REVIEWS -- Demon's Souls -- PS3
Soul of the mind, key to life’s ether…
by Mike Sicliano
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
Demon’s Souls is relentlessly difficult, brutal, and unforgiving. It’s also one of the best games this generation.
A thick, colorless fog engulfs the kingdom of Boletaria. The brave King Allant XII, renowned for his success in bringing prosperity to the city, channeled the power of souls to become the most dominant ruler in the world. But when the demons of the fog were let loose into Boletaria, the kingdom fell to ruins. Allant had awakened the Old One, an ancient beast that slept below the Nexus -- the realm between life and death. Those who lost their lives wound up in the Nexus, wandering souls now out to slay the demons and reclaim their physical bodies.
The premise is simple, the story brief. Demon’s Souls features a fairly typical medieval setting and doesn’t make an effort to expand on it much further than the opening handful of cinematics. You play one of the many lost souls of Boletaria in search of your physical body. You will traverse five different worlds and vanquish nearly two dozen bosses in your quest, but there is little dialogue throughout the game to push the story forward. Everything is simply left at the front door and only picked up again at the game’s conclusion. And that’s a shame, because the lack of a sufficient narrative is arguably the only major flaw this game has.
Soul of the lost, withdrawn from its vessel…
Fans of Oblivion may find a smooth transition into the combat of Demon’s Souls, although the difficulty may prove a formidable adversary. You are given two slots to equip a weapon -- or shield -- in either your left or right hand, and can switch between them on the fly using the left-and-right D-pad. Quite literally any combination of weapons is possible provided your character has the required stats to equip it. A Magician could very well use the Large Sword that would normally require two hands in just one hand if he or she can raise their Strength to the appropriate level. Want to dual-wield spears? Go for it.
The game is about as versatile as one could imagine. Like Oblivion, you have a Weight value, and all things possess a Weight figure. Wearing too much could effectively slow you down, hindering one of your most important defensive abilities: the dodge roll. If your weight exceeds half of the total capacity, you will only be able to roll at a slow, plodding pace, which puts you at severe risk. Although some may opt for that speed limitation in order to wear the heaviest pieces of plate armor in the game, and that’s entirely up to them.
There are three battle-values to pay attention to: the standard HP, MP, and Stamina. HP and MP are pretty self-explanatory. The former measures your health value and the latter your magic. Stamina, on the other hand, is consumed by any type of physical action you make (except for normal walking, of course). If you swing a melee weapon, shoot an arrow, sprint, or roll, the stamina will deplete shortly. If you put up your shield and block an enemy attack, the stamina will deplete. It will always automatically begin filling up once it is consumed, unless you attack in quick succession, at which time you can deplete the stamina bar pretty rapidly. This requires some strategic thinking especially in the more difficult battles against the game’s terrifying boss demons. If you play the role of the reckless warrior and start slashing away, depleting all of your stamina, you will be momentarily unable to dodge, sprint, or even block. So you better hope the boss isn’t rearing back one of its one-hit KO attacks.
There are a decent amount of weapons and armor in the game, and a good variety of type, although there’s definitely room for more. There are few “basic” type weapons: for example, there are only a handful of Large Swords you’ll find in the game just lying around. However, there are an even larger number of Valuable Weapons that you can get through special circumstances or some extensive adventuring. All weapons can be upgraded, and all equipment contains a durability value.
You will use the shoulder buttons to perform all of your combat actions except sprint and dodge, which is controlled by Circle. R1 performs a weak attack while R2 performs a strong. You can perform simple combos using these two buttons, and even extensive ones if you dual-wield weapons. Shields are generally held in the left hand; they serve two purposes and come in two sizes: small and large. Small shields are effective for parrying. If you manage to parry an enemy’s attack, you can quickly press the R1 button to perform a riposte, or a counterattack, which is a cinematic-type action where you will stab the enemy forcefully with your weapon, dealing a large amount of damage. Large shields are unable to parry, but they can shield bash, which is capable of knocking enemies away and especially effective if you want to have some fun and push enemies over edges. Both parrying and shield bashing are performed with the L2 button, while normal blocking is performed by holding down L1.
Ranged attacks come in two forms as well: either with a bow or crossbow, or magic. Like equipment limitations, anyone can use a bow and anyone can cast magic so long as they have the appropriate stats to equip that bow or use that spell. Ranged players may find their game substantially easier than those who fight toe-to-toe, considering that you will be out of harm’s way from most of the game’s most devastating foes. Magic-users especially are capable of learning some devastating spells late in the game, and with a large MP pool and MP-regen equipment, can virtually cast without concern.
