Review: Demon’s Souls
Demon's Souls is an exciting title from From Software that aims to provide PS3 gamers with a true hardcore JRPG to test their mettle and mental endurance. Has it achieved that?
- Worth The Time?Yes, unquestionably.
- Things LovedThe huge depth of the game, the challenge involved, online co-op, the excellent system where single player is blended with online, the awesome boss battles.
- Things HatedDying cheaply as it's frustrating as hell, the clunky camera, the lack of voice chat, the fact that the framerate can stutter when too much happens on screen.
- RecommendationIf you're an RPG veteran, Demon's Souls is worth every cent out of your pocket. If you're inexperienced at RPGs, it would be in your best interest to spend some time seeking help and looking at guides, otherwise you're going to suffer. The game also requires lots of time out of you, so if you're short on that, it might not be the best option.
- Name: Demon's Souls
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online Co-Op (Up to 3 players)
- Platforms: PS3 Exclusive
- Developer: From Software, SCE Japan Studio
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment (JP), Atlus (NA), Namco Bandai (EU)
- Price: R546-599
- Reviewed On: PS3
I’ve heard so much about Demon’s Souls since last year when all the hype was in full flare. Unfortunately, we on this side of the world got the short straw, and only received this game just a few weeks ago. To compensate for the delay, all PAL versions of the game provide purchasers with a free soundtrack CD, a hardcover artbook and, best of all, a full on strategy guide, which is damn useful if you’re new to this game. Finally, I got to see what all the excitement was about, and after devoting a large amount of my time to Demon’s Souls, I can confidently say that the hype was not exaggerated. Not in the least. This game is every bit as awesome as you’ve been made to believe. In fact, writing this review is really difficult, because there’s so much to say about Demon’s Souls that the best thing I can tell you is to just jump off of your seat and get your hands on this game. Even if you’re just going to borrow or rent it, you owe it to yourself to, at the very least, play it and see what’s cracking. Its initial hectic difficulty level, merciless treatment for newbies and old school style might put off the casual side of gamers, but give it a chance because, if you allow it to, Demon’s Souls will suck you in. And, once you get the hang of it, it’s brilliant.
You can see the Japanese at work from the moment you put the game disc into your PS3. The premise of the game is relatively simple, and the story doesn’t really play a big part in the grand scheme of things. Basically, at the beginning of the game you’re made to pick your class, of which there really is a wide variety to select from, choose your name and customise your appearance. Once you’re done with all of that, you jump into the prologue level of the game which is more or less a short tutorial. After running through the level, you’re rewarded by getting killed off by a gigantic demon and then sent to a special place called the Nexus, as a Ghost, after being revived by some strange witch lady. Then, you’re told that you need to start killing demons and away you go with that. It’s simple, it works and it provides a solid background for why you’re the new demon slayer in town. After all, what more could you want than to put down a monster the size of a building and steal its soul?
The interesting thing about Demon’s Souls is that your starting class, contrary to what you’d expect, does not make a massive difference in the bigger picture. The only real differences it makes are with your starting stats, soul level, abilities and equipment. Soul level is basically your rank, and as you increase your stats, your soul level goes up, but stats become more expensive to buy the higher your soul level. You must be thinking right now, “what the hell, those are huge!”, but the reality is that while you play, and as you get further in the game, you can end up dramatically different to how you started. It’s all about what weapon and equipment builds you pursue, which stats you upgrade, which spells and miracles you buy and, basically, how you play. The game revolves a lot around ‘souls’, which is the currency in the game, and is acquired from killing enemies and bosses and using certain items and such. Souls are used to purchase stat upgrades, weapons and equipment, spells and miracles.
Here’s where things get challenging, though. You can’t sell any of your items for souls, anywhere in the game, so you either have to deposit what you don’t need at the Nexus, which is the home base and only safe place, or drop them – to prevent you from becoming overburdened, of course. Furthermore, dying, at any time, loses you every single soul you own. You are able to run back to where you died and collect all your souls again from your body, but all of the enemies you killed will be revived and out to get you once more. Even worse is that, if you die, you lose your “Whole” body form, and become a Ghost once again, which means your maximum health is cut, but you deal more damage. If you can’t make it back to your body and regain your souls, because you die a second time, tough, all of your souls are gone, and a new body overwrites the old one. You will die a painful amount of times, but each death will teach you where you went wrong. It’s an often frustrating, but truly rewarding ride.
