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Critical Dissonance on Demon’s Souls vs Dark Souls 2

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I recently picked up Demon’s Souls, and after about 10 hours of play, I think I can say for sure that this is my least favorite in the series and I am unlikely to finish it. For context, I have played Dark Souls 1, 2, and 3 in release order, plus The Surge 1 & 2 and Nioh. Ordinarily I would just shelve a game like Demon’s Souls as “not for me,” something I recently did with Nioh after a similar amount of time. However, many of my complaints about Demon’s Souls mirror criticism about one of my favorites in the series: Dark Souls 2.

For those who don’t know, Dark Souls 2 was developed by a different team than the other Soulsborne games. Overall the approach to level design, enemy design, and game mechanisms is noticeably different from the other Souls games. For this reason, it is a very polarizing title which many gamers place either at the very bottom or very top of their personal “best Soulsbourne” list. Three elements in particular stand out as being common complaints about Dark Souls 2:

  1. “Dudes in Armor” – the vast majority of enemies are humanoid, which makes the setting feel more mundane and the one-on-one combat encounters easier to read and deal with on a first pass.
  2. “Group Gank” – there are many instances where groups of enemies ambush the player in a way which is perceived as unfair, especially given that Souls combat is best suited for one-on-one “duels” rather than crowd control.
  3. “Redundant Health” – health gems render the risk/reward system of estus management obsolete.

While I don’t personally see all of these as negatives in context, it’s fair to say that these elements do give Dark Souls 2 a different mechanical and narrative feel from the other Souls games. What frustrates me is seeing the same people who hate on Dark Souls 2 go on to praise Demon’s Souls as being the apex Souls experience. In my Demon’s Souls play experience so far, each of the above three elements is absolutely overabundant.

  1. “Dudes in Armor” – the enemy variety in Demon’s souls is extremely low. The other Souls games, including Dark Souls 2, have more than twice the number of discrete enemies. Of the enemies utilized in Demon’s Souls, the vast majority are humanoid.
  2. “Group Gank” – In tandem with the above, many of the opening levels heavily emphasize hallways or staircases that are just packed to the gills with groups of identical humanoid enemies. Boletarian Palace, Stonefang Tunnel, and Valley of Defilement are all full of mob enemies.
  3. “Redundant Health” – There’s no estus in this first installment, so your only option is to grind for grasses. It’s not “risk vs reward” it’s “if I use too many of my grasses I’m going to have to waste my time grinding for more.”

I certainly don’t mean to say that Demon’s Souls is inherently a bad game or anything like that. However, Dark Souls 2 has something that Demon’s Souls does not: mechanical fluidity. Demon’s Souls is by far the clunkiest of the Souls titles, which is understandable given its status as progenitor/cult classic. Furthermore, the extent of the above criticisms seems to be amplified tenfold in Demon’s Souls when compared to Dark Souls 2.

So, if you have a high opinion of Demon’s Souls and a low opinion of Dark Souls 2, can you explain why? I think this is a useful conversation to have, especially as many Souls fans may not have touched Demon’s Souls due to its relative inaccessibility. From what we know so far of the Demon’s Souls remake, none of the above issues will be addressed (except perhaps the fluidity of combat), so your reasons for liking or disliking Dark Souls 2 may help you assess whether the Demon’s Souls remake will be worth playing for you. Thank you for reading, I look forward to discussing this with you!

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