Games these days all have a few fatal flaws, in my opinion- and that’s to be expecting, seeing as how nearly everything on the market is just a clone of another game anymore. Games also have a tendency to be easy, with the exception of their ‘Hard, Extreme, Impossible’ Modes. Thing is, those modes don’t really offer a challenge. All they ever do is give the enemy more health or make them dole out more damage. In the midst of this sea of mediocrity, came Demon’s Souls, a game that was imported to a ridiculous degree from Japan, and was only recently truly released here in North America. The game was a true breath of fresh air, and I’ve been meaning to review it for a very long time.
Story: A long time ago, a King and his people fought against Demons, and used their souls for power. Unfortunately, mixing demons with humans tends to lead to bad things, and so the world of Boletaria fell into darkness. Many people venture into Boletaria hoping to set things right- none returned. And that’s where you come in! You’re hoping to be the first to make it back from this hellhole. But, you won’t, if the enemies in Demon’s Souls have anything to say about it. Truth be told, the story’s not that important, and you’re never really given too much to go on beyond that little intro, and I don’t think I even have that quite 100% right. But, for most dungeon crawlers, the story really isn’t the biggest priority, and Demon’s Souls is no exception to that rule. Story takes a definite backseat to gameplay in this game, and, personally, I think that’s the way it should be. A video game needs only a barebones story that allows you time for truly great gameplay to be great in my opinion, and that’s exactly what Demon’s Souls gives you.
Presentation: The world of Boletaria is downright beautiful, in a haunting, chilling sort of way. Every level has a definite theme to it- a ruined castle, a prison, a dark, haunted tower, a swamp, an underground mining complex… Those are all environments I’ve experienced, and I haven’t even been everywhere yet. No two levels in the game feel exactly the same, but they all have a sort of eerie beauty to them. While this game may not look quite as realistic as Uncharted, it certainly feels more realistic, even when fighting the oddest, most supernatural enemies out there. The sounds in the game are nothing short of spectacular, but what’s interesting is that there’s not much in the way of background music. During boss fights you might run into some, and while in the Nexus there’s a soft tune occasionally playing, fading in and out of audible levels. Despite the fact that the mouths of the characters do not move, the voicework in the game is amazing- from the cocky mage talking down to you to the halting, nervous, damaged speech of the Maiden in Black, the game never stops trying to immerse you into the world of Boletaria. This is a single player game at it’s core, and the game does a great job of making you feel isolated and alone in maps, with the exception of the numerous things that are trying to kill you.
Gameplay: I’m not going to say that Demon’s Souls has perfect gameplay or controls- most notably, the camera has a tendency to not even try to put itself in an even remotely helpful position, which leads to a lot of shifting your thumb from a face button to the analog in a frantic attempt to reorient the camera before you get nailed by a fireball, trap, or simply an enemy sword. But, other than that- Demon’s Souls has no control issues. The targeting system can be awkward, but only if you let it be. If you use it while fighting a group of enemies, it forces you to try and control the pace of the battle because you’ll have to be switching back and forth between enemies, and if they have you surrounded and are controlling the pace, you’ll find yourself getting hit from behind fairly often. However, it is doable, if you fight aggressively, but that’s often not recommended, because the enemies in this game WILL kill you if you aren’t paying attention or are playing poorly. You need to keep yourself defended at all times, or suffer the consequences. Personally, I found that the targeting system is only really useful for either aiming a magic attack or ranged weapon, or when you’re fighting one on one, because strafing is pretty useful in those occasions, and being able to roll to the side can mean the difference between life and death. As for the controls, they work well, and while it might be a bit odd at first, you’ll tend to find yourself getting used to it over time. Dual-wielding weapons is always fun, but it does present a challenge that is oddly unique to Demon’s Souls- it makes the game much harder. If you’re not being VERY aggressive when fighting with two weapons, you’ll find that you’re going to get hit and die. A LOT. So a shield is generally recommended, because it will probably save your life. Deaths happen often in this game, but not even once have I ever felt like I died unfairly- if you die, it’s because you screwed up. Either you ran across a beam too quickly and fell to your death, you ran through a door without being careful and got stabbed in the back, you turned your back to something trying to kill you and let it axe you in the back, or you simply weren’t paying attention to the environment and got hit by a trap. The game is hard and unforgiving, but it isn’t unfair, no matter what others may think. There is a catch though- when you die, you return as a ghost. Your collected Souls (The currency and experience points of the game) will be left in a bloodstain where you died. You now have to fight your way back through the level to reach your bloodstain and reclaim your souls, and if you die again, those souls are lost. That’s the very definition of unforgiving, but it’s for a very good reason. The game expects you to learn from your deaths, either because there’s a trap there to look out for, or the strategy you used for fighting an enemy didn’t work, you NEED to be able to learn from your deaths, because if you don’t, there is no hope for you in this game.
