Demon's Souls ReviewMartin Zmijewski
Demons Souls just might be one of the best games you never heard of. When telling people of the current game I was playing never did anyone know what game I was talking about. And if you are one of those who have heard about it it is still an awesome game. Say you are one of those who have heard of the game then you have probably heard of its difficulty. At first I did not believe some of the things I read. It could not be as unforgiving as some of the reviews made it out to be. After playing through the game I agree with those reviews. It is a difficult game to get through. Though never was I so frustrated I did not wish or believe I would be able to continue with the game. Yeah I died a lot, and spent a good part of the game in spirit form (Ill explain more about that later) but all of that just kept me going. It challenged me to change my tactics, to evolve.
Like many RPGs Demons Souls begins with the creation of your character. There are several classes to choose from, all with the usual differences, whether it be magic use or the use of heavy armor. Though as you go along you can mold each character into whatever you wish them to be, eventually they all can learn magic or use more powerful weapons, depending on which stat is leveled up. After creating the character there is a short introduction to the story. It is simple, yet good. The land of Boletaria has been engulfed in a colorless fog brought on by the King awakening the Old One, which happens to be the demon of all demons. Boletaria is overrun by demons as they feed on the souls of the people. You are told that many adventurers have entered into the fog yet none have returned. It is up to you to save the land and the world from the demons.
Following this there is a short tutorial allowing the player to get used to the controls and game play. The combat system is somewhat simple. The R and L triggers are used to control the right and left hand. You can choose to equip a shield in your left hand and a weapon in the right, or duel wield weapons, though a shield will come in very hand when going up against most of the enemies. I think I walked around through half of the game with my shield raised, just in case there was some foe around the corner who could take half my health away with one hit. The basics of combat are fairly easy to learn. Clicking the right analog stick locks on to a target and from there you can swing away with a powerful hit or a normal attack. Though it is very important to keep an eye on the green stamina bar, which is depleted with each swing or block, because once it is empty the player wont be able to attack until backing away to allow the stamina to replenish. The directional buttons can be set up to use any items or magic such as throwing knives or healing herbs.
The tutorial is not very long. You go through a few hallways, up some stairs, into a courtyard, through some more hallways, and finally up some more stairs to a room with a demon nearly the size of the screen. Feeling quite daunted as you notice the bosss health bar stretched across the bottom of the screen. Stepping into the room as the demon hurls a huge mace, smashing columns, I somehow dodge the first attack, snuck around him, struck once and watched only a small fraction of the health go away, jumped back just to get hit once. I watched my health go from 100% full to nothing with just one hit. I was thinking that this game is going to be impossible if the first boss kills you with one hit.
Huge words, that would become all too familiar, flash onto the screen in red letters announcing that I had died. I had heard the game was difficult but that boss was just too much. Then I realized it was part of the story. The character awakens in the Nexus, a place where the few people in Boletaria who have not been killed by the demons remain. This is where you learn how to kill the Old One. You unlock the other zones which you can enter in which ever way you choose on your quest to gain more souls and kill the main demons of each zone. In the Nexus you can upgrade weapons, purchase items, or increase your stats using the souls you collect from demons. Using the Archstones scattered around the Nexus you can teleport to any of the other zones.
Following the first death during the tutorial you start the main part of the game in Soul form. In Soul form you can perform all the same things, except the character has half the HP and glows blue. There are three ways to revive your original body. One - you can trudge your way through a level and defeat the head demon. Two - you can use Stones of Ephemeral Eyes which are scattered around the zones, and somewhat rare. Lastly you can enter world of another player as a phantom, helping them with a particular task or as a Black Phantom to hunt and kill them. Not only can players help each other out physically through Soul form but they can also leave messages behind, alert them where treasure is hidden and what strategies to use on a particular foe. At times Demons Souls is an MMORPG and at others a single player\'s dungeon crawler. The online aspects of the game tie perfectly into the story of many many adventurers entering the fog to conquer the demons, giving you the feeling that you are not the only one on this quest.
Once dead you are sent back to the beginning of the level, or the Archstone used to enter the zone, as some levels have different sections and different entrance points. All the souls collected along the way are lost. When you die all the demons you just spent fifteen or twenty minutes hacking through respawn and in order to reacquire the souls lost when you were killed, you have to fight through them once again. The relentless auto save stops the players from attempting to turn off the game and backtrack to a previous save, so there is no use in trying to cheat. In a way this brought me back to old school games before memory cards and save points, back to the time when dying meant playing through the whole level once again. But dying just makes you stronger. Upon traveling through the level again you have learned the fights and can easily hack up the demons as you try to regain your souls. Once you get back to the spot where you died you can reacquire the lost souls. So in a way dying makes you stronger because then you have double the amount of souls you previously had, more souls to upgrade weapons and stats. That is granted you are not killed again along the way.
The player is forced constantly, rethinking strategies. One encounter might require a sword, but the next might be in a tight hallway where there is not enough room to properly swing a sword, so then a dagger or thrusting weapon should be used. A random enemy might be weak against blunt weapons while the next has armor to block blunt weapons. Some demons need to be killed quickly before they can get an attack off, others will have to be studied, attacks dodged and blocked before you discover a way to hit them. Every single enemy you encounter will keep you on your toes.
The experience to have with Demons Souls is a love-hate one. There will be a great fluctuation between anger, excitement, and joy. Overall it is a great game, probably one of the better games of 2009. It is a challenging game, not a game for casual players. But with some patience it is not an impossible game to conquer. Despite all the frustration the game is completely worth playing. Firstly it is a beautifully crafted game, both with functionality and visuals. It also challenges you to learn. Every encounter requires you to rethink the previous one. Every fight gets you to rethink your strategies. And those are only the normal enemies, the boss fights are a different story. Some will not be able to handle the frustration of constantly dying. Others, like me, will find the challenge the most rewarding part of the game. Not only is the pure challenge rewarding, there are always small parts of the game which can be rewarding as well, whether it is finding a new weapon, exiting a castle to see the beautiful scenery, or simply coming across a boss fight that is just a well thought out and interesting battle. It has been a long time since my talents have been pushed this far by a game, not that I am saying that I am some king of genius player or anything.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.