The variety of spells is fairly limited, however; offensive-magic users (Spells) have a large variety of fire-and-arcane based attacks, with some minor weapon enchanting and debuffing/debilitating spells, but that’s it. Users of light-based magic (Miracles) have the standard healing and restoration spells, with some minor perks. The “Evacuate” miracle proves valuable, which allows the user to instantly return to the Nexus -- the hub world -- from any point in the game. As well, the ability “God’s Wrath” is one of the most effective offensive magic attacks in the game, and the only offensive miracle.
You won’t be able to learn every single spell in one game, however, which is fine considering there is an unlimited amount of New Game+ files you can run, with the difficulty more than doubling in the first one and then increasing exponentially by about 8% every subsequent New Game+ after that until capping out at about the 8th one. Players are encouraged to go through the game multiple times to maximize their player’s potential, and to explore all the world has to offer.
Let strength be granted…
Players begin at the creation of their character with some quite extensive options, but don’t expect your fighter to look like a model. You pick a class during the process, but the class has no bearing on how you play the game in the long-run. It only determines your starting equipment and stats. You will have total control of your leveling process throughout your adventure, meaning you can start as a Knight-class but end up being a Magic-user if that proves your fancy. The game is literally an open book waiting to be written. You accrue souls every time you defeat an enemy in the game, and the souls are used for everything: upgrading your stats, buying items, buying equipment or spells, repairing, and upgrading. With this strict mechanic, players are urged to budget what they spend the souls on.
This provides very tense gameplay when you take into account that if you die, all souls are lost -- momentarily. If you can manage to return to the spot you died and interact with the bloodstain you left, you will regain all of your souls; however, if you die in the process of returning to your bloodstain, you will lose ALL of those souls for good. Couple this with the fact that the enemies respawn every time you die and it makes for some very frustrating times. But all the while, the game still manages to blend that seemingly-frustrating difficulty and make it more fun than anything else. Most of the time, if you die, it’s because of your own fault. Were you being too reckless and forgot to dodge? Were you not aware of your surroundings? The game rewards strategic playing, but punishes carelessness. Enemies are challenging, but not cheap. There is always a strategy to be formed in combat. Amplify this twofold when fighting bosses and you’ve got arguably one of the hardest games of the decade.
The game is entirely based in real-time, meaning there is no pausing the action, no resetting or reloading if you mess up. The game saves automatically after virtually every action you make: whether you pick up an item, enter a room, purchase something, kill someone, it saves. This has led to some… accidents within the community, considering the friendly NPCs within the Nexus can be attacked, and if you accidentally hit one of those shoulder buttons on the controller and attack them, there’s no going back.
The game is split into five worlds, all accessible via an arch stone within the Nexus, and each world has anywhere from three to five separate sections within, through which you must adventure and defeat the Major Demon blocking the entrance to the next section. At the final area of every stage is an Archdemon, the primary boss of that level. For every Major or Archdemon you kill, you are awarded their soul, which can serve one of several functions: first of all, you can consume that soul, which will then award the player a large sum of basic souls, used for purchasing and leveling. That, however, is not recommended, at least not during the very first time through the game. The other options for these souls is to trade them in, either to the Blacksmith who will then use them and a basic weapon to forge a more powerful one, or to the spell/miracle vendors to learn some of the game’s most powerful magic. The choice is entirely up to you. You may be playing as a melee fighter, so you might think you’ll have no use for that powerful spell or miracle; but in the long run, it may prove useful, especially in the second or third New Game+.
There is no selling of merchandise; what you find in the game, you can either drop in the world (which is not recommended, because anything you drop on the ground and then leave for another world will be lost forever), or the more player-friendly option, use Stockpile Thomas, an NPC in the Nexus who will hold anything you give him with no carrying limit. You’ll likely gather enough of the same type of basic shield or sword to outfit an entire army, but there’s no penalty -- and simply no reason not to leave it in storage. Because you’re limited to the amount of product you can have both in your inventory and physically on your character, it’s recommended you store stuff as often as possible. There are rings you can get that will increase both your Equip Burden and Item Burden, but if you can manage to maintain a low-Weight value without them, it’s definitely the better way to go, considering there are much more valuable rings to wear.
