It’s a sad time on r/demonssouls and other Demon’s Souls communities, where fans say their goodbye, while the server shuts down.
It started as a failed attempt by From Software and Sony to compete with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and was eventually transformed by Hidetaka Miyazaki into something, that would not only become a sleeper hit, but even define a new genre and maybe even a whole generation of video games.
In the following lines, this article will try to recap the importance of this masterpiece of a game:
Hidetaka Miyazaki was a fan of western fantasy, H.P. Lovecraft and manga like berserk, when he was young. But he didn’t start his career in the video game business. Instead he worked as an account manager for Oracle, when he played Ico on a PlayStation 2. That was when he learned how a video game can actually tell a fantasy story in a totally different way from other media. And so he pursued his new dream to create his own game.
In the beginning it wasn’t easy for him to find a job with no qualification in the field of video games. And he even accepted a significant pay-cut from his previous job at Oracle to get hired by From Software. He worked on a few games in the Armored Core series until From Software was assigned by Sony to work on a fantasy game, which was supposed to be similar to the Elder Scrolls series, which took the Japanese market by storm at that time, with their latest entry Oblivion.
As a publisher, Sony is typically willed to burn some money for new projects by third parties, as they have plenty of resources and new experimental franchises are good to sell their platform. And at the same time, they saw a good opportunity to create a new franchise, which would attract players both in Japan, as well as in the western market. However, From Software was unable to create an open world game such as Oblivion, due to inexperience in that field, which plagued many Japanese studios at that time. And so the project became something, which was internally deemed a failure already.
No one wanted to take over the position as a director of Demon’s Souls and so Hidetaka Miyazaki saw his chance, to finally make his own fantasy game. He implemented a lot of new design decisions, like the third-person perspective, the direct and punishing combat system and the vague narrative style, based on subtraction, rather than exposition. All the things, we now love about the Soulsborne games. However, at first, things didn’t quite look so bright. The president of Sony Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida play-tested the game for a two hours and said, that it’s crap. He didn’t even make it farther than the first checkpoint. It was even worse for demos on show floors, where people could only play test the game for a few minutes.
This was at a time where big publishers believed that every tiny sign of frustration in a game is a deal breaker. They thought, that in a time where every user owns dozens, if not hundreds of games in their Steam-, PSN- or whatever library, every lost minute of progress due to an in-game death would lead people into enough frustration, to lay the game down completely. The 2011 reboot of Prince of Persia went as far as to not even allow the player to die at all. You may laugh about Yoshida’s short-sightedness now, but if you consider this, his concerns were very valid. And so Sony abstained from publishing the game in the west and gave the publishing rights to Atlus in the USA and Bandai Namco in Europe. They also decreased the shipping number of games, drastically.
However, things turned out way better, than imaginable.
From its very first day, Demon’s Souls became a sleeper hit, selling 20000 copies on the first day. Sony had to increase their stock of games multiple times to meet demands. Thanks to the import-friendliness of the PS3 and the fact, that Demon’s Souls was targeted at a western audience and already had English voices, the game was imported from all over the world. A little later, the Chinese version of the game also featured English text and fans loved the punishing, yet satisfactory gameplay. And so, even without major PR backing by Sony, the game sold like a wildfire.
In the end, the game sold 1.83 Million units, Miyazaki is now president of studio From Software and Bandai Namco assigned the studio with him as the director for the whole series of Dark Souls games, which also became the biggest success of Bandai Namco to this date.
The story became full circle, when Sony made amends to Miyazaki, by offering From Software to make a new game with all the freedom, they needed, as well as resources and help, to create a new engine, the orchestration and recording, as well as Hollywood talents for the soundtrack and more. And those resources and the creative freedom are reflected in the game’s quality. That game became Bloodborne, which is actually my personal favorite among this series of games, I love so much. To make amends, Suhei Yoshida himself even stepped on the stage and referenced this story by saying “Tonight I get the honor of introducing a completely new IP from one of the industry’s most respected game directors. This is a project, that is very dear to my heart, if you know me and our history with the developer.”
In the end, the Demon’s Souls servers ran for almost a decade, far longer than originally planned or expected. And the game’s legacy completely changed the whole industry. The game is still perfectly playable offline and if you haven’t already, I would totally recommend playing it, if you are interested in the root of the soulsborne genre. Even without its online functionality. So let’s not be sad, but celebrate this masterpiece, umbasa!