Demon's Souls Review
Brutally challenging and utterly engrossing, this innovative role-playing game is one of the year's best.
- Amazing, unique online features
- Dark, beautiful level design that draws you in
- Fantastic creature design and animations
- Intense, methodical combat mechanics
- Unique world structure.
- Extremely difficult
- Some presentation issues.
The Kingdom of Boletaria is an unforgiving place. Entering it means embracing a seemingly endless cycle of death and resurrection as you slowly tread through sullen swamps, scavenge dark caverns, and sneak between looming castle walls. It's dark and dreary, as if the residents of hell have plunged a dagger into the very idea of happiness and left its lifeless form to wither away. Developer From Software's action role-playing game Demon's Souls houses this kingdom, and you should not expect the game to welcome you as an old friend and willingly share its deepest secrets. This is an uncompromising RPG of the highest order--and a brilliant, atmospheric, and visionary one. It is at once old-fashioned and innovative, a stubbornly difficult dungeon crawler loaded with wholly unique mechanics. Perhaps the game's greatest triumph, however, is that it takes qualities normally associated with frustration and discomfort--constant trial and error, slow progression, harsh enemies--and makes them virtues. It may have an unusual and unforgiving set of rules, but it stays true to them and, in the process, draws you in like few RPGs can. Demon's Souls is a stark and sulky beauty and is one of the finest games of 2009.
Demon's Souls' uncanny ability to ensnare you in its web starts with its five gloomy, meticulously crafted worlds. It takes some of the usual elements of dark medieval fantasy--roaring dragons, demon knights clad in well-worn armor, crumbling stone castles--and then molds them into a cohesive and enthralling universe. Every element is in exactly the right place, from soaring demons that look like manta rays to rows of fiends using their pickaxes to unearth unspecified valuables. Each world feels and looks authentic, as does the hub world (called the Nexus) from which you access them. There isn't much narrative to speak of, just some basic but intriguing backstory regarding the giant beast called the Old One and the demons infesting the kingdom. But you'll barely notice how thin the story strands are, for the kingdom itself weaves a story of its own as you slowly investigate its nooks and crannies, and the characters you encounter seem totally within their element. When you kneel before the Maiden in Black and she prays in her halting, affected speech, you believe in her conviction. When Blacksmith Boldwin sneers at you that he needs your business, you hear the contempt in his voice. Their lips don't move when they speak, but it hardly matters: these world-weary people, and the frightening realm they inhabit, are immediately believable.
The game doesn't just look and feel unforgiving--it plays that way too. You may tackle any of its five main regions at any time, but that doesn't mean you will easily slice your way through each one. If the first few minutes of the tutorial don't betray the challenges in store for you, the same level's gargantuan end boss certainly will. You are meant to die, and you are meant to die often. When you do, you return to the archstone at the beginning of the area and do it all again. When you are resurrected, you get to keep most of what you had on your person--your weapons, your armor, your healing grasses, and so on. However, you lose the most precious commodity you possess: collected souls. Souls are the game's currency, and the primary way of accumulating them is to kill demons. You can't sell looted weapons that you don't need, nor can you put souls in the bank for use later. You can hold onto them, spend them on important items like spice (which replenishes your magical energy), or use them to improve your core attributes (such as endurance, strength, and so on).
Should you die on your travels, the souls you've amassed aren't necessarily gone for good, however. You can return to the location of your death and touch the bloodstain you left behind, which returns the lost souls to you. Be careful, though: if you die on your way to your bloodstain, it will disappate and be gone forever, along with all your hard-won souls. The whole thing may sound incredibly harsh, and on the surface, it is. You'll cautiously traverse the same hallways and stairwells to find your bloodstain, only to have a lamp-carrying demon shock you with electricity, lift you into the air with the tentacles growing from its face, and take half of your health away with one fateful stab. The constant specter of death means you should plan how you want to spend your souls in advance. Once you get enough, you'll want to hightail it back to the Nexus and improve an attribute, upgrade your weapon, or repair your armor. Eventually, you'll make a breakthrough, and enemies that seemed so dastardly the last time will be mere speedbumps the next. Yet even when you accumulate thousands upon thousands of valuable souls, and you know that the sensible thing to do is to return to the closest archstone and teleport back to the Nexus, your curiosity may push you onward. There always seems to be a terrific surprise lurking around the bend, in the way of awesome new enemies (a giant blob made up of flailing corpses), amazing environments (the thin suspended walkways hanging over Latria's murky swamp), and precious loot (stones used to upgrade your crossbow).
