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Avatar ImageGamer Limit Review: Demon’s Souls
By: | September 3rd, 2009 | Playstation 3
PS3 |Review

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[Edit: A lot of people have been questioning whether or not a number of reviewers have finished the game. I wanted to state, for the record, that I did beat Demon's Souls for this assessment you see here. The total playtime for my first completion was 22 hours/30 minutes, and my final Soul Level was 76 (Thief build) when I met the Old One.]

Challenging games are a rare commodity in the present market of casual “pick up and go” titles. On occasion, a tough title will pop up, only to be deflated by claims of “fake difficulty” or cheap AI.

Simply put: Atlus and From Software’s Demon’s Souls has effectively redefined the term “difficult game” into something much more favorable than what we’re currently used to. There is so much freedom and underlying strategy involved in Demon’s Souls that every time you die, you’ll feel like it’s your own fault. Read on for our review of Demon’s Souls, and learn how to channel your inner masochist.

Demon’s Souls sort of takes a dark fairytale approach in its visual style, and the result is hauntingly pleasing. Freakish creatures will skitter across the once glorious kingdom of Boletaria, and looming cloud patterns paint the sky. The entire experience is reminiscent of the Playstation 2 hit Ico; you’ll find yourself stopping right in your tracks just to admire the beautiful architecture and scenery.

Upon completing the game’s tutorial (which is conveniently skippable after your first character), you’re placed in The Nexus: Demon’s Souls hub world. From here, you can conduct business, upgrade your statistics, and travel to different levels. It’s an understatement to say the stages feel incomparable towards one another; the locales are so drastically different looking, at times you’ll swear you’re not even playing the same game. Enemy models will also suit the level’s theme perfectly and will even change based off the “world tendency” reactionary system; effectively, each playthrough will feel different.

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After admiring the game’s scenery, you’ll of course want to dive right into actual gameplay. During the tutorial, you might find that the game is comfortably easy, but once you teleport into your first level, the difficulty shock will kick in. First off, when you die, you’ll be forced to wander as a “soul,” with 50-75% of your current health cap until you defeat a level boss.

Dying is also incredibly easy to do: if you’re not careful, you could fall off a cliff, spring an enemy trap, or get caught in crossfire. In fact, very rarely will you be happy with the first character you make. By the time you’re a few hours through your first playthrough, you immediately might want to restart your game and make different choices.

Another aspect of the game’s difficulty stems from a Dead Rising type save system to the extreme: one slot, autosave only. Because of this, you’ll approach the world of Boletaria much more cautiously than you would in any other game, which definitely adds a feeling of excitement that not many other titles are able to pull off successfully.

Is the prospect of an extremely difficult learning curve really getting you down? Fear not! While Demon’s Souls is in fact one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, salvation is possible. After the trials and tribulations of creating your first character sink in, you’ll start to see the world more clearly (not unlike a certain Keanu Reeves in The Matrix). Every enemy in the game has some sort of weakness, or a strategy that can be employed against it.  Additionally, there are soul items that can be picked up and stored as “insurance,” so even if you die twice and lose all your stored souls, the items are always consumable for experience. You’ll also quickly pick up the various checkpoints and shortcuts in every level ensuring a quick recovery of your corpse.

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Another thing to keep in mind is that you can always farm enemies for souls at any time, and run back to The Nexus to spend them; even if you die as a soul, all you lose is currency (never statistics or experience), so it’s not a total loss. The classes are also not restrictive: every class can eventually learn everything and become a super hero. All of the above factors of success contribute to Demon’s Souls’ brilliance as a video game. Rather than simply tossing a bunch of uneven tasks at a player, Demon’s Souls wants you to learn from your experiences and better yourself as a gamer.

Demon’s Souls was met with great success in Japan, and gamers from around the world have been importing it for months. From the looks of it, Atlus didn’t do a whole lot in terms of the localization outside of the retail deluxe package and some (correctly) rewritten mistranslations for item descriptions: one of the two main helper character’s voices is still “engrish” sounding, and the core gameplay remains the same. For those who already imported it, unless you wanted the extra goodies, you aren’t missing out in anything drastically different.

While aesthetically pleasing; musically, there isn’t a whole lot to be found in Demon’s Souls, and the tracks range from orchestra quality pieces to odd hymns. While most of the level mood is going to be set by the ambiance (water dripping, clawing noises, etc.), some boss themes don’t really fit the bill.

