*This Article May Contain Spoilers*
Thus far Demon’s Souls simply hasn’t given me too much of a challenge. There have been parts that have been frustrating here and there, but getting through those parts just took a bit more patience and perseverance on my part. The game continues to keep me entertained, but there have been some areas that have been underwhelming in terms of level design. Some of the latter areas have left a bit to be desired compared to the opening of the game. For the most part though, I’ve enjoyed my playthrough up to this point. At the end of part 2 I had just wrapped up the final boss of Defilement Valley, and had gotten my first taste of each of the 5 core areas of the game. This playthrough will have me revisiting those areas, but I’ll be proceeding further into each level. We’ll start by returning to where it all began, Boletaria Castle.
If you recall, Boletaria castle’s first section ended with the boss fight against Vanguard, the slime boss. When you spawn at the Vanguard arch stone you find yourself back in that room that you fought the boss originally. Making your way through the dark rooms eventually leads you to a doorway that opens up to a long winding bridge. The bridge is cluttered with all sorts of detritus, and hidden in the clutter you will find enemies strewn about. If you take a couple of steps out onto the bridge, the red dragon from the level’s opening cutscene appears. The dragon flies the length of the bridge, and rains down fire on those unfortunate enough to be in the way. Eventually he’ll loops around and repeats the process over and over again. This is a long bridge and at the end there are several enemies just waiting to unleash holy hell on you as soon as you are in sight. The trick is to time your run just after the dragon flies over head and sprint the length of the bridge to make it past the dragon’s range. If you can do that you just have to find a way to not only protect yourself against the volley of arrows that are sure to come your way, but you must also avoid getting surrounded by the undead enemies. You must accomplish this all while trying not to draw the attention of the knights further down the tunnel. Fighting two of the three groups is difficult, having to deal with all three groups without having the luxury of retreat is pretty much impossible. This, in relation to the rest of the level, was the confrontation I struggled with the most.
Something that stood out at this point in the game was the relative lack of souls that are received from each enemy. These enemies, for the most part, are the same enemies from the very beginning of the game. It doesn’t feel like the soul gathering was scaled to reflect the more advanced character development that is necessary in this part of the game. The concept of “soul-farming” can be tedious, but it is can be especially arduous in this area. It isn’t that you’re facing enemies that require you to be higher leveled, but in my case it felt like it hampered my characters progression to the point where me wanting to level up seemed like a task not worth undertaking.
Character progression aside, this second part of Boletaria Castle does continue to impress as it relates to the overall level design. As you proceed through the series of bridges that make up this level, you are eventually introduced to a second castle buried deeper in the mountains beyond the first. In my opinion, the level designers should be unbelievably proud of their accomplishments with this level. To create such large, fully explorable landmarks is an incredible achievement even on today’s systems. However, to do it on hardware that is considered antiquated by today’s standards is astonishing. The level designers from From Software set the bar high not only for future games they would release, but for the entire 3rd person action genre itself.
Now that I’ve given credit where I feel credit is due, continuing through the level eventually brings you to a fog-covered door leading to a boss fight against the Tower Knight. This is the most imposing of the bosses up to this point. He is a giant suit of armor, carrying a giant shield and an long spear. He towers (Tower Knight… get it), over your character. The arena is made up of a giant open space surrounded by tall walls with undead archers taking pot-shots at you. There are stairs that lead up either side of the arena and allow you to confront said archers. Taking those enemies out first is crucial as the boss is most easily faced from a distance with magic. Assuming you can dodge the magical spears the boss tosses toward you, you should be able to beat Tower Knight rather easily despite his gigantic statue. I did just that, and returned to the Nexus after the boss battle.
The next stop was a return to Stonefang Tunnel via the Armor Spider archstone. The boss fight against the Armor Spider took place in a long, narrow tunnel that opened up to a larger cavern which housed the body of the spider. With the boss dead, you can see that this area is actually the beginning of a series of mine shafts, and now you have the opportunity to explore those mines in depth. The enemies in the area are still mostly the same from the beginning of the level. Slow-moving, but hard hitting miners. Despite their familiarity, blindingly hacking through enemies is not sound tactics in this area, because every once in a while you will come across a floating orb. They are shiny and mysterious and, as is normal for any shiny, mysterious thing, your first instinct is to investigate it further. Do so, and you will be treated to a large explosion which could eviscerate your entire life bar if your Vitality is low. Knowing this makes them rather easy to avoid, but one should still be careful around them.
A little way into the level, I experienced my first “Invasion”. An invasion is the entrance of another player into your world. These invasions pit the player against not only the enemies of the level, but also another player that can be very difficult to kill. I was eventually dispatched by this guy after a lengthy stand-off. It was a good battle, but I have to say, the way the multiplayer is implemented in this game is not for me. These levels can be very difficult by themselves, and I truly have no interest in fending off someone else on top of the challenges already being presented to me. Fortunately, it only happened once in this area.
Another thing I noticed in this area, is the constant threat of being overburdened. This area is a hot bed for shard and stone collecting for weapon upgrades. The problem is that stuff gets really heavy really quickly. I wouldn’t make it very far into the level without coming across an item I couldn’t pick up due to it’s weight. Thankfully, I realized when I returned to the Nexus that you can completely off-load all of your shards, chunks, fragments, etc… with the guy who manages your storage box and still have access to them when visiting a blacksmith. With the way the rest of this game is balanced I thought for sure that if you weren’t ACTUALLY carrying the pieces you needed to upgrade your weapon, then you wouldn’t be able to upgrade. This was a pleasant surprise.
