You need to be something of a saint to play Demon's Souls. Because you will die. You will die many, many times and you will want to throw your PlayStation 3 controller at the TV because of its relentless difficulty. For those who miss the 8-bit days of ultra-hard NES games, this RPG by From Software will truly test your patience in a manner not seen since the 1980s.
It starts off harmless enough. You play as a nondescript, customised hero character that has adventured into the cursed land of Boletaria to rid the world from the evil threat of the Old One. Set in a land inspired by medieval Europe, you must battle past waves of demons across landscapes that feature castles, lava-powered mines, plague-infested caverns and dark, dank prison towers.
When you start the adventure, there are many customisation options that allow you to change almost every facet of your character's appearance and stature. And of course, there's the obligatory class selection in every lone-adventurer role playing game ? becoming a Soldier will make you stronger in attack and defence, but weak on the magic, while a Royal might suck at dealing melee damage, but can make up for it in the deft use of bonus stats and items.
After tinkering with your character ? which can provide some hilarious results if you simply hit 'Randomise' a few times ? you play through a brief tutorial. Slicing up various undead beasts with the R1 and R2 triggers while defending with L1 and parrying with L2 is simple at this stage, but timing is truly everything later in the game, where you need to predict exactly how an enemy will try to attack you.
Every demon you kill will release a certain number of souls ? these will add to a counter in the bottom right corner of the screen, and will be the sole reason for your existence as you play Demon's Souls
. You see, these souls are used for absolutely everything ? character upgrades, weapons forging, currency to purchase goods ? and as a result you will want to hold on to each and every soul as tightly as possible.
Just a shame then, that at the end of the tutorial you encounter a huge beast. One that you're never going to kill ? and which quite handily beats you to death in one swing. You lose all of your collected souls, along with your human body, and are sent to the Nexus, which acts as the central hub for all of the game's activities from that point onwards. NPCs sit restlessly in this arena, offering you upgrades and other services.
From then, it all becomes a perverse form of hardcore games-playing torture. As a dead 'Phantom', your maximum health bar and other base attributes lower just a touch ? despite this, you can still perform any activity and deal the same amount of punishment as you would if you were still alive. The only ways to get your body back is to either defeat a boss, or to use a rare collectible that will recover your physical form during a dungeon stage.
Being a Phantom won't be the real disadvantage however. With no souls to spend, you're forced to explore the first arena and bat away countless enemies to clock up some more currency. As I said, it's very important to analyse the movement and positioning of each foe ? despite this being a third-person, real-time affair, there's enough potential strategy flying at you to really immerse yourself in this world.
And if you let your guard down in a dungeon that you are exploring for the first time, you will regret it. Each assault takes a mighty chunk of your health bar, and with limited healing items to undo the damage you'll be spending a good couple of hours trying to navigate some of the later stages. Annoyingly for me, the enemies all seem to have a curious knack for batting your health down to dangerous levels with combo assaults, despite me flurrying for the shield button in a blind panic.
?Perhaps that's where I'm going wrong?, is the thought I have when I die for the fifteenth time in the same area. Here, Demon's Souls
takes no prisoners ? as I mentioned before, when you die you lose every last one of your collected souls, and no matter how far you traveled, you re-spawn right at the very start of the stage with all enemies revived.
Here's the twist that perversely keeps you hooked, however ? that juicy vat of 5000-odd souls you obtained before your death? It's sitting right at the point at which you died. If you can make it all the way back to where you lost your life, you have the chance to pick them all back up again!
So begrudgingly, you plod along the same scenes trying to greedily snatch back those lost souls. If you die on the way though, you've lost them forever. Which, despite making your heart sink, actually spurs you on to build those points back up again.
And the beauty of Demon's Souls
shines at this point. The more you run through the dungeons, learning from multiple deaths and past mistakes, the better you truly get at the game. This is almost like a grinding exercise, except instead of tediously replaying the same areas to level up, you're furiously replaying the same one area just to survive! It's a unique quality in a game that can make you feel anger, despair, fear and sheer jubilation all in the same playthrough.
Of course, this game won't be to everyone's tastes. From the graphics to the design to even the game's name, there's no ambiguity about Demon's Souls
' appeal to only the most hardcore of hardcore gamers. But as a whole, the level design is intricate and well-planned; the enemies varied and challenging (boy, are they challenging) and the sheer depth is unlike any high-profile RPG in recent memory.
The online capabilities of the game is an innovation as well. Rather than stick you in an open world with a lobby full of random players, Demon's Souls
remains a very single-player experience, enhanced by the ability to connect to the Internet.
When you sign on to the PlayStation Network, you can see silhouettes of other players tackling the same dungeon as you, which adds to the spooky atmosphere of the game. Bloodstains of other players can be 'read' to see how they died - indicating dangers that you might not have encountered yet. Messages can be written on the floor for others to read, to advise of upcoming dangers and events. It's a brilliant way of feeling connected, without disjointing such a lonely role playing experience.
SPOnG Score: 90%
Forget everything you've played so far this generation. Demon's Souls is for those who want a real challenge. It's so hard that it will make babies cry, but that difficulty is by no means a mask for the game's true competence in design. It won't lead you by the hand or mollycoddle you with current-gen features like checkpoints, and you will feel like hell playing through the first five or six hours of it. But when you start winning, that's when you get a satisfaction you're unlikely to get anywhere else.