The monsters may be tough, but the game grants you the flexibility you need to take them on as you see fit. You'll create your character using Demon's Souls' robust customization options and select a class when you first begin, but you aren't stuck with one particular play style. As long as you meet the necessary statistical requirements and own the requisite item (a talisman for casting miracles, for example), you can use any weapon, any armor, and any magic you please. It's a good thing, too, for certain circumstances may dictate that you follow an unplanned path. Perhaps you had no intention of using magic, but a simple soul arrow spell can come in mighty handy when you're dealing with flaming bugs fluttering about in the sky. You may plan to pour all your souls into your strength attribute, only to realize that leveling up endurance is the better idea, because you'll be able to absorb more damage with your shield before losing health.
What makes extreme difficulty and incessant trial and error such wonderful qualities in Demon's Souls, when they are so loathsome in other games? It starts with the deliberate and wonderful combat, which doesn't seem complex at first, but reveals its subtleties in time. Rarely will mindlessly hacking and slashing get you anywhere, unless death is your ultimate goal. You need to contemplate every move, swing only when you are sure you won't be countered, and switch weapons or use items only when you are sure your window of opportunity is wide enough. You'll encounter all sorts of awesome and unnatural beasts, from tumbling skeletal fiends to frightful three-faced larvae, and while they have a set number of attacks, they still behave unpredictably. You will undoubtedly take a lot of damage until you learn the subtleties of fighting each enemy, but combat feels just right. You move with the right amount of weight, combos take time to pull off, and animations are silky smooth. Everything moves and interacts in the way you'd expect. If your sword hits the wall instead of the enemy, it will glance off. If a demon knight rears back just before you do the same, his sword will make contact at the part of your body that you left unprotected. These touches may seem small and unimportant, but when every second counts, and when life and death are separated by a millimeter or two, you rely on such consistency.
The challenging combat is enhanced by a number of innovative online features that invite players to interact with each other. To survive, you not only need to pay careful attention to your environs, but you must be mindful of the clues other players have left for you, both purposeful and accidental. The game's online integration is nothing like you've ever seen, and it's a core component of the Demon's Souls experience. The signs and indications of other players are everywhere. You'll see translucent white ghosts roaming your world, moving about and swinging their weapons, though you can't directly interact with them. These spirits are actually other players. They are fighting the same enemies and sprinting across the same bridges, but they inhabit their own worlds, not yours. You see only their apparitions, but those apparitions may be enough to clue you in to a surprise ambush up ahead or a bit of hidden loot around the corner.
This review and the news of Wrath of the White Witch pushed me over the edge to get a PS3. I bought Dark Souls for the 360 earlier. Just last week I picked this up, and damn, it may be old, but it is still amazing. Stunning graphics, superb combat, addictive leveling and addictive exploration. This, like Dark Souls, is fun incarnate.
Anybody who puts extremely difficult as a bad thing in my book is a questionable gamer. I thought it was just a hack and slash at first so I almost didn't buy it. That would've been the worst decision I ever made. Think Dragon's Lair but as a 3rd person game. Take the cutscenes away and replace them with the most hardcore enemies you will ever fight! I can imagine this being one of the rare games of this generation with a good replayability 20 years from now.
@Dnaisinmybody Holy s**t! Dragon's Lair, is exactly what I think when I play this AND Dark Souls. On top of every thing else awesome about this game, the complex and intricate level and enemy designs (and variety of them) make this game a work of art. I'm still floored at how many different, intricately detailed creature designs are in this game.
@RAMDAS_666 Dark Souls, PC The Spiritual successor of Demon's soul. Apparently it's just as awesome. I'm going to finish this one before :p. Try Dragon's lair if you like difficult, it's extremely old but at least give it a look on Youtube. I can't explain why but both games have major similarities.
@Dnaisinmybody Sure bro, will do that. Peace
How can the difficulty be a "Bad" thing when the reviewer praises the game and centers it around the difficulty? You're gonna die, no spoilers there. The game is challenging, no surprise either. The only knock I would give it is its lacking a quality story but that's okay because the game is fun.
I almost agree with manhunted. I think this and dark souls, but mainly this are the best games since... well, EVER!!! And not just PS3 games, or even video games... GAMES. No song, movie, book, game or other entertainment diversions of recreation has the fulfillment and purity of perfection and totality like Demon's Souls. Like Citizen Kane, Hamlet, Beethoven... There is Demon's Souls, the greatest achievement in video gaming history. Dark Souls isn't as perfectly constructed and has it's setbacks, but still buries virtually all else.
@shadgrindk I actually just started to play Demons Souls again and yeah...when you stop playing after a long time it shows. I still come back because this is the most fun I had in a game in a long time. Still haven't beat it yet but maybe someday haha.