The seeds of good ideas later improved upon are scattered everywhere. The Phalanx boss is clearly a prototype of Bloodborne‘s Rom, the Vacuous Spider. The structure of the Tower Knight battle is Bloodborne‘s The One Reborn, just, you know, pre-rebirth. Countless enemy archetypes, level design tropes, encounter designs, and progression mechanics are all present — and all great — right from the series’ dawn.
The only missing genre pillars are the large interconnected world, and the intoxicating mystery that that brings. In 2009 FromSoftware had not yet worked out it’s best level design trick: opening doors the long way around to earn the right to go the short way next time. It’s here, but only in isolated moments. You cannot rely on it. Storytelling, similarly, is more overt than it would later become, and less tied to the surrounding environments. As a result, it feels less unique. But far more of FromSoftware’s acclaimed design, more of the Soulsborne essence, is present than I had hoped for.
Game visuals might need overhauls every few years to stay relevant, but good game design is timeless. So is Demon’s Souls.