Servers for Demon's Souls, FromSoftware's spiritual successor to its King's Field series of first-person RPGs, go offline tomorrow, Wednesday, February 28, at 3am EST / 12am PST.
Demon's Souls launched in Japan on February 5, 2009. The termination of the game's online services brings to an end over nine years of the groundbreaking, asynchronous multiplayer features that paved the way for Dark Souls and found its way into a bevy of other genres from 2012's ZombiU to last year's The Surge.
For over nine years—just shy of eight and a half in the United States—players have embarked on Demon's Souls' odyssey through five desolate worlds full of undead, dragons, and demons. Early tomorrow morning, that lonely adventure will grow exponentially lonelier. Bloodstains showing a player's final moments (and often providing clues to what awaits around the next bend or behind that innocuous pile of rubble), messages from other players—some designed to help, others, such as any invitation to jump into the pit full of swirling blue lights in World 1-1, designed to troll—will vanish. Most crucially, the ability to summon and be summoned by other players will be rendered inactive.
In a way, the world of Boletaria, in constant flux between White and Dark Tendency, will grow forever darker.
Demon's Souls debuted to relatively little fanfare compared to its spiritual successors, the Dark Souls trilogy and 2015's Bloodborne. Opaque at its clearest, the game was mysterious, arcane, and punishing, seeming to delight in obfuscating the inner workings of even its most basic systems.
That opacity made for low lows. My first character, a barbarian, was virtually useless because I didn't realize that boss souls could be transfused into unique items and spells rather than merely consumed for souls, which doubled as experience points and currency, until I was halfway through my first adventure. Still, the character wasn't useless. It embodied one in a long series of lessons learned. Lessons I carried with me to my next character, and every Soulsborne game that followed.
The highs in Demon's Souls were some of the highest of the series. Finally conquering Flamelurker after a dozen tries, and managing to avoid False King Allant's soul-draining grab, which steals a character level—and possibly dozens of hours of play time—resulted in outbursts of pure exhilaration and triumph, my hands shaking and sweating, my heartbeat thundering in my ears. For me, Demon's Souls was the first game in many years to make death matter.
Soulsborne games are often considered "difficult" or "NES hard." Such shallow observations do them a disservice. Demon's Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki explained in interviews that he never set out to make a difficult game. Rather, he wanted to craft scenarios of high risk—in particular the trek back to a player's bloodstain to retrieve dropped souls, knowing that another death would erase that bloodstain and its precious experience points forever—in order to make success that much more satisfying.
Miyazaki's risk-reward formula paid off. Every Soulsborne game that followed was a critical and commercial success. However, for as much time as I've spent with those games, none are as special to me as Demon's Souls. Every subsequent title built on the foundation of blood, sweat, and souls I shed throughout hundreds of hours in Boletaria. Their controls and mechanics were roughly the same. Many changes boiled down to parlance: soap stone in Dark Souls instead of Demon's Souls' soulstone; hollow instead of soul form. And even though each new entry presented new environments to explore and bosses to squash me flat, the fact that the underpinnings didn't change much gave me an edge.
I had no edge going into Demon's Souls. It was unlike any game I had ever played. Although its successors are inarguably more polished and refined, every sequel lost some of the magic of that first game. The fog of mystery that cloaked Demon's Souls thinned, rendering systems more transparent. Usually for the better, but for worse in one key way.
As great and as polished as those games are, I never played them for the first time.
Players will still be able to play Demon's Souls offline after its servers go dark, but if you can, do yourself a favor and plug in your PS3 to take one more jaunt through Boletaria's derelict palace, Stonefang Tunnel's sweltering warrens, the Tower of Latria's claustrophobic dungeons, the Shrine of Storms' precarious cliffs, and the Valley of Defilement's ramshackle huts and poisonous swamps before our ties to the Nexus leave us isolated.
I'll never stop playing Demon's Souls, but I'll miss playing it with all of you. Umbasa.