Can a brutally hard game that relies upon nuance capture the attention of the average gamer? Demon’s Souls asks this question by presenting a visually stunning game that is unforgiving but fair, while putting the sense of accomplishment back into video games.
In the kingdom of Boletaria an ancient evil has been awakened by a greedy king. The Old One has returned bringing a dense fog full of demons bent on harvesting the souls of the living. As an adventurer you journey to this cursed land, attempting to take these souls back; working with the powers in the Nexus you attempt to reseal the evil and bring peace to the land.
The story behind Demon’s Souls is really a façade to present a remarkable game. It may not sound like much but in the game it feels grander due to the set pieces and presentation of the levels. It brings to mind Shadow of the Colossus, which had a brief story but was presented with such style you forgave it. Voice acting is hit-or-miss and does become cliché at times, but overall it helps fill out the overarching world.
The true brunt of the game lies in its amazing gameplay that is extremely tough at the same time. Not just tough, but frustratingly hard, especially for the average gamer. Hearkening back to the old side scrollers where you died and had to start the entire level over, this game is brutal in that you eventually memorize complete levels and enemy locations as you are constantly are forced to replay them. Every enemy presents a challenge until you fully explore how they act and figure out the trick to getting past them. And while this may sound relentless and not fun, the game kills you because you deserved it; death is really treated like a learning experience, at first you may feel cheated but soon you realize you died because you did something stupid or just plain let your guard down. But the closer you get to the end of a level the more of a sense of accomplishment you get, similar to finally figuring out one of the Colossus’s weakness in the already mentioned Shadow of the Colossus.
The real time action fighting varies because of so many characteristics; are you using your sword two handed or one handed? Are you using a piercing attack or a slashing motion? How much does your weapon weigh, and how is your agility compared to it? For each of these scenarios just swinging a weapon has different results, and to truly take out an enemy you need to use all of the tools available to you to accomplish it. Can you dodge in enough time? Or is your armor making you slower? Can you time their attack so you can parry it? Unfortunately the fighting is hampered by a lackluster lock-on system that has a short reach and is down-right frustrating in confined spaces; many times I died strictly because of this feature not being as responsive as I would have liked.
Luckily by killing demons you can harvest souls to improve your character and buy better weapons or magic. These souls are a valuable commodity since you lose them if you die during a level. When you start the level over all enemies respawn and you can attempt to make it back to your blood stain to regain these lost souls, but if you don’t make it they are gone permanently. The customization of your character is a very nice system as you choose specific stats to improve with souls, making initial classes superfluous as you build your character the way you feel is best. In addition if you don’t like the investment in a particular stat you can refund it to try another.
Usually for an action RPG multiplayer isn’t an option, but Atlus threw in a very interesting attempt to link gamers together. When you play a level, you see the silhouettes and blood stains of other players as well as read messages left by them. For a noble concept, the actual implementation is either hit-or-miss; by touching their blood stains you can be clued in to enemy locations or see what not to do in an encounter, but as mentioned earlier, you probably have already been around that corner at least once. Similarly messages left by other players are meant to be helpful, such as warnings or tips, but the more I played the more I got bad advice and messages begging for help. Each message can be rated, and if it gets a positive response then the person who left it gets a health bonus; so I ended up seeing too many “recommend my message” messages, which defeated the point. It is possible to invite gamers into your session and fight together, besides gaining possible help this doesn’t offer much more of a benefit. Once you get to higher levels, other players can forcibly enter your world and attack you. This proves to be one of the best implementations of the multiplayer as you are constantly on the lookout for real world enemies.
Put frankly, Demon’s Souls is not a game for everyone. It is as difficult as it is rewarding, but only for those who are willing to devote time in acknowledging their mistakes and pushing on. It is a beautiful game that is unique in so many regards, but it probably is not accessible to the average gamer looking to play a straight-forward RPG. For all others the nuances, presentation, and customizable gameplay will be a welcome breath of fresh air… when they aren’t screaming at the screen.
ESRB: M for disturbing visuals and visceral action
Plays Like: Action RPGs
Pros: Beautiful, rewarding gameplay for dedicated players