Demon’s Souls Review

Game: Demon’s Souls
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Atlus, USA
Platform: PS3
Price: $59.99, or $69.99 for Deluxe Editon
Pros: Gorgeous, addictive, depth of play
Cons: Scale of difficulty is pitched high

Part one of this review can be found here.

By now, you’ve seen the videos, the screenshots and the buzz surrounding Atlus’ latest PS3 game, Demon’s Souls.

You’ve heard about the really amazingly cool deluxe edition and pre-order bonus artbook and CD that has me itching to purchase it, even though I have the reviewer version of the game.

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You’ve heard about how brutally difficult it can be. You may even have heard about how it’s really not as hard as everyone makes it out to be. I’m here to tell you that it’s both.

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I also want you to bend your mind around this: if you’ve played and enjoyed Donkey Kong, Frogger, Super Mario Brothers or any of the dozen other old school platformers out there, you’ll dig Demon’s Souls. I’m sure you’re wondering if I’m talking about the same Demon’s Souls that you might have been anticipating. It is definitely not a platforming game. It’s an action RPG with decidedly old school learning curve, with no hand holding and no support system for being a n00b. Demon’s Souls is incredibly unforgiving, and the one hit kills aren’t koopa-cute, but this is your daddy’s old-school gaming.

Let me explain. Demon’s Souls is, first and foremost, an incredibly beautiful, well-produced, fantastic game for the PS3. The stunning vistas, dark corridors and clever sound cues all go a long way to keeping me coming back for more. Personally, I don’t like the precision of the old school platforming genre. I’m not a huge fan of endless grinding, either. So, why am I still finding myself drawn to this interesting amalgamation of the two?

First up, it’s gorgeous. I’m a sucker for eye candy and this game is the pinnacle of visual greatness. The environments are lush, from the stunning vista atop the Boletarian castle walkway, to the immense fire breathing dragon demon that flies above you, burning everything in its path, to the deep dark dank caves of Stonefang Tunnel, there’s nothing I’ve seen that compares to this game’s stunning beauty. The animation of enemy and the player’s own avatar is second to none, and supports gameplay at every turn with extras like slowing down and dodge-rolling slower due to carrying too many weapons.

Second of all, it’s addictive. The enemies are in the same place each time, though they may act differently or take a different path to attempt to kill you. The urge to play through *just one more time* after each death is strong. Yes, death happens. A lot. But that’s part of the draw, and gives this game its legs: not only am I dead, but I have to get back to my spot of death to be able to collect the souls I dropped there when I died. Brilliant and addictive.

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Third, and this took me a while to get to, is the compelling storyline. Yes, I said storyline. The story told to me by the Monumental was moving, deep, and intelligent. I long for that kind of emotional experience in games, and this really took me by surprise. The motivation as a role-played character became, for me, that much deeper. No spoilers here, but if you’re getting frustrated with the intensity and/or repetitive nature of the learning curve, stick with it. It gets more and more worth it. The concepts of nexus as world-hub, archstones as portals, and the various nexus denizens (from the world-weary knight to the grumpy blacksmith) do please my story-needs, and make a lot of the die, start at the beginning, die just as you reach the point you need to, rinse and repeat a bit more easy to swallow.

Finally, the online multiplayer holds great promise. I can’t say that I got to play *with* anyone, due to server constraints and timezones, but I certainly saw a lot of folks playing alongside me. While running through each lovingly crafted world, ghostly and luminous shadows of other players can be seen, dashing along the path you trod, talking to the NPCs in the Nexus and the like. The bloodstains show where other adventurers have died and allow you to replay their grisly end, making them entertaining AND informative.

I’m not going to dissemble and tell you that this game will be something you like from start to finish. In my month with the game I have gone from rapt joy to fierce, razor-sharp hatred to a grudging acceptance of my own failings as a gamer in my attempt to understand this game. As such, here are some gameplay tips, garnered from a long career in the world of the Nexus, boletaria and the other worlds of Demon’s Souls:

  1. Souls = money. It is often worth running ALL THE WAY back to the start of the level, activating the archstone key, and talking to the Lady in Black to level up. Please do this. A lot. Higher level characters just do better, period.
  2. If you’re having trouble with your initial character choice, consider switching to the Royalty class. You’ll get a ring that replentishes your magic powers over time, so you really only need to guard your health.
  3. GUARD YOUR HEALTH. Do not run in and expect to take much damage. Even the least of foes can get in a good shot and kill. Kill. Kill. You. Learn how to guard, dodge, roll, jump backward, and switch from ranged magic and weapons to melee and back. Don’t be afraid to use your health herbs early and often. You can buy more with the souls. See point #1 above.
  4. You will spend most of your time dead. Let it be. This is how you are supposed to be playing the game, mostly.
  5. Get help when you can. I believe that I would have progressed farther if I had someone to play through some of the levels with.
  6. DO NOT TRY TO KILL THE BIG DRAGONS. That is all. They will not die. You will.

I hope this review (part one here), has inspired you to get this game. I think this is the kind of game that shows off the PS3′s abilities to great effect, and will raise your own skills to a higher level, should you stick with it. I am a better player now, because of my trials and tribulations in Demon’s Souls. Games that I had given up on before at the “I’m stuck” point have opened up to me as being much easier now that I have a few more skillz under my belt. Thanks, Atlus!

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