Demon’s Souls was all the rage well over a year ago, having been released in Japan and North America in 2009. It’s finally made its way over to Australia and Europe, albeit several months after fans would have imported. There was a time when we thought Demon’s Souls was never going to make it to our shores but thankfully it has. While it mightn’t be everyone’s favourite style of game, it’s a title every PS3 owner should at least experience if, for nothing else, its intense challenge.
Saying Demon’s Souls is a hard game would be an understatement. It’s almost a punishment for those of us who’ve started complaining that games have become too easy and noob-friendly. It takes your gaming ego, punches it in the face and and laughs as you slowly try to pick yourself up, only to fall again. It’s hard to remember games before you could pause. I found that wasn’t an option in Demon’s Souls the hard way, by being burnt to death while trying to navigate my inventory. You’re going to die countless times, for which there is genuine punishment rather than unlimited retries, and it’s going to happen for small things like moving slightly too fast or taking one step too many. It sounds frustrating, and it is, but Demon’s Souls is strangely addictive. For serious RPG fans, Demon’s Souls is like child birth; you know it’s going to be a painful experience, but once you’ve committed and put in the hard yards, it becomes extremely rewarding. If, like me, you’re not a massive RPG fan it’s well worth a rent just to experience the extreme difficulty, but I don’t recommend trying to complete the journey.
How do I get into these situations?
I don’t want to beat the underlying theme of difficulty to death throughout this review, but it’s hard not to when the game throws up a minor tutorial with a boss most players won’t beat. From the beginning we’re taught that failure is an integral part of Demon’s Souls, a game in which patience is the key. It’s hard to convey just how difficult the game is on paper (or screen), but imagine you’ve just started a new level in Demon’s Souls and are trying to run through as you would in a hack ‘n slash adventure. Now look at your watch … and … now … you’re dead.
Your first problem was trying to play an action-RPG as a hack ‘n slasher. Although they appear similar, they are very different genres. Using a range of attacks, items, magic and most importantly tactics is imperative to success. Trying to massacre everything with your sword will lead to certain death. Picking off enemies one-by-one, or at least avoiding a swam, will greatly increase your chances and only lead to possible death.
After the first few hours it becomes apparent that there’s so much more to combat than you first realised. It’s easy to get stuck in the motions of whatever class you picked and never stray from a repetitive game plan. Purchasing new weapons and mixing it up to expand your horizons will make Demon’s Souls a more compelling experience and might just save your life. If you’re not normally good with a sword and shield it’s best to avoid them here, as missing the parry and perfect striking moment will result in death. A bow or long range magic are great alternatives if you have the patience for them, as are the hundreds of other possible combat combinations. The possibilities are endless and allow unprecedented character development that’s sure to get RPG fans excited, very excited.
Yeah man don’t get up, I’m just dead again.
How fast you can develop your character is heavily reliant on how often you can stay alive. When you die you’ll become a spirit with half a health bar. The only way to get your physical body back is to defeat a boss, which is hard enough with full health let alone being limited to half. If, or should I way when, you die again all of the souls you’ve collected throughout the level, from kills, will be lost. As a spirit, you must fight your way back to your own bloodstain to regain them and try to fight your way past whatever killed you last time. If you die in the level for a third time, the souls you collected will be gone forever. Considering how hard you have to work to collect souls and that they’re used as currency to upgrade your character, it’s more heartbreaking than being dumped in front of the whole school on the night of your senior formal (I imagine). To make it even more challenging, none of this is really explained all that well, leaving you dead, broke and confused.
After going up against the odds and so much failure, eventually it has to go your way, and that’s what Demon’s Souls is all about: taking on the impossible and winning. Fighting back to the place where you’ve already died four times takes determination, but the accomplishment of getting through and defeating a big-ass monster is one of the most rewarding you’ll experience in any game.
At its core, Demon’s Souls is a single player game and yet you’re not playing it right unless you experience the multiplayer. Jumping online allows you and other players to work together in the punishing dark fantasy world. Other players join your game as blue phantoms and fight by your side to counter the extreme difficulty. Having said that, playing online instigates black phantoms – other players out to kill you and steal your souls. You can’t interact with people at the beginning, reprieving newbies from yet another thing that can kill them, but the black phantom becomes an integral and irritating part of the game later on. After all, unless you know the people you’re gaming with (whether it be in the real or gaming world) it’s much more fun to work against rather than with them.
Fire beats everything.
The massive world is dark and gloomy, as it is intended to be and for the most part looks decent. However, you spend way too much time wandering through the shadows waiting to be pounced on by an array of enemies. Often only the immediate area of your character is illuminated, leaving you walking blind. It’s all too easy to walk off a cliff which is by far the most shattering way to die. It’s meant to be a dark medieval-style world, but developer From Software has taken that a little too far and given the game one of its biggest annoyances, infuriating difficulty aside.
Demon’s Souls has a distinctive art style, when you can see it, but suffers from frame-rate issues every now and then. They’re usually brief, but slowdown can be catastrophic in a game that punishes you so severely for making minor mistakes. Some rough edges aside, the giant castles and terrifying monsters have been ripped out of a medieval tale and fit the scene perfectly. The same can be said about the sound effects which add to the dark and gloomy artistic style. Unfortunately, the voice acting is utter rubbish and feels terribly out of place, but you can’t win ‘em all.
The Final Verdict
Demon’s Souls is a game every PS3 owner should try, but not one that all will like. If you’re not normally into RPGs Demon’s Souls won’t convert you, quite the contrary. However, if a finely crafted role-playing experience that’ll seriously challenge you sparks your interest, Demon’s Souls is almost the perfect game for you. It’s a hard game, it’s a frustrating game, but if you put in the hard yards it’s a rewarding game.