Review: Demon’s Souls

September 7, 2009 / 10:14 AM EDT / (@salromano)

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Demon’s Souls released in Japan earlier this year to very positive reviews from some of the biggest names in the Japanese press. With an English version of the game already released thanks to Sony Hong Kong, many already know, and I can also tell you now, that this is a good game. With this good game comes good gameplay, solid graphics and music, and a little something unique that makes Demon’s SoulsDemon’s Souls.

The game opens its story in the kingdom of Boletaria, a prosperous kingdom, that is until King Allanti XII awakens ‘The Old One’ and the kingdom’s outskirts are covered in an ominous dark fog cutting Boletaria off from the outside world. Demons have risen, feasting on the souls of men and women, gaining more strength with each soul. Now it’s up to you, a brave soul, to save Boletaria from the demons and place ‘The Old One’ to rest.

Demon’s Souls is a Japanese action-RPG but feels more like a Western RPG. This is probably because of the game’s real-time combat system and Oblivion-like style. The game gives players their own customizable character, complete with ten classes to chose from, stats to level up, new weapons and items to find, and a will to beat the game. Demon’s Souls is difficult, I can tell you that. It’s probably one of the hardest games you’ll ever play. If you though Ninja Gaiden II for Xbox 360 was hard, you’ll laugh at it after playing this game.

Let’s get one thing straight. You’re going to die in this game… a lot. The first boss will kill you in one hit. However, you won’t die without new wisdom gained, as each death will make your next play a lot easier, knowing the path and what’s coming to you. I died what seems like hundreds of times playing through the game. You’re going to get used to it. Each time you die, you leave a bloodstain of your death in the spot you died. When you go back to the bloodstain, you may regain your soul, however dying before you get to the bloodstain will cause you to lose that soul forever. There’s no reloading from your last save point or anything like that when you die. You start the mission over, and all the enemies you’ve killed are alive once again. The game saves automatically in what seems like a light speed, because turning off your PlayStation 3 just as you die won’t restart you from your last alive point when you start it back up. I literally opened my game to a “You are dead” screen.

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Dying at first will bring you to The Nexus, a place where your body shines in a ghostly glow. Leaving is not so hard, although you never really do leave The Nexus, as you’ll go back after completing each quest and will constantly go back and forth whether it’s to buy items and weapons, deposit or withdraw your equipment from safekeeping, or upgrading your stats by placing the souls you find within you.

When you die, you’ll play the game in soul form. This can make the game a whole lot harder because although everything about your character is the same, your health is halved. In order to gain your body back, you’ll have to defeat a boss. A lot of the time, defeating him with half the health you’d normally have isn’t that much of an easy task.

This isn’t a button mashing game. Sure the combat is real-time, but the last thing you will be doing is smashing down R1 a million times. This game requires strategy, even when slashing against just a normal enemy with a sword. You could die at any moment and after dying so much, all you’re thinking about is not dying. It’s one thing the game does that makes it so great: it puts fear into the player. You don’t want to die again or else you’ll have to start that segment all over.

Demon’s Souls combat system is unique. Let’s do the button breakdown. R1 is a normal attack, R2 is a heavy attack, L1 is your shield, and L2 is a shield thrust. Triangle fixates your character to either a one-handed weapon or a two-handed weapon, Square is for items, and Circle is held to run or pressed with the analog stick to roll. Then your arrow buttons let you switch weapons and items. The main two things you’ll do — slashing your sword and running — requires stamina, which you’ll run out of fast.

You really have to think about what you do. Unfamiliar enemies can literally kill you in two hits. You could slash through a whole level taking out enemy after enemy then run into a knight with a glowing helmet and think “maybe I shouldn’t go this way”. You won’t even be warned, it’ll just happen. One, two and you’re dead. You think maybe you can run past him and hit him from behind. However, since both running and fighting decreases your stamina bar by a lot, you may get only one hit on him. These are the kinds of things that will run through your mind when you play this game. In essence, it’s really what makes the game so great; that fear and excitement mashed together.

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Demon’s Souls is also fortunate enough to utilize the abilities of the PlayStation Network. While playing, you’ll see many ghostly figures run through or near you. These are actually other gamers playing the game. You’ll also bump into plenty of bloodstains; stains of those who died in battle. Touching them will play a small simulation of how the soldier died. Many of them are helpful, showing them running into the next room and pulling out their swords before their imminent deaths. This lets you know that there’s an enemy waiting to be fought there.

Other features this game boasts is a necessary cooperative option that lets you and your friends go head on against bosses. Trust me, at times you will need this, especially with this game’s amazingly hard difficulty. There’s also a player vs. player option that will allow one player to follow another as a phantom. These are both other ways of getting your physical body back, because killing that player or being summoned to a game to help defeat a boss will both earn you your body.

