THE WASHINGTON POST – Demon’s Souls is Patient Zero of the Souls-like genre. It had arcane rules that even developer FromSoftware eventually abandoned.
The PlayStation 5 remake is essentially the same game, with just a few glitches and quality of life improvements chiselled to refine the experience. More importantly, if you’ve always been intrigued in the Souls games but were always intimidated by Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro, this might be the best introduction you can get. Even if this game is still very punishing, there are design quirks in this bold but experimental title that you can understand and use to best even the hardest challenges.
If you need specific guidance on certain areas or enemies, the game is essentially the same as the 2009 release. For 11 years, the Fextralife Wiki and YouTube creators (like FightinCowboy) have published everything you need to know about the game. I’ll start this guide with some real rudimentary beginner’s tips to acclimate yourself not just to this game, but to this genre.
PRACTISE (AND EVEN DIE) IN THE FIRST AREA OVER AND OVER AGAIN
The game’s tutorial will kill you. It’s a message from the developers: Dying is part of the game. So don’t worry if you find yourself dying a lot even in the first area of the game. First-time Souls players will always struggle. The trick is to use this relatively low-pressure area to practice these basic combat skills:
KEEP YOUR SHIELD UP
I told you it’ll be rudimentary, but I can’t overstate how important blocking is in this game. Because Demon’s Souls is the first of its kind, the game relies on surprise attacks on your blind spots. Especially when you approach corners and new areas, keep your shield up.
DROP YOUR SHIELD, TOO
When in combat, remember to give yourself some room to drop your shield. Attacking drains stamina (the green bar), and blocking with low stamina means you’ll be vulnerable to a stun and even fiercer attacks. Don’t let the stamina bar drop. Be patient, and give yourself some room between yourself and the enemy so you can breathe and drop your shield to replenish stamina faster. That way, you can take and dish out more damage. The best way to manage the battle space and navigate around the enemy is to master.
LOCK-ON AND STRAFING
If you’ve never played a Souls-like, this game will teach you that the trigger buttons are attack, and the face buttons shouldn’t be touched unless you’re absolutely sure. Instead, keep your thumbs on the sticks, moving the camera and prioritising which enemy for a target lock. Then get used to moving to the side of each enemy, or maybe even behind it to nail a devastating backstab move. This skill will not only get you through many fights in the game, but through much of the Dark Souls series as well.
Also, you can’t level up until you defeat the first boss. So don’t bother trying to grind for experience until you clear it.
Use this opportunity to get gear and get good. Even if you keep dying in this area and are unable to gain any souls (this game’s currency for experience points and money), you’ll be gaining knowledge and real combat experience that no enemy can take away from you. Remember the above, and you’re already well-equipped to tackle any Souls game.
IF YOU WANT ‘EASY MODE’, PICK THE ROYALTY CLASS
Demon’s Souls places enemies that can be tough to dispatch with up-close-and-personal melee combat. But ranged attackers will be able to sail through some of the hardest areas in the game, and even the first area. The ‘Royalty’ class is famous for being the ‘easy mode’ of the game, even back in 2009, because you come equipped with the ‘Soul Arrow’ spell, which is powerful to handle enemies in the first two areas.
There’s no shame in dispatching enemies from a distance. The game was built to do this. It’s a great way to familiarise yourself with the nightmarish environments, and with how lock-on targetting works, all while safely getting enough souls to boost the stats you want. You could eventually build yourself up to a knight class with a shield, which is ideal if you want to acclimate yourself to this genre. But it’s important to know that magic is almost overpowered in this game.
GET THE PROVIDENTIAL RING AS STARTING GIFT (AND GRIND ‘GRASS’ HEALTH ITEMS)
The game asks you to start with a piece of equipment. Always pick the Providential Ring, which increases the chances enemies will drop items. If you’re following this guide and are practising in the beginning area, this is a great chance to stock up on Crescent Moon Grass. Other Souls games give players a standardised, limited health item. In Demon’s Souls, you can stockpile health items and power through the hardest boss battles as long as you have the time and space to snack on some grass.
The Ring will make this grind easier, and increases chances in getting other drops, like precious ore from the Stonefang region to upgrade your weapons.
GET USED TO BEING IN ‘SOUL’ FORM
When you die in ‘human’ form, as this game’s tutorial teaches you, your health bar is cut in half. Get used to this. Internalise it and think of this as your real health bar. Because when you die in ‘human’ form with a full health bar, that level’s difficulty will spike up. Each level in the game has what’s called a ‘World Tendency’, which makes that area harder or easier depending on your actions.
I don’t have time to go over the ‘World Tendency’ rules of this game, which are arcane and would take pages to explain. (Once again, Fextralife has a comprehensive guide for this.) But if you don’t want to make the game harder on yourself when you least expect it, think of the ‘soul’ form as your default state.
The halved-health bar isn’t even so bad once you find the Cling Ring accessory, which only cuts your health bar by 25 per cent instead. It’s located at the first shortcut of the game.
GRIND FOR EXPERIENCE AT THE SHRINE OF STORMS AREA
Once you beat the first boss, you can finally level up, and more importantly, you can access the four other regions of the game. It’s a good idea to test each region’s first area (think Mario’s ‘World 1-1’ structure) after unlocking them, but the best place to grind experience hands down is the Shrine of Storms region.
The first area will be littered with skeleton warriors that give you hundreds of souls. Because this game loads so fast on the PlayStation 5, reloading this area will take only five seconds. Fight these skeletons over and over again until you get your stats where you want them. Eventually, the second Shrine of Storms area will have an even easier, and lucrative, spot to grind out souls.
UNDERSTAND WHAT LEVELLING UP STATS MEANS (AND WHERE YOU SHOULD SPEND)
Want to hit harder? Level up Strength and maybe Dexterity. Want to carry heavier armour and swing more times? Level up your Endurance. Explaining what each statistic does again would take pages, so here’s the Fextralife Wiki on stats and the different builds of characters you can create. Certain weapons also require a minimum stat requirement, so pay attention to what each weapon demands of you.
But if you’re still stuck or don’t want to bother for now, know this: You will almost never waste souls spending it on Vitality or Endurance. The game gets easier if you’re able to tank more damage with a long health bar, and you’ll never have enough stamina.
Every statistic has a ‘soft cap’ in which every level up will offer diminishing returns. A good general rule is that if a statistic is approaching level 40, you might think about spending your points somewhere else. But early on, feeding souls to your health and stamina bars is a win-win for you, at least until you figure out the kind of demon slayer you want to become.
TOUCH BLOODSTAINS TO LEARN FROM OTHER PEOPLE’S DEATH
This game’s multiplayer was revolutionary for its time, giving solo players a chance to feel connected to others going through the struggle.
If you see a tonne of bloodstains in an area, it’s likely a high volume area for player deaths. Touch them, and see what happened to them before taking another step forward.
These images, as well as messages left by other players, will help you prepare for some nasty surprises.
SUMMON FOR HELP
This game is hard. Even though much of the game seems old hat for Souls veterans, it still houses some of the hardest bosses in the entire genre. Don’t be afraid to summon for help by tapping onto the blue signs you see scattered all over the world. The more friends you have fighting with you, the more health enemies will have, but really, the extra help provides much-needed enemy distraction for you to get through levels and boss fights.
Don’t feel like you’re cheating. Do whatever you can to take advantage of the game’s rules, and bend them to suit you. The beauty of Souls games is that if it’s in the game, it’s a valid way to play.