Demon’s Souls (PlayStation 3)

This doesn't even begin to describe the difficulty of this game.

Demon’s Souls was an RPG released for the PlayStation 3 back in 2009 and was Gamespot’s 2009 Game of the Year. The basic story is that a plague of demons have descended upon Boletaria, consuming all the inhabitants’ souls. It is up to you, a lone wandering warrior, to vanquish the evil.

Unlike most modern RPGs, Demon’s Souls doesn’t have much in the way of plot; it focuses on very pure dungeon crawling action. The only game I played that is less forgiving than Demon’s Souls is Final Fantasy Tactics.

There is something that is to be said when the boss at the end of the tutorial kills you with one hit. Yes, Demon’s Souls is a game where you will die. A lot. There are 5 separate dungeons connected by the central hub, the Nexus, and after you defeat the first boss in the first world, you may go about completing them in the order that you want.

You will most likely spend the first 4 or 5 hours in the game just trying to even make it to the first boss fight. In order to play Demon’s Souls, you need a lot of patience and be able to put up with a lot of frustration. The gameplay almost entirely revolves around getting past a certain point and dying. However, each time you die, you learn something about the level, so you know to avoid it the next time you get to the point at which you met your unfortunate end.

As if the enemies and environmental hazards of the dungeons weren’t bad enough, bosses mark the end of segments. Many of these bosses are extremely challenging. However, getting to and defeating a boss will inevitably leave you with an immense sense of satisfaction, and that is what Demon’s Souls is all about.

Demon’s Souls character building system is different from more traditional RPGs. You customize your person’s appearance and start with an initial class of your choosing. Every time you waste an enemy, you collect souls. Souls double as experience points and as currency. In essence, when you go to the Maiden in Black to level up, you are actually buying your stat increases as you would with conventional items with the other merchants in the game. What is something that admittedly would have alleviated some of the frustration is the ability to sell your loot in exchange for souls.

If you picked up extra stuff that is simply eating up your maximum weight capacity, you simply either drop the item right then and there, or return to the Nexus and give it to Stockpile Thomas, a guy who literally spends the entire game keeping an eye on your junk until you come back and decide you need it again.

It is also the souls that contribute to the frustration of dying. Whenever you die, you lose all the souls that you collected thus far, but you create a bloodstain where you died. If you can make it back to your bloodstain, you can retrieve all your lost souls. However, when you respawn after you died, all the enemies do the same, so you actually have to fight through them all over again in order to make it back to your bloodstain. Very frequently, you will find yourself just going to a certain point in the level, deciding you have enough souls, and hightailing it back to the Nexus to buff your character up so you can go further the next time.

Demon’s Souls has a good presentation overall. You can tell that developer Atlus was more interested in building the atmosphere more than anything else. While the bosses are highly detailed and move extremely well, a lot of the “grunt” type enemies have had detail sacrificed for the sake of the level. Also, you will notice how the lips of NPCs don’t move when they speak to you. I definitely applaud Demon’s Souls on its level design.

The sound is also good. Enemies all give their audio cues, so it’s wise to keep your ears as well as your eyes open when advancing through a level. Also, the voiceacting in the American version of the game is definitely good. From the contemptuous blacksmiths to the grave Maiden in Black, you will believe them when they tell you something.

Control is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Demon’s Souls offers very precise combat. In fights, you can rarely blame your controls if something does go wrong as everything responds very precisely. Of course, you need strategy as wildly swinging a sword will simply lead to yet another death. What I do not like is the camera. It gets problematic in certain areas when you are locked onto enemies and move around to avoid attacks only to fall into a chasm; the falling death in Demon’s Souls is about as heartbreaking as it gets, but it happens because you find you can’t always see what you are standing on. Falling deaths also lead to extreme cautiousness as many of the environments are very dark, and your lantern has a very small lighting radius. After a couple bottomless pit-type demises, you will find yourself slowly moving and spot checking the floor in front of you before going further.

Demon’s Souls is definitely about as hardcore as RPGs get. While it would be a rewarding experience to more serious gamers, it definitely will be nothing but frustration to the more casual player. There are times where you think Demon’s Souls sincerely wants you to hate it, but the best way to think of advancing is putting up with a semester of engineering classes and defeating exams at the end of each term. Yes, the classes are difficult, but you do wind up with a sense of satisfaction at the end.

Score: 3/4