[Spoilers for Demon’s Souls, minor spoilers for Dark Souls.]
If I were I to step outside my front door right now and walk twenty paces to my right, I’d find myself opposite the old mill in Celbridge. Over two hundred years ago it used to be the biggest wool manufactory in Ireland, an impressively huge building encapsulated by an enormous stone wall on the roadside. It overlooks the River Liffey, which, if you followed it, would send you all the way to Dublin bay and into the Irish sea, so whenever we go to feed the ducks we’ve a decent chance of locking eyes with the imposing building. Nowadays it’s used as a community centre–it hasn’t been a factory in decades, but it still carries the name as a sign of its history.
Opposite the mill is a pub with a sign in its window proudly declaring it as the establishment where Arthur Guinness brewed his first beer, Celbridge being his hometown. If I step out from my front door and walk left instead of right I’ll come across a statue of the man put up last year. A couple of minutes walking straight past the statue will lead me to Castletown House, Ireland’s biggest and oldest Palladian house, built for the politician William Conolly nearly 300 years ago. Everyone in Celbridge loves to walk their dogs around the mansion’s grounds so it’s pretty much a local fixture, a piece of history written into the normal way of the town’s landscape.
I doubt there’s a town in Ireland where you couldn’t say one thing or another along these same lines. Naas, where I lived for most of my life, derives its name from the Irish Nás na Rí as the place where the old kings of Leinster used to meet. My parents live in Rathangan, a small town wedged between the Slate river and the Grand Canal, owing a lot of its architecture to the tastes of the folk who worked on the latter. I just now found out Jedward grew up in Rathangan, so we have that in common.
Easy as it is to spot the history in Ireland, I’d hazard the same can be said for wherever it is you grew up or wherever you live now, that your locale has a sense of place hinting towards what it might have been, once upon a time. There’s a 600 year old yew in Maynooth where Silken Thomas spent his life’s last night of freedom, but to near everyone who passes it on the way to class everyday it’s just a big fat tree. It’s the kind of thing that’s easy to overlook or that you just internalise without thinking, especially if you were born and raised being told about this or that piece of living history without having the years yet to properly understand it.
So I like seeing this sense of place carried through to worlds in fiction. It helps to make them feel more substantial and more relatable than just being empty places put in to fill a narrative gap, or in the case of most games, a corridor for you to shoot more guys or a side room to stage a lonely chest. It’s especially vital for games dependant on worldbuilding to project this sensation, since their narrative flounders or flourishes on the sensibility and believability of their world design. How a game’s environment’s are designed isn’t only important in terms of them as a playing field, it’s also a huge component of latent narrative design.
I’ve always thought Demon’s Souls was quite good at acknowledging and reflecting this, since it relies heavily on environmental storytelling to add depth to its relatively simple plot. It’s fortunate that the environments demand a fair amount of your attention if you ever want to reach the end of the game–you’ve the fact that they’re laid out kind of like a music sheet where you have to remember locations and types of enemies and recite combat tactics appropriate to the area, and on top of that they’re like puzzles with the importance of discovering and unlocking shortcuts to facilitate your safe passage. Since there’s so much value to poking and prodding every inch to see what it grants you, these aspects give Demon’s Souls‘ environments a great sense of weight. So it’s wonderful that this degree of scrutiny and attention is rewarded by uncovering narrative detail through the game’s organic flow.
Much like that of Dark Souls, the world of Demon’s Souls is largely revealed through context, such as the collaboration of lore in the text of one weapon with that of another, or the place of rest of an item within the level, or the way this area connects back to that area and what that might say about a relationship between them. The devious use of rumour and suggestion to dot the gameworld with people and past events is a contagion of the mind– it incites you to perceive meaning out of thin air, or more pertinently, from the stone and blood of the present land.
A few handy examples from Dark Souls: Anor Londo is a majestic city paved with wide roads and staircases because the gods who built this place were themselves enormous compared to humans. In a room before the throne room you fight the two bosses, broad Smough and sleek Ornstein; to the rear of the room you find a pair of elevators, one wide and one thin, to accommodate the girth of their passengers.
