From the immersive maturity of its mechanical and narrative details, to the unparalleled sense of consideration for consequences that it fosters among players, to the sheer number of genuinely unique and refreshing design risks that it takes—Demon’s Souls is as much a captivating revelation today as it was upon release. Yet, as with each of the later Miyazaki-led FromSoft games that follow in its footsteps (in fact, perhaps moreso than any of its descendants), Demon’s Souls poses numerous difficulties for analysis.
It shares the cryptic approach to storytelling and the elements of nonlinearity that crop up in all of FromSoftware’s recent works, but that’s not all. In addition, it is a game which changes from player to player and session to session in a non-random fashion. Enemy placements, enemy statistics, NPC interactions, and even the availability of a few small regions of the levels all depend to some degree on the circumstances in which the player succeeds or fails.
You will not be surprised to hear me claim, however, that the odd structure and content of Demon’s Souls nevertheless do coalesce into a coherent reading. In the interest of pursuing that reading, our primary ally will be the field of epistemology. In a nutshell, epistemology is the study of knowledge—which includes such topics as belief, truth, justification, and skepticism. Armed with tools from that and related fields of philosophy, we will explore the following interpretation: Demon’s Souls offers a discussion of the limits of human knowledge, and how people believe and act given such limits. That might sound strange or overly vague—but in the sections ahead I intend to provide specificity and support for it, through careful attention to both the game itself and the relevant philosophy.
Slayer of Reason: