Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Ranking the Demon's Souls Areas From Worst To Best

Time for some Fromsoft content. They're my favorite game devs and make my favorite games, and I've barely mentioned them on here except to not like Bloodborne before I understood what it was (a mistake previously made with FFVI in 1995 and Xenogears in 1999). I think I later revised that, at least. Doing several of these lists, now that I've played most of these games several times over.

Demon's Souls: This list can be applied to either the original game or the remake, as the areas are essentially the same design-wise across both, but I based them off the remake specifically. So any references to the visuals will be going off of that version. In the original version, all of the areas were considerably duller visually, but also moodier, so your mileage may vary. I like both versions a lot and think they're both still worthwhile.

This is an interesting game because the world here is in the midst of a collapse, unlike the worlds of the Dark Souls trilogy which are very much post-collapse.

Not being ranked: 2-3, 3-3, 4-3, 5-3, since none of the above are really areas so much as boss rooms and the hallways leading to them.

#15: Stage 5-2 (The POISON SWAMP)

Hands-down the worst area this game has to offer. It isn't even necessarily "bad" because nothing in this game really is, but it's certainly the least-enjoyable section. Slogging around in the swamp perpetually poisoned while dealing with trolls who seemingly have no mobility issues is something I could do without ever doing again. Luckily there's a ring that increases your mobility in swampland to a normal level, so at least this level can be mitigated with the right item.

#14: Stage 2-2 (Stonefang Lava Tunnels)

Probably my personal least-favorite stage, even though I think 5-2 is worse. This stage is basically just a maze of boring caves, and the giant lava bugs are a real hassle to deal with. At least it doesn't have poison bogs. Flamelurker is probably the coolest-looking boss in the game, which bumps this up a notch. This stage is so rough around the edges that it reminds you that you're playing an early Soulslike game from before they refined the formula.

#13: Stage 5-1 (Valley of Defilement)

A swampy, run-down locale. I do like how it has a strong vibe of run-down hopelessness as you traverse the shantytowns of the bog. World 5 is probably the weakest link of this game by a wide margin, with the lamest zones and the weakest bosses, but it does have its moments. The later parts of the shantytown start to get really eerie, like something out of a horror movie, and it lands effectively.

#12: Intro Area

Short, serviceable area that looks flat-out incredible in the PS5 version due to all of the new lighting effects. This area is a good visual showcase, but it'd be a better level with a bit more meat on the bone.

#11: Stage 4-2 (Shrine of Storms, Upper Level)

(Technically a shot of 4-3 but same deal) This is a tough level that can absolutely crush a playthrough if you aren't aware of world tendency and let World 4 fall to Pure Black. It's probably the toughest level in the game under those circumstances, absolutely brimming with Black Phantoms and all manner of other threats. If you avoid that happening, and I certainly do, the normal version of the level isn't bad at all with the Thief Ring equipped. It's a very pretty level, with a nice dangerous dungeon crawl atmosphere. Trying to get the drop on Necromancers to eliminate their shades is a tricky proposition and always gets the adrenaline pumping.

#10: Final Area

Not sure what this place is called, and it's very short, but it's also pretty amazing-looking. Filled with iconography (and references to Berserk, of course) and maybe the most awe-inspiring the game ever gets. I just wish there was more to it.

#9: Stage 1-2 (Mid Boletaria Palace)

This level is anything but mid. Boletaria Palace is a strong world in general, with an appealing level layout. Each stage ascends towards the center keep of the palace, which you can see in the distance nearly from the beginning of the game. This second area of the palace is probably the weakest, due to the several dragon bridges that can be pretty annoying to have to cross. The level layout could also use some streamlining, with a few too many dead ends for my liking.

#8: The Nexus

The hub zone of the game looks good and has everything you need in one space. It also wastes a lot of space and has all these extra floors that serve next to no purpose in the game. I mostly just associate this place with leaping off of the high platforms between levels to prevent lowering world tendency.

#7: Stage 2-1 (Stonefang Mining Tunnels)

Fun level here with tons of smithing materials for weapons. Also has a nice color scheme and a bunch of interesting NPCs doing their own thing. Makes the game world feel like it's alive outside of Boletaria Palace where most of the action is. Only downside is it goes on kind of long and the boss is a little bit incomprehensible for a new player without ranged attacks.

#6: Stage 1-4 (King's Tower)

The last full level of the game lets you see the keep that you've been making your way towards since the beginning. A small number of very strong foes are between the start and the final boss, one of the best fights in the game. It's a bit of a gauntlet in that regard. I like that the very last enemy you face before the boss is the shade of Ostravia, a knight you've been working alongside in the previous Boletaria levels. The fact that he's now a shade is a poignant reminder that the collapsing world of Demon's Souls can take even the best of noble paladins.

#5: Stage 3-1 (Tower of Latria, Prison)

Very interestingly-designed dungeon crawl of a level with keys, shortcuts, and multiple floors. The mindflayer guards here are very nasty and should probably be treated like minibosses. With all of the keys and traps, this stage is a triumph of stage design and could probably be even higher on the list. If the runback to the boss weren't weirdly long, it probably would be higher. Said boss is also one of the easiest fights in the game though.

#4: Stage 1-1 (Lower Boletaria Palace)

The first real level of the game is also an extremely well-designed one. It's got some secrets to find, some of which are huge game-changers like the Thief Ring. The level also introduces you to the concepts of shortcut unlocks, switches to change the level up, and all of the other Souls series tropes that get their start here. Doesn't hurt that Phalanx is also one of the most fun bosses to fight in this entire game. Very solid level and the first one that I've got nothing negative to say about.

#3: Stage 3-2 (Tower of Latria, Upper Spires)

This level is stunning to look at, like an absolute nightmarish dimension of towers and darkness. Some of the ground-level areas are grimy and confusing, which brings it down a little bit. Other than that it might be the most atmospheric place in the game. Great boss fight here with the Maneaters.

#2: Stage 1-3 (Upper Boletaria Palace)

The best part of a very good world, this section is basically a siege as you approach the keep. Having a showdown with the jester and his army as you climb the steps is a pretty memorable set piece. The boss fight with Penetrator is probably the best overall fight in the game and is ahead of its time, using the kind of moveset and tactics that wouldn't be the norm for another couple of games.

#1: Stage 4-1 (Shrine of Storms)

An absolutely gorgeous level that can be played right after 1-1, which is what I usually do. Home to some great items like the Crescent Falchion, which as a mage I used for the entire game. The metal skeleton foes are much tougher than most of the other tier 1 level fare, unless you isolate them and fight one at a time. They're weak against heavier/blunter weapons, so once you've got something decent in that regard the skeletons are no problem. This turns the level into a slow dungeon crawl of sorts, through the pouring rain and over the foggy mountain.

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