Elsewhere, atop Sen’s Fortress, a peculiar knight stands guard, his sword identifying him as the mysterious Prince Ricard whose famous exploits found him in an ‘ill-conceived journey’. What was Ricard’s journey? What lead him to take a post right outside the entrance to Anor Londo? Was he guarding it, or was he challenging those who sought its entry out of greed for the city’s unplundered treasures or out of a desire to claim their strength for his own? This odd bit of lore so captivated many players that Ricard’s Rapier cameos in Dark Souls 2.
But Demon’s Souls tact at this brand of storytelling far exceeds that of its sequels. Although it’s the original game’s difficulty and character of gameplay that have taken root as its legacy, and I’d say the two Dark Souls‘ have improved upon it many times over in that regard, Demon’s Souls still stands a head above its children in presenting a substantial fantasy world and it achieves this through its sense of present history.
I’m using ‘present history’ to mean that sense of a place’s history available through its current state of existence, leaning on both meanings of the word ‘present’, as opposed to through reams of expositional dialogue, for example. If there’s already a term out there for this exact concept, please give me a heads up in the comments below!
So Demon’s Souls is enriched by the sense of present history in its gameworld. What exactly do I mean by that, what’s the narrative of its history that I gather just from exploring the world? What sort of narrative techniques are incorporated into delivering present history, since I kind of disqualified ‘reams of expositional dialogue’ as aside from this method? What does the shape of Boletaria ‘then’ say about its shape ‘now’, and vice versa?
To satisfy these questions, I’d like to go over a narrative walkthrough of my impressions of the Boletaria Palace as a place, as a thing that has stood for a very long time gathering life and history and now stands gathering dust. I’ve found these impressions through dispersed tatters of textual and oral lore, and through the locations I ‘physically’ visited as I traipsed around on my journey, through abandoned items of furniture and artefacts of life within the castle’s walls, through the cackling palace official posted at a mining shaft, through the sadness of a corpse cradling its dying soul, and through guessing and supposing.
It would be nice to say my memory is so great that the entire rest of this write-up is the product of my eyes and my brain alone, but the truth is much of it has come inspired and recollected by the various Demon Souls wikis and Youtube Let’s Plays. The Demon’s Souls community loves the game so much they’ll go to bonkers lengths just to treasure it and make sense of it. From Software owes a lot to its fans for their passion and patience in this regard, as do I. For fans of the game, because I’ll only be recounting what the gameworld has to offer there’s probably not a lot from here onwards that you don’t already know, so if you don’t care to read 5,000 words about the Boletarian Palace I completely respect that.
Also, as a heads up, although it’s hard to divorce an environment as a playing space from whatever sense of narrative character it might have, since we’re kind of expected as players to judge the latter through the lense of the former, I’ll make an effort to not get too wrapped up in Boletaria’s various levels as you might see them in a gameplay walkthrough or a user manual.
Before I start, a quick summary of the plot for newcomers and old fans with foggy memories. The kingdom of Boletaria prospered under the rule of King Allant the twelfth, but over time he began to seek new ways to expand his power for the benefit of his people. Allant learnt of the vast opportunity that could be gained through the manipulation of human souls and dedicated himself to unlocking them as a resource. He grew greedy and reckless, for his quest lead him to awaken the Old One, a magnificent ancient demon, and spread a thick colourless fog across the land. With the fog came knowledge of the soul arts, but also a plague of soul-devouring demons was released to feast on the souls of humankind. The fog consumed Boletaria, cutting it from the rest of the world. It was only when the royal knight Vallarfax broke through the fog barrier that knowledge of Boletaria’s plight became known to the wider world.
But the fog yet spreads. Many warriors and heroes have ventured into Boletaria, some seeking to end the demon plague, others to benefit themselves through the power of soul arts, but none have returned. The player takes the role of one such warrior, and is whisked away from the clutches of death to the safety of the Nexus.
We soon learn the Old One arose once before, a long time ago. Through use of the soul arts the world used to be united, but a lusting for power lead someone to awaken the Old One, and with it rode the fog and demon scourge. Half the world was destroyed before an army of Monumentals could lull the Old One back to sleep and seal it below the Nexus, a place seemingly apart from the world above. The Monumentals granted six archstones to the people of the world to repair the fabric of the world and bind it to the Nexus, and took up their post as eternal sentinels keeping the Old One and its scourge at bay. But over time the archstones have weakened and crumbled, and all but one of the Monumentals have perished. The sole survivor is relying on you to slay the demons of Boletaria and return the Old One to slumber.
