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Demon's Souls - title

Demon's Souls is coming to the PS5. Rumors of a Demon's Souls remaster have been floating around for years, and I even wrote a blog post back in 2017 about what I'd like to see in any potential remaster or remake. But what we're actually getting goes far beyond a simple remaster. It's more than just Demon's Souls at higher resolution and with a higher framerate. Bluepont Games is re-developing Demon's Souls from the ground up, much like they did with Shadow of the Colossus on PS4.

The scope of the remake means that it's possible that Bluepoint could change mechanics. There's plenty of opportunities to improve Demon's Souls gameplay and add ease-of-use features. But there is one controversial feature that I hope Bluepoint keeps: the item burden.

I posted this defense to YouTube last weekend, but I wanted to transcribe it here as well, for the benefit of my loyal blog readers. But feel free to check out the video as well. It is embedded below:

This defense is also available on my YouTube channel.

Demon's Souls' unique design

Players of Dark Souls may be familiar with the equipment burden. If you equip too much heavy armor and weapons, your character will become burdened, which will limit your ability to dodge roll. Demon's Souls had an equip burden that worked pretty much identical, but Demon's Souls had an additional weight burden that accounted for your entire inventory -- not just the items you have equipped. This prevented the player from carrying around excess weapons and armor in your inventory so that you can switch to it at any time during a level.

Dark Souls retained the equip burden but dropped the item burden, possibly as a result of its change to a single, interconnected world. Dark Souls is famous for its brilliant world design, which created a complex vertical helix of interconnected levels. With some exceptions, every part of the map is connected to every other part of the map and the distance between can be traversed by foot. In fact, for the first half of the game, you had to travel the map on foot and take advantage of shortcuts because fast travel is not unlocked until the midpoint of the game.

There was no ludic reason to use Dark Souls' Bottomless Box, and it was removed in the sequels.

The end effect for Dark Souls is that the character does not have convenient access to a central hub location. Firelink Shrine fills a similar role as the Nexus of Demon's Souls, but you cannot warp to for the first half of the game; you have to walk. This means that you can't easily dump excess gear or items at Firelink, which means you have to carry everything with you, which means the Item Burden of Demon's Souls doesn't make much sense. Granted, From included a Bottomless Box item that allows you to stow away excess gear at any bonfire. They could have easily just built the Bottomless Box functionality into the bonfires by default and maintained the Item Burden. But they opted not to, and the lack of an Item Burden mechanic makes the Bottomless Box completely unnecessary. In fact, the sequels to Dark Souls did not include the Bottomless Box at all.

Demon's Souls has a central hub location (the Nexus) that makes it somewhat convenient to drop off or pick up equipment on your way between archstones.

The impacts of Item Burden

The Item Burden in Demon's Souls did create several problems for the game. While it was convenient to stop at Stockpile Thomas to drop off and pick up items when you were travelling from one world to another, it was far less convenient to have to travel back to the Nexus to pick up or drop off items or gear, only to return back tot he same archstone. Having a limited amount of inventory weight also meant that players might be unable to pick up some loot in a level. Furthermore, failing to pick up certain loot (such as the upgrade stones dropped by Crystal Lizards) could result in that loot permanently disappearing from the game, being inaccessible in the current play-through. This was particularly problematic because Demon's Souls Crystal Lizards only had finite respawns -- unlike the Crystal Lizards of Dark Souls, which keep respawning until you kill them.

The Item Burden prevented players from picking up additional loot, including valuable Crystal Lizard drops.

These problems, I think, make the Item Burden an un-popular mechanic in Demon's Souls, and I would not be surprised if Bluepoint removes it. However, I really hope that they do not remove it, as I think it is highly likely to make Demon's Souls a lesser experience.

The most obvious impact that the removal of the Item Burden would have, would be that the player would never have any reason to talk to Stockpile Thomas. Thomas is a character in the Nexus who holds all your excess items and gear for you. You have to talk to him to pick up or drop off any items. But if you can keep every item you ever pick up in your inventory, then why would you ever bother to visit him? Never visiting Thomas could potentially leave some players unaware that he has a side quest associated with him.

