Does thou seek soul power?
Release Date: October 7, 2009
Players: 1 (up to 3-4 online)
FROM Software and Atlus’ Action RPG is a wake up call to all gamers. Gone are the days of “easy automatic” where you have to simply position your hero in front of your adversaries and mash a single button to rain destruction on your foes. You will die, and you will die often. Demon’s Souls is the answer to every game that thought it could get away without punishing the player for failure, and the virtual gauntlet it puts you through is a very rewarding experience, if you’re up to the challenge.
Demon’s Souls is one of those games that you’ll have a lot of trouble adjusting to. I know I did. As I powered through the tutorial level of the game, the enemies never posed much of a threat. A simple dodge, slash and thrust ended the lives of my adversaries, until the last room’s monster hulked its way over to me. As music finally blared through my speakers, my previously underwhelmed senses heightened. It was the first “boss fight”. Before I knew it, I was flattened beneath it’s 20 foot blade. I didn’t know I was intended to lose to the first boss. Demon’s Souls has an odd way of teaching players lessons. Finding out that death was mandatory in the TUTORIAL phase of the game conditions you to accepting death as a common occurrence. This game doesn’t care how much karma you accumulated in Ninja Gaiden. Ryu Hayabusa would have fallen just as easily as you have.
I appreciated the vast and deep character creation, but even with a thousand and one different sliders to alter your appearance, Don’t expect to create an exceptional alter ego – your character will still end up looking as lifeless as the monsters you’ll be busy slaying. 10 classes can be chosen from, including soldier, royalty, knight and some others, but they’re simply starting templates. As you progress through the game, you can raise whatever stats you want, and wear any equipment, provided that you have the proper stats just to use them without incurring a penalty.
Souls are gained from killing monsters, and serve the dual purpose of buying your stat upgrades as well as items or gear. The draw is that no matter how many souls you have, You will lose all of them if you die, leaving them collected close to where you were defeated. You are granted one chance to make it back there to retrieve your precious souls, but if you die once again before you make it back, all of your hard work is lost. Because you can’t store your currency for later, you’ll either have to use them or be ready to give them up when you die. Each stat point requires a little more souls than the last time, causing you to continually work harder in order to become a stronger demon slayer.
Demons Soul’s isn’t a high flying adventure where you put all of your enemies through a meat grinder of fantastic flashy combos, where whatever’s left standing is put through the same move set. It’s as close to realism without being dreadfully boring- Your character can run as far as they can before they have to stop for a breather, and you can only swing your sword or hold up your shield to block until your stamina is depleted. Fighting demons is a very methodical process. Once you know the monsters weakness, exploit it. Take them out and move on. If you’re not doing that, they’ve already made short work of you. With every encounter, you’ll be heading towards death, or a chance to live a little longer. In your first few hours of harvesting souls, every battle has the potential to be difficult—unless you’re constantly learning the attack patterns of your adversaries. After the first time you end up expending your supply of restoratives on a couple enemies, it’s in your best interest to start paying attention. Once you get the hang of it, making short work of a room full of enemies, and eventually bosses, is very satisfying.
The World and Character Tendency System adds an extra layer of strategy to each world you’re touring, depending on your actions in any given world. You can tip the scales toward White Tendency if you kill bosses, while it dips to Black Tendency if you die in your own body. Achieving Pure White or Black Tendency causes unique events like allowing certain NPC’s to appear, who help you, or attack you as well. Some of the better gear in the game is achieved through only through manipulating your tendency in one way or the other, but the system isn’t really expanded as you progress through the game, meaning a lot of nice things can be passed up blindly without a guide.
The online component, which can be summed up as “Massively Single-Player,” is a player’s one saving grace to aid them on their journey for more souls. Grey figures of other players can sometimes be seen roving throughout a dungeon. In this capacity, fellow players can’t interact, but merely see what someone in the same situation as you is doing. However, examining a bloodstain will playback a recording of a fellow warrior’s last moments before their untimely end. Expect to see many of these in a boss room. Handy messages doling out short spurts of information can be inscribed on the ground by anyone. There’s nothing like reading “Behind You!” as a gargoyle three times your size plummets to the linear beam you’re standing on, knocking you off into the abyss. Hopefully another player will learn from your bloodstain. It’s like uncovering notes left behind by the prior owner of a convoluted used college text book.
While in Body Form, you can also enlist more direct assistance from Blue Phantoms, players in Soul Form who can help defeat a boss to get their own body back. Because there’s no capability for voice chat in-game, you’ll have to work together in silence. On the flip side, players can also invade other games to attack you as Black Phantoms! Compared to the already merciless AI, One on one duels with human opponents are visceral. Should you risk attacking quickly with the hopes of placing you at a better position to follow up, or have your strike parried, making your character stagger to the side from wasting stamina, only to be skewered by your opponents blade? Dying to a Black Phantom means you pay the price of losing your body, while killing off your invader nets you a chunk of souls. You don’t get anything special for dealing with the ordinary, as running the risk of playing with your body is like wearing a jacket made of meat at a dog kennel. Despite the times where interacting with others is a good break from slaying monsters alone, Demon’s Souls is largely a one seated ride.
Each of the five worlds have a distinct atmosphere, from the ruined palace of Boletaria, to the hell hole of the Valley of Defilement, and the frightening screams you’ll hear in the Tower of Latria. Any level can be completed in whatever order you wish, and subsequent playthroughs make monsters much more difficult. Because of the many paths and choices you can make, a two or three playthroughs are sufficient to see the majority of the game in its entirety, but you can beat the game with the same character as many times as you want. Even with a well-built character, it’s very possible for the game to “become too difficult” after completing the game enough times.
Without a doubt, Demon’s Souls will break you into a million pieces. Hardened players will learn from their mistakes while the stubborn and foolhardy will be stuck in World 1-1 forever. If you have the courage to keep going, this experience will build you up a stronger, more intelligent player. Be it a boss fight or the sudden invasion of a black phantom, you’ll get that tingle in the pit of your stomach. Deep down, you know that you’ve found a challenge. Demon’s Souls is as real and hardcore as it gets, and although you’ve died countless times, you’ll be coming back for more. And when you finally reach that plateau of awesomeness, particularly after crushing a boss that you finally figure out, you know you’ve achieved something games nowadays don’t have a clue about.