Making it further into the level you come to a series of wooden walkways that jut out from he side of the mountain. This area is home to two new enemy types. The slow-moving bugbear that appears in various sizes, and large worm-like enemies that burst through the ground and vomit goo all over you. Neither are truly difficult, but getting trapped in the middle of multiple worms can be deadly. Continuing through this area brings you to another not-so-fun platforming area that requires you to drop from level to level to finally reach the bottom of a large cavern. This area wasn’t as bad as the Valley of Defilement, but annoying nonetheless.
Making it to the bottom of the tunnel, you find yourself in an area that is inhabited by several worms. The good news is this area also marks the end of the level. Up ahead is a fog-door that will lead to this area boss, The Flamelurker. The Flamlurker is a difficult boss, that took me multiple attempts. In all honesty though this arena doesn’t allow for any of my magic spamming tactics, so I guess I’m getting what I deserve. In fact, besides Vanguard, the first boss of the game, this was probably the first boss that I had to face in a way that put me in range of most of the beasts attacks. Magic was still the predominant form of offense, but retreat proved to be difficult anytime the Flamelurker got too close. With good timing, and a bit of luck I was able to extinguish the Flamelurker on my third attempt, and returned to the Nexus. Killing this boss provided the soul required to unlock the blacksmith’s full potential from the beginning of Stonefang Tunnel. That means that now you can power up most of your weapons, provided you have the correct stones to do so.
Thinking back to end of Part 1 of the chronology, you’ll recall my final thought before closing, “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.” The inspiration for that quote came from the area we are returning to next. The “dark expanse in front of me” is the top of the tower that the gargoyles dropped me off at after dispatching the Fool’s Idol. This is where you begin after touching the Fool’s Idol archstone. This area is completely different from the first part of the Tower of Latria. Gone are the prison cells and indoor environments. Instead you are in a dark outdoor area dotted with pyre’s along narrow walkways connecting the tops of the giant towers. Whereas the former areas visited have kept a pretty consistent theme from the first part of the level to the second, this one is vastly different and makes for one of the more interesting areas of the game in my opinion. Making your way down the pathways will eventually reintroduce you to the beasts that brought you here in the first place. The gargoyles you encounter now aren’t as passive as they were before and attack when you get close. The good news is that they aren’t overly difficult if you can time their attacks properly.
Making it past the first series of bridges brings you to a giant cylindrical room with stairs and walkways leading around the perimeter. In the center there is a massive fleshy heart chained up. It’s definitely one of the more interesting set-pieces that exist inside any of the levels thus far. Although at his point it isn’t really clear what the hearts purpose is. As you progress through the level, you eventually reach an elevator that takes you all the way down to the suface. The elevator deposits you in a pink, murky swamp complete with long tentacles feeling around. There are wooden walkways that extend out of the muck, but this area’s size and relative sameness makes it difficult to navigate coherently. As you navigate the walkways you’ll be introduced to yet another type of enemy. I’d consider it a cross between a scorpion and a worm, complete with an anguished human face. They are simple to take out, but can catch players unaware with their second form.
The goal in this area is to deactivate the two chains holding up the heart. Disengaging the mechanism sends the heart crashing to the base of the room it was hanging in prior and in the process opens up a way to reach the very top of the area, which is home to the boss. The boss, or should I say bosses, go by the name of Maneater. They get the honor of being the most difficult challenge faced in the game to this point. The battle takes place on a narrow bridge with columns bordering it. Toward the end of the bridge there are stairs leading up to another pyre with a further extension of walkway leading to another fog-covered door.
When you enter the fog-covered door, the Maneater lumbers in your direction. Maneater is basically a larger version of the gargoyles you faced before, except he has two parts to him, his body and his tail. The main goal should be to get rid of the tail which allows him to cast devastating spells in your direction. Whether it be huge damage or a simple stagger, if either one hits you, you could be in serious trouble. If you can take out his tail the fight does become easier, but is still very difficult. This boss is really hard to face one on one, but when the second Maneater joins the fight, it becomes borderline impossible to win. I tried several times but really didn’t even come close to beating the two. I turned to the internet and was made aware that there is a exploit which allows you to take out the first boss before the fight even starts. After struggling so many times to defeat the two, I decided to take the cowards way out. I loaded up on arrows and found an area just to the right of the fog door that allowed projectiles to pass through it, and fired away. It took about 150 arrows but eventually the first Maneater fell before I even entered the arena. This made the fight much more simple, but as I stated before, fighting these guys one on one is still very dangerous. Eventually, the second Maneater fell and I was able to use the archstone to return to the Nexus. Call me a cheater if you’d like, but guess what, my tactic for winning this battle won’t keep me up at night.
That will conclude Part 3 of the From Software Chronicles. In this chapter I have come to the conclusion that the difficulty of the game seems to be ramping up drastically. What started as a relative simple adventure, (see first paragraph) has quickly escalated to a more trying experience. Hopefully I haven’t screwed myself too badly with the way I’ve leveled my character. I know that there is still a little ways to go in this game and if the difficulty continues to evolve like it has over these last few areas, I may be in real trouble.
Teaser for Part 4. I’m in real trouble…