[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.