Let strength be granted, so the world might be mended
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a part of the soundtrack, a gameplay mechanic, a line of dialogue, or anything else about the game that is particularly noteworthy and/or awesome.
This series will no doubt contain spoilers for the games being discussed, so keep that in mind if you plan on playing the game for the first time.
This entry is all about Demon’s Souls. Feel free to share some of your own favorite things about the game in the comments!
Ben and the Giant Knight
The Tower Knight was my very first foray into the Souls series’ notorious difficulty. It’s true that Phalanx is the first boss, but beating Phalanx is a test of patience more than anything else. Taking down the Tower Knight, however, requires strategy, planning, observation, and skill. If you just waltz up to the Tower Knight with your shields up or your swords swinging, you will die so quickly.
Like many other players, I’m sure, my first encounter with the Tower Knight went a little like this: I entered the fog door, walked forward a little bit in awe and apprehension due to the sheer size of the boss, and was almost immediately hit square in the chest with the Tower Knight’s giant lance, which killed me instantly. Well… damn.
I tried again and again to beat him, or even so much as damage him sufficiently, but kept failing. I wasn’t thinking like a true Souls player yet, and kept recklessly charging in to my death. Then I stopped playing, for like six months. I was so frustrated, and figured I just wasn’t good enough to beat Demon’s Souls.
But I kept thinking about the Tower Knight and how badly I wanted to defeat him, how good it would feel to emerge victorious. So I finally picked it back up and tried again, this time being more careful and observant. I still died, but I soon figured out a reliable strategy. And then suddenly, after a particularly good run, victory was mine! I let out an audible roar of triumph, and it felt absolutely amazing. I felt like I could do anything, like I could actually beat Demon’s Souls. And so I went on and did just that!
Looking back now, the Tower Knight fight is actually pretty simple. I might not even rank it in the top twenty most difficult Souls bosses. But as a beginner to the series, it was hard enough. It was a hurdle I had to overcome in order to better understand Demon’s Souls and what the game expected of me. Because of that, it will always remain one of my favorite boss fights of all time.
The tower of terror
The Tower of Latria… a dreary prison tower of unsettling sounds and Lovecraftian horrors. You begin in a prison cell, navigating your way around the other cells through cramped hallways and trying not to fall into the seemingly bottomless pit in the middle of each room. Mindless, sickly prisoners meet you at every turn, shackled to the walls, stuffed into urns and iron maidens, and otherwise being tortured to insanity. Mind Flayers patrol the halls, flexing their tentacles and ringing their eerie bells, the sound of which sends shivers down your spine. Descending down the tower, you’ll find more unspeakable horrors: a massive, terrible machine that fires an unending volley of arrows and a deeply disturbing pile of prisoners, crushed into a spherical shape and moving around on several arms and legs.
As you travel further up the tower, you are greeted by gargoyles, who fly about and pester you endlessly as you teeter across narrow walkways hundreds of feet above the ground. Up ahead, you can see a giant beating heart which is chained up to another tower and must be cut down.
Eventually, you take a ride to the very bottom of the building and must trek through a swamp of disgusting pinkish goo riddled with huge, pulsating tentacles. The swamp is crawling with the most horrible abominations imaginable: these large, crazy, centipede-like creatures with multiple human faces. They lunge at you and make the most awful gurgling sounds when they’re killed.
Latria is disturbing to the max, and it’s utterly amazing. The sheer amount of creepiness and creativity put into this level easily makes it my favorite area of Demon’s Souls.
The hunter becomes the hunted
Demon’s Souls introduced an intriguing new multiplayer mechanic which I’m sure you’re all familiar with by now: invasions*! While playing online, at almost any moment during your adventure, another player could invade your world as an enemy Black Phantom. The other player could hunt you down, in your own game, and kill you. As someone who has never been very good at player vs. player duels, the thought terrified and excited me.
My first encounter with an invader scared the crap out of me. A red message flashes at the bottom of the screen, saying, “Black Phantom so-and-so has invaded!” My heart skipped a beat, and I tried to search for a hiding spot while desperately scanning the area for the enemy. Of course, they were way more skilled than me. They managed to sneak up behind me for a backstab, which practically made me jump out of my seat. The next several invasions didn’t go so well either, but eventually I got the hang of things and was able to hold my own.
Nothing feels better than slaying an invading player. I’m sure many of them are decent people just trying to have some fun (after all, I’ve done my fair share of invasions too), but I always envision them as bullies just trying to kill other players so they can sit back and laugh at their misfortune. This makes killing invaders all the more satisfying. “You thought you could screw me over? Well take that! Muahaha!”
Of course, it’s all in good fun. Invaders may seem scary to new players, but they’re just another threat that must be dealt with in a world where everything is trying to kill you. Sure, they may be more skilled than the NPCs you come across, but even if they kill you, it’ll just send you back to the last bonfire like any other death. And you should be pretty used to death if you’re playing a Souls game.
