There are few games out there that are as dark and menacing as From Software’s hard-hitting action RPG Demon’s Souls. Released earlier this year in Japan, Atlus USA is bringing this excruciatingly difficult game to North American audiences on October 6, exclusively for the PlayStation 3. The difficulty level of this game has been widely publicized; make no mistakes, this is one of the hardest titles you’ll encounter on the PS3. But as you progress through the kingdom of Boletaria, you’ll discover that this dark fantasy role-playing romp has more to offer than the frustration in its difficulty; it contains a rich world where confidence and ability is required to top just about every enemy and challenge.
Demon’s Souls is an exercise in patience, persistence, and technical ability. When you find yourself deep in one of the five massive levels, you’ll need every ounce of patience to slowly press forward through dark tunnels and castles. You will learn quickly to slowly move through each new level as to avoid an enemy’s ambush or deadly traps. As you become another victim to the countless demons that inhabit this cruel world, you’ll need the persistence to pick the controller back up from off the floor, dust yourself off, and start right back at the beginning of the level to fight the same monsters that accounted for your demise. And above all, you will need to learn the techniques and strategies required to defeat those menacing foes.
It’s rare to play a title that is as difficult as Demon’s Souls. The game is not unfair, however, and with each death you learn a little more about the enemies, the layout of each zone, and the skills you’ll need to get a few steps past your most recent bloodstain. As you start to learn the gameplay mechanics, master the parry and repose, and build confidence with your blocking and dodging abilities you’ll receive one of the most coveted feelings in all of gaming – accomplishment. With great difficulty requires great player skills, and improved skills allow you to progress further into the game, revealing more of the modest plot. But ultimately, your greatest reward is the satisfaction of eliminating a foe that took your life a dozen times or more.
This is a game you can certainly master in time, but if you are looking for a quick learning curve and a game with fast hack ‘n slash action, you should look for another game. Demon’s Souls requires you to think with just about every swing of your sword. You’ll spend more time in a defensive mode instead of blindly charging an enemy. Your actions will become methodical as you creep further into the zones of Boletaria.
For the average player, this title will likely offer more frustration than it’s worth, but for more enthusiastic gamers, especially those who relish in defeating what others have deemed ‘difficult,’ this game will without a doubt cement itself as one of, if not the best game of the year – let alone on PS3. We cannot emphasize enough that this game is difficult, but with time, it’s certainly manageable, and above all, it’s extremely rewarding.
In the world of Demon’s Souls, combat is extremely physical. Regardless of which of the 10 classes you choose – from the typical RPG knights or magicians, to the less-played priests and wanderers – you will be able to use all weapons and armor with time. You feel the crash every time an enemy lands an attack. Even if you brush off an advance with your shield, the weight of the impact will set you back and you’ll need a second to regain your composure. With every blow you land you feel the weight of your weapon piercing through the demon’s thick skin or heavy armor. It’s this weight behind attacks that requires a certain degree of strategy and skill when it comes to combat.
If you’re strategy and technique is subpar, you will quickly find the sharp edge of an enemy’s blade. Death is inevitable in Demon’s Souls, but luckily it’s not a game over scenario. When you die you are returned to the world in spirit form, which essentially is the same as living form but with only half your hit points (until you acquire a ring in the first level that helps you retain three-quarters of your life). You’ll get your body back by defeating a boss at the end of each level, but you should be prepared to play a lot of the game in spirit form.
Most role-playing games feature towns and cities scattered through the kingdom, but Demon’s Souls departs from this traditional element, instead opting for a central safe-zone hub called The Nexus. You will find NPCs offering spells and equipment upgrades, a place to deposit your heavier items, and a way to boost your stats. Appropriately enough, in game currency is represented in the form of the souls of demons you collect throughout your adventure.
When you die in Demon’s Souls, you lose all the souls you collect. You can return to the bloodstain where you died to harvest your lost souls, but die three times and the souls are gone forever. This is where the game can be more than a little frustrating and feel time consuming. On the other hand, souls are not that difficult to collect, and you can return to The Nexus by going back to the beginning of each level. Back at The Nexus you can use your collected souls to upgrade your weapons or repair broken armor.
What really sets Demon’s Souls apart from other action RPGs is the unique online component. The game allows you to leave written messages for other players. You’ll find tips like “Beware of the trap ahead,” or “Look out!” In addition, when you trigger bloodstains on the ground, you’ll see red-ghostly figures of that player’s death. Both the messages and the bloodstains act as a strategy guide. But just as the game feels against you, so too can these online messages feel dangerous. A player can leave a deceiving message, encouraging you to jump into the grey fog below. This, of course, will lead to your death, so be careful which messages you follow. A rating system will provide further evidence of whether or not the message is accurate.
Another online component is the co-op mode, triggered through a Blue Stone. In co-op mode you can assist other players when fighting the more difficult demons, but on the other side of the stone (so to speak), a Black Stone will allow you to enter another player’s game as a Phantom, challenging that player for their souls. All the online features have an impact on the World Tendency, swaying between black and white. When the tendency is toward black, monsters are more aggressive but you’ll receive a greater reward for each kill. On the flip side, a white tendency means your foes are not as aggressive, but the payoff isn’t as big. World tendency feels like a complex system that we haven’t quite mastered.
Even without these online elements, the game still offers a unique atmosphere for any RPG fan. For one thing, the game is extremely dark. Before you even start your journey, you are asked to adjust the brightness settings, giving you a less than subtle nudge that you’re about to be gripped by a thrilling experience within the realms of bleak halls and eerie landscapes. However, It’s not just the dark corridors or dimly lit towers that create the dark atmosphere; it’s the ominous moans from enemies hidden in the shadows. What makes the game particularly eerie is the lack of music. All you’ll hear is the cling from your armor as you move through the world, the moans and growls from demons, and the thud of your sword against an enemy’s body. The absence of ambient music makes for an exhilarating experience. As you first go through a level, you’ll want to take every step with your shield firmly in defense. Be prepared to get startled more than a few times on your first few attempts trying a new stage.
Demon’s Souls difficulty makes for an interesting and exciting experience, but it can also lead to some really frustrating moments. On one hand, it’s refreshing to play an RPG that rewards skill over grinding, but in order to master the game, you’ll need to invest quite a bit of time learning the layout of each level and how each demon attacks. Boss fights are surprisingly manageable compared to the difficulty of the rest of the level. And with each level you complete, you feel an incredible sense of accomplishment – at least as far as beating a videogame can feel like an accomplishment. Demon’s Souls is a terrific game, and a welcome addition to the PS3 line-up. Be warned, though. If you object to the occasional whiff of repetition and object to copious amounts of trial and error, Demon’s Souls is not for you. If, however, you are looking for a challenge and a game with extensive replay value, we suggest you get this game on day one. Be prepared for an exciting, brutal, and cruel action RPG experience unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed before hand.