Demon’s Souls Review, Part One: The Tutorial and First Level

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In a rare twist, Atlus has informed us press-types that there are no embargoes on this game. We can talk about it freely, and fully. We could even review it if we wanted to. Boy, I wish. I just got the press-copy yesterday in the mail, so there’s no way I could be through enough of this game to give a quality review.

However, I can preview the first part. Spoil it, if you will. So, if you do NOT want to know anything about the first part of the game, do not read any more. I MEAN IT! You’ve been warned. :)

Demon’s Souls is a game for the PS3 system, published and localized by Atlus, originally developed by FROM Software. It’s releasing October 6th, so be ready. Because it is one hell of a ride.

From the opening score and the well-produced voice over, I found myself exclaiming (in my head, of course), “Wow, this is what Oblivion WANTED to be.” The visuals are simply stunning: mountains are craggy and realistic looking, the vistas are panoramic and the big giant demon-monster at the end of the opening credits? Scary as all get-out. The PS3 really does this game justice, especially on a big ole TV screen. The music is a bit overdone, but it does send the message of, “oh crap, the world is DOOMED” right to your ears. From the official Atlus blog, we can see what Demon’s Souls is about:

King Allant the XII, the last king of Boletaria, searched tirelessly to expand his might. The Nexus, a great ice shrine nestled in the mountains, bestowed the power of the souls onto him, bringing prosperity to his kingdom. Still unsated, he returned again to the Nexus, where he foolishly awakened the Old One from its eternal slumber. This long forgotten evil, now wrought upon Boletaria, plunged the realm into darkness and fog. A mighty demon horde poured into the kingdom, devouring the souls of men.

Champions from other realms learned of Boletaria’s fate and sought to deliver the kingdom from evil; none would return from the cursed land. Called upon by a mysterious maiden in black, you go forth, the last hope for humanity in a place lost to demons and darkness…

demonssouls_blog1_screen_2All of the above is voiced by a woman with a vaguely European accent, while the sweeping vistas and scary monsters fly on by. You’re dropped right into the character creation screens, which are a bit on the overwhelming side, especially since players will have no clue what kind of stats will best advantage them in gameplay. I went with my standard: female magic user with purple hair, named Squiff (long story). You could REALLY spend some time in this tool, and I did spend a fair amount tweaking everything from the size of my nose to the upturn of  my eyes to the pigment and lighting of my skin tone. I’m guessing that folks with talent and time could make a character look just like them. I found the gender selector to be a joy of progressive thought, as it allows a player to move a slider along a continuum from male to female. This is the first time I’ve seen that done, and I have to applaud the developers for their foresight.

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So, purple-haired magician woman in hand, I went into the Tutorial, which is a series of corridors/caves. You’re introduced to basic moves like short, quick attacks to stronger, but longer attacks. Using the left shoulder buttons lets players guard (L1) and parry (L2), which when timed right allows a player to riposte, generally a killing move that looks awesome.

Players are also introduced to locking on (an awkward right stick press) and changing weapons and magic (if applicable) as well as using herbs that can be found by examining corpses and remains – woohoo! On the floor are pretty little red shiny areas that are messages from the developers, giving players helpful hints and teaching valuable Tutorial lessons. You learn about blood stains (touch them and you can watch the death scene of the given spot’s blood “donor.” This comes in handy later in the game as you can hit a bloodstain and find out where the baddies might be shooting arrows, for example.

demonssouls_blog1_screen_1At the end of the Tutorial, you face a boss, which I thought was pretty clever. I’m thinking, “hey, they’re going to have me use all the things I just learned to defeat this boss.”  Then, I realized that this “boss” was really a ringer. I was never meant to survive. Doesn’t matter HOW well I learned the basic moves – not only did I die, but  they WANTED me to die. What other game kills you at the end of the Tutorial so you can begin the actual game? That’s what I thought.

Ending up in the Nexus, I began to see that this wasn’t what Oblivion wanted to be. This game is what Oblivion had no idea even existed. The Nexus is where you start your game, as a dead person. The object, so I’m told by anohter dead warrior, is to travel to places, fight demons, and collect, you guessed it, Demon’s Souls. When you do this, apparently you might get your body back. Maybe. I’m not too clear on this as I can’t seem to get to the first Demon.

demonssouls_blog1_screen_4When I say I can’t get to the first Demon, what I mean is that the first level is so incredibly difficult, and so foreign to me as a gamer, that I can’t seem to get through the whole thing without dying. Repeatedly. I’ve touched my own bloodstain three or four times now. What i find absolutely compelling, though, is that I want to keep playing. Most games, if I was this frustrated this early on, I’d stop playing. I might even write a clever post about games that are too hard for old guys like me. But not here. I’m compelled to play this game. I’m really honestly interested in honing my strategy, skills, and equipment into the perfect set of “stuff” to see me through the level. Because each time I attempt it, I learn something new about how to approach this game.

First off, I’ve learned not to hack n slash. This will kill me. In addition, relying only on ranged magic spells will kill me as they run out and I need to then rely on a sword, which then isn’t good enough to get the bad guys who are far away and lobbing fireballs at me. I will die. Not locking on to my foes will, ultimately, kill me. Not remembering where, exactly, that guy waiting in ambush is will, in fact, kill me. I will continue to start from the beginning of the level each time I die. Which, in most games, is overly frustrating. In this game, for some reason, it’s motivating me.

So, the title says First Level. Honestly, I’ve been through the first level ALMOST to the end about 20 times. In fact, it wasn’t until I reached maximum frustration and watched a 4-part walkthrough on YouTube that I realized that I’d not been fighting the main boss Demon, but getting fried by some random giant dragons NEAR the end. Ugh. A couple of tips – if you find yourself having trouble, try a Royalty class character. The magic replenishes magically, with a ring you get, and you’ll not lose all your items each time you die. Just a tip. Just sayin’.

Regardless, I’ll keep playing this, and keep writing about it. Because, honestly, a 1500 word article with a score on it will do you no good. Those will all tell you to go buy it and tell you the story and then tell you about the battle system, etc. But you already knew that stuff. What I hope to do is to help you experience some of this game, through my eyes and hands, so that you can make a well-rounded decision about buying this game. I have a feeling I’ll be a while playing this game, so as you purchase it and get to where I am, be sure to stop and say hello. And touch my bloodstain, please.

Let me know what you think about this approach in the comments below.

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