Would Stockpile Thomas be in the game if Item Burden were removed?

The more subtle effect is that I feel removing the Item Burden would eliminate some of the challenge and sense of dread associated with certain levels. Demon's Souls is different from Dark Souls and Bloodborne in that it has strictly-delineated and separate worlds that are connected only be warping to and from the Nexus. Each level has unique environmental and ludic characteristics. The differences between worlds made it much more important to have the proper equipment and supplies. The Item Burden prevents you from carrying everything with you, which means that before travelling through an archstone, you would have to equip yourself for what you expect to see in the level. You had to make trade-offs that limited what your character could do in any given excursion into a level.

In addition to having your character build determined by starting class and your choices of attribute progressions, your inventory loadout creates mini-builds that are specific to each world or stage.

You could go into every level with your favorite set of armor and weapons, but this may put you at a disadvantage depending on which level you are in. Stonefang, for instance, has lots of fire and explosive threats, and if you don't have armor or a shield with decent fire resist, you might have a hard time. You might also have a hard time if you refuse to take poison-resist armor into the Valley of Defilement.

It's a good idea to create equipment loadouts for each world of Demon's Souls.

Being able to carry every item and piece of equipment that you own into these levels would somewhat trivialize these unique challenges. The player could simply hot-swap gear for whatever enemy or environmental hazard is in front of you. This actually happens in Dark Souls. When you get to the bottom of Blighttown, the deleterious effects of the poison swamp can be largely mitigated by simply throwing on the Thief Armor and Spider Shield.

So yes, the removal of Item Burden did simplify inventory management and eliminate some annoying situtations that were present in Demon's Souls. But it also meant that you never felt ill prepared for the next level because you could simply reach into your bottomless pockets and pull out the perfect piece of equipment or any consumable item that would trivialize the challenge.

A Dark Souls player can equip any item that
deflates the challenge of an area.

This makes the levels feel less threatening and weakens the sense of dread associated with going into a new level. Having to explicitly prepare and equip yourself for one of Demon's Souls' self-contained worlds provided an adventurous texture to Demon's Souls that is unique among the Souls-Borne series. Removing the Item Burden would eliminate this unique aspect of Demon's Souls gameplay and would subtly alter the tone of the whole game in a way that I think would probably make it a lesser experience overall.

The tone of the game

Bluepoint did do a fantastic job in its remake of Shadow of the Colossus, but I do have one subtle complaint with how that remake altered the mood of the game, and I don't want to see a similar thing happen to Demon's Souls. The original Shadow of the Colossus had a hazy gray filter over the whole game that helped to create a bleak visual tone. This filter is gone from the remake. It makes the visuals look more crisp and vivid, but it also makes them look less bleak. The trophy notifications that interrupt the colossi death animations also completely undercuts the tone of those scenes.

Bluepoint's Shadow of the Colossus remake has subtle inconsistencies with the tone of the original.

The low-resolution textures of rockfaces in the original Shadow of the Colossus also gave the environment of that game an older, more weathered look that made the Forbidden Lands look ancient. The sparse vegetation also made the map feel more desolate and forboding. The more rockier, more jagged textures of the remake make the Forbidden Land look younger, and the increase in vegetation makes it feel more lush and welcoming.

Technical limitations can become an integral part of the art.

And yes, I understand that the original textures are likely more a matter of technical limitations rather than conscious design by Team Ico. But that doesn't make it any less a part of the final art. Sometimes technical limitations have a way of becoming part of the art itself.

In some sense, the Forbidden Lands of the Shadow of the Colossus remake are too pretty, and I feel it diminishes the bleak tone of the original game. To Bluepoint's credit, that is pretty much the only complaint that I have about its remake of Shadow of the Colossus. Everything else is almost a pitch-perfect adaptation of the original classic.

If the Demon's Souls remake turns out as well as Bluepoint's Shadow of the Colossus remake, I will be very happy, and my complaints will likely be as few and as nit-pickey as my complaints with Shadow of the Colossus.