In the graphics department, Demon’s Souls looks great. While it’s not on par with games like Oblivion or Uncharted, it does have that great visual style that we’d like to see in games like this. The environments are flawlessly designed, and the characters are very well crafted. Equipment such as swords, bows, shields and such also have very good design to them, really sticking that medieval look right in your face.

As for the game’s soundtrack, at a lot of times there’s no music playing in the background. At other times, you’ll hear orchestral music that give the feeling you’re in a dark, scary place. To sum it up, the soundtrack is good, but truly not near the soundtracks of games such as Final Fantasy.

To sum it up, Demon’s Souls is an amazing PlayStation 3 action RPG. If you’re reading, you probably already knew the game was good from the countless amount of positive feedback it had received back in February. It’s a game that’s not for the weak-minded, but for the patient and hard-working. If you’re afraid of difficulty, this is not the game for you. This is “beat you down and break your nose” hard and you’re going to need a lot of patience to get through it. If you like the thrill and tenseness that Demon’s Souls offers, that will always keep you on your toes, then Demon’s Souls is the game for you.

9/10

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  • comedian

    Very good review.

    Has the US version been released yet, or were you playing the imported version?
    A couple of thing that isn’t explained in your review is the upgrade system, the forging, the 4 worlds, magic and miracles, world and character tendency .

    When you kill a monster you receive demon Souls, these can be used to purchase equipment and items. After receiving enough demon souls you “level up” your soul level. Though this won’t increase any of your stats. Instead you will need to talk to a woman called “The maiden in black” who in exchange for an ever increasing number of demon souls will increase your stats. These range from dexterity to luck to spell power. Increasing your stats also allows you to use better weapons that you will either loot from monsters or forge from a blacksmith using items that you loot throughout your adventures.

    The “forging” system though simple at first becomes very intricate when as each item can be upgraded into numerous branches, each having their own advantages. Example: You have a dagger, after upgrading the dagger to +3 ( you have upgraded the dagger 3 times) you will be allowed to specialize your weapon which can add special effects to your weapon: Increase your magic power, cause your enemy to bled when you hit it etc…).

    Defeating bosses will give you a special demon soul which can be used to learn special magic and miracles, as well as obtaining special valuable weapons from the forging system. You will want to forge one of these as fast as possible as they are very powerful (and if you forge all of them, you will receive a trophy and who doesn’t want trophies?).

    This leads me to the magic and miracles aspect of the game: When you finish the first level of demon soul two npcs appear in the Nexus willing to teach you miracles and magic. The miracles are usually spells are defensive, healing and curing spells. The magic spells are offensive such as fireballs etc…
    During your adventures you will “save” three npcs that will allow you to learn more powerful spells and miracles at the cost of special boss demon souls.
    As some spells will require the same demon soul and you can only get one per game you are encouraged to play the game multiple times. The game never finishes, as “New game+” begins. All the bosses come back to life the only difficulty is that the difficulty is greatly increased: Enemies have much larger health points and will hurt a lot more. The increase in difficulty when you begin a new game+ the first time is a lot harder and unless you grinded you will die from a boss in one hit.

    Now, to the most complex and unappreciated aspects of the game: World and character tendency. This is not explained at all in the game but understanding of it is required to access the better loots and secret passages to the worlds.
    There are four worlds in the game, when you defeat a boss your world tendency moves to white. The more bosses you kill (there are between 3-4 in each world) the more “white” your world tendency becomes this means that bosses will be easier, will give you less good drops but you will be able to meet new npcs and access special areas in the world. If however you die in human form (dying in soul form does not change your world tendency) your world tendency moves to black: the monsters will becomes a lot harder but they will give you better equipment, and special black phantoms will appear (these are much stronger enemies that will drop very good equipment and special items). Understanding your world tendency will allow you to get the most out of every world.

    Character tendency is independent of world tendency but can be either black or white. You increase your character tendency towards white by defeating black phantoms that invade your game (i.e real people who invade your game to try and kill you) and killing A.I controlled black phantoms. Black tendency is obtained by invading other peoples games and killing them and will allow you to a special quest.

    The game has many complex systems that do seem daunting at first but becomes second nature when you use them. I have spent over 100 hours on this game and it was incredibly frustrating (one broken controller) but incredibly rewarding. If you have a Ps3 and don’t have this game, you should be ashamed.

    P.S Sorry for any spelling mistakes.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/http://www.youtube.com/user/AzureKuwait?feature=mhee AzureFlame24

    Masterpiece