I am likely the kind of player most hardcore SoulsBourne fans consider a travisty. I summon, I watch videos, check walkthroughs, and, if there's an exploit or cheese, you better believe I'm clipping through whatever glitch in the Matrix the FromSoftware architects left behind. Demon's Souls in particular is riddled with opportunities to game the game, and the now ancient 2009-era forums that picked it all apart for the first time are littered with discussions of where a boss can't hit you, or how to reach an area early to get some crucial piece of gear. And, while the PS5 remaster might be adding a 4K layer of modern good looks, if it strips out those glitches it'll be taking away a core part of the game – regardless of whether they were supposed to be there or not.
On the first day...
I'm currently playing Demon's Souls on PS3 in preparation for the PS5 remake and it's a fascinating dig through a digital past. Both in terms of the forums and platforms being used to talk about the game, and seeing people unpick the intricacies of a Souls game for the first time. One thing that appears a lot – among arguments over whether Crescent Falchion or Kilij is the better sword, or what the best route to take through the game actually is – are glitchy solutions to big problems. This early player base relied on anything that could help and for every lengthy discussion about how best to take on a particularly troublesome boss, there's always a post casually mentioning something like the fact you can jump off a cliff and a troublesome enemy will follow you and die.
It's a problem and fix I relied on about 30 hours in. Not entirely grasping the World Tendency mechanic – a way of significantly changing levels through your actions, which the game barely explains – I accidentally turned the Shrine of Storms level (or 4-1 to its friends) what's called a full black World Tendency. This is generally bad, spawning better rewards and gear, but also more and harder enemies. In my case that included a character called Satsuki, who appeared as a black phantom and attacked me on sight as soon as I spawned. Because he could insta-kill me, the level was effectively shut off and for a while I considered abandoning the game altogether – no amount of gear, leveling or patience could defeat him. My best weapons chipped away at his health in barely visible fractions over 20 minute attempts to take him on, while he insta-healed and could end me with one unblocked hit. However, run past him and hurl yourself off a cliff and he follows, dies and, problem solved.
Most of my playthrough so far has been shaped in some areas by slipping through a crack here and there to gain an advantage. I've sprinted at a small, slightly raised floorstone to glitch up a hill and reach a useful weapon early. Two of the seven bosses I've defeated so far have fallen thanks to very precise knowledge of where they can't hit me. I've used shortcuts that involve somersaulting into thin air to catch a distant ledge that carries me behind the bad guys. There's only so many opportunities to do things like this but in a series where tens of hours grinding the same areas for resources and progression isn't unusual, every little helps.
And with it, clarity
Am I proud of it? Honestly, I don't care. I encountered barriers, I found a way to remove them. It just might not be the way the developer intended it. There's an interesting lack of toxicity to all the old discussions: no one's judging or berating anyone, they're just grateful for the help and glad to progress in a game that, at the time, no one understood. Often the chats weigh the options, people talk about what they've done, and anyone that used an exploit mentions how they plan to handle it next time now they've had experience.
All a glitch seems to do is facilitate a deeper love of the game by smoothing over a bump in the road that threatened to stop the journey. It's a world away from the weird, occasionally passive aggressive machismo bullshit that crept into discussions around the games that followed it – that slightly sneery judgment that, if you haven't completed NG+ with an armorless build wielding the hardest to handle weapon, have you honestly really played it?
I started on the first Dark Souls so this is my first time playing Demon's Souls. My love of the series originally, and the reason I'm still playing at all, was helped immeasurably by whatever I could find to help me see more. I spent hours, originally, trying to take on the skeletons in Firelink Shrine, convinced that, from what I'd heard, the game was just meant to be that hard. Eventually, I caved, looked it up and discovered an almost unanimous opinion that the one thing you never, ever, try to do is go through the graveyard before you've leveled up a bunch. It changed the way I approached the series full stop. I explore, I poke about, I see what I can work out for myself, but the second I feel like I've hit a wall, I look stuff up because I want to see as much of it as I can.
This time around, with Demon's Souls on PS5 there's going to be a whole new generation of players discovering a Soul game's web of progression and understanding for the first time. And likely a few more players than usual that might not have tried, if it wasn't for the usual slimmer pickings of a console launch lineup. For many, it'll be like 2009 all over again as the Class of 2020 learns the ways of this new, old world. Those glitches are as much a part of the learning curve and experience as any walkthrough, and if the new game strips them out it'll be a little less real for it. It'll leave the road a little less smooth for people that might otherwise realise they love what they're seeing and might want to check out more.