There’s a definite relationship between the Nexus and the wider world that describes the strength of the Nexus as a prison for the Old One, but it’s unclear in what states of being the Nexus and the place ‘below the Nexus’ exist. There’s a cutscene that hints the Nexus exists as a stone monolith towering over the Old One’s place of slumber, but we can see for ourselves that the inside of the monolith is like a glorious cathedral. I’ve written about the Nexus before, but here and now we can just focus on the passage of time between the Old One’s past awakening and his current revival, and how the deterioration of the land coinciding with the great beast’s return suggests a narrative of Boletaria.
There’s the obvious fact that the Monumentals gave six archstones to various people of the world but only five remain – the one in the Nexus connected to the Land of the Giants has crumbled into permanent disuse. The first mentioned archstone was given to a ruler of a small yet diligent land. We can use this archstone to send us to the gates of the Boletarian palace, suggesting it descends from that small kingdom of old, but at the time that Demon’s Souls takes place the kingdom of Boletaria is anything but little–it has since expanded to an area encompassing at least all five remaining archstones. Perhaps the archstone of the giants was smashed to sever that throughway and prevent Boletarian forces from teleporting in, the way we can use them to access each level. Or perhaps it was destroyed in a great war between the two factions, or perhaps the Land of the Giants collapsed under its own weight without the help of Boletarian invaders.
Through the five remaining archstones we can transport to the five environments of Demon’s Souls: the Boletarian Palace, Stonefang Tunnel, the Tower of Latria, the Shrine of Storms, and the Valley of Defilement,. These form the game’s five levels, each broken up into three or four stages with a demon boss fight at the end of every stage. You start with the first stage of the Boletarian Palace, after which the other four levels become accessible via the Nexus. From here you can play them in any order but most players go at them from left to right, arranged in the order listed above, completing a stage or two and moving on to another level rather than finishing an entire level uninterrupted. Something you gain from one level will probably help you in another, so there’s a certain amount of interplay between the areas in how you experience them. In terms of level design and the narrative of play, the different segmented levels speak and relate to one another in a load of different ways, advancing the feeling that they’re interconnected as a gameworld. So, while we look the Boletarian Palace to see what we can see, bear in mind the levels are generally played in a disjointed order.
On arriving at the Boletarian capital you find yourself already inside the outermost walls of the castle fortress. Behind you, a large iron gate has been constructed into the mountain curtain, connected to an enormous door embedded into an outer castle wall by a wide and even paved bridge on which you begin the level. Following the road straight through to the other side of the wall and over and across a long, meandering bridge will eventually lead you to the front gates of the castle proper. Along the way you’ll find scores of dead bodies, abandoned carts and their rotting horses, fragile outward-facing barricades, and an abundance of knights and sentries. Where you now stand was once a major road of commerce and access, the primary route into and out of the palace, and most likely the path by which its citizens fled when the culling began from the inside out.
In the Nexus, Stockpile Thomas speaks of how he escaped the scourge as it fell upon Boletaria and how he abandoned his wife and daughter to save his own skin. Here at the wall’s outskirts, you find their bodies strung up on chains in an act of display. It looks like when Thomas fled outwards from the palace interior, his family weren’t fortunate to make good their own escape–perhaps they made it close to the outer wall before being seized by the mad undead or the demons’ thralls. That their bodies would be suspended on chains is odd, though, rather than being left where they lay like everybody else. On one body is Thomas’ daughter’s ornament, but on the other, presumably his wife, you find a couple of vials of spice, used for mana regeneration for the casting of spells, and a set of clothes matching those of the witch Yuria, who you find later. It looks like Thomas’ wife was a practitioner of the soul arts and for that she and her daughter were singled out and made an example of. The similar imprisonment and torture of Yuria within the castle’s grounds suggests the ruler of Boletaria took special interest in such individuals even as his people were massacred. More on this later.
The outer gate encloses a big chamber within the belly of the wall, large enough to secure a platoon of soldiers but plain enough to serve a variety of needs, for example as a customs post or a sanctuary for travellers and refugees. Presently it houses the Phalanx demon and its legion of gooey hoplite soldiers–the outermost demon guarding the palace of King Allant. More hoplites populate the room beyond this chamber, otherwise filled to the brim with carts and piles of bodies, as if the Phalanx crept outwards from the palace onto a congregation of stranded merchants and citizens caught fleeing the outpouring evil.
