I was introduced to the “Souls” series by a Demon’s Souls youtube video from the Two Best Friends Play. It certainly looked different, but it wasn’t until PlayStation Plus added Demon’s Souls to the instant collection that I gave it a shot. It was a turning point in my life as a gamer.
Demon’s Souls was a game that managed to balance fairness and punishment perfectly. That balance has been a staple of the series ever since. There is nothing in the entire series that is “cheap.” All traps are foreshadowed and easily avoidable with proper caution. Caution that is constantly reinforced by the game, which proceeds to beat you with a hard rubber hose if you let your guard drop.
Not only is the game cruel to its players, but it also encourages cruelty by players. Several covenants reward you for invading the worlds of others and slaughtering them. It creates an environment where you cannot solely trust in the good of other players.
Throughout the series, death is an actual penalty. It lowers your life, removes summoning, affects abilities or events, and costs you all of your hard earned souls among other things. The concept that being imperfect works against you is a breath of fresh air in an age where dying a few times usually results in the game becoming easier or at least offering Easy Mode. No, the minds at From Software want you to know you screwed up. After a death and the big “YOU DIED” screen, they kick you while you’re down by crippling you.
It sounds horrible, but that’s only because it is. The millions of masochistic Souls fans love it that way. The game teaches you to savor the taste of success by making it so difficult to come by. Eventually the success comes more easily, but that’s only because you’ve become stronger as a player, which itself brings a sense of fulfillment. It’s a feeling you just can’t get from most games today.
The love I feel for the series doesn’t just stop at soul crushing difficulty, the story and setting are always done in a unique manner. Almost nothing is given to you directly. You must hunt and search for your answers if you want the true story, and even then the truth is ambiguous at best.
Story is told through item texts and the placement of enemies, items, or environments. In Demon’s Souls NPCs will speak on the subject of the priests and disciples, but the major reveal comes from the text for the Talisman of Beasts. Dark Souls fleshes out a deeper story by the placement of Occult items in Havel’s secret room. How about the lone skeleton by the shattered Lordvessel in Dark Souls 2? Those aren’t the only examples, the game is loaded with hidden things that only the observant will pick up on.
The Souls series as a whole is the complete package. Core game play so perfectly balanced, stories so perfectly told, players simply can’t get enough. It capitalizes on a player’s desire for competition and closure, making them wander its world for as long as it will be there, searching for the satisfaction that’s alluded to but never grasped.