Demon’s Souls / Publisher: Atlus USA / Developer: From Software
Platform: PS3 / Genre: Action RPG / Release Date: October 6, 2009
Ok, before I get into the meat of the review I feel like I should comment about the game’s infamous difficulty level. Demon’s Souls can be tough and isn’t for impatient gamers. It has no problem letting you know this right from the start of the game. I won’t say how, but there are specific conditions that you must meet to get to the Nexus that acts as your hub world in the game. However, I do not feel that the difficulty comes from broken or cheap game mechanics. Instead it makes you learn and understand your surroundings, enemies, and abilities. If you die, it is most likely that you aren’t playing the game correctly or were impatient. This isn’t your typical action game, so you cannot just rush in and cut your way trough the enemies. Even the most basic enemies can kill you if you are not careful. Demon’s Souls takes patience, which is why I think a lot of people are finding it to be a very hard game. So if you don’t have a lot of patience, don’t like doing your fair share of grinding, or if you like your games quick and easy then you probably aren’t going to enjoy Demon’s Souls.
The kingdom of Boletaria has become enshrouded in an oppressive fog. This fog has consumed the kingdom because the King awoke The Old One, a massive demon that feeds on souls, from its slumber. It seems The Old One decided to bring along some friends, as a plethora of demons have taken over the kingdom. They devour souls in order to become stronger. The people of the kingdom have either been killed or their souls have been consumed by these demons, which causes them to become mad. This is where you enter the failing kingdom of Boletaria. You are just one of many adventurers who have come to slay the demons and lift the fog. However, you will be very much alone in your quest.
Despite playing through Demon’s Souls for about the forth time for this review, I’m still finding it hard to describe how this game actually plays. So forgive me if I ramble a little bit.
At the beginning of the game you get to create a character. The most important part of this is choosing your class as it will determine what equipment and stats you start off with, but don’t stress out about it too much as you can adjust these things later with a little work.
Demon’s Souls is an action RPG, with a heavy emphasis on the action. Everything happens in real time in this game, including using items and even accessing the menu. The combat feels similar to what is found in a Monster Hunter game, but not nearly as awkward. You have a strong and weak attack, you can parry or block, and you can also dodge and roll to avoid attacks. Your actions consume different amounts of stamina, so you have to engage in strategic combat. There are a lot of options for how you’ll end up fighting. You can dual wield, use one weapon with two hands, or use a shield and another weapon. You can become good with magic and miracles, think of this as black and white magic respectively. Bows, crossbows, and some smaller thrown objects make up your non-magical ranged attacks. I found a solid combination of all of these to work against different enemies and in different situations. So be prepared to mix things up if you are having trouble getting through a section.
Like I stated above, the weapons, armor, and magic available to you will originally depend on what class you choose at the beginning of the game. However, you don’t really need to worry too much as you can level your character however you like. This allows you to become able to use numerous weapons, magic, and armor. Plus it allows you to build up stats that might have been too low due to the class you went with. Instead of gold, souls act as the currency in Demon’s Souls. You will need a lot of these as they are used for everything in the game. Souls can be traded in to buy items, weapons, armor, magic, miracles, and also to level up your character and equipment. So you’ll want to gather as many souls as you can.
Along the way to collecting more souls and fighting more demons you will die, and most likely numerous times. When you die in Demon’s Souls it isn’t game over. If you have your physical body and you die you will come back in soul form. This means your HP is cut in half but your attacks become stronger. There is one item that I recommend seeking out early in the game. That item is the Cling ring. It that gives you more HP while in soul form so you aren’t at such a disadvantage. In order to get your body back you need to defeat a major demon, aid another player defeat a major demon, or break into another players world and defeat the player. Besides the health bonus, there really isn’t all that much to gain from having your body. Plus I noticed that I played even more conservative when I had the body, but eventually you’ll come to realize that dying in Demon’s Souls is just a part of the game and loosing your body is only part of the experience. When you do die, you lose all the souls you’ve gathered. However, you leave a bloodstain that you can work your way back to and reclaim those lost souls. If you die again before doing so those souls will be lost for good.
There are no checkpoints in Demon’s Souls. So when you die you start form the beginning of the level and have to fight your way back through all the enemies and traps. This can become tiresome to some people, but for some reason it never bothers me while playing this game. Like I said before, if you take your time and are patient you can usually survive most encounters. The lack of checkpoints isn’t really noticeable unless you are trying to rush through the game and frequently dying.
Demon’s Souls controls and combat are great. It is a ton of fun figuring out how to take down different enemy types, exploring the dark worlds, and finding a combat style that suits you. Slaying the larger demons is also feels like an accomplishment, especially if you do it on your own. There is a great deal satisfaction to be found within the challenge of Demon’s Souls.
Don’t expect to be able to play any form of traditional online multiplayer in Demon’s Souls. Instead, you’ll find a new and unique take on online that seamlessly blends into the single player experience. You can divide the online aspects of Demon’s Souls into two categories, passive and active.
The more passive aspects of Demon’s Souls online play consists of things like messages, bloodstains, and ghosts of other players. While you are online you’ll see messages written on ground. These are from other players and can have anything from a hint to just saying hello. They can also lie, so be careful of which ones you choose to listen to. There is a rating system; so the higher the message is rated then the chances are that it is more reliable. You can also leave a message whenever you’d like, by using the select button. You will also notice bloodstains covering the floor. Other players leave these when they die. If you touch it, it will show the last moments of their life as a red ghost appears and does a replay of their actions. Also, you will see white ghosts phase in and out of your world, as you play online. These are other players going about their business in their own world.
The active aspects of Demon’s Souls’ online involve your interactions with other players. These players are called phantoms. After obtaining special stones, you will be able to make yourself available for co-op play by becoming a blue phantom or engage in PvP by breaking into another player’s world as a black phantom. You can also recruit blue phantoms to aid you when you have your body. This is a fun alternative to the normal play, but can be avoided all together by just playing offline if you don’t want people jumping in your game. Also, I highly recommend you play through as much of the game as possible without the aid of blue phantoms since using them can make the game almost too easy.
Overall, the online aspects of Demon’s Souls feel right at home with the single player component of the game. It is primarily a single player experience, so having the online aspects blend into that is a great way to expand the game while keeping true to spirit of the game. RPGs are usually a single player affair, but if more games can incorporate online aspects similar to Demon’s Souls I think more RPG fans would welcome it.
Demon’s Souls is one of those games that comes along and unabashedly consumes you. It is hard to explain why this game resonates with me so much, but it is one of those games that once you start playing it you don’t want to play anything else. I’ve sunk a ton of time in my import of the Asian release of Demon’s Souls and have started to do it all over again with the NA version. It is an instant classic in my opinion, and easily one of the best PS3 games to date. I just hope enough people give Demon’s Souls a chance. If you are a fan of dark atmospheric games, challenging games, and action RPGs you should go out and pick this up right away. Maybe if it finds a large enough audience in NA we will be able to return to the dark and unforgiving world of Demon’s Souls in the form of a sequel.