To either side of the central chamber are towers and compact courtyards accessible via entrances on the wall’s outer side. If you go in the left hand side entrance you can wind yourself all the way throughout the wall’s interior, up around and down, to exit on the right hand side back where you started. This path connects open-air yards on the ground to dark, claustrophobic rooms, opening into longer and taller areas packed with wooden scaffolding to layer it upwards, to advantage the defenders should the doors be breached. This passage opens onto the walls’ battlements, which connect internally to a series of open-air plazas, all spacious and decorated nicely with arcaded walls and porches, contrasting the wall’s stark exterior. It’s clear the wall is built primarily for defensive purposes, but you can see by the many abandoned stalls that some of the narrow courtyards and the plaza were once used to stage markets and for stabling, I suppose for the wall’s occupants on the inside and travellers and refugees nearer the outer doors and entryways. It would have recently been a minor place of commerce, a pitstop for merchants to trade their goods without needing to journey the road in towards the palace.
Now it looks like this area has been refitted to better serve a greater contingent of guards: wherever they fit there’s made beds and tables lined with food and drink, well-stocked shelves and temporary timber storage units stationed irregularly about the camp. What might have been a low-roofed barracks on one end of the battlement’s allure is now used for storing vats of rock for the wall’s many trebuchets, manned by a small squad of crossbowmen, pikemen and knights. About the place are stacks of wooden planks, suggesting the raised platforms and makeshift bridges were comparatively recently erected for the posting of soldiers.
At the allure’s other end is the royal mausoleum within which are stored the kingdom’s two greatest treasures, guarded by Old King Doran, Boletaria’s founder. It’s very unusually located given the current use of the great wall, which suggests this outpost was originally the heart of the Boletarian palace in Doran’s time, before the kingdom’s many expansions saw the palace relocated to its current position a mile afield. The old palace was refitted as an outer wall and became a service station and gate house, but nobody could move the ancient mausoleum without disturbing the great Boletarian hero, and so it was left as is.
Let’s call the gate embedded into the mountain behind you when you arrive gate 1, and the gate to the chamber housing the Phalanx demon gate 2. If you look at the pavement on the bridge between gate 1 and gate 2 and observe the road as it flows inwards towards the palace all the way to the next gate, gate 3, you can see it change from large, moss-covered slabs on the outer side of the wall, to smaller, cleaner bricks with longer tiles grouping the floor into segments, on the inside. It looks like all the paving on the wall’s interior rooms matches that of the bridges between gate 2 and gate 3, as if the highway leading to the palace was built quite a bit after the bridge at gate 1. The land underneath the highway to the palace dips into a steep valley so originally it would have formed a good natural defence for a castle positioned atop the mountain. Plus, the doorway that faces in towards gate 3 is much smaller and less impressive than gate 2, as if to have knocked an equally large entryway into the wall would have risked its collapse. So it makes sense that the outer compound might have once been the original Boletarian castle, with that bridge where you start and its road with the steps and built-in ramps as its sole entryway, barring a possible underground escape route in the wall connected to where is now the execution grounds.
Let’s leave the first stage of the first level and progress past the room with the Phalanx. In the room beyond the demon is another slightly smaller chamber filled with carts, corpses, barricades and a small contingent of hoplites. The small doorway I referenced a second ago opens onto a long winding bridge called the Cliff Pathway, leading to gate 3 and the inner castle. The room also has a descending ramp on one side which enters into the narrow insides of this bridge when the portcullis isn’t down, so people could take the upper or lower road to and from the castle. The Cliff Pathway winds between the outposts along the way because it’s build over irregular land. The inelegance of the bridge and the difficulty that must have been faced when building it suggests it’s a product of ambitious designs of expanding upon the original castle rather than practicality of bridging two contemporary fortresses whose entrances don’t even align.
From the Cliff Pathway expands a wonderful view of the planes below the mountain fortress and the low, wide town established there. You’ll never visit it, but if there’s any life left in that old settlement you can see no sign of it from here.
