled how much I didn’t care for this area. I like the concept it presents, it being a large multi-level prison, and it once again showed off an area that is vastly different from the first two. The problem though is that it is an incredibly easy place to lose your way in, and it introduces one of the most infuriating enemies that I can remember facing in the entire series. It has multiple levels and multiple “wings” that are essentially identical to one another. The whole area is extremely dark, which adds to the frustration of getting lost, especially when you fall through the multiple holes in the floor. Some of those holes simply dropped me down to the next floor, and some lead me to a CHEAP DEATH. Getting lost sucks, but dealing with the Cthulhu like magic enemies can be an entirely different level of frustrating. You can see these enemies in the distance as they have a greenish-blue halo around them. They are very difficult to engage because at a distance they can launch Soul Arrow’s at you which do massive damage if they connect, but if you get too close they use an area attack that does less damage but knocks you on your ass. So if you think the best strategy would be find the middle of that range, then you become susceptible to the most dangerous move they employ, which is essentially a ball of electricity which paralyzes you where you stand. This attack itself does little or no damage, but if it connects, the creatures’ next move is to run at you, pick you up with its face-tentacles and stab you through the chest with its other face-tentacles. This causes MASSIVE damage, and if your level isn’t high enough it can kill you in one shot. If you survive, usually the animation involved in getting you back on your feet has allowed the creature to clobber you and take what little life you had left.

I made it through all dozen or so of those enemies, along with the random hallow enemies and eventually made it to the bottom level of the prison and was greeted by a sound that I hadn’t heard before. I glanced toward where the sound was coming from and I saw a blue spot of light. That sound reached a crescendo and eventually the blue light turned into a powerful magic spell that was launched in my direction. I dodged it and tried to get an idea of what was firing at me. Words can’t really describe what I saw. A mess of human limbs and insect parts all congealed into a large hive-like creature. While it wasn’t exactly dangerous to fight, it was quite the spectacle to behold in terms of enemy design. After dispatching that enemy I made my way through a gate that lead to a more expansive exterior area outside the prison walls. This area was home to several items, one of which allowed me to return to a locked area from earlier in the level and free an important NPC. When the side stuff was done I made my way to the boss area. I think I might have been terrible at this game back in the day because again, this is a boss that I remember being a real jerk. When I entered the fog, I found myself in a cathedral of sorts and I was introduced to Fool’s Idol. The Fool’s Idol launches magic attacks at you from afar, and when you damage her, she teleports away and re-appears with two imposter idols. Again I didn’t have much trouble with this boss due to my ability to weed out the imposters with a single Soul Arrow. I know for certain that this boss caused me a lot of grief all those years ago, it felt pretty good to handle her with such ease on this playthrough.

Fool's Idol

Fool’s Idol

After taking out the boss I noticed at the front of the level that there was an item behind an alter. I made my way toward it but before I could get to it, I was treated to a cut scene that showed three gargoyles grabbing my character and flying him up to the top of the cathedral where the Fool’s Idol had descended moments ago. I looked out over the dark expanse in front of me and again was reminded that in this game there can be so much more than first meets the eye.