Review: Demon’s Souls
Regarded as one of the most difficult games released this generation (and appropriately released on my birthday) Demon’s Souls is a third person action RPG with rogue-like elements to it. This Playstation 3 exclusive was developed as a joint effort between From Software and Sony Computer Entertainment, and is unlike any other game I’ve played in many aspects.
Considered the spiritual successor to the King’s Field games, Demon’s Souls introduces gamers to many unique aspects of game play and co-op that have seldom been seen before. This medieval dungeon crawler, wrapped in a grim fantasy setting is one of the few games to completely engross me in a long while despite inducing extreme amounts of frustration, yet you’ll always come back despite the curve balls this game throws your way.
The plot of the game opens with the downfall of the Kingdom of Boletaria. A colorless fog sweeps in making the citizens of Boletaria lose their minds, the mad then attacking the sane. The character you create, and the hero of our story ventures forth through the colorless fog and into Boletaria and it’s surrounding areas to lull the Old One [the game's primary antagonist] who put the world into ruin, back to sleep. Using the five Archstones in the Nexus, the shrine your character’s soul is bound too, players can venture through the game’s 16 areas in any order they’d like after clearing the initial area. There are 10 different classes to choose from, with stat distribution being entirely up to the player, so you can build your character in any way you wish. Souls are the game’s only form of currency, and are required for everything from leveling, to buying items and learning new spells.
This beautifully rendered game, devoid of any screen tearing has become extremely notorious for the difficulty level and challenge it demands. Excessive leveling will not simplify things much, but learning how to use your character and his or her abilities optimally, along with dodging, blocking and using the terrain effectively WILL be required for players hoping to advance through this game. Demon’s Souls is a very dark, gritty game stylistically and figuratively. Although developed in Japan, the game could not be further from traditional JRPGs. The character renders are more realistic along with the textures and environments, hued with a palette to support the game’s creepy atmosphere. The tone of the game is extremely cryptic and macabre, players will be exploring areas including a swamp that serves as a dumping ground for corpses, and a prison who’s inhabitants are tortured into insanity. Every area is littered with the corpses of those who died as the fog set in, to constantly remind players that it’s not only very easy to die in a variety of ways in this game, but that it will happen all the time.
My favorite aspect of Demon’s Souls by far is it’s highly intuitive multiplayer. Everyone in the game has their own “World.” When you die in Demon’s Souls it’s not game over, but rather the player who’s now in soul form has the option to either help another player in their world as a Blue Phantom, or to forcibly invade another player’s game as a Black Phantom. Both actions can be done by using a Blue or Black eye stone respectively, and will reward the player with their body back by helping the host defeat a boss as a Blue or by killing the player as a Black. Conversely, players in body form can summon up to two Blue Phantoms for help, and run the risk of a Black Phantom invading while they attempt to complete their level. It can be extremely frustrating to be close to a boss, only to have a Black Phantom invade and kill you, causing you to have to replay the stage. However, Demon’s Souls is really all about high risk, high reward, and defeating invading Black Phantoms is extremely fun.
Another part of multiplayer in Demon’s Souls is apparitions. Apparitions are ghostly white versions of other players you will frequently see, playing their own game in the same area as you. This is designed to show you how others are approaching enemies that you are or to reveal alternate passageways or other secrets. Players can also write messages anywhere in the world that everyone playing will be able to see when they’re nearby. Depending on how useful specific messages are, other players can rate them to make them remain in place longer. And finally, when a player dies, they leave behind a blood stain. By examining the blood stain, you can view the manner in how a player died. The more blood stains you see in a specific spot, the more caution you would want to proceed with. Multiplayer is completely optional in Demon’s Souls, however. The game can be played entirely offline, but I feel this would completely diminish the tone of the game, and the unique sense of adventure this game envelopes you in. There are many times where I found myself thankful for a specific message warning me of something, or having a Blue Phantom summoned into my game proved to be extremely useful.
With or without help, every boss fight and dungeon in Demon’s Souls requires a fair amount of strategy. Even with the aid of Blue Phantoms, you will still need to develop your skills to hold your own. There isn’t any one method to to advance through an area or beat a boss. Depending on your class and skills, there will be several different ways to approach everything Demon’s Souls presents you with, which is why apparitions, blood stains and messages are an integral part of the game. I really loved the atmosphere and the mood of the game, and while many have criticized the voice acting, I felt it was extremely solid and consistently appropriate from character to character. The game will surprise you as well, and has many intriguing secrets in addition to trying to mess with the player as well. Maiden Astraea’s boss battle is one of the best I’ve played in any game in a long while, but I can’t say why so as to avoid spoilers. I really loved the story as well, and it’s told in a very old school, traditional manner, with a lot of connections in the plot being left up to the player to surmise for themselves.
I would not recommend this title for casual gamers, but for those looking for a challenge and a game with emphasis on skill and strategic thinking above all else, then this is absolutely the game for you. Even the most seasoned of gamers WILL find themselves frustrated. Demon’s Souls is a game all it’s own, yet it seems to draw inspiration from old school titles like Will Harvey’s The Immortal, while fans of games like The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion will likely enjoy it as well. This game quickly divides the casuals from the hardcore, and if you’re not prepared to become very adept at it’s combat system, you probably won’t find it very enjoyable if at all. However, those with the gall to stick with this game will find everything about it very rewarding if you let it absorb you.