Special: I’ll talk about the multiplayer here. Multiplayer isn’t what you might expect if you’re used to playing games like Borderlands or Call of Duty. There’s no invite system, no lobby, no way of even communicating with your teammates beyond gestures. Without all of those things, the only way to find a person to play with is for them to leave a sigil down in their world, which will appear in the worlds of other living players. The living player then runs up to the sigil, hits ‘X’, and you are pulled into their world till you either die or your group beats the boss of the level, at which point you are restored to life in your own world. Some may complain, but this is a truly genius implementation of multiplayer. I like the idea of having my immersion in a videogame go uninterrupted, and simply having ghosts for teammates is conducive to that goal. It gives you an odd sense of pride when you see that you have helped someone who was struggling with a boss, and that’s something that I love. The anonymity of the game is a beautiful thing in and of itself, and it’s something I wouldn’t want any other way. In any other game, you’ll be treated to large servings of profanity and rudeness when you’re just trying to help someone, in Demon’s Souls, you can only help them with no complaints, and a feeling that they’re grateful to you for your aid. There are other ways that the multiplayer kicks in in Demon’s Souls, too, though. For example, you’ll occasionally see white ghosts running around, which is another person, LIVE, in their own world. You are seeing what someone else is doing, as they do it, which can give you a hint as to what you might be up against shortly. They also leave behind bloodstains when they die, so if you touch another player’s bloodstain, you see the last ten or so seconds before they died, which, again, can also give you a great warning as to what to expect around the next corner. Then there are the Black Phantoms- invaders to your world. Another player (generally a douchebag) will use a Black Eye Stone to invade another player’s world and attempt to kill you and any Blue Spirits (other players who are helping you) you might have. If they kill the living player, they get their own life back in their world. This is an interesting dynamic, and one that I found makes a level very tense- you can either go back and try to fight them, or beat them to the end of the level so that you can kill the boss before the Black Phantom catches you and stabs you in the face. And finally, there’s a system in place which allows players to leave messages for other players, simple messages constructed from a list of phrases provided by the developers, which can be a warning, or advice on how to fight the enemies ahead. I could go on and on about this game, but at three pages, there’s not too much else to say.
Conclusion: Demon’s Souls is, in my opinion, the greatest game I have EVER played, and I have absolutely fallen in love with it. If you can approach the game like something different than just another hack-and-slash, and think strategically on your feet and appreciate the fact that deaths aren’t the game’s fault, they are YOURS and YOURS alone, than this game might be for you. It’s a hard game, and it will never hold your hand like so many other games will, and the enemies in this game will chew you up, spit you out, and shit all over the idea that you will EVER be capable of saving Boletaria.But if you can appreciate all that, this is the perfect game for you. I know I’ve enjoyed it, and found it to be a more rewarding experience than any game before it, and I hope that this becomes a franchise, because I simply cannot get enough of this masterpiece of a game.
Demon’s Souls is a Editor’s Choice Platinum out of 5
By: Alex Rowe