I fear that Demon's Souls, bleak, oppressive atmosphere may also be diminished if Bluepoint takes too many creative licenses. They're changing some enemy designs that take away their unique aesthetics and make them look more like generic demons from a Doom or Diablo game. Illusory Wall already posted a video about this on his channel, and I agree with his sentiment.

Illusory Wall has some criticisms of some aesthetic alterations present in the first Demon's Souls remake trailer.

These visual changes may diminish Demon's Souls artistic tone. Removing the Item Burden in name of "ease of use" would, I think, similarly diminish Demon's Souls' unique gameplay tone.

Item Burden or no, I really hope that Bluepoint retains the slow and deliberate pace of play of the original game. While I loved Bloodborne and Sekiro for their faster pace of play, that faster pace worked with Bloodborne and Sekiro's unique aesthetic. I didn't care as much for the faster pace of play of Dark Souls III. The fast movement speed and attack animations made Dark Souls III (in my opinion) more about twitch reaction speed and less about the deliberate , strategic swordplay and player positioning of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls.

Room for improvement

Just because I want the Item Burden to stay, it doesn't mean that there isn't room for Bluepoint to improve the mechanic.

One of the biggest problems with the Item Burden in Demon's Souls is that it really hurt the viability of heavy armor. Most heavy armor sets would limit the amount of loot that you could pick up in a level before you'd be overburdened. The small amount of extra defense that heavy armor provided did not make up for this penalty. As such, avoiding damage altogether was much more important than reducing damage, so light armor and dodge rolling were a dominant part of Demon's Souls's meta.

I would like to see some form of "Poise"
added to heavy armor.

I think the best suggestion for improving heavy armor would be for Bluepoint to add some form of Poise to heavy armor. Poise was a mechanic added by Dark Souls that allowed characters wearing heavy armor to ignore the stagger from enemy weapons, tank through enemy attacks, and still complete their own attacks.

Archstones in levels could have a menu for teleporting to other archstones. There could also be a menu to access Stockpile Thomas from archstones in levels. These changes would prevent the player from having to travel to the Nexus and sit through two load screens simply to move between archstones. There would still need to be reasons for players to revisit the Nexus from time to time in order to talk to new characters or experience some of the tendency events that happen there. Maybe this menu is only accessible from archstones in levels that you've already cleared?

I also wouldn't mind seeing jumping attacks and charge attacks be added to Demon's Souls' arsenal.

Having more than 4-way direction rolling would also be nice.

Lefties out there might appreciate the option to make a genuinely left-handed character who isn't nerfed by gimpy off-hand animations.

And it would be nice if the World Tendency screen were a little bit easier to read.

And who knows? Maybe Bluepoint will even fix some issues with the camera and collision boxes that From Soft has still not figured out?

There's still plenty of room for improvement. I just don't feel like removing the Item Burden would be an "improvement".

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Comments (3) -

10/03/2020 10:09:13 #

I played Demon's Souls before I played any other FromSoft title, and world tendency was my biggest problem with the original game by far because I couldn't tailor my own experience and was at the mercy of all the other players on the server. I couldn't access certain items or areas because the world tendency was too light or too dark and I couldn't do anything to change it to what I wanted it to be to suit my needs. I hope that system is either reworked or excised entirely, because it's the one thing that I genuinely despised about the original.

10/05/2020 22:22:30 #

@Lee Taggart:
I didn't mind the World Tendency mechanic in general, other than it being a bit under-developed and obtuse. What did bother me was that every time you loaded a save file in Demon's Souls, the game would shift your world tendency towards the server average. The average was always close to neutral (or slightly white), except during the special server events in which everybody's tendency was shifted to pure white or pure black. This server normalization made it really hard to maintain pure white or pure black tendency, which limited access to the tendency-restricted areas and content. That sucked, for sure.

10/07/2020 09:27:18 #

That's exactly what I'm talking about, the average world tendency of other players affecting your world tendency. If world tendency was player-specific and unaffected by the actions of others, that wouldn't bother me, but I do agree that it was too obtuse, because the only way to understand how it worked was to look it up online. It was the matter of other players' world tendencies affecting mine that I hated so much.

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