For any of the following to make sense, the gameplay has to be explained. Basically, Demon’s Souls is a third person game that is played in real-time. There is just so much depth to the gameplay that getting to see everything will take you a hell of a long time, although it gets easier and quicker as you get better at the game, which is really great as it goes to show that the game can handle player skill progression simultaneously with game difficulty progression. There are loads of weapons to use, like swords, lances, large shields, shields, maces, longbows and crossbows – and all have their own fighting styles, animations and combat techniques. Furthermore, there are many choices, as you can wield your weapons in two hands, which changes combat even more, or perhaps use a shield in one hand and a sword in the other, which allows you then to parry and counter attacks, or use a large shield and a lance for a more defensive style of play – the possibilities are immensely varied. Then you throw in magic spells and miracles, which are basically spells like heal and cure poison, and you’ve got even more diversity and strategy in combat.
You’ll need to mix standard attacks, heavy attacks, dodges, blocks as well as learn your enemies’ movements and attack patterns in order to come out victorious. It really is essential, because every single enemy in the game is a threat upon first encounter, especially early in the game, and they all fight differently and make your life hell in different ways. See, Demon’s Souls laughs in the face of all those who are used to constantly quick saving or reloading their save games when things go wrong. You can’t do that in Demon’s Souls. Why? Because the game is permanently online, finding a perfect blend between a single player experience and an online experience. What I mean is that while playing you’ll always be connected to PSN, unless the servers are down or you choose not to of course, and the game autosaves constantly. It’s basically a case of you hopping in and out of your game. What this means is that, no matter what, you’ll just have to play on. What’s more is that you can’t pause your game at all. Things are always moving unless you quit. So if you access the start menu to change your equipment and such, enemies can still attack you, and you’ll only be able to move around until you close the start menu again.
It’s a dangerous game. There are no do-overs or second chances. Kill a merchant you wish you didn’t? Too bad, he’s gone forever. Lose all of your hard earned souls in a really crap way? Tough, you can’t reload your save. Demon’s Souls doesn’t take nonsense and screwing around lightly. To make things even more daunting, your weapons and equipment can even break, heavily reducing their efficiency in combat, meaning you’ll have to go get them repaired for a price. Luckily, there are multiple saves per profile, so you do have room to start over, which you most likely will want to after your first play-through, once you’ve learned a lot more about the game and have become experienced at it, so that you can play better, try different things and correct past mistakes.
Being connected with the online community, even while playing your own single player game, makes things so much more interesting. Firstly, you’ll see these white, ghost-like images of other players running around, that serve as reminders that you’re not alone in the world, and you can join other players’ worlds if you so choose. Also, if a player dies, they will leave behind a ‘bloodstain’ on the ground, where if you interact with it, you’ll be able to see a real-time viewing of their last few moments alive and how they died, so that can help you not to make the same mistakes. Even more awesome, is that all players can leave behind pre-written messages on the ground, either to be helpful, for example warning you of traps, ambushes, items and such ahead or advising you on how to proceed, or to be evil, for instance by leaving fake messages, like telling you to jump off of a cliff, making you think it’s for an item, where, in reality, if you jump off you’ll die. Fortunately, there’s a rating system for messages, and players can recommend messages to improve their authenticity. However, the reverse works too, and players can recommend fake messages out of spite. Fundamentally, you will always be alone in your world unless you choose to get into another players’ world, for co-op, which caters for up to three players, or if another player invades your world, looking to put an end to your life. I’ll explain these two functions now.
