A tale of blades & Demon’s Souls

Demon’s Souls must’ve been one of the bigger surprises of 2009 for me. The positive exposure it got just about everywhere was intriguing, but even as I slid it into my PS3, I was expecting it to be somewhere between Monster Hunter Freedom UnitePhantasy Star Universe and grinding a diamond to dust. What I got was basically Bushido Blade in RPG-form.

Now there’s a fairly good chance you don’t remember or even know about Bushido Blade to start with. It was a kind of kendo-simulation turned game developed by Light Weight and published by Squaresoft for PS One. The premise of the game was the main selling point: no health bars, every hit in this sword-fight has a consequence. Thus hitting an opponent square in the chest was an instant victory, while merely hitting a limb would disable that limb. It caused for a focus of defensive manoeuvres and expert timing of one’s blows.

The game had an excellent sense of tension because of it. Played properly, you were constantly reading the actions of your opponent, often dancing around each other waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Add to that the different handling of the several available weapons and the game became something far deeper and more intense than the game initially conveyed. Those that picked up the game expecting a sword-fighting game like Soul Edge were almost certainly disappointed.

You’ll find yourself anticipating the actions of enemies in order to take advantage of them in Demon’s Souls, as well. But where Bushido Blade stopped with its limited selection of adversaries, Demon’s Souls carries on The RPG-elements enhance the game in always providing a stronger opponent and, even better, in giving you something to care for.

In Bushido Blade, you could only lose out on your ‘winning streak’ and by winning through dishonourable behaviour (e.g. attacking an opponent before he was done with his greeting). In Demon’s Souls, every victory earns you Souls, the currency of the game that is used as both money and experience points. Losing a battle means losing those Souls and getting a single chance of earning them back by travelling all the way back to your point of death from the start with all enemies returned. It’s the same thing, yet the stakes are much higher, as nobody wants to lose his or her progression.

That’s why Demon’s Souls is the soul of Bushido Blade set in the body of an RPG and why I don’t deem the game difficult. Sure, you can call it a ‘hardcore’ game, as the level of dedication needed for even the simplest of battles is anything but casual, but to call it difficult is a bit wrong. It’s unbelievably strict instead. Every sloppy, half-hearted action will cost you, while every well-placed attack will be as sweet as honey. Practically, the same tastes as found in Bushido Blade, yet far, far stronger.

I’ve been playing it for quite some time now and the only way this game could surprise me more, is if members of the Bushido Blade team actually worked on Demon’s Souls as well. And if not, then I can only hope the two teams will someday meet. Heaven knows what kind of game that could bring forth.