Demon's Souls' Online Service Transformed Its Multiplayer Into a Literal Ghost Story

Demon's Souls' online component was a masterpiece, plain and simple.

Analysis by Matt Kim, .

Today, Atlus and Sony announced that the online servers for Demon's Souls will finally be coming to an end. It's a long overdue closure after the servers were originally meant to shutter back in 2012. Come February, what I believe is one of the greatest online systems in any game will finally shut down, so it's a good time to mourn and appreciate everything Demon's Souls' online servers did for those of us who have died in its online world.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other hybrid online multiplayer system that blends passive and active multiplayer gameplay like the one Demon's Souls pioneered for From Software's Souls series of games. Even if it isn't the first system to do what it did, the online system in Demon's Souls is damn near perfect in my mind. It separates Demon's Souls from other competitive online experiences by transforming the game into something like an online ghost story.

Playing online in Demon's Souls instates a few things. One, it means that you can see the ghosts of other players as they re-enact their last moments in any given area. Seeing the replays of other players' death is helpful in navigating the dangerous world yourself, avoiding traps you might otherwise fall for.

Two, it also allows you to read and leave messages for other players. It's a more direct approach that lets you warn other players of impending doom, or trick them to their deaths. In Demon's Souls, you learn that ghosts are pretty fickle—and so are other players.

Lastly, it means that other players from other worlds can be summoned into your world to either assist you, or murder you. Other players can become yet another enemy in a game full of already difficult challenges, or the extra help you need in particularly difficult trials.

Overall, the online system in Demon's Souls is a thing of beauty. One that blends into the main campaign without feeling tacked on. It was a breathing system that helped make a game about dead souls feel alive. Other players served as guides, vengeful spirits, tricksters, and visions of fortune or peril. All of it lending to the ephemeral feel of Demon's Souls that later Souls games haven't been able to re-create.

In Demon's Souls, the kingdom of Boletaria is invaded by colorless fog that killed the live inhabitants of the world and ushered in a wave of demons. Players are one of many knights tasked with saving the kingdom, knowing they'll live or die and live and die again to succeed to this end. While Dark Souls and Bloodborne also utilized the same online systems as Demon's Souls, the story of other souls crossing over boundaries into your world—or vice versa—is more resonant in Demon's Souls where players are literal spirits rather than undead corpses.

It was also goddamn terrifying.

If you've ever encountered the words, "____-player has invaded" you'll know the panic that sets in when you know a live player is now an enemy in your already difficult game. The online functionality also helps create new, emergent gameplay elements where certain areas (like Shrine of Storms) become de facto PvP worlds where players can test their mettle against one another. It was even used in an ingenious boss fight against a demon called the Old Monk who is, in fact, another live player summoned to role-play as the enemy boss.

The Old Monk

Shutting down the online servers for Demon's Souls means losing all of these things that helped make the game special. With no private servers available, Demon's Souls' online functionality is pretty much gone forever, and every subsequent playthrough will lose these key features. The online mode in Demon's Souls is core to the game in a way that enhances the overall storytelling and world, instead of just beefing up a product as just another feature.

In a way this permanent end is kind of appropriate for the game. Demon's Souls will never be the same once the online servers go down, but that's just the risk with old ghost stories. Eventually you forget some detail that ends up changing how the story is told.

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Comments 12

  • Avatar for otenko #1 otenko 3 months ago
    That's really a shame, but it would happen eventually.
    The idea of another player roleplaying as a enemy monster is very interesting.
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  • Avatar for Electryon #2 Electryon 3 months ago
    This is a great catalyst for a discussion about how any game with a online component is not ever going to be truly your property to always enjoy. How many games from this era will be either totally gutted, or even totally unplayable 20 years from now?? Will anyone be able to fire up their copy of Destiny in 2027??

    Juxtapose that with me adding ROMs to my SNES Classic this weekend. Somewhere around a hundred games, all of which play exactly as they did in 1995. This isn't to argue that modern games with online components are BAD, but I am making an argument that you are essentially only renting them until the developer or publisher decides to pull the plug. It's a hell of an endorsement in favor of single-player content.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #3 MetManMas 3 months ago
    Demon's Souls is finally shutting down its servers for real? Damn, man. Now I want a PS4 remaster of the game more than ever. But fat chance of that happening with the game having different publishers in different regions.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #4 chaoticBeat 3 months ago
    Fantastic article. Playing Demon's Souls for the first time was really like nothing else thanks to the unique online components and oppressive atmosphere and enemies. So f-ing creative. Ah... those mad geniuses at From Software.

