I’ve been spending time with Demon’s Souls since right around it’s American launch, back in early October, and I must say it continues to punish and amaze me. This game has the feel of say Castlevania, resident Evil, and Shadow of the Colossus rolled into one. The story is simple enough, the world is shrouded in darkness, brought on by the old one. The world is besieged by demons and those looking for mortal souls. You are the lone hero out to fight to return the light to the world. You do this by slicing, bashing, piercing, and shooting your way through 5 would stages, each with a various number of sub sections. You start out in classic RPG fair, choose your class, set you look, then be thrust into the tutorial level. There are 10 classes total, from a heavily armored warrior, to the subtle and fast thief; there are also the extremes of a unarmored barbarian to the lightly cloth armored magician or priest. The nice part about this game is the class only determines your starting attributes, gear, and soul level. Over time, you can add points to any of the 8 stats and develop yourself to wear, use, or cast anything in the game. It is all up to you and your play-style.
The controls are simple, although I must admit took me a while to get used to. The right triggers control the item in your right hand and the left triggers handle the left. So for instance, I want to block and move, I hold L1 and move with the left thumb stick, if I want to attack light, I hit R1, attack heavy, R2, if I want to parry and riposte, L2, then a quick R1. The digital left and right help you quickly choose from one of 2 designated times per slot. Say ranged and melee, or spear. You can also wield all weapons two-handed, which increases their effective attack power, however lowers your defenses due to the lack of the shield. This can be done at anytime by hitting triangle. I know I have gone rather deep into the control system on this game, that is because it is crucial to your success. Knowing it, learning it and being able to effectively use it determines your success in the world of Boletaria. For instance, left thumb stick (direction) and O determine side-roll, jump back, or sprint. Square is your consumable button, all of which can be cycled through using down on the digital pad. All these abilities are tied to one of three bars – Health (your overall health, duh), Magic (your mana pool to cast spells from), and Stamina (your ability to block, attack, run, evade, etc). Many a death comes from an empty stamina pool. So quick usage and learning of these systems makes your survivability skyrocket.
The gameplay is simple enough, fight enemies, collect their souls, level up, fight a boss, lather, rinse, repeat. Ah how I wish it were that simple. On a fundamental level it is, however it is so much more complex. Some of which I have not even fully understood. You have two forms, physical form and soul form. You start out in physical form, when you die, you enter your soul form. When in physical form you gain more souls per kill, have a full health bar, and can summon Phantoms to help. When in soul form you get less souls per kill, have half your health bar (can be augmented with the Cling Ring!), are stealthier, and can become the Phantom helping a person in physical form. When you die in a level when in physical form you affect the world tendency, to become darker, when you kill a boss, you turn the world tendency lighter. When you are at a full range of this spectrum you have additional bosses you can fight. You can get back to your physical form three ways, help a player with a task using the blue stones, kill a boss, or use the rare soul restore stones you find throughout the world. I hope you stayed with me because now is when it gets fun, the online component. As you play through the game, you will see some white, ghostly silhouettes running around, these are other players playing through their world. It is great for planning strategy or looking for someone to help in your game. The other compelling component of the online portion is that of the blood stains. When you find a blood stain on the ground, you can touch it to see that players last few moments in their world before they died. You will see a red, ghostly silhouette run around and then die. This is designed to help you form ways of defeating enemies, avoid areas, or see where someone may have jumped to their death trying something. This can be key to learning that next area. You can also leave canned messages to people trying to help them along or prepare themselves. These messages can then be rated and help yourself level up. However, as always, beware of false messages. Messages not rated frequently, will be deleted. So this can help keep some of the false ones to a minimum. There are two other online components, Phantoms, both blue and black. If you are a blue phantom, you are summoned to a physical form, persons game. While there you are helping them accomplish their task, if successful, you will return to your physical form. When in physical form you can be a black phantom, this allows you to attack other players in physical form; this can yield plenty of souls. The online component of the game is very neat and leads to plenty of helpful hints, both directly and indirectly. This online portion is one of the things that makes this so unique.
Now on to what makes this game brutal. It is hard, and I do not mean the Rio level in MW2 hard, I mean original Castlvania hard. The biggest destinction I can make though is Castlvania was cheap, if you die in this, you more then likely were not prepared. You collect souls, which are the currency of the game. You use souls to level up, you use them to purchase goods, you use them to repair. So they are precious and must be protected. You can run around killing things and farming levels for thousands of souls, then go to fight a boss and die. When you die, you restart your section from the beginning in soul form (or still in soul form if you were in soul form). Where you died, you left a ghostly blue blood stain. You have to fight your way back through the enemies to claim your remains. If you do and are successful, you will get your souls back and keep the ones earned in the process, however if you die again on your way back, those souls are lost forever. The other day I was cocky, went for it, and lost 7,000 souls in one stupid move. At the beginning, it will not seem like much, however when an upgrade is costing you around 20K souls for one point, you start to become very cautious of where and what you are doing. Death will come, it is inevitable, so be sure to plan your routes and upgrades carefully. I know this is a short paragraph, it is the key to the game, the punishment system for death. You can very easily, be wiped out with out even knowing it.
I have played through a few worlds, including killing a white tendency boss and have loved every minute of it. Do not get me wrong, I had more then a few almost controller breaking moments, normally brought on by my own ego or lack of patience. This is a game that is worthy of its difficult nature, gamers will wear their ability to play this like a badge of honor. It is a game where every level gained feels like an accomplishment and boss fights feel like you are on top of the world. That truly is epic gaming when you can accomplish it. If you consider yourself hardcore, you have to pick it up and try it. If you are unsure, or worried, borrow it or rent it first, you more then likely will not be disappointed by the originality and scale of this game.
Leveling Up – Everyone can use everything, despite starting class, eventually.
Epic Boss battles
Great Level Design
Combat system – I felt like I was in control of a warrior.
Look – This game is gorgeous, has great atmosphere
Audio – The subtlety of the audio can give plenty of clues as to what is coming ahead.
Online – All those features make this a one of a kind game
Difficulty – Yup this works and does not.
Controls – Can be confusing sometimes, leading to misuse of consumables
Menu System – There is no pause, so find a safe spot or return to the nexus.
Loot – The system for using and understanding gear stats and bonuses can be very confusing at times.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game, purchased by the reviewer. It has yet to be completed by the reviewer. This is a PS3 only title.