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9 Years Later: Nothing Has Been the Same Since ‘Demon’s Souls’

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Around the mid to late 2000s, I began to notice that video games at large were becoming increasingly passive experiences.

Maybe part of this was a result of video games becoming a widely accepted and consumed medium of entertainment, leading to the creation of safe and easy to grasp material aimed at a more casual audience. I found myself playing games in harder difficulty settings if the option was available, having not been someone who intentionally sought out a challenge like that before.

All of this changed after the first time I played through Demon’s Souls, and I have since noticed its impact on video games in hindsight.

Tread carefully.

I remember being excited for the first Assassin’s Creed, leading up to its release only to be let down by how little the game challenged the player, instead opting to try and make you feel and look cool visually after you finished endless tutorials disguised as missions. It was like waiting for something to start up only to realize that you’ve reached the end; a trend that was adopted by many open-world-empty-map games.

Being a fan of Batman, Arkham Asylum was only enjoyable in its highest difficulty; I actually restarted my save from the beginning a bit after I first started playing as there was little to no enjoyment to be had with the gameplay otherwise. Even a series like The Legend of Zelda was heading this route, presented in the form of tour-guided moments in Twilight Princess.

Not only was the gameplay suffering overall, but, more and more game worlds lacked the imagination one would assume the advancement in technology would be able to help create. The worlds I found myself playing in were often derivative without intent to do anything beyond deriving, like a comic book super-fan mindlessly spouting out references without an intention to learn from or do anything with them.

They weren’t kidding when they said “demon”.

From Software’s PS3-exclusive Demon’s Souls, masterminded by Hidetaka Miyazaki, was groundbreaking at the time for not adhering to this trend.

Taking inspirations from the rich worlds created by classic RPG tabletop systems (and the illustrations featured in supporting materials) like Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu (based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft, whose other works might also have been used for inspiration), as well as King’s Field and the original NES Legend of Zelda, the world that you find yourself in in Demon’s Souls exists independently of you. There is hardly anything you know about this world and its history walking into it, but how the people you encounter talk, the descriptions of items you pick, and how the environments look tell you all you need to know. Most of the logic that governs this world is in form of a floating bunch of abstract ideas.

Instead of borrowing literally from what inspired it, Demon’s Souls appropriates concepts and visuals to form its own design. The result is a dark and twisted world with a character all its own. Instead of having to rely solely on gruesome ghouls or whatever popular media has decided is fashionable, the terror seems a lot more primordial. It’s a fear of scary things in the dark that are literal incarnations of pure evil. It’s almost clichéd, but these concepts are used, and occur, organically within this world to actually fulfill their tropes, instead of being used simply as decorative props to set the tone for something else –- something probably needlessly convoluted.

“Dungeons & Dragons” art by David C. Sutherland III (from various printed media; some co-artists might be uncredited).

Seeing the kind of impossible creatures and landscapes from things like the early dark fantasy art of RPGs and such that I mentioned before, animated around you was the kind of treat sorely missed in most games of that specific time period. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for more visual and story-driven experiences – I consider Silent Hill 2 to be one of the finest works in gaming, and Firewatch to be an amazing narrative-based book-like experience — but the delivery makes a world of difference.

The best stories don’t have to act like they are smart; they just exist, and they definitely do not use their inspirations and references in such a way where nothing new is added aside from informing the audience of what they were — it’s not an amazingly unique or novel concept, but by creating a truly whole and cohesive world without a crisis in identity. Not worried about what had been established as the very narrow scope of how games were meant to be, Demon’s Souls became a true imaginative experience much like the ground-breaking trend-setters it took inspiration from.

Tied into the aesthetics of Demon’s Souls is the gameplay for which the series became popular, though for maybe the wrong reasons as far as mainstream attention is concerned. While often praised and criticized for its unforgiving difficulty, I never found the game to be intentionally difficult. Instead, the difficulty for players seemed to have been a result of the passiveness encouraged by other games at the time.

I hope you brought enough arrows.

Demon’s Souls relied on the audience’s willingness to learn from mistakes and to understand that patience is indeed a virtue in this particular world, and adapt accordingly. No maps, no giant arrows telling you where you should go, no pop-up guides, no relentless button prompts telling you when to attack; all of these crutches introduced and standardized by games of that time were thrown away. That’s not saying that the game is only for “iamverysmart” people, but that it respects the audience’s intelligence and it encourages them to assert it.

An element of help, though, did come in the form of “Phantoms”: other human players who could join your game as White Phantoms and help you by sharing the knowledge they had gained instead of it simply being served to you. The price to pay for this benefit, however, was invasion from Black Phantoms: humans players assigned to kill you.

Additional elements of help included messages left by other players (written using a combination of pre-selected words and phrases) and bloodstained ghosts that show you the last few moments before another player’s death. All of these elements emphasized the need to observe and learn and when to consider risks; this is especially important as the currency of “souls” used in the game (which can be obtained by killing opponents and some consumables) is left on (or close to) the spot where you died. If you cannot make it back to where you died and retrieve your “souls”, they are all forfeit.

The Tower of Latria, with its Mindflayers within, is a location that stays with you.

Today, a lot of games still follow the tired, by-the-numbers, hand-holding formula that stagnated video games in the mid to late 2000s. Games with rich beautiful open worlds, and little incentive to explore. And games that never want you to feel like you have accomplished anything if a dialogue prompt or trophy notification doesn’t pop up to tell you so. Despite this, it’s evident that the cult success of Demon’s Souls, which lead to its critically acclaimed successor Dark Souls, showed developers around the world that there is an audience that appreciates a challenge, wants to be involved in new unique worlds, and is willing to learn instead of quitting the moment their hand is let go.

Seeds laid by the Souls series are found in every single genre these days, with developers applying them appropriately and taking what they need to add to their games. Some games like Nioh and The Surge have taken very direct inspirations from Souls, meanwhile many design elements have been adopted and shaped to their own purposes within games such as Shovel Knight, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (ironically), Hyper Light Drifter, the upcoming Eitr, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Super Mario Maker, and a whole lot more.

These games adapt elements popularized, or re-popularized, by Souls to their own specific gameplay. Sometimes these elements are straightforward, but sometimes it’s more the philosophy of a fair challenge that has been deciphered. If anything, more developers more than ever before are inspired to make challenging games now that they have been shown that their audience can take it. Personally, I have seen a decline in hand-holding in games, and that is good.

Rite of passage.

On the other hand, unsurprisingly perhaps, the push to create “Soulslike” games for the sake of simple difficulty often leads to bad knock-off experiences, or at least experiences that feel like they got the wrong message (like Lords of the Fallen, Titan Souls etc).

For better or for worse, Demon’s Souls started a series that fundamentally changed aspects of how games are made and perceived. But, just like it happened with Demon’s Souls, those that adapt and make their audiences adapt with them are always successful, whether the success is measurable in monetary value or not. Demon’s Souls gave my interest in video games a new life, and it’s safe to say it did the same for many others, either directly or by proxy.


(Note: Demon’s Souls servers all across the globe are going offline on Feb 28th, 2018. If you haven’t ever had the chance to experience the game’s multiplayer offerings, now might be your last chance!)

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. QUIMICOMORTAL

    February 7, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Indeed! A great game changer in the gaming landscape.

    I consider the tower of latria one of the most frightening levels I ever played.

  2. Robotix

    February 7, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    The Souls series is great’ just wish Fromsoftware would bring KingsField to life again.

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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