Why Demon’s Souls is my game of the year

I nearly gave up on Demon’s Souls.

I should have known what I was getting into. I bought the Demon’s Souls remake for the PlayStation 5 as my opportunity to finally play a “Soulsborne” game. After hearing about the genre for more than a decade, I knew that the game would be extremely hard, that I’d die multiple times, and that the challenge was all part of the process of learning about and enjoying the game.

But I wasn’t too worried — I like hard games. I loved the early hours of Hollow Knight. Beating Celeste’s grueling DLC chapter was a thrill. I figured that since I had gotten through those, and because I knew Demon’s Souls would be a challenge going in, I would be able to stick with it no matter what.

That resolve was tested immediately. I died about a dozen times in the first level by brazenly swinging my sword as a knight. Following a fit of frustrated Googling, I switched to the royalty class so that I could use a long-range magic spell that made taking on enemies easier. While that helped, I was still in over my head and dying repeatedly.

An early level, the Prison of Hope, nearly broke me with its punishingly narrow pathways inhabited by magic-slinging tentacle-headed monsters. After yet another death (I believe it was the one where I fell down a hole after 30 minutes of barely surviving the level’s harrowing halls), I put the game down and considered the $70 I paid for it a sunk cost. I was ready to move on.

These tentacle-headed monsters haunted me.
Image: Sony

But two days later, I allowed myself just one more attempt at the game. Instead of yet another hellish trip through the Prison of Hope, though, I went to the fourth world, hoping that a change of scenery might do me some good.

Right away, I was faced with a new monstrosity: a blue-eyed skeleton wielding a giant sword that began rapidly somersaulting toward me. I thought it was all over. But using the skills I had learned taking on the tentacle-headed beasts in the Prison of Hope, I pulled off a few well-timed dodges and blasts of magic, and before I knew it, the skeleton was defeated. And then I took down the next one, and the next one, and the next one.

It was that moment that turned Demon’s Souls around for me. Looking back on it, I realized that the game had been constantly teaching me how to get better, even if I didn’t know it, and that I could use the skills I was subconsciously learning to play better. The challenge was indeed part of the process. From then on, I was completely obsessed with the game.

That’s not to say the rest of the game was easy. At one point, that first skeleton was joined by a menacingly red demon that could defeat me in one stroke of its sword. One difficult boss stymied me when an exact clone joined the fight partway through. A later swamp-themed level was so filled with danger that I had to inch my way through, fearing that any crucial mistake could cost me nearly an hour of progress.

But thanks to that first lesson with the skeletons, I learned that every challenge in Demon’s Souls, no matter how hard it might seem, could eventually be overcome. I kept at it. And as sappy as it sounds, it’s kind of a beautiful lesson for real life, too.

I plan to try later games like Bloodborne or the Dark Souls trilogy, but for now, I can revel in my victory of having seen the credits roll in Demon’s Souls. I’m glad I didn’t give up because I got to experience my favorite game of the year.

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