*Spoilers May Follow*
Thus far in the game I’ve had a relatively simple go of it. The bosses haven’t caused me much grief and I’ve made relatively decent progress without many hang-ups. The game up to this point seems easier than I remember and so far all of the areas are familiar to me in some way. Seven years ago, I knew that I had made it relatively far into the game but I was never sure of where that play through ended. I’m eager to get to the point where things become unrecognizable. If you followed Part 1 of the Chronicle, you should recall that I ended that play through right after I was deposited at the top of a cathedral by two large Grey gargoyles. If you didn’t check out either the prologue to the Chronicle or Part 1 I invite you to go back and check those out first. For now, I’ll continue my journey by touching the arch stone that leads to the Shrine of Storms.
The Shrine of Storms is similar in aesthetics to the first area, Boletaria Castle. It is a fortress that seems to be built on an isolated island that is also shrouded in a thick fog. I began the level standing in a grassy expanse set a good ways below the entrance to the castle proper. This open area funnels to a staircase that twists up the edge of the mountain toward the main castle entrance. As I stepped foot toward the staircase I was immediately introduced to a new skeleton-type enemy. What started as a pile of bones sprung to life before my eyes. Before I knew it, it was aggressively somersaulting its way toward me. These enemies are rather quick and agile, but blocking their initial attack allowed me to make pretty quick work of it. Further up the path I ran into a couple more of the rolling skeletons and some skeleton archers. Getting surrounded by these enemies can be disastrous so I carefully grabbed the attention of one at a time and cleared the path before me. The main entrance to the castle was blocked by my first fog-covered door of the level and house two more skeleton-archers that weren’t accessible quite yet. I made a bee-line toward the door to get out of the archer’s range and entered the fogged over entrance. On the other side I had a nasty surprise waiting for me. I found myself standing in front of a large enemy that either resembled, or may well have been a version of the initial boss of the game that killed me in one blow during the tutorial. My distance from the enemy made it so that he hadn’t noticed me yet. This was great as I was able to find a sweet spot directly in front of the giant that was just outside of his range of view but within the range of my magic. I fired multiple soul arrows until he was dead. I found it rather comical that the whole time I was launching spells at him, he just stood there. Knowing that the AI reacts better in the later games, we can chalk this up to a learning experience for the developers. Either way, I got my redemption against the monster that wrecked me in the beginning level of the game.
Being inside the actual castle gave me an opportunity to take in my surroundings, assuming I wasn’t being shot at by the large manta-ray like creatures flying above me. The level itself has a more intimate feeling than past levels. Even the Tower of Latria, despite its rather linear paths through the various areas there always felt like there was a huge part of the area that was still unseen. I don’t get that impression from the Shrine of Storms, it has a very “what you see is what you get” type of a feeling. There may very well be much more hidden within the area, but for the first time in the game, I felt like the environment around me was fully accounted for. I don’t automatically consider that a negative, but it does call into question the setting over all. In a game like Demon’s Soul’s, branching paths and clever level design has been the focus, so when a level comes around that seems more straightforward or predictable, that level needs to be vastly different from the others in the game. It didn’t take me long to feel like I was playing through the first area again. It’s hard to get excited about an area when my first impression is that of a watered down version of an area that I’m already working through. I made it through the level without too much issue, but I did have a bit of trouble with some of the gold skeletons, although that was due to their placement along a narrow cliff that runs around the outside of the island. They became more of an environmental hazard than anything else. I also came across two black skeletons dual wielding blades. These were tough. Once again, a patient player is going to have a much easier go of it than one that flails about wildly. For the most part though, I was able to find my way to the boss of the level, The Adjudicator. My first confrontation was short and sweet. I was dead in about a minute. It happened so fast I didn’t even know what hit me. Literally. I typically approach my initial confrontation with every boss as a way to settle on a strategy for future battles should they be necessary. This “battle” didn’t even afford me that luxury. The arena in which the fight takes place is a vertical shaft with a large hole in the middle. I took a couple of steps and was assaulted by what appeared to be a large tongue. The tongue shot out of the hole in the middle of the floor, hit me, and then disappeared into the darkness. The hole was large, but it also looked very deep from the top. I took a couple more steps and was accosted again. I lost my sense of direction and tried to roll out of the way before the third attack hit me but accidentally rolled into the chasm. It wasn’t as long of a fall as I had feared, but my life bar was depleted due to the first couple of attacks and the fall killed me. Not a great first confrontation, but if I learned anything, it was to find a path down as quickly as possible on my next attempt.