Through gate 3 you enter a large open courtyard ringed by inward-facing battlements high above, accessible by a pair of stairways, and a tall studded wooden doorway on the courtyard’s far wall. Here you fight the Tower Knight, with a squad of crossbowmen manning the battlements. Impressive statues line the wall-walks, heroes of the kingdom watching over whoever may attend the palace. Barring the initial crumbled fountain and the mausoleum, the wall at gate 2 lacked for similar decorative stonework, favouring simplicity and practicality on the most part, but the closer you get to the palace’s throneroom the palace’s opulence trends upwards. The courtyard of the Tower Knight makes for a useful pit if the wall were to be breached, although it probably was designed more as a place for social and political gatherings judging by the wall-walk’s immediate accessibility.
Within the bowels of the tower of gate 3 is a small jail with a handful of holding cells, probably a brig for the knights and soldiers stationed at the Cliff Pathway. You can find Biorr of the Twin Fangs in one of the cells and a fat official guarding over him. Why he’s here and why he still lives aren’t spelled out, but in the other cells you can see the corpses of storied soldiers and heroes, so it looks like Allant was imprisoning certain warriors for a reason.
The door past the Tower Knight only opens after the player has killed an archdemon–one of the bosses at the final stage of each level. It’s just one more demonic failsafe protecting the throne of King Allant at the heart of the palace, reinforcing the connection between Allant’s stronghold and his rule over the land. Much like the Nexus acts as a buffer between the Old One and the world of humanity, the Boletarian palace buffers the demon-infested land against the threat of those who would banish the Old One.
Through the door the road leads to the inner bailey, opening shortly onto a town square centred by a broad fountain, now smashed and decrepit. Here, as with everywhere else, piles of corpses of people and horses litter the street together with the shreds of their past livelihoods. The road turns and becomes a flight of wide steps with ramp accessibility, which shortly flattens for a large portcullis and then shifts right and makes a trail towards the palace gate, flanked all along its length by the blue banners of the royal family.
The player circumvents the closed portcullis by navigating a path through the town via alleyways, rooftops, walkways and parapets, giving the effect of a terraced maze of streets and rooftops. The streets, including the main road, weave around and between the buildings wherever there’s space. As with many townscapes bound by a castle wall, it’s a patchwork of repeated and continuous construction – buildings don’t align with each other, let alone with the road, while many are made lighter by timber frames to not overburden the shops on which they make their foundations, marking them as expansions upwards when outwards grew too restricting. Even though the town covers a far greater area than the settlement of the outer wall, it’s more densely packed and far more cluttered. There’s a lot more doors and windows generally around the town here than anywhere else in the fortress as a whole, often facing inwards towards the various squares and roads, resembling shopfronts. Some doorways onto the main road have now been bricked up, as if sealed to dismantle and obstruct the local community.
Although that initial courtyard is piled with bodies and debris, elsewhere about the town there are surprisingly few corpses as proof of the packed population that must have lived here prior to the Scourge. The lore on the Tower Knight’s archstone says this town is now where the knights, imperial spies and soldiers call their home, so perhaps some effort was put in to clear the bodies out and renovate the place for military use.
One alley, fastened by an iron gate, shoots off from the town square and winds around and down and eventually to the bridge of a tower embedded in the perimeter wall. Imprisoned in the top of the tower under watch of a fat official sits Yuria the Witch. Yuria has skill in the soul arts on par with the wisest of humankind, so for freeing her she offers you her services of turning the particular souls of demons into unique and powerful spells. It was out of craving for this discipline that Yuria first ventured through the Boletarian fog, but she was captured by Miralda the Executioner and chained up in this tower. It looks like she was kept alive and tortured explicitly to extract her proficiency with the soul arts, as a means for the archdemons to further empower themselves through the manipulation of human and demon souls. Two corpses, either her cell mates or the tower’s earlier tenants, hold a Ring of the Accursed, which marks one as a criminal, and a Ring of Magical Nature, which also carries the superstition of a curse, so this tower seems to be the place for holding such magically-talented prisoners as she.
Here and there you meet the fat officials in charge of the town, taunting you and dropping gates to impede your progress. I think the fat officials are the only humanoid characters to cast magic throughout the entire Boletarian Palace–the lore attached to the caps they wear notes how they appeared shortly before the scourge kicked off, and how they delighted in the pain of the general populace. It’s likely they’re a form of lesser demon spread across the palace and the kingdom by the current King Allant to facilitate his plot and probe the populace for talent in the soul arts. It is the fat officials who hold the keys to both Biorr’s and Yuria’s cells and inflict unutterable tortures upon them. More than the knights and dredglings and soul-starved soldiers, they are the demon’s loyal servants.
