Demon’s Souls Review
Platforms: Playstation 3
Developer: From Software
Price: $59.99 (USD)/ $69.99(USD) Special Edition
Like most RPGs of it’s type, Demon’s Souls is a rather difficult game to review. The game is linear, but open ended. There are 10 classes to choose from, each with varying attributes that obliquely shape the way your character evolves. The game is massive, with tons of stats, upgrades, and loot to gather. I don’t know if it’s possible to cover everything the game offers (much like Final Fantasy Dissidia), but I think, for me, at least, the best way I can review this game for you all is to simply tell you what you can do, and what I’ve done specifically for my own journey.
First things first, however. The version I’m reviewing is the Asian import version. I’m not sure how this will differ from the US release, but I imagine, from what I’ve researched, the experiences will be similar. There was even a patch I downloaded, though I’m not sure what it addressed. For curious importers, the version I snagged of the 3 asian versions of the game available was the Chinese/English version. Meaning that it supports full English text, voice, and subtitles throughout the entire game. The only thing in Chinese was the instruction booklet, and even that came with a “Quick Start” sheet in English that ran over the most pertinent game information to get importers going.
I created a female Wanderer, who, so far, feels rather capable. The character creation system is straightforward, and relatively simple, but it’s about on par with what you’ve maybe seen in Elder Scroll’s IV: Oblivion, and Fallout 3. It’s a bit tough to create a good-looking character, due to the fact that a lot of sliders are linked, so changing one will affect the other (like Oblivion), but my character was cute enough. Each of the 10 available classes to choose from (Knight, Priest, Thief, Magician, Templar Knight, Soldier, Wanderer, Barbarian, Royal, and Hunter), begin the game with differing attributes that effect their Hit Points, Stamina, Luck, Dexterity, etc, etc. Ultimately, you are free to upgrade these skills how you like, so the class you choose really just effects your initial equipment, skills, and potential to use magic and miracles.
With my female Wanderer ready, I was ready to get started. The story is rather interesting, if not completely original in all areas. In short, King Allant XII channeled the power of souls to bring prosperity to his northern kingdom of Boletaria. Everything was rosy until a black fog covered the lands and outskirts, cutting off the kingdom. Anyone who entered the fog never returned. A member of the royal Twin Fangs named Vallarfax managed to break free of the fog and warn the outside world of Boletaria’s plight. Apparently, Allant awakened an ancient foe called the Old One, who has unleashed a horde of soul-hungry demons. My character has entered these lands to make a name for herself as a hero.
After the intro and brief tutorial, which takes you through what looks like a ruined castle, instructing you in how to attack, parry, fire bows, use magic, etc, my Wanderer, Eryn, was killed by a gigantic demon. Fortunately for Eryn, her journey didn’t end there.
She finds herself revived by a mysterious woman in the Nexus, a netherworld/limbo of sorts filled with the souls of other fallen warriors. Her soul has been separated from her body, and is now tied to the Nexus. After leaving one of the game’s large zones, she will be returned here.
The Nexus is also the main hub in which you will access the land of Boletaria. You will be able to shop for items, upgrade your skills, and talk to the various NPCs that also find themselves trapped there.
Before I get too much further, I must comment that the game supports online play for up to 4 people to team up, but a very unique component to the game is that you are always connected to other players in the world. It’s like an MMO, in that there are always other players wandering around, but the twist is that they are only seen as souls to you. Transparent spirits roaming around the same world as you, but you cannot communicate with them unless you use a Summon stone to request their aid (or offer your own aid), and join up. It’s a very interesting system, and becomes a lot clearer once you see it in action for yourself.
Another neat component of this always on connection is that they, and you, can post messages in the world to offer tips and insight to the game. For example, while roaming a dungeon, a helpful player had posted a message warning me of an ambush. Sure enough, at the end of the hall I was jumped by multiple foes. Thanks to the heads up, I summarily spanked their asses. I find this feature of the game incredibly useful, clever, and I actually prefer to play it connected online, instead of solo (playing in Offline mode means you can’t see other player’s souls, and read their messages).
Okay, detour over, now where was I? Ah, yes, now that you’re in the Nexus, you get to enter the various lands and try your hand at braving the formidable demon army of the Old One in an attempt to return him to his eternal slumber.
Now, I’m going to assume that many of you have heard about Demon’s Souls difficulty. From my experience, I do certainly find the game to be hard, but not in a cheap, Ninja Gaiden way, but more in a “I’m not strong enough to face this particular bad guy, so I need to power level a bit,” or, “I didn’t approach that bad guy with the proper strategy” way. I was surprised that the game wasn’t as soul-crushingly hard as the internet made it out to be. The game is tough, but not throw your controller at the wall tough. Since we’re on the subject of difficulty, and thus, combat, I have to remark that the game is not a hack n’ slash, which a lot of “Action/RPG’s” tend to devolve into. Hacking and Slashing will get you killed. Period.
Combat is slow, in the sense that you have to be strategic in how you approach your enemies, and each enemy is different in how they approach you. Timing your attacks, blocking effectively, and especially learning how to parry then counter-attack are important keys to survival.