* – Pictured above: not really an invader… it’s Satsuki, but let’s just pretend it’s someone dressing up as him (finding quality images of this game is harder than you would think!).
Heir to the Old Monk’s throne
Invasions were such an ingenious idea that From Software decided to use that potential to create one of the most unique boss fights around. The Old Monk is the final boss of the Tower of Latria. He’s a decrepit old man, dressed in a ridiculously large orange robe and sitting atop a huge pile of chairs. You don’t get the chance to fight him though, because he withers away and dies before you can even reach him.
But with his final breath, he casts a spell to summon up a demon to fight in his stead. His orange robe swirls around the demon’s head like a weird, tornado-shaped turban, passing on the Old Monk’s powers. For some players, this duel will be a lot like fighting the other invading Black Phantom NPCs, which can be kind of underwhelming.
But for those playing online, they actually got to fight other players who were summoned to their world to fight for the Old Monk. The boss fight essentially became a player vs. player match, forcing some people to go toe to toe with an invader. The invader also gains the Old Monk’s Homing Soul Arrow attack, which is cast automatically throughout the fight, giving them a bit of an edge. But even so, it all comes down to skill. The better player will emerge victorious.
The first time this happened to me, I was so confused and terrified. I was still at that stage where invaders scared the heck out of me, so I dreaded entering the fog door. Later, when I became more comfortable fighting other players, I started to realize just how great of an idea this boss fight was. I even played a few sessions as the Old Monk’s phantom in other peoples’ games, and had a bit too much fun slaughtering the various hosts. From Software revisited this idea in Dark Souls II with the Looking Glass Knight, and I actually enjoyed that boss fight even more!
Aside from invasions, Demon’s Souls also introduced some other unique multiplayer mechanics which were a bit more subtle. During your adventures through Boletaria, you would occasionally catch glimpses of ghosts. These fleeting specters were actually other players traversing Boletaria in their own games, like shadows of parallel universes. You weren’t able to interact with them, but their mere existence was somehow comforting. These ghosts made you feel as though you weren’t so alone in this dangerous world full of enemies. Other people were dealing with the same things you were. Perhaps they could see a shadow of you as well, giving them comfort and hope.
You would also occasionally come across bloodstains on ground. Sometimes it would be your own blood, from where you died last, allowing you to retrieve your lost souls. But many other bloodstains would litter the ground, which were clearly not left by you. These were the spots where other players perished in their own worlds. If you interacted with them, a red phantom would appear, reenacting their last few moments before death. These could be useful as warnings of danger up ahead, an opportunity to prepare for traps or ambushes. They were also comforting, much like the ghosts, because you got to see others players failing and dying right alongside you.
Some of them were also pretty damn funny to watch. For the really mysterious ones, I liked to try and imagine what could have possibly happened to them. How could they have died here, of all places? Some of them were so crazy that I watched them over and over, seeing their spectral bodies smashed into the ground and flung this way and that before they’d finally had enough and toppled over dead. Poor guy must have had the worst luck, but at least it was entertaining!
One sword to rule them all
I didn’t really have any favorite weapons in this series until Dark Souls. I mostly just ran through Demon’s Souls with a winged spear. Not too exciting, but it got the job done. However, there was one weapon that really stood out to me, even though I only used it for a few specific moments.
At the end of the Shrine of Storms, you have to fight the Storm King, a gigantic flying manta ray that shoots spikes and creates thunder. He flies in a large loop in the sky way above you, so the only way to reach him is by firing arrows or using magic. I’ve always preferred melee characters, so I was kind of screwed during this fight, and resorted to casting wimpy soul arrows to try and take the beast down. It took forever.
During my second playthrough, I dreaded having to fight him again. When I returned to the Storm King’s arena, I spent a lot of time goofing off and searching for items rather than fighting the boss. That’s when I came across the Storm Ruler, a sword sticking out of the ground in the Storm King’s domain. Stats-wise, it wasn’t as powerful as my winged spear, but I decided to fool around with it, since I was trying to delay the boss fight anyway. I always like to test out the movesets of any new weapon I come across.
So I tried the heavy attack and… WOOSH! Something shot off the sword! It looked like an intense air current cutting through the sky, and it went pretty far. I tested it out on the Storm King as he flew by, and sure enough, it hit him square in the chest for decent damage. So there IS a way to defeat this boss using melee tactics, and I had no idea! The Storm Ruler took the boss down in no time, and I sat there thinking about how long it had taken previously when I was using Soul Arrows, and felt completely foolish.
Unfortunately, the Storm Ruler’s special ability only works in the Storm King’s arena. Otherwise, it behaves like a normal sword, albeit one with lots of knockback. I went back to using my winged spear for the rest of the game, but I still found occasional uses for the Storm Ruler. I utilized the sword’s heavy force by knocking some enemies off of cliffs with it. I even used it to kill Old King Doran once, by continually knocking him back further and further until he eventually fell down a long staircase and died on impact. Take that, Doran, you evasive bastard!
Past Experience Points