Demon’s Souls – “Aesthetics of Pain”
Like its “King’s Field” forebears, Hidetaka Miyazaki’s “Demon’s Souls” is another hardcore dungeon-crawler RPG inspired by gothic fantasy. Like the fiction it aspires to homage, it embodies the exacerbation of emotion, by hyperbolizing the emotional counterpart of the ludic experience. It’s a brutally difficult game, and therein lies its key to success: when it takes hours to go between savepoints, and even one or two hits from a weakling zombie can kill you, we assure you, you’ll think differently about a game, and well, you’ll definitely feel differently about it too. Every moment ends up feeling like a battle against an overwhelming assailant that cannot be overrun or eschewed. See, you never really ‘win’ “Demon’s Souls”, you merely survive for another second. Anxiety slowly creeps to the point of vertigo, as you’ll be painfully aware of ever-standing one step away from a bottomless pit, therefore losing all the work you’ve put into the game for the last hours. The stress is so great and exhilarating that when you do die (and you will, many, many times), all hell breaks loose… inside you, that is. Tension inevitably turns to self-centered anger and frustration, and you’ll want to smash everything around you to pieces.
Some may wonder what is the point behind all this masochistic suffering. The answer is simple, “Demon’s Souls” makes you feel something – fear, anxiety, frustration, anger… and it makes you feel them in spades. It isn’t a mindless past-time, it’s a desperately tough struggle, one which must be met with all your dedication so as to bring any minute pleasure. Playing it is not unlike betting all your hard-earned money into a game of skill or luck – hours and hours of work hang in the tip of fate, time slows down to a halt, your heart races, and you stand as in a miasma, one moment away from greatness, one moment away from utter despair. If you do manage the prowess of victory, then you’ll achieve supreme bliss, as beating even the smallest of objectives in “Demon’s Souls” leads to a powerful release of tension, an overjoyous catharsis that is as fruitful as the more sweat and tears you’ve offered as sacrifice to achieve it.
And, in its most clear evolution face “From Software’s” past titles, it is a game that incorporates online systems into its conceptual grounds. Instead of merely placing players together in artificial dungeons and then letting them compete or cooperate as MMORPG’s tend to, “Demon’s Souls” actually forces players to become part of its fictional realm, by binding them through a coherent body of rules. Players can either become vindictive souls that prey on others, or they can come together as a community, battling side by side, or sharing knowledge on how to survive the game’s dangers through its simple communication system. Either way, you’ll never feel as if inside an online game, with its chat non-sense, ridiculous emoting and mechanistic online/offline variations, instead, you’ll become integrant part of a menacing world populated with lost souls.
“Demon’s Souls” may not be a work of art, nor the most profound of experiences, but it is moving in ways that only the greatest of games can be. Whilst the gloomy anglosaxonic landscape (Makoto Satoh, Masato Miyazaki) and creepily unsettling score (Shunsuke Kida) are part of the game’s aesthetic appeal, it is only when you play the game and actually sense the ever-present eminence of death, that “Demon’s Souls” reaches its emotional apex. It is pure Gothic narrative, told as only videogames can tell: through the language of unbridled challenges and supreme skill, of pain and hardship, of unfettered emotion, fantasy, and true heroic conquest.
[Part of this text was originally published in Portuguese, in Coimbra’s College Paper “ACabra”, dating 29/06/10]