Author’s Note: This review was originally published on April 22nd, 2010. As noted in the introduction, it was the 200th review I ever wrote. Like other reviews around the time, it has “witty” taglines that separate each section.
That’s right! I’m on my 200th user review and to commemorate this feat, I decided to give Demon’s Souls the honor of being the game in question. I had my gaming radar on this title since it was first announced nearly one year ago. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I bought the PS3. This addictive title will keep you playing until the end, but be ready to die many, many times reaching it.
Through the Fog.
In ancient times, the people who united the world by the power of Souls awakened the Old One with their lust for power. After the Old One awakened, a thick, colorless fog settled in the world and with that fog, hordes of demons hungry for the souls of men. The ancients were able to seal this beast inside a realm called the Nexus by using six artifacts known as Archstones. Now, in the kingdom of Boletaria, King Allant XII yearned for more power and aroused the Old One once again. Boletaria was encased in an evil fog and demons descended into the once great kingdom. With news of this, warriors from across the land were drawn to Boletaria to make the fog dissipate.
The story itself is a bit weak. The actual setting is what will draw you into the massive kingdom of Boletaria. The significant amount of history and depth in this realm shows how much creativity went into designing it. Many things are not explained to you at first, but as you venture into each world sealed by each Archstone, you will learn more and more about the tragic consequences of King Allant summoning the fog and the Old One. The Nexus, which acts as a central hub for you, is where you spend time talking to NPCs who have survived the fog and have motivations of their own. You will encounter people who will help you and others who wish to see you fall to the demons. While the story of Demon’s Souls may seem weak at first, uncovering the plot and the dastardly deeds of the villains will keep you hooked until the end.
Down with the Dark Ages.
To further explain the setting of Demon’s Souls, let’s take a look at the graphics. The Nexus and the various worlds you will explore were meticulously crafted with the dark ages in mind. Fantasy elements such as dragons, knights in armor you’d expect to see in museums and massive castles are in areas, but much more awaits you. A dark, haunted prison with rusted iron bars and decaying floors, an abandoned mine shaft that has ceased operation and a murky swamp where the bridges are nothing more than wooden planks are among the magnificent areas you will explore. These aesthetics often times make the game feel more like a survival horror game as opposed to an action/RPG. Each area looks phenomenal with endless attention to detail paid in every circumstance. These details include the monsters you will fight and the variety of characters you encounter. Intimidation is the name of the game with the enemies. This is especially true for the bosses that will tower over your character. Speaking of your character, you are able to customize his or her appearance right down to the most finite facial feature. Your character moves fluid and free and interacts perfectly with the environment. No graphical detail was left behind in the vast worlds of Demon’s Souls.
There is no music in the dungeons, but the music that plays in the Nexus is serene and calming. The boss battle themes are epic, orchestrated masterpieces. The best of the sound department is the voice acting, though. The lips of the characters may not move, but the acting is so well done, so believable, you won’t even notice. From Chief Yurt’s firm, cold demeanor to the quivering, humble nature of Thomas, the voice acting for each NPC was well performed.
It’s a Beautiful Life.
The unforgiving difficulty level that everyone talks about is true. If you are looking for a game that is a cake-walk, then you should stop reading now. Furthermore, if you are looking for a game where most challenges can be finished by leveling up, you should stop reading now. Loading up your character with strong armor will slow you down and go over his or her weight limit. The most powerful weapon will be too heavy to swing until you gain more stats. The most powerful magic spell may not do a thing if their intellect is too low. Long story short? You have to prepare properly and forget about “level grinding” and “item spamming” because Demon’s Souls will punish you for not planning properly and for heading around the corner with a cocky attitude. Even with the right amount of healing items, equipment, and magic, not recognizing how to tackle obstacles and enemies will lead to your demise.
