The Random Kindness of Strangers in 'Demon's Souls' is Alive and Well

Souls games have always been about jolly co-operation.
December 3, 2020, 2:00pm
Screenshot from Demon's Souls, the player reads a message from another player that says "society"
Screenshot courtesy of the author

The Souls game have been associated with difficulty from their inception, a grueling experience that promises to kill you in what sometimes feels like unfair ways. An example of this is the tendency to place enemies just around corners that will end you if you’re not careful. On your own, you’ll have to be observant and check corners with your camera to be safe (or make sure you’re always holding up a shield). Luckily, the Souls games also have a system where players can leave messages that appear in other players’ worlds, and more often than not these hidden enemies will be pointed out by a friendly player. We discuss the trend of these messages being helpful versus hurtful in the Demon’s Souls remake on this episode of Waypoint Radio. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below.

Ricardo: Is it just me or does it feel like more of the fucking messages are true this time around? Have y'all noticed a trend?

Austin: Mmm, there's some fakes that I found for sure. There were some "roll here" and "Hit the wall.” This isn't a wall [you hit]. The only walls [you hit] are in that one level.


Patrick: Yeah, but it's fun to whack that wall a couple of times, like “well maybe I'm just getting the wrong angle.”

Ricardo: It definitely feels like the most obvious ones that are bad stay up. Where it's just like "roll here" and then you can tilt the camera down and see there's nothing, there's fucking nothing down there, I can see there's nothing!

Patrick: I wonder how much of that is [because] a lot of people are coming to this game with institutional knowledge. I'd be curious how the game distributes that stuff? How does it choose what to surface and then how does that interface then with [who’s leaving the messages]. You know, the audience that is probably putting down signs are most likely people who have played the game before. A newcomer is probably not spending their time thinking "I got to put down some tool tips here or troll some folks."

Ricardo: I feel like basically every time, this is a thing that the souls games love to do, [they] put an enemy around a corner where you have two options. You can either look left or right, and it's always going to be one of the two and there'll be someone fucking waiting for you. I just keep finding, right before entering that Archway or doorway or whatever it is, a little message. It says “look right” and it's always been the correct direction!


Patrick: You know, you're right. I have noticed even items being pointed out, like "Oh, good thing up ahead."  I actually had that same sort of observation that actually I didn't like [that], in some ways it was a spoiler. I didn't actually didn't need to know that thing, sometimes the surprise is fun. So I stopped checking them sometimes, but even just the presence of it was like, “well, most of the time these are helpful.” So even just the fact that there's a sign there is telling me that I should probably be careful up ahead.

Austin: This is one of the thing that's interesting about that. I'm curious, one, to what degree is that Souls veterans being like, "all right, this is our chance. A lot of people are going to play this game. It's a launch game. We can get people in. Let's be nice. Let's not be assholes as much as we can."  But then also I think it does speak to the fact that—I always come back around to this in the Souls games—that there is this line of design both through the co-op and through the signs that encourages this style of breaking out of your single-player headspace and trying to do everything by yourself. It's always already been a co-op game because of things like those signs, right? 

Ricardo: "Jolly cooperation!"

Austin: Totally! We talked a few weeks ago about how I think it's totally cool that that's a game where you can look outside of the game to learn things about stats and stuff like that. It's in line with how the game works is to step outside of it. And the reason I think that that's the case is because it's already doing that in the game. It already has a system in the game for giving you information that is not present in the environment organically, and that system is that sign system.

This transcript was edited for length and clarity. Discussed: Empire of Sin 10:32, Fuser 27:58, Demon's Souls 50:01, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim 1:22:37

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