Demon's Souls Review

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Review copy provided by the publisher

The kingdom of Boletaria was once a peaceful and prosperous kingdom. Its ruler, King Allant XII made it that way through the use of souls, and their exquisite power. But, as things go, he didn’t think his cunning plan all the way through. His frivolous use of these souls, while bringing peace to his kingdom, also awakened the Old One – an ancient, demonic, evil. With its awakening came a fog that began to cover the land, and this fog spawned demons of every shape and size. These demons, in turn, fed on the souls of the living, turning them mad and making them prey upon others.  This is the story behind From Software’s voracious RPG Demon’s Souls.  Hit the jump for more evil insights into this dark world.

Some of the first things that will strike you about this title is the atmosphere and almost overbearing sense of dread that is likely filling the hearts of the people of this kingdom. That feeling of hopelessness spreads through all the visuals – from dark, dreary dungeons to grand castles inhabited by evil of every sort. It’s intensely beautiful, in an evil sort of way.

Speaking of visuals, each level has that brooding “end of the world” feel and its so intense that it will actually fill you with a sense of dread and impending doom. I just couldn’t help but feel intimidated and genuinely freaked out by what would be around the next corner. The levels are diverse enough to stay interesting throughout the entire game, while still maintaining that overall thematic presence.

Initially you’re presented with a character creation screen that is reminiscent in design to Western RPGs such as Oblivion, yet oh so much prettier. Choose your gender, class and physical attributes and then you’re on your way into this save-the-world adventure.

You may not notice it right at the beginning, but this game will kick your ass. The tutorial level is rather tame to start with, but as you near the end, you’re met with a gigantic demon that will demonstrate exactly how brutal this world really is. You will die. You will die a lot. If you are the gung-ho type to just dive into the action and start button mashing, you will die. If you don’t think strategically, or you let enemies sneak up on you, or double-team you or get more than a few hits in on you, you will die. This game is punishing, almost too much so, and I’ll touch on this again in a moment.  Don’t act all cocky and claim that I either suck at action-RPGs or are just saying this to scare you away.  The cockier you are the harder you will fall in Demon’s Souls.

After your encounter with the tutorial “boss”, you’ll end up in the Nexus, which is basically the “hub” area, where you jump to and from all the other areas of the game. You have a few options here – you can buy items, buy equipment or upgrade your existing equipment. All these purchases are done with the game’s currency – souls. That’s right, as you hack and slash your way through the demons in every area, you collect their souls (thus the name of the game, right?). These souls, in turn, can be spent on items and upgrades to help you on your journey.

So many 3rd person hack-and-slash games fall prey to the typical button mashing mechanic. Many times just hitting random buttons and using standard attacks can get you through quite a lot. Not here, not ever. As if my earlier warnings weren’t enough, I’ll warn you again – if you even think about taking this approach, you will die quickly. You really need to be on your toes, take stock of what the enemy is doing and adjust your actions accordingly. If you don’t, you will die. I’m not going to lie, this game is brutal. I don’t want to say you have to react just right to your opponent’s every attack because there is some room for error, however small.  You have the equivalent of health and mana potions and you can learn how various enemies tend to interact with your character and react accordingly. But, if you aren’t very careful, you will die…often. In fact, I think I died nearly a dozen times in the first hour.

The various classes are diverse, and you can definitely play a class that suits your play style the most. I tried out a few different classes and found the mechanics pleasantly different. The movement and aiming was tight and responsive and the battles, although sometimes against the same foes, never felt repetitive or tedious. As diverse as the classes are the weapons available and their strengths and weaknesses. I found firing arrows a difficult, yet rewarding experience. Large weapons leave your defenses open, but deal quite the blow. Fast weapons don’t do a whole lot of damage, but tend to allow you to keep the enemy at bay. Like I mentioned, there’s something for everyone.

One of the aspects that makes this title so unique is the online components. First off, you can leave notes for others who might tread the same paths to warn them of what’s ahead or give clues as to how to deal with certain enemies or situations. If you like the note, you can give it a thumbs up, which refills the note-giver’s health.  Related to this are the bloodstains you will discover as you traverse the landscape. You can approach these bloodstains, trigger them and see exactly how other people created them by dying and, just perhaps, avoid their fate at that particular location.

Another nuance of the online play allows you to summon players into your game world to help defeat difficult bosses and generally help you around. Also, while in “soul form”, perhaps after a death, you can assist other players in defeating powerful foes and recover your physical form. Those bloodstains I mentioned? When you die you leave one of those and there the souls – or currency – you have collected will sit until you return to them in a weakened state. If you fail and die again, you will loose all those souls. Again, this game is incredibly punishing, so you do well to seek out help from time to time if you feel you need it.

Now comes the problem areas. While this game is amazing in design and atmosphere, and the difficulty, in some ways, is an extreme breath of fresh air given the wildly easy difficulty levels of certain other RPGs or action titles, it is likely just too much. Difficulty is good, difficulty that hampers progression is a bad thing. This is why I buy strategy guides for RPGs, this is why I spend time looking up where to go next in RPGs if I don’t have a guide – people just sometimes don’t have the time or the patience for this type of trial and error game play. If you die (and, I can’t stress this enough, it will be often) you have to figure out what you did wrong and attempt to try to correct it, losing souls and sanity in the process.

This intense experience likely appeals to only the hardcore and, admittedly, this is probably what From Software was going for. To add insult to injury, the environments tend to be very dark, sometimes cramped and hard to maneuver. Sure, you could call this having to adapt to your environment, but I call it artificial difficulty multipliers. Dim the lights, make it hard to maneuver, and the difficulty spikes, especially given the already brutal mentality of the enemy AI.

Is this a great game? Yes, it is. You don’t see this often from any developers. From Software definitely has the stones to throw something this difficult out to the masses. I loved the atmosphere, the game play and the mechanics. However, the difficulty, while appealing to some, is just way too much. Demon’s Souls overdoes it so much that I feel it won’t get the acceptance of which it’s deserving. If things were just toned down a bit or if multiple difficulties were added, while keeping the same ambiance and game play mechanics, it seems to me it would be the perfect action-RPG that would appeal to more people.

So, in the end, if you’re looking for a brutally intense, difficult, trial and error filled, yet visually impressive, title, by all means, Demon’s Souls delivers. Its visuals are gorgeous, the game mechanics are a breath of fresh air, a wildly fun romp in a dark and foreboding world. Unfortunately, the frustration factor may be a turn-off to all but the hardcore crowd. All that being said, whether this type of game appeals to you or not, you owe it to yourself to check it out and play it. You may love it, you may hate it, you might toss your controllers in frustration, but at least you’ll expose yourself to a masterfully crafted title that gives the gaming landscape something different, something new, something surprisingly robust and attractive. That’s what every title that comes along hopes to be, but, in recent memory, Demon’s Souls is one of the only games to accomplish. While things might not be perfect, given the high degree of difficulty, the title definitely does deliver and is something for all gamers to aspire to try.

  • Title: Demon’s Souls (PS3)
  • Developer: From Software
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • MSRP: $59.99
  • Release Date: October 6, 2009
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Chad Awkerman

Chad joined the DualShockers staff in mid 2009 and since then has put much of his time into covering RPGs, with a focus on the Japanese side of the genre, from the obscure to the mainstream. He's a huge fan of iconic games like Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI and Persona 4 yet enjoys the smaller niche titles, as well. In his spare time he enjoys experiencing new beer, new foods and keeping up with just about every sci-fi show on television. He's married to an intelligent, beautiful Southern Belle who keeps his life interesting with witty banter and spicy Cajun cooking.

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