In the realm of replay value, Demon’s Souls seeks to put an end to the “15-20″ hour lifetime that’s so commonplace in today’s action titles. Be prepared to become a shut in for a few weeks; Demon’s Souls’ staying power is astounding. After the success of my second character, I’m already planning magic, power, and mix builds for my next playthroughs. Given the size of the game, and the insanely detailed character creator function, I have no doubt that it will feel like a completely different experience. Not to mention, the maximum level is 712.

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In addition to the normal classes, From Software also included a genius character addition: Royalty. Starting as this unique class not only makes early game close combat more difficult, but grants a special ring only Royalty starts with. In short, it warrants a playthrough all on its own. For the completionist out there, there’s also a new game+ mode that ups the difficulty and net souls gained every time you play it. How’s that for value!

Demon’s Souls will also beckon you to keep it in your disc tray using a whole heap of other unique mechanics. You can also take advantage of the numerous multiplayer facets of the game, some of which aren’t really seen anywhere else on the market. You can summon up to three players into your game, or jump in rival’s games as a deadly dark enemy spirit (if you successfully defeat your peer, you’ll earn your soul back). Additionally, unlike Fable II, each player will have a separate screen to control their hero with, and your character will gain experience and loot as normal, which is the way it should be for online play.

Outside of directly interacting with your peers, my absolute favorite feature of Demon’s Souls’ online mode is easily the “note system.” By pressing the select button at any time, you can leave tips for other players such as “watch out for the trap!” or “really tough enemy ahead, heal!” If a player enjoys a tip, they can recommend it, which refills your health bar. Alternatively, you can have a bit of fun by dropping tips like “coast is all clear!” when your rival is about to walk into a trap.

Demon’s Souls has completely revolutionized the action genre as we know it. While it remains a single player affair at its core, great strides were made to get other players involved in an action adventure experience, something Fable II tried and failed in the past. While casual gamers should be wary of the game’s extreme difficulty, if you have any sort of strategic acumen, you will easily be able to figure a solution to any problem, and that’s a truly gifted design choice.

Rating Category
9.0 Presentation
All in all, Demon's Souls' graphics look top notch on the Playstation 3. While you won't find it hard to appreciate the hauntingly detailed locales, some areas feel a bit more boring than others.
How does our scoring system work?
9.5 Gameplay
You won't find many titles that have as much combat depth as Demon's Souls. Additionally, you can play the game exactly how you want it, and you will always learn from your mistakes. However, the in-game tutorials are poor, and it will leave many gamers scouring the internet for FAQs.
9.0 Sound
Demon's Souls' sound effects are absolutely perfect. When you encounter the haunting tentacle mage's gentle bell ringing, you'll feel chills. It's a shame that the score wasn't utilized as well as it could have in practice, though.
10.0 Longevity
I can't think of another action game with the same amount of replayability as you'll find here. If you're bored of playing on your own, join someone elses game and grief them as a demon, and leave them notes that will unbeknowst to them, lead them to their doom. Addtionally, with a level cap of 712, don't expect to ever put this game down.
9.5 Overall
Demon's Souls is one for the history books. It simply improves the recently stale action genre, and is way ahead of its time with its vision of online play.

  1. avatar randombullseye

    I’m looking forward to this game.

    Should I buy the import, get the special edition, or just get a regular one? I’m thinking I might get the special edition as I’ve read a 140 page book comes with it? It’s 90 bucks, but I owe Atlus. They deserve that and more for making games like this. Real games.

    • avatar Sombrero

      A large percentage of of weehavtr you point out happens to be supprisingly precise and it makes me wonder why I had not looked at this in this light before. Your article really did switch the light on for me as far as this specific subject matter goes. But at this time there is actually 1 issue I am not too comfy with and whilst I make an effort to reconcile that with the main idea of the issue, allow me see what all the rest of the visitors have to point out.Nicely done.

  2. @Random
    The normal ($60) Atlus version comes with a very neat artbook, and a soundtrack. The deluxe version is $70, not $90. So basically you’re getting the 150+ page guide for $10. Plus, reportedly, you aren’t able to play with localization users if you own the import.