I respawned at the beginning of the level and I feel like I have to make a note here. I’ve gushed about the first level of Demon’s Souls and the way the design allowed for clever shortcuts allowing quick passage to important areas. In Boletaria castle, if I died while fighting the first boss, Phalanx, it was a short trek down the bridge and I could try again. I had it in my head that this was pretty typical for most if not all of the levels based on my memories of the game. If you could locate the shortcut, you saved yourself the headache of navigating the entire level over and over again. Clearly, I was wrong. I should have noticed it before. The Stone Fang Tunnel did have a shortcut, but it was still a bit of a trek if you perished against the Armor Spider. The Tower of Latria again had a couple of small shortcuts, but in the end you were pretty much required to trek through the entirety of the level to fight the Fool’s Idol again. My normal reaction when already having experienced an area and having to traverse multiple times is to burn through it as quickly as possible to get to where I was prior. This practice doesn’t prove to be very helpful in this game. It never was more clear though until after my initial defeat by The Adjudicator. I adopted the mentality, as I always do, of powering through the areas I’ve seen and just trying to square off with the boss again. I died a number of times with this strategy. Careless mistakes like evading an attack and rolling off of the side of a cliff to simply overestimating the number of attacks I could get in before my stamina bar was depleted occurred with increased frequency. Couple that with another CHEAP DEATH that saw my character hack through one of the black skeletons without a hit registering only to have him wind up and kill me with the next blow. It took great fortitude on my behalf to slow myself down and approach each battle with the understanding that they are all dangerous in their own way. Despite the frustrations, these instances made me appreciate the game even more. I’m guilty of taking certain aspects of video games for granted. I feel like the designers did a good job to instill an appreciation for these smaller encounters that other games lack entirely.
When I did finally make it back to the boss arena. I was eventually able to locate that which evaded me entirely on my first foray into the arena. Near the back of the stage there is a set of stairs that aren’t necessarily hidden, but they aren’t really in plain view either. I took the stairs down and finally got a good look at the boss that violated me with his tongue on my earlier attempt. My first impression of this boss leads me to believe that he is the physical manifestation of Gluttony. He is grotesquely rotund with a giant orifice, which I can only assume is his mouth, with a comically large tongue snaking its way out of it. Getting off of that top level of the arena is the key to success against this boss. When I got to the middle level I not only was afforded my first look at the boss, but it also allowed me a better opportunity to engage with magic. In fact my “Soul Arrow Spam” technique once again made this fight relatively simple. I simply avoided the very slow attacks the boss flung at me and launched Soul Arrows until I had to evade again. The boss fell easily and I used the new arch stone to return to the Nexus.
The next area that I visited is my least favorite in the game so far by a large margin. The area is called the Valley of Defilement and it is best explained as a giant chasm that is only navigable via crumbling wooden ledges that are haphazardly connected to the cavern walls. This area more closely resembles that which you may find in a platforming game. Therein lies the root of my distaste for this environment. Demon’s Souls has many things going for it but I don’t think I’d be blowing anybody’s mind if I said that it’s platform-based gameplay is not one of those things. Now, technically you aren’t actually jumping from platform to platform, but there is a level of verticality to this area that really showcases some of the shortcomings of the movement system overall. If you need a refresher on the game’s issues with “platforming”, please reference part 1 of the Chronicle where I note my difficulty simply getting on and off of an elevator. There may not be any elevators in this level, but every step you take in this area could send you free-falling to your death just the same.
