Sunday, April 8, 2018

Dave Critiques: Demon's Souls - How magic affected my playthrough

Hey hey folks, Dave here. Welcome to my critique of Demon’s Souls. Just a friendly reminder that if you haven’t completed the game, there might be spoilers in this video. If you wish to avoid them, please press pause, and go play the game before returning. For everyone else, let’s continue.

The Flamelurker is considered to be one of the most difficult bosses in Demon’s Souls. He’s large, he’s fast, and every attack carries fire damage with it. Fire damage will wreck you if you’re not prepared. I was prepared. Not only was I wearing a ring of flame resistance, I brought the Water Veil spell with me, which negates a good chunk of the fire damage. This doesn’t mean that the fight was easy. As I said, the Flamelurker is large and fast. My memory of the fight is less of a duel, and more of a dance. I rolled. I circled. I edged back and forth to avoid the damage of its breath and jumping attacks, while trying to expose its flank and get a couple of good hits in. Each time he hit me, it took off a small piece of health rather than a disastrous chunk. After what seemed like an eternity, I felled the beast. It turns out that before the fight I had forgotten to switch to my Uchigatana that would have delivered a lot more damage from a safer distance. I had fought the Flamelurker with a Crescent Falchion. Thanks to Water Veil, one of the toughest fights in the game, a fight in which I made a mistake in preparing myself for it became one of my favourite memories of the entire playthrough.

I decided to play through Demon’s Souls as a magic user. In the past I have ignored magic in RPGs because it has always seemed like an extra hassle. Melee or ranged combat is simple. Try and hit the thing with the weapon. Magic adds spell selection, mana management, and more upgrade decisions. It seems easier just to stick to swords. From the general internet commentary, sticking to swords is the most popular way to play any game in the Souls series. Especially in Demon’s Souls, magic can break the game, making certain tough bosses very easy to defeat. It’s said that you’re not getting the authentic Souls experience as a magic user. Now these ideas sound silly on the surface. If a game allows you a way to play it, playing the game that way is valid. It might not be the most popular path, but the developers included it for a reason. As I was skeptical about being able to get through one of these games on my own, I wanted to take the path of least resistance and the guide I was reading suggested magic as the best way to do that. This video will explore some of my thoughts playing through Demon’s Souls, and how using magic might have affected my experience.

Firstly, being a mage gave me confidence. Now it helped that I had played through the first stage previously, but being able to zap an enemy one to three times to drop them made the early stages a lot of fun. I felt powerful, especially when I took out the Phalanx without a second thought. Soul arrow, it’s big brother Soul Ray, and Flame Toss were my staples for most of the early and mid game. Firestorm was a godsend too, but I’ll discuss that and some other spells a little later. I think one of the benefits of playing a Souls game is in learning to face your fears. Gaining confidence through understanding of the game systems and eventually learning to have fun within them. For example, after a few hours of play, I stopped worrying about resource management.

What I mean is that I was afraid of running out of stamina when fighting enemies, and I was afraid of dying and losing all my souls. The more I played, the more I learned that stamina is always there for you when you need it as long as you don’t panic. I also learned that progress is a lot more important than souls. Defeating a boss always nets a large amount of the resource, alongside all the souls littered throughout the level. If you died along the way, you’ll usually have even more to use towards improving your character. I learned a lot of these lessons while grinding.

There were two instances where I took time out from progress to grind for a couple of hours. Both grind spots were in the Shrine of Storms. The first was early on in the playthrough when I was trying to gain enough souls to buy spells. I would loop through the first few skeletons in 4-1 with a combination of melee, soul arrow, and flame toss to take out the psychotic red eyed variant. This taught me just how different grinding in a Souls game is to grinding in other RPGs. Every enemy in Demon’s Souls can hurt you if you’re not careful, especially those roly-poly skeletons. Just when I thought I had mastered fighting them, I would make a mistake and lose a portion of my health. This taught me humility. No matter how good I thought I was, there was a thin line between success and failure. As I levelled up that line got a little thicker, but not to a point where I felt completely at ease.