Follow the main road through the town and you’ll come to a curved, terraced bridge leading up to the front door of Allant’s keep, set apart from the town by a narrow but steep valley. First you enter into a big hallway lined with a dozen or so statues to salute the king’s passage, and the Penetrator demon, who you must slay if you want to progress. Beyond this hall is an inner courtyard with tall columns to overhang the roof on either side and neatly paved tiles suggesting a patio. This would have been the hub for the social meetings of dignitaries and noblemen and women, close to the king’s personal quarters and away from civilian business of the town. The road continues straight through another portcullis, up another stairway and to the king’s innermost hall. The portcullis is down, however, so the player gets to see a little bit more of the keep by swinging right and taking a path through more towers and connecting wall-walks. Even this far into the palace, the structure was built with defence foremost in mind.
Ultimately you arrive at the king’s throneroom, taking up the top of a towering cathedral-like building of opulent architecture and decor unlike that of the entire rest of the palace, with arcading and a flowing red carpet and arched glass windows and flying buttresses. The palace’s only elevator connects the ground floor to the throneroom, where you finally meet King Allant, or I should say his imposter, since his soul reveals him to be a demon masquerading as Boletaria’s ruler. The real king now lives in the belly of the Old One, transformed for his hubris into a grotesque demon. On awakening the Old One, it seems the king was subdued, corrupted and his likeness stolen so the demonic false king could rule in his stead to subvert the kingdom. He installed the fat officials into office and pursued practitioners of the soul arts for his own gain. He released dragons onto the palace to protect his throne from invading demon slayers such as yourself, though the dragons kill indiscriminately.
So, let’s put together some of what we know from the various characters we meet throughout the palace level. Biorr and Yuria tell us how they were imprisoned and tortured by the fat officials – Biorr is careful to warn you as you approach the keep that the palace is guarded by dragons and the black souls of mighty knights which lead to his own defeat and incarceration. There’s a corpse of a dragon stabbed with arrows or crowsbow bolts in the courtyard after the Penetrator–no doubt Biorr’s handiwork. It looks like when the Scourge came, he lead a platoon of soldiers to face the king in the hopes of regaining his senses. Perhaps the many bodies of fallen soldiers and knights about the castle were Biorr’s fellow insurgents.
He also tells you of the return of Prince Ariona, the king’s son, which is clearly the true identity of Ostrava, the golden knight in constant need of saving since the first time you met him near gate 1. From the decoration of his gear, the way he relates his knowledge of the land and the fact that he began his quest to reach the king from at least as far out as the palace’s extremities, it seems that for quite some time Ostrava has been living in a neighbouring kingdom to the south. While it’s normal that a prince might be sent abroad for an education or as a political emissary, his delicate nature suggests it might have been an effort by the real King Allant to protect his son from any dangers of his pursuit of power via the soul arts.
Like Biorr, Ostrava tells you that the rumours against the king have no founding in reality, that he couldn’t possibly be responsible for the army of demons all across Boletaria. The two speak very highly of King Allant and how his reign has benefited the people of Boletaria (prior to the whole demon scourge thing), but a dredgling merchant you meet along the way wryly suggests a contrary interpretation. His perspective is that the kingdom hasn’t fallen that far with the arrival of demons, and that the king imposed conscription of his people to serve in wars furthering the kingdom’s expansion. So perhaps the glowing recommendation of Allant from Biorr and Ostrava is more telling of their removal from the situation, Biorr by the privilege of being a royal knight, Ostrava by his complete absence. Amicable through either fellow might be, their loyalty to the king shows them to be desperately naive to the longstanding plight of the Boletarian people.
Ostrava has a bit more to tell you about Boletaria, however. First is the legend the kingdom’s two treasures, the swords Demonbrandt and Soulbrandt, which are kept in the royal mausoleum. Ostrava thinks you’ll find both weapons there, but the truth is that in recent years the king has seldom been seen without Soulbrandt, the sword which grows in power the more demonic its wielder. Either the False King has been in power for that long, or the real King Allant’s madness stretches back farther into his reign than anyone suspects.
Second is about Allant’s round table of knights. He notes Biorr and Vallarfax, the royal Twin Fangs, but says that Vallarfax “slipped through the fissure” and was never seen from again. Vallarfax is the one who broke free from the fog and told the world of Boletaria’s plight, but it looks like he then re-entered the fog to throw his hat into the ring. As to his fate, there might be a clue within the stone walls of the palace.