What should also be paid close attention to is your stamina meter in the upper left side of the screen, which depletes whenever you attack, block an attack, dodge, or roll. Nothing spells death more than running out of stamina to block a fatal attack from an enemy.
One of the biggest incentives when it comes to being a cautious adventurer is more than likely the reason why Demon’s Souls has such a reputation concerning it’s difficulty: when you are killed in the field, you will restart at the very beginning of the level, and will have lost all of the souls you have collected from downed enemies.
You can retrieve your “body,” and thus regain your souls, but there is always a chance that you will perish again on the way to your body, and thus completely lose your souls. More than anything, this is the reason to take it nice and slow, especially at the start of the game, before you’re able to upgrade your stats.
Combat is the largest part of the game, but exploring the huge environments, getting loot from enemies, and using souls to upgrade your character to a ridiculous level 712 are just as huge. An example of how large this game is is this: At the top most portion of the Nexus is the “Pantheon.” When connected online, the Pantheon is a leaderboard of sorts, showing you the progress of the top 10 players in the game in all things from soul collecting, monster killing, and more.
One particular player I examined had reach level 712, maxed out his skills, and had a play time of 158 hours and some minutes. I’ll say that again: One hundred and Fifty Eight hours. Just in one character, one class. I’m positive, however, that the New Game + option is what allowed him to max out his stats.
Demon’s Souls is an XP whores dream. I admit that I’m addicted to leveling up, and think all games are better when they come with experience points and leveling. Despite the game’s difficulty, it has an addicting quality that has you saying, “just one more run through this dungeon so I can get enough XP to level up my Strength, or Endurance, so I can carry more stuff.” I’m only a paltry Soul Level 37 in comparison, and yet I’ve been playing it all day for 8 days straight (it hasn’t left my PS3 since I popped it in).
There is a lot of trial and error involved in exploration, but thanks to the tips left by other players when connected online, the real challenge is overcoming enemies that are, probably the deadliest of any game ever. Much like Ninja Gaiden, you get the feeling that your foes are just as capable as you are, you simply have to be better. Many a battle had me circling my opponent, looking for an opportunity, and they were doing the same. Waiting for that perfect moment to reveal itself makes each battle a tense experience.
Boss battles are equally intense, and against beasts of such scale and size, it’s literally a miracle when you survive. Just yesterday, I managed to defeat a gigantic spider that not only spewed flames and flaming rock at me, but sticky web goo that slowed my movement, making it impossible to roll. It may sound like bragging, but I managed to defeat him first try, without dying once. It was one of the most harrowing and intense boss battles I think I’ve ever faced. There is such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when you finally fell one of these beasts (and most regular enemies, truth told) very few games these days give you.
You are also able to repair and upgrade your weapons using ore and materials found throughout the dungeons and on fallen enemies. It is also vital to survival to make sure your equipment is upgraded and in tip top shape, as your weapons, and armor grow frail over time, and must be repaired.
Thankfully, they degrade very, very slowly, so you don’t have to worry too much about it like in other games that have such a feature.
The controls of the game are responsive, and for the most part intutive, considering that all the buttons on the controller are used, and there is a wealth of options you can do. You can also dual weld weapons, or take one weapon up into both hands at the press of a button, which increases damage, though I prefer to keep a shield in one hand and an attack weapon in the other (it’s a risky proposition to go without your shield, but I’ve done it on occassion). Being able to lock onto enemies (by clicking in the R3 button on the right analog stick) is a godsend, and I have pretty much no complaints.
Audio is rather good, with great sound effects for creatures and weapon attacks. The lack of a sound track while roaming the world adds to the immersion, and is quite intimidating when venturing into the unknown. Voice acting is also fitting and well done, with no groan inducing performances, though one person sounds like Robin Williams doing an odd Sean Connery impersonation.
Graphically, the game isn’t going to win any awards, but it looks on par with games like Oblivion, a bit better, actually, with great texture work, creature design, lighting, and level design. The environments of the 5 main lands are varied and distinct, from industrial factories, ruined castled, and a truly terrifying tower prison. At times, the game could rival some survival horror games with it’s environments and creature design.
I love the fact that your armor is different depending on the class you’ve chosen, and how distinct the various incarnations of the class armor are in general. The only real complaint I have with the visuals is that your avatar is pretty ugly no matter how you manipulate the sliders. Character models in general are decent, and detailed (especially some of the higher level armor). It’s a little complaint. The game looks great in HD.
VERDICT: BUY- I can say without doubt that Demon’s Souls is not for everybody. It’s relatively slow pace, repetitive nature, and rather unforgiving combat engine may be too much for most casual gamers. But for RPG fans that love to loot/grind, enjoy a challenge when it comes to combat, and explore a genuinely intriguing game world with an insane amount of customizability in how you bring up your character, I can’t recommend the game enough. It is probably the best true RPG I’ve played all generation, offering something both familiar yet wholly original in it’s unique online elements and presentation. The game’s various gameplay systems are integrated and intertwined so well that there is no separation between the online and offline.