The Game Design 'Heaviness' Of Demon's Souls

Gamasutra has posted a lengthy and very enthusiastic write-up on why Atlus' Demon's Souls is an important title for the role-playing genre and the PlayStation 3 platform.
Demon's Souls is a heavy game, which is to say it's all about weight. The emotional weight your character carries having been separated from his soul. The weight of your decisions, which can and do kill you. The weight of fear, panic and the unknown. The weight of your equipment and loot, which sometimes has you wincing with each extra pound. And the weight of the constant combat, which pays enough attention to heft and tactility to make you think best the close-quarter fighting games of the past were doing it wrong.

Demon's Souls' combat has been built around the concept of exhaustion. Just underneath your health is a stamina bar which drops like a stone when you sprint, attack, dodge or block. Try to block a blow without the stamina to soak it all up and you'll take some of the damage, have your shield or weapon knocked wide and go staggering backwards.


This is what separates the good dungeon crawler from the great one- an understanding that the crawling, the exploration of an unknown space, is half the game. In Demon's Souls pushing through the kingdom of Boletaria is nothing short of a total joy. The art design, level design and sheer imagination of the team make every new section an expectation-shattering treat, the only constant the idea of a once-majestic kingdom corrupted by demons.

You actually muscle through five separate dungeons simultaneously over the course of the game, accessing them from a lonely and grand central hub that gradually fills with the few lost folk you can save. Your first stop, Boletaria Palace, is a foggy and maximalist interpretation of a medieval castle where the old palace guard and the enormous dragons that feed on them are your opponents. Stonefang Tunnel is entirely subterranean, but even it manages to distance itself from all the usual dungeon crawling tropes with an orange colour palette and a Journey To The Centre of the Earth vibe.


The potential loss of body and soul in Demon's Souls are design decisions worth studying because they deliberately punish the player for death, something big Western developers now try to erase completely from their games, and yet it works, implying we're missing a trick.

The tension and excitement that comes from forging into dangerous areas is magnified and elevated by the knowledge that you have something to lose beyond having to replay a tiny scrap of the level. Walking into the lair of a new boss demon becomes as petrifying as "walking into the lair of a new boss demon" sounds like it should be.
This one's going to make me wipe the dust off my PS3 yet.