At a cliffside within the boundaries of the castle at gate 1, the two dragons of King Allant have made themselves a nest surrounded by a dozen scorched corpses and a small horde of treasure. One corpse is in possession of a Ring of Great Strength, a rare token of King Allant given to each of his Twin Fangs. Biorr carries the other ring, confirming this. So is this dessicated, ashen corpse that of Vallerfax? Did he arrive back at the palace, find it securely guarded by a pair of fire-breathing dragons, and, like Biorr, set about to destroy them? If so, it seems that even the greater of the Twin Fangs was no match for the power of the terrifying beasts. It also hints at how much time has passed since the Scourge fell upon the palace, that Vallarfax could make a round trip to the land beyond the kingdom’s borders and back again with enough time spare to become a hundred-times charred pile of remains.
Ostrava also makes mention of three other knights – Alfred of the tower, Metas of the lance, and Long Bow Oolan with his fearsome legions. The three warriors bear resemblance to the three demons guarding the palace – the Tower Knight, the Penetrator and the Phalanx, respectively, with some interesting differences. The Penetrator uses a sword, not a lance, and Phalanx uses lances as projectiles rather than being armed with bows or crossbows. Similarly, in the courtyard beyond the Penetrator’s room you come across three black phantoms – the “black souls of mighty knights” Biorr was talking about – who match up with the bosses and the royal knights, although Ostrava was mistaken on Oolan’s gender given to his living abroad.
It’s odd, however, that you’d slay three demons and then find their human souls lying in wait ahead, even as you collected their demon souls yourself. A creature should not be able to have a demon soul and a human soul, it goes against everything else you know. Further complicating this is the fact that the special weapons dropped by each of the black phantoms can be found elsewhere on three dead bodies – the Penetrating Sword in the castle’s town, the Tower Shield beneath gate 2 inside the Cliff Pathway, and the White Bow in an entirely different area, the Shrine of Storms. The last one is peculiar, but the black phantom that drops the White Bow bears a curved sword and gear familiar to that land. Bear in mind, as well, that Ostrava notes Oolan to be a brave tribesperson, and that the Shrine of Storms was home to a tribe of shadowmen, and it seems that Oolan was not native to the palace region. By the placement of her dead body, it looks like prior to the Scourge reaching the castle, she left to protect her own homeland from the demons assailing it, or perhaps she fled in hopelessness for the future of Allant’s palace.
So it looks like the corpses with each of these three unique weapons were the real bodies of the three royal knights who died in combat and were left where they lay. Perhaps Metas and Alfred joined Biorr in his effort to push towards Allant’s throneroom and beg some sense from him, or maybe they each died in their own fashion independent of one another.
Whatever the case, the demons who guard the palace from demon slayers couldn’t possibly be the authentic royal knights, but must be copies or imposters, as the reigning king is an imposter of the real King Allant. If the False King strove to duplicate the royal knights into demonic forms he could control, perhaps his goal was to find a legitimate conversion of human souls into demons, with his eye on the power that could be gained by corrupting the powerful soul of a legendary knight.
I think this is why the False King has Yuria imprisoned – all the signs suggest it couldn’t have been co-incidence or for purification as Biorr believed. Instead, the False King wanted Yuria’s talent at manipulating demon souls so he could create legendary demons. The Maiden in Black can make humans into demons without compromising the host, but since she now works against the Old One her ability is lost to the demon’s side, so the False King sought to rediscover it for himself. And this is why Biorr was kept alive instead of just being executed – he was to be the legendary demonic knight of the False King Allant.
While there is certainly quite a lot of information to be gathered on the recent and distant history of Boletaria, next to none of all this is spelled out by the game. What little we know for certain is barely revealed through subtext and rumour, and since there isn’t a single reliable narrator to be found we may never discover the truth of what happened in Boletaria. But that may be just as well. Not only is it a lot more exciting to be compelled by the mystery of it all, it also lends itself well to ingraining a sense of history in a land so dependent on its tradition to keep itself alive. Although the folk you meet may be fools and charlatans, perhaps even living unaware of their own self-deceptions, they still act as people who once lived in a bustling kingdom with a storied history, adding character to that world and the one they live in now. And in just the same way, the world adds character to them and reaches through them to speak of itself.
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