Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Demon's Souls Better than Dark Souls: A Unique Perspective

I've recently returned to playing Demon's Souls after being enamored of Dark Souls for months, and I have to say (though I didn't think it while playing Dark Souls) that in important ways, Demon's Souls is the better game.

Now I know this topic has been discussed endlessly, and I've been reading various threads on it, and though I've read lots comparing the games in terms of graphics, atmosphere, and nexus vs bonfires, I haven't found anyone articulating what I perceive to be major differences in enemy design.

In brief, Demon's Souls has superior enemy design. The superiority comes from the fact that there are so many enemies in the game that require very unique and thoughtful responses on the part of the player. By contrast, Dark Souls tends to throw enemies at the player that all require the same basic responses that are more twitch based than cerebral.

Case in point, the Mind Flayers in Demon's Souls. Successfully combating them requires using the environment to your advantage and monitoring their patrol patterns and than finding the right moment to leap out from the shadows and strike them down. When you get to 3-1, you haven't encountered anything like this yet, and as result, most players are quickly shown that the direct confrontation they used with other enemies doesn't work in this case. You have to stop and think and deliberately plan your moves well in advance.

When you consider the bosses of Demon's Souls, this intellectual component of the game comes through even stronger. Many of the bosses in Demon's require you to find a weakness in your opponent and use it to your advantage.

The Tower Knight is monstrously big, but his size is also his liability. You realize it and run between his legs and attack from behind. Remember that oh-so satisfying sound when his heel decompresses? That was the satisfying confirmation that you've solved part of the enigma that his hulking frame represents. Other bosses, such as Fool's Idol, Flamelurker, the Maneaters, Phalanx, Penetrator, and Old Hero, continue this idea of boss as complex problem by throwing the player into unique situations that call for unique, thoughtful responses.

When does this happen in Dark Souls? The archers at Anor Londo could be an example. Ornstein and Smough and the Bell Gargoyles are definitely brilliantly designed boss battles that stand up to anything in Demon's. But beyond these examples, I feel there isn't much more to find. Too many of the boss battles (and regular enemies as well) in the game devolve into the same set of tactics of rolling and attacking, attacking and rolling. They almost never make you really pause and consider your situation thoughtfully. Instead, you are encouraged memorize and attune your unconscious twitch reactions until you are good enough to dodge the bosses attacks and hit him during his opening. This is an inherently weaker and less creative approach to boss design, and it makes the bosses less rewarding to engage with.

I think the Knight Artorias exemplifies this problem well. He's tough as nails and can kill you in a heartbeat. You have to learn his attack patterns and master the timing for dodging them and find the moments when you can strike back at him. It's fun, it's intense, but at the end of the day, when you triumph over Artorias, you don't feel like you've outsmarted him, you've just out-practiced him. You've ingrained his moveset so deeply into your psyche through repetition that you respond to his attacks without thought. Too many bosses in Dark Souls fall into this mold of mindless reaction. And it's never as fun as, for example, the pure joy that comes from the moody and methodical encounter with the Fool's Idol, with its tricks and traps and the multiple solutions to them that only mindful play can uncover.

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