Going back to death, and Whole and Ghost forms, to make your life even more miserable, there aren’t a great deal of ways to revive if you die. If you want your Whole form and all of your health back, you will need to either use a very rare item, kill a boss, which gets progressively harder, team up with other players to kill a boss in their world, as a Blue Phantom, or invade another player’s world as a Black Phantom and kill them. See, you are only able to interact with other players once you kill the first boss and get your hands on the various Stones. You can only use the Blue stone if you’re dead, and this is basically a seal you place on the ground so that other players can summon you to their worlds to team up. The idea here is to co-op kill a boss, with a player that is alive, as only alive players can summon Blue Phantoms, so that you, being a Ghost, can regain your body and get more souls – and at the same time help a player to kill a boss. With the Black Phantom business, you can invade other players’ worlds, or they can invade yours, and you can get into a duel, where the winner will come out stealing a soul level as well as regaining their body. But it’s all perfectly done, so that invading can only happen between players around similar soul levels, meaning a really strong player can’t pick on the weak and a weakling can’t get pinned against a pro.
This whole business of Black and Blue Phantoms also play an important role in which direction your game will go. There are two endings to the game, both a good and bad one, as you’d expect. Performing acts of evil, such as killing innocent NPC’s and such, or invading other players’ worlds to kill them, shifts your “tendency” and world to a more darker state. This naturally gears you towards the bad ending, but it also determines other gameplay factors, such as how strong certain enemies are. This means the game can get even harder depending on how you play it. Of course, there are ways to be good as well, and making those choices will gear your game towards the good ending. Overall, Demon’s Souls is a game that rewards the cautious and patient player, but allows the reckless one to get by if they know what they’re doing.
A lot of this might make you think: “Why on earth would I want to play such a complicated and difficult game?” Well, there are many reasons. The really difficult parts are mostly in the beginning or if you don’t know what’s going on, but once you become experienced at the game and get to know the ins and outs of it, you will truly begin to enjoy it so much more. Even better is that there is so much variety and depth here that you can play the game multiple times without getting bored. Not to mention that in the late-game, when you’re really strong, the game is also one hell of a ride, especially in moments when other players appear as Black Phantoms, which leads to an epic battle that will take lots of skill to get through. It’s great fun, and really tense. Another big reason is because Demon’s Souls is just so unique, despite it being old school. You can only really appreciate the awesomeness of the blend between single player, online and multiplayer, or truly feel what it’s like to take down a massive demon if you actually have the controller in your hands.
The game’s graphics are really good, with an enormous amount of praise directed at the design, setting and game world. Each and every level has its own unique feel, environment, enemies and design, and there are really a wide variety of awesome things to look at. The scale is also huge, referring especially to some of the gigantic enemies you’ll face, and it’s all fantastic on screen. Overall, the world is very large, and playing online will let you see a great amount of it. The game comes packed with realistic physics, for the many destructible objects in the environment, as well as rag doll physics. The cinematic cutscenes also deserve praise, as they’re all awesome eye candy. There are only really two technical flaws, with the first being that the framerate can take quite a fall if too much happens on screen at once, but luckily when it does stutter, it usually comes right quickly, within a few seconds. The second issue is with the camera, as it can be quite annoying sometimes, especially when flying enemies get involved with the target lock system.
With the game’s audio, the music is excellent all around and the soundtracks really fit the themes of the game nicely. With the sound effects, from the metallic clinging sounds of swords, to the burst of energy from magic spells, to the creepy screams of fallen enemies, Demon’s Souls does an awesome job in practically all areas. It is worth noting that the voice acting is very inconsistent, in that there are some pretty decent voice actors in the game, but there are also some that are downright sad, in a way that makes it humourous. It’s not game breaking and won’t cause you to have a cringe-and-feel-the-urge-to-mute-the-sound moment either.
Demon’s Souls is an outstanding title, as an action game, RPG and multiplayer experience. Written words aren’t going to do the depth of this game much justice, and the only real way to understand what From Software have created is if you’re staring it in the face with a controller in your hand. That being said, it would be in all PS3 gamers’ best interests to give this game a try and see what to make of it. Demon’s Souls is not only one of the best PS3 games around, but it’s also one of the most unique. I urge you to play it, and find out what Demon’s Souls is all about. It’s a game that shouldn’t be missed.