Death and Gaming: Yurt the Silent Chief in Demon’s Souls

Demons Souls Yurt

*Note: if you have not encountered Yurt the Silent Chief in Demon’s Souls, or if you do not know what his purpose in the game is, read this article at your own risk.


“Death be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so” –John Donne


We all die, and in video games, we all die a lot. It’s a given. But what if you knew exactly when you were going to die? How you were going to die? Who was going to kill you? Inevitable, mysterious death suddenly becomes tangible, something to rage and struggle against rather than resign oneself to.

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Demon’s Souls: 9 Lives Aren’t Gonna Be Enough

Demons Souls cover

Arcade games were designed to be tough so that you had to keep shoving quarters into the machine, and early game design took up that mantra for some reason. Maybe Nintendo was secretly thinking about adding a quarter slot in its Nintendo Entertainment System? Before all the “casual” gaming trends, achievements, and trophies, there was difficulty. If you could beat Contra (without using the Konami Code, mind you), you were awesome. If you beat Battletoads, you were a god.

Now, I know I sound like one of those jerks that think participation trophies are for losers, but video games have gotten easier over the years. Don’t believe me? Try Demon’s Souls. It is one of the hardest games I have played since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the version for the NES, not that XBLA crapfest). However, Demon’s Souls is hard because it was designed to be hard, not because of broken game play mechanics. This game takes the difficulty dial and cranks it up to 11. There aren’t difficulty sliders here or enemies that level up with you. There are only two types of people in Demon’s Souls: the dead and the dying. And you’re dead.

Dramatic, yes, but Demon’s Souls is all about death. In fact, in the tutorial at the beginning of the game, you will die. Death is a central game mechanic, and it helps the game set the difficulty for you, but not exactly how you expect. When you die, you return in a spirit form—with half your health gone. Ouch. The only way to get your body back is to beat a boss. Not only that, but the more you die, the stronger enemies become as the world becomes “darker.” Defeat the demons like you’re supposed to (and stop whining about how much you’re dying) and the world becomes “lighter,” making enemies easier, but also reducing the good loot enemies will drop. Oh, and if you die, you lose all the souls you’ve collected—souls that you spend on buying attribute points and weapons/armor. You can retrieve these souls by returning to the place where you died, but chances are, what killed you last time is going to kill you again, unless you’ve figured out a new strategy.

And there’s no pause button. Ever.

Demons Souls enemies

This one is going to kill you...

If the system seems unfair, it is and it isn’t. The controls are tight and battles are intense; in fact, they’re the most intense battles I’ve experienced in a while. When I fight demons—and not even the towering, intimidating demons, but just normal grunts—it’s an epic struggle, the likes of which Inigo Montoya has never seen. Blocking, parrying, and attacking roll into this deadly dance that is exhilarating, because you know if you fail, you will die, the game will be harder, and you will be weaker. The bigger the demons, though, the more souls they’ll yield when you kill them. Risk and reward, my friends, risk and mother-effing reward.

Demons Souls Dragon

...and this one...

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