    Such a unique use of communicating with other players by leaving written messages or unconsciously leaving messages of how you died and then the whole idea of being able to invade someone else's game. Just brilliant, especially in the largely homogenized broader gaming landscape.

    There are many games that will come and go but this one deserves a viking funeral.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #5 Mega_Matt 3 months ago
    Very sad news. I’m going to get one last playthrough in before the servers shut down. I hope the rest of the souls community does the same.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #6 SatelliteOfLove 3 months ago
    One of a handful of games during the nadir of Gen 7 that showed that the industry was not going to be bereft of Japan and player responsibility in one handy dandy package; roots buried firmly in the best of the past with the wings to a better future.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #7 link6616 3 months ago
    I guess I'm going to have to boot it up and give it a good go. I played it for a week at launch and then kept putting it off.
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  • Avatar for docexe #8 docexe 3 months ago
    The online component of this game was definitely a work of art. It will still be playable after they kill the servers, but you can definitely tell something will be missing.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #9 VotesForCows 3 months ago
    First time I played through was an import before the wikis sprung up. Had no idea what was going on. Never did co-op, got invaded a couple of times, minds I think it was halfway through before I realised I could upgrade weapons. Fun times!

    Without online it's lessened, but still brilliant.
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  • Avatar for kevinkruse26 #10 kevinkruse26 3 months ago
    Normal, the net gadget in Demon's Souls is a component of beauty. One that blends into the main campaign without feeling tacked on free paper writing tips. It became a respiratory device that helped make a recreation approximately useless souls feel alive. Other players served as publications, vengeful spirits, tricksters, and visions of fortune or peril. It all lending to the ephemeral sense of Demon's Souls that later Souls video games have not been capable of re-creating.
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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #11 kidgorilla 3 months ago
    This might be apropos of nothing, but I want to quickly share my best online Demon's Souls moment:

    Having played nothing but JRPGs for almost a decade leading up to DeS, I was conditioned that everything must be done single player, and I forced my way through the game (more than a couple of times) this way out of some perverse sense of duty. Finally realizing that this was dumb, I decided to try to pull in another player for the False King fight at the end of the game during what turned out to be my final run through it (but I'll probably go again before February). I could never find any summon signs, though, and after wandering around a silent, enemy-cleansed 1-4 for about 10 minutes to look over the damage I had done, I was summoned by another player. Fine, I though. If nobody wants to give me a hand, I suppose I can help out some other schmuck.

    This is not what happened.

    I was summoned to the opening of 1-4, which is a small room in the Boletarian keep just past the Penetrator Archstone (where the number 1 is on the map below).

    While summoned, the passage back to an Archstone is blocked by a fog wall so a rando invader or helpful friend can't make it to your Nexus. Ahead of me, standing still in the entrance to the rest of the level, was the player that summoned me, arms outstretched in a gestured pose. After about 30 seconds of trying to get around him into the level proper so we could do our ghostly duty while wondering why he wasn't moving to let me pass, we were invaded. I kept trying to sneak past this inert player and finally made it to the other side, but the invader ran in circles, curiously docile to the player trying to block me. That's when it hit me- I wasn't brought in to help finish the game. My phantom was dragged in to take on all comers.

    It was a fight club.

    The first player let me back into the ring, and the invader and I exchanged quick pleasantries before going to town. Having a mobile Faith build and packing Wrath of God, the other player didn't know how to react and I won my round. Depleted of magic, however, another invader came in and made short work of me. I was re-summoned again quickly thereafter to keep competing. This lasted for over an hour. I never saw these guys again after that night, and I finally let go of the game not long after this experience. But in this one moment of silent understanding, I shared in a bizarre camaraderie that I'll take to my nerd grave.
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  • Avatar for 2180nate #12 2180nate 3 months ago
    I've never cared about multiplayer until this game
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