The second grind was about 15 hours later. Level 4-2 had defeated me. I was re-evaluating my decision to not use a bow. After grinding to craft the Lava Bow, I wanted to keep upgrading my weapons and soul level until I felt confident enough to continue. One of the best grind spots in the game is in level 4-2, sniping the first Reaper and using the Evacuate miracle. With the Ring of Avarice and the Silver Bracelets, you get a guaranteed 6000 souls for a minute or two of gametime. This grinding session was very different to the first. There was no longer any need to pay attention. It was a repetitive exercise of going through the same motions over and over again. Yes aiming the bow caused some panic, but even that anxiety went away after a while. I put on a podcast and spent the next couple of hours here until I felt that I could tackle 4-2 successfully. This second session taught me that it’s very important to have goals while grinding in an RPG, and the right equipment and preparation is often more important than a higher soul level.

Now that I had the Lava Bow, taking out the skeletons on the edge of the cliff in 4-2 was a lot easier. With the Thief Ring equipped, the Storm Beasts rarely took time out of their flying schedule to fire their barbs at me. With a Dark Shield, I could mitigate the laser blast of the Reaper’s ghosts, and knowing where the final Reaper was hiding, I could snipe him from above. I learned that I didn’t have to deal with the second batch of invisible back stabbers as I had already looted the nook where they hide. All that was left was running through the room with the slugs, and using Firestorm to obliterate the Blind Old Hero.

Since we’re speaking about preparation, it might be a good time to discuss some of the more memorable boss encounters and how the right gear and magic helped me out. Soul Arrow helped me take out the Tower Knight, and the Armour Spider. Flame Toss helped me cheese The Adjudicator, and the False Idol. I had saved Biorr in 1-3 and brought along the spell Warding, which greatly reduces damage taken. This meant that the fight with The Penetrator turned into an absolute massacre. I’m relieved because his speed and ferocity intimidate me. For both Storm King and Old King Allant, I had used the Second Chance miracle, so dying would bring me back with half my health. I didn’t need it for Storm King, but I almost needed it with Old King Allant. My hands were visibly shaking when I finally put him away.

They were shaking because the Firestorm strategy didn’t work on Old King Allant. Firestorm is one of the most overpowered spells in the game. You summon a literal storm of fire around you that wipes the lifebar off a lot of the game’s bosses. Most go down in two hits if your magic stat is high enough. The problem is that it takes a bit of a wind up so the best time to use it is when an enemy has just executed a large attack and needs to recover. Run up next to them, Firestorm, retreat, gulp down some spice to replenish your mana, and look for an opportunity to finish the job. With Old King Allant, he was far too fast to take the full brunt of any Firestorm. A similar thing happened with the Maneaters. Each one should be taken out with one cast of the spell, but I was not expecting their speed, and not knowing exactly what the second one was going to do as it rushed towards me lead to a very close call. I’m very lucky I didn’t fall off the edge of the stage.

With how easy magic made fighting so many of these bosses, I wondered if I was robbing myself of the Demon’s Souls experience. Soul Ray and Flame Toss kept most enemies at bay, and after crafting a Moon Uchigatana, having a large magic stat meant that my melee attacks were quite devastating. Spells like Anti-magic Field feel like the only way to deal with the jailors of the Tower of Latria, especially their black phantom forms. It made the Old Monk a joke as well, although the game having gone offline at this point might have had more to do with it. Instead of fighting another real player, I was fighting a bare knuckled brawler who posed no threat. And as I was having these doubts while killing the later bosses, the oppressive organ music of the Nexus became more noticable, adding to that feeling that the way forward might not actually be the right way forward.

But another thought emerged. As the game went on and I became more confident, I started to engage enemies with my sword and shield because I knew I could take them on. I enjoyed using all the tips and tricks at my disposal to get through any way I knew how. Having gone through the game this way, I now see possibilities open to me that were not there before. I not only thought about playing through the game as a pure melee character, but after the credits were finished and my character loaded back into the Nexus with all her gear, I felt the pull to play through the game in New Game Plus mode, with perhaps a greater melee focus. I guess my final thoughts on how playing a magic user affected my Demon’s Souls experience is that magic is incredibly overpowered, but it was the tool required for me to gain the confidence I needed to enjoy Demon’s Souls. I also feel that with a mix of magic, melee, and ranged combat, I was able to engage with more of what the game has to offer. I’d recommend playing a magic user to anyone as a first time playthrough for these reasons. What are your thoughts?

Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please like, comment, share, and subscribe, and I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

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