Thankfully, the enemies that populate the area are very weak for the most part. One or two hacks should put them down. Again though, despite the relative ease of the enemies, any over-commitment could send me sprawling toward the bottom of the abyss. Falling off of the walkways in this area can happen rather easily, but a player who carefully engages the enemies should be fine. I was able to tiptoe my way around the map, taking out enemies and finding the various items hidden around the area without many missteps. I may have even made it all they way to the boss area if it wasn’t for the ever present risk of a CHEAP DEATH. About two-thirds of the way to my destination, there is a spot where you can cross a wooden bridge the leads into a gap in the cavern wall that you can explore. The walkways had intertwined with the walls of the cavern several times before in this level, but in this area the texturing just seemed a little off. Sure enough, as I was attempting to make my way toward an item on the ledge I hit a spot where the walkway didn’t quite line up flush with the geography of the cavern wall and my character “slipped” down about two feet. I found myself in a position that didn’t allow a return to the walkway nor did it give me the ability to move up into the hole in the wall. I tried to force my character back onto solid ground by rolling but eventually the animation caused me to somehow launch myself away from the wall and into the abyss.
I mentioned during my time in the Shrine of Storms how the trek through the various levels to fight bosses or to continue your progress could be tedious and frustrating. This is doubly true in the Valley of Defilement. This area just isn’t all that much fun to navigate. Should you make it past the areas with the treacherous footing, you’ll reach a point near the fog door where you meet a giant version of the enemies you’ve been dispatching throughout the level. This enemy doesn’t stagger very easily, if at all, and it has extremely powerful attacks that can send a character flying. These fights take place in areas that are still difficult to traverse confidently, or they occur in small enclosed rooms where dodging attacks can be incredibly difficult. Taking out these enemies proved to be the most frustrating part of this level, getting hit once usually led to a deadly follow up attack that my character couldn’t defend himself against. It took a couple of tries but I was finally able to make my way through the level without falling to my death or being bludgeoned by the giant’s club attacks. I made my way through the fog-covered boss door at the end of the level. Believe it or not, this encounter was actually less successful than my first encounter with the previous boss. Leechmonger is a creature made up of hundreds of, you guessed it, leeches. It attacks by balling up those leeches and launching them in your direction. The arena itself is a huge cavern lined with a wooden walkway that leads all the way to the bottom. My strategy with this boss was to remain far above him, use my auto-lock, and unload fireball spells in his direction. It would have made for a solid strategy but when I got to the point where I could target the enemy I was standing too close to the edge of the walkway. The camera suddenly turned and when it did, all it took was one step to find myself plummeting toward the base of the arena. The fall didn’t kill me but it left me will little life and little chance of making it out of this fight alive. I didn’t want to engage with physical attacks so I attempted to navigate back up the wooden walkway. I didn’t heal as I thought getting far away would be priority, but one well aimed attack was all it took to finish me off. I went through the agony of playing through the level, which by the way, is the first level that doesn’t have any sort of shortcut to get back to the boss. It took me a couple of attempts, but eventually I made it back to the boss arena. When I arrived I followed the same strategy but this time I was deftly aware of lock on camera switch and this time when I targeted the Leechmonger, no harm befell me. I spammed the beast with my fireball spell and before long he was defeated. I took the long path down to the base of the arena, picked up the several items scattered about, and took the arch stone back to the Nexus.
The end of this boss battle meant that I had at least survived my introduction to each of the main areas of the game. The five levels, Boletaria Castle, Stone Fang Tunnel, Tower of Latria, Shrine of Storms, and the Valley of Defilement all presented interesting struggles and with the exception of Shrine of Storms I felt as though I had explored very different environments. The bosses I have faced thus far have been unique in design but so far have had very exploitable weaknesses that made me fully capable of dispatching each with relative ease. This marks the end of part 2 of the From Software Chronicles. So far my experience with Demon’s Souls has been entertaining and despite it’s age, it has provided an entertaining experience to this point. I look forward to seeing how these levels evolve and what secrets they hold. I’m also curious as to when the game will lose its familiarity. I know that I never beat this game back in the day and I’m beginning to wonder what caused me to stop. Maybe I’ll have that answer at the conclusion of part 3.