So the world might be mended…
Perhaps the game’s biggest draw, however, is its innovative online multiplayer. I should preface this by saying that any time you die, in addition to the loss of souls and starting from the beginning of the section again, you will return to your “phantom state,” which specifically influences your maximum HP. It’ll be reduced to half of the total amount (if you have a special ring, it’ll only be 75%). Any time you beat a Major or Archdemon, you will regain your physical self and your HP will return to normal. However, once you defeat a boss, it is gone forever from your world. You can always return to that level and fight the enemies, but never the boss. So how is one to regain their physical self without a boss? Co-op. Players can summon any who lay down the “Blue Eye Stone,” only possible in phantom form. You will still be able to fight the bosses again as long as it’s alive in the world you’re being summoned into. Upon killing the boss, the phantom will regain his or her physical self, as well as a portion of the souls earned, and return to his or her own world. Players will then be able to rate each other on a scale from D through A, with S being the highest. Depending on the grade given, they will be rewarded an extra sum of souls. A maximum of three-players total can cooperate together in any world.
But here’s where it gets tricky. There is no voice chat, nor is there an easy means of text communication. There is only a handful of simple emote commands. So playing cooperatively with others may take some getting used to, but it also requires those playing to be aware of their partner or partners’ moves so that they can feed off of them. In addition to playing cooperatively, players, once they receive the “Black Eye Stone,” can use this to invade another player’s world of similar level and fight against them in PvP (player-versus-player). The victor will be awarded all of the souls possessed by the loser. Should the invading player (known as a Black Phantom) kill the host player, he or she will also regain his or her physical self.
The online features don’t stop there, however: any player can leave messages on the ground, selected from a large variety of preset terms and hints, that any other player connected to the Playsation Network can then read, and if they find them helpful, recommend them to others. Recommended messages remain for an extended period of time, while those not recommended (perhaps those that give false information or try to trick the player) will disappear rather quickly, weeding out the good from the bad.
And finally, while playing online, you will encounter various bloodstains across the world. Interacting with these bloodstains will replay the last moments of another player’s life, showing you exactly how they died and perhaps warning you of an ambush around a corner or a hidden cliff ahead. All of these features play nicely into each other and never once do they make what is a difficult game feel easy. Despite the ability to warn others of danger ahead, there is far too much peril in the game to escape it indefinitely.
Demon’s Souls boasts some incredible voice acting, it’s just a shame almost all of it is heard only within the Nexus. For a dark, grim, atmospheric game, there is quite a lot of ambient silence throughout. Music is only limited to boss fights, so you’ll be spending a majority of gameplay just listening to the sounds of the world around you, which helps immerse you in the tension, but might become a bit too quiet in certain moments. The sound effects are exceptional, and likewise the game looks gorgeous. It depicts the medieval dark fantasy world perfectly, complete with dragons, magic, and of course, demons. Slight clipping issues and terrain bugs are present here and there, but nothing that will in anyway detract from the overall presentation of the game. The world is vast and beautiful, and just waiting to be explored.
Demon’s Souls is relentlessly difficult, brutal, and unforgiving. It’s also one of the best games this generation. I would not be shocked to see this game take many awards and surprise many unbeknownst gamers across the world.
Pros: Defensive-based combat requires thought before action; incredible freedom of character development; endless replay value; gorgeous visuals and a befitting atmosphere; extremely challenging, but never cheap.
Cons: No voice chat in online co-op; story is almost nonexistent; will consume your own soul.
Simply put, Demon’s Souls is a console-defining masterpiece. Exclusive to the PS3, this is the game to purchase if you’re a fan of a challenging but rewarding experience that will far outlast its competition.
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: From Software
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: October 6, 2009
Review Date: 26-01-2010
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: 2-4
While visually moody and with enough atmosphere to spare, Demon’s Souls’ dark grittiness and rough edges may not appeal to everyone.
Precise and intuitive combat makes Demon’s Souls a refreshing challenge that requires the player to take full control of his or her fighter.
Short on story but rich with lore, it’s quite clear From Software set out to make a wholly unique experience from top to bottom with innovative online, widely varied lands to explore, and a welcoming sense of dread.
While the game lacks a large soundtrack, and most of the time will be spent listening to the ambiance of each individual world, the music it does contain is unsettling and appropriate, and the overbearing silence only adds to the feelings of paranoia.
Limitless New Game+ cycles with increased difficulty up to a certain point, unique online mechanics, and plenty of ways to build a character will easily lend itself to over 100 hours of painful but exhilarating gameplay.