After the game’s tutorial boss kicks your butt, you will be taken to the Nexus and after some brief information about your goal, you set off into the world. There are five worlds to finish in any order. Going consecutively may not be the best idea, which you will realize when you die after a few basic enemies assault you in the second part of the first world. As you venture through each area, monsters will try to stop you from reaching the end. When they succeed, you will start at the Archstone from which you spawned. Dying doesn’t mean game over, but it does mean you will have to play in Soul Form as opposed to Body Form. Soul Form causes you to have lower HP, but are more difficult for monsters to detect. Body Form is the opposite. To regain your body, you need to kill a boss at the end of a stage or use a special item. Just expect to die often when you attempt to get your body back from the bosses. Death also means you lose all of the souls you acquired. Souls, which you obtain from killing monsters and from certain items, are used to upgrade your stats, improve your equipment, and act as currency to buy precious healing items. Luckily, all is not lost when you die. If you go to the place where you got killed and touch your bloodstain, you can regain all of the souls you had before dying. Just don’t die on your way to the bloodstain because it will be lost and you will be back at square one. This happened to me many times and it was very frustrating.
So, how do you tackle your enemies? Combat in Demon’s Souls appears basic at first, but eventually becomes more complex than you think. I won’t get into all that you can do because there are a plethora of options, but I will point out the necessary but innovative stamina meter. This green meter underneath your HP and MP drains with every action taken that exerts any effort. This includes attacking, sprinting, deflecting an attack with your shield, and dodging. If you are mindlessly mashing the attack button you will drain your stamina bar and be unable to raise your shield or dodge an attack. Combat gives you plenty of options for slaughtering your enemies and adds to the challenge of the game. Once you do “figure it out”, though, you will be knocking down enemies left and right with incredible ease. I cannot stress enough how hard the game is to finish. You will die many times no matter how skilled of a gamer you consider yourself. However, the combat’s features and the amount of customization you can do to power up your character will help you handle anything the game throws at you. This, combined with the fact that you, the gamer, need to recognize your mistakes makes for one of the best systems seen in a video game. Besides, overcoming something that was giving you trouble is the most rewarding feeling you will experience.
To further assist you along in the game, Demon’s Souls has some innovative online features. Players will leave hints about something just around the corner. Others will leave lies, so you have to be careful. Bloodstains scattered around the world will show you how a character died, giving you an idea of what not to do. You’ll see translucent white ghosts roaming your world that represent other players. Those apparitions, like the bloodstains, will provide clues to you about enemies. The fun doesn’t stop there, though. You can invade other player’s games and take their souls, or assist players in fighting bosses. The online features are truly unique and come highly recommended to those who wish to try the game.
Despite all it has going for it, Demon’s Souls does suffer from a few problems that prevent it from being perfect. The camera is persnickety, and the targeting system can be problematic if you are up against more than one foe. Certain bosses are borderline unfair unless you exploit ridiculous tricks that the programmers never intended for you to discover. New players will be confused by the system called World Tendency, which effects how difficult the enemies are and the rarity of the loot you obtain. Also, accidentally attacking an NPC will mean they become hostile and will try to kill you until you either run away from their cranny or kill them. The game is close to perfect, but these problems stop it from reaching perfection.
If Demon’s Souls had a quality policy, it would probably mention something about providing gamers with a challenging but rewarding title full of customizable options and a variety of ways to reach the end. That sounds about right. I should point out that this is a game that requires you to play through it multiple times if you wish to reach the end. There are only so many things you can uncover your first time, after all. The interesting thing about this is that going back for your second, third, and further runs will not only be more fun, but more challenging as well. Each time you start a new game plus, the enemies increase in power. Even more interesting is the fact that I usually don’t start a replay until months or years later. With Demon’s Souls, I started over immediately after the credits rolled. Yes, folks, it’s that good. The game is brutally difficult, so only those looking for a challenge should check out this action RPG masterpiece. Those looking for something a bit more forgiving should look elsewhere. Just remember, it’s your loss.