Demon’s Souls Review

By on February 10, 2010

Demon’s Souls will torture you, haunt you and terrify you, but it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.

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First Impressions
My reaction is

Every once in a while you’ll come across a game that is not only a pleasant surprise but makes you reassess a lot of industry standards. Demon’s Souls is such a game.

From Software’s PS3 exclusive RPG has received both praise and notoriety and, to a certain extent, is deserving of both. The game is brutally challenging, bizarrely unique and incredibly engaging. It is a game where death awaits you at every corner, and will have you coming back for more. Sounds like a paradox doesn’t it? How can such a punishing game not get frustrating? If you would like to know the answer to that question, please read on.

On the surface, Demon’s Souls seems like your standard action RPG. You start the game by creating and customizing your character, giving him or her a name, a face and a class. You can equip a variety of weapons and armor, learn magic and miracles, collect items and even get your equipment customized at the local blacksmith. The reality, however, is that from the get go you will come to the realization that this is not your standard RPG and is perhaps like no game you’ve ever played. Even the story is bizarre, albeit not all that interesting.

The story revolves around the troubled kingdom of Boletaria. A kingdom isolated from the rest of the world by fog and terrorized by powerful, soul-devouring demons. Many warriors have come to Boletaria’s aid, but all have failed. The only safe haven is the Nexus, a sort of purgatory temple and the place you will call home for the duration of the game. You are the latest in a series of brave warriors and it is your job to destroy the demons and put the Old One (a beast living below the Nexus) back to sleep. Easier said than done.

It is not simply that the game is difficult, in fact the term difficult is too simplistic a description. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that the game is merciless and punishing. For starters, you cannot pause. Yes you read that right – pressing the start button brings up a menu but doesn’t pause the action. You can hide in a corner while you answer the door or grab a snack, but if a nearby enemy catches a glimpse of you taking a breather, he won’t wait till you finish your KitKat. Furthermore, accidently killing vendors, or any NPC for that matter is something that cannot be undone. You cannot reload your saved game because the game auto-saves after almost any action. There is no way around it, your actions have consequences and this is something Demon’s Souls will teach the hard way.

Concentration is key in this game and this is most evident in the combat system. The combat itself is simple enough, you have two attacks – a light and a heavy. You can block and parry, and when you have a catalyst or talisman equipped, you can perform a spell or a miracle respectively. However, if you just run in and start slashing away, chances are you will not last very long. Timing your attacks is essential to avoid taking unnecessary damage, especially when attacking enemies more powerful than yourself (which is often). If you want to increase your damage, you can hold your weapon with two-hands making your attacks virtually unblockable but to do so you’ll need to put your shield away which is not always advisable. Defeating enemies rewards you with souls. Souls are your only currency in the game. You need souls to buy items, learn spells and even to level up your stats. The stronger the enemy, the more souls you’ll obtain. On the other hand, the more you level up, the more souls you’ll need to level up further. You can only exchange souls for stat points in the Nexus and sometimes just getting back to the Nexus will prove difficult. If (or more appropriately when) you die you’ll lose all the unspent souls in your possession. You can, however, go back to the site of the tragedy and pick them up. Though this must be done with the utmost caution, because if you die on the way to your souls – you’ll lose those for good. Only the souls from your latest try can be regained.

On the bright side, items are not lost when you die so, in their own way, the developers have handed you a bone. Venturing into uncharted territories and meeting certain death along the way is often not in vain because you will surely pick up some useful items and, more importantly, you will begin to map the area and enemy behavior – giving you an edge the next time around.

One of Demon’s Souls strengths is its fantastic design. The game’s demons are so well crafted, you can almost immediately notice the time and consideration put into them. That said, the game in general has a lot of consideration put into its eerie mood. Each level has a different color scheme and is haunting in its own way. The graphics may not be a technical achievement, and some of the texturing is on the bland side but the visual design is top notch and the moods are outstanding, down to the sound effects of distant crows and howling wind. The game’s music, haunting as it may be, is not memorable and the voice-acting ranges from superb to bizarre but all of these aspects blend so well together that the game seems consistent in all its decisions.

Arguably the most interesting part of Demon’s Souls is its utilization of online play. There are no lobbies or separate modes. Upon starting up the game, you are connected to the Demon’s Souls servers. As you play you will see what can only be described as ghosts appearing and disappearing. These are other people playing the game. You will get glimpses of their actions and you should pay close attention because any information that hints to what is around the corner is welcome. Players can also leave messages on the ground for other players to read, warning them of ambushes or suggesting strategies for overcoming vicious foes. As you explore the nightmarish kingdom of Boletaria you will also see a lot of blood stains on the ground. These blood stains are places where other players died. By touching a stain, you can see how they died and this information can also prove vital for your survival. Helping your fellow gamer doesn’t stop there, you can also leave summon stones in another player’s level and thus be summoned into another person’s game. This is incredibly fun and works surprisingly well. If you help the player finish the level you will be rewarded handsomely, but if either of you die, you will be returned to your game. While in another person’s game, you can earn souls however you cannot pick up any items as you are merely a phantom, assisting your fellow warrior.
If you fancy being a villain, you can invade another person’s game as a black phantom and destroy them instead.

It’s difficult to stop thinking and talking about Demon’s Souls because the game is so deep and vast, and in this review I have barely skimmed the surface. Even a single play-through is not enough time to experience everything the game as to offer.

Demon’s Souls will torture you, haunt you and terrify you – yet when you do finally prevail, when you do succeed in killing each and every demon, you will be in for a gaming experience more rewarding than that of any game on the market today. The odds rarely tip in your favor, but through perseverance and calculated actions, you can succeed and will feel damn good about yourself for doing so.


The Scorecard
GAMEPLAY
9.3
Nothing over the top but prepare for some hardcore RPG action.
GRAPHICS
8.5
Great visual design but not the poster-child for PS3 graphics .
SOUND
Voice-acting is often interesting, but the sound design sets the mood perfectly.
VALUE
9.7
The main quest alone can take you around 40 hours+ to complete but this game has depth.
FUN FACTOR
9.5
Unique, innovative, challenging and incredibly rewarding. What more can you ask for?
OVERALL
9.1
One of the best games of 2009 and arguably the best RPG on the PS3 so far.

About

As an opinionated young gamer many years ago, I made three predictions: 1- Sega would dominate the console wars for 50 years. 2- Simon's Quest would be remembered as the definitive NES game. 3- I would be gaming even more as an adult. I suppose one out of three isn't bad.

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