    It depends on how much you believe you’re going to dedicate to the game. The strategy guide is beautiful, and will definitely help your skills.

  3. avatar Retro_

    Been playing the HongKong version for a few months now and can say that this game is stunning, totally stunning, There’s a place in the market for games like this and if you are NOT a casual gamer and enjoy dungeon crawlers then it really is a no brainer.

  4. avatar randombullseye

    Yeah, deluxe it is. Ordering from Amazon today.

  5. Definitely sounds great, and well done on the review, Chris.

  6. avatar Fleakitten

    I sunk alot of hours into the asian version of this. Playing along side asian players was fun, now I can’t wait to invade someone’s game in the US! >:)

  7. avatar Bryan

    randombullseye: For starters, Atlus didn’t develop the game, they’re only publishing it for North America.

    Aside from that, it’s a great game, which I imported, and I’ve also paid off the deluxe edition in full. I am more than willing to start all over and do it all again. It’s my 2009 game of the year, no doubt about it.

  8. @Bryan
    “I am more than willing to start all over and do it all again. It’s my 2009 game of the year, no doubt about it.”

    I’m inclined to agree at this point in the year. There’s a heap of other promising titles coming out before 2010, so we’ll see!

  9. I am so excited to play this.

    Great review Chris!

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  10. avatar Mooooxi

    I got the korean Version and can recommend it as one of the best PS3 titles so far. It is really difficult but never unfair. Have fun and tell all your friends your on vacation :-) .
    If you have a girlfriend…..well…..hope she won’t start an affair ;-)

  11. avatar flashcharge

    Never heard of this game until I saw it on Gamespot and became curious. After reading your review it has cause an interest to learn more about it. I will now keep and eye out for it. Good review!

  12. I’m disappointed that this isn’t confirmed for europe yet, as the online help system seems vital, so importing it won’t quite give me the full experience.

  13. avatar Audacityrage

    I can’t wait for this game!

  14. avatar SomeRandomGuy

    Got the import back in June, played it for about 45 minutes, died a few times, and gave up. This is before all the reviews stressing the “many, many deaths” and the “brutal difficulty level” were online. Yeah, I knew what the game was, and knew it was supposed to be brutally difficult, but I did not have the desire to continue.

    Picked it up again last week, and can barely put it down. It’s one of the only games I’ve ever played where the frustration I feel in dying so often only encourages me to keep at it. This review does a great job, but for me, the thing that really drew me in is almost intangible and not able to be put into words. Everything mentioned in the review is spot on, but somehow the game manages to transcend the sum of its admittedly brilliant parts, and become probably the purest gaming experience I’ve ever had.

    I smiled and nodded at the mention of how you will not be happy with your first character and will restart after a few hours. SO true. And the bells that the octopus-headed prison guards ring…yeah, even though I know about 90% of the time now, I’ll not have any problems with them, they are still chilling as all hell when you hear them getting closer. This game evokes more of a feeling of primal fear than any survival horror game could ever hope to. This is, of course, because for once, something is actually at stake.

    As of right now, this and Flower are tied for my 2009 GOTY. Yeah, REALLY strange pairing, but I have a feeling that five or ten years down the line, both of these games will be looked back upon as being revolutionary and paradigm-shifting. If Heavy Rain exceeds all the expectations it has built up, then Sony’s PS3 might just be the console that exclusively houses the games that will change the face of gaming.

  15. Oct. 6th can’t arrive soon enough. This is one of those rare games that is going to define what it’s genre can and should be. I only hope it does well enough stateside that Sony and From Software realize the potential of the property and make this into a franchise as opposed to a one hit wonder.

  16. I preordered the Deluxe version last night because of Yoj1mbo’s blog over on destructoid. This review has me even more excited for the game.

  17. avatar T18

    For those in the UK, you can buy the US import of this game and all the online features work perfectly (hints, ghosts etc). Picked mine up this weekend and it’s flawless.

  18. avatar HelpImSwiss

    @T18 cheers i was terrified if i bought it it wouldnt work online. only reason ive held out so long.

  19. avatar johnnydragon

    any DLC to come on this? the game is hard and can get frustrating.
    but after a few put down & pick ups. now 5 bosses later. I’m saving the boss souls now. after I found out you can have them forged into weapons.
    can’t wait to get people out of the prison. using royalty

    game of the year IMO

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