Five Minutes Of... Demon's Souls
[Five minutes of... is a series of video game investigations by Margaret Robertson, former Edge magazine editor-in-chief and current development director of social game studio Hide&Seek. Here, she explores what five minutes of play reveals about a particular video game, this time focusing on what the punishing Demon's Souls teaches us about failure.]
Alright then, Demon's Souls. Let's do this.
Sometimes it's hard to pick a game to talk about five minutes of. Sometimes it's easy. Demon's Souls is a game I've only ever played five minutes of, no matter how long I play it for. This is because I play the same five minutes every time I play. I don't mean the same five minutes in a Halo 30-seconds-of-fun kind of way. I mean the same five minutes.
Many of you will have had the same experience with Demon's Souls, or are having the same experience now with the sequel Dark Souls. If you haven't played it, it's that middling-brown hack-n-slashy RPG from From Software -- who you dimly remember were the guys who made Otogi -- and which you are sick of reading web comics about.
I hated those five minutes of Demon's Souls. Hated them the first time, hated them the tenth time. I persevered because I was surrounded by all the hype and reverential masochism: "it's hard, but the good kind of hard". I went back, again and again, with renewed hope each time, but found nothing but frustration and confusion.
As game worlds go these days, it's pretty grim. Gloomy, and murky, and woundingly derivative. There is little time to get your bearings, or to establish any sense of connection with this unlikeable world and this unwieldy avatar. There are corridors and shambling enemies and, after a bit of ungratifying flailing around, you meet your first serious opponent, who kills you. Then you do exactly the same thing again. And then you do it again.
I did not find it to be the good kind of hard. I railed about not understanding what kind of fun I was supposed to be having. Is this an equipment game? A min-maxing, load-out-juggling, inventory-tweaking thing? I like those. But this isn't one of those. So is it a brawler? Is this a nice, meaty, ponderous-but-precise third-person combat game where I need hone combos and rhythms and frame-perfect timing? I don't like those, really, but it turns out that doesn't matter, because this isn't one of those either.
So is it tactical, explorey fun? Is this about being smart about how I navigate maps, how I use space, how I manage resource? Cos those, I really really like. Which would mean I would really really like this, but I don't, and that turns out to be because it isn't one of those either.
And so I abandoned it, not sure if I was smarter than those who'd been transfixed by it, or just weaker. But now Dark Souls is out, and the hype has started anew. Friends I love and strangers I admire tell me of its glories. But it was hard to get excited about the new game when I had my abandonment of the original on my conscience. Before I could go on I would have to go back, and to my enormous surprise, I found that I wanted to.
This is because, in the interval between my first taste of Demon's Souls and my recent reprise, I've had a lot more practice at failure.