Engulfed in darkness, the world is now a demonic land occupied by the most wretched of creatures. As a lone demon slayer, you belong to the Nexus, a safe haven that you use to travel between the defiled areas of the world via teleportation stones. Consuming souls of the demons you conquer will make you more powerful, and thus the entirety of the game is set, you need only worry about the enemies laid before you. This is the state of the world, and you must bring it back to the way it once was – a straightforward tale that will leave plenty of room for the game’s other elements to wreak havoc upon the minds of its players.
A minimalist premise lends to the magical, yet malevolent atmosphere of Demon's Souls.
After getting through a somewhat laughable physical appearance selection, you’ll enter the world of Demon’s Souls as a class of your choosing – be it a Hunter, Mage, Soldier, Temple Knight, and so on. Their differences reside mainly in their beginning stats and whether they lean towards spell usage, defense, or melee combat, though many will inevitably come to use all these options in some way. The game isn’t terribly well balanced in this department, with melee oriented classes facing the brunt of the game’s difficulty, confronting enemies that can kill in a couple of swipes, while offensive magic can prove to be the lazy man’s way of killing even the most formidable of opponents the game has to offer. Bows will help players take down flying creatures and ranged attackers, but the heart of Demon’s Souls lies mostly in its up close encounters. It’s up to the player to decide what approach to take, and the choices of melee weapons observes several possible styles, but it’s a shame the game didn’t implement its advertised variety in a cleaner fashion.
Though perhaps not advertised as such, Demon’s Souls is a rather terrifying game in that its dangers revolve around the unknown. Whether it’s some lowly skeletal grunt soldier, a ravenous dog, or a fire-breathing dragon, approaching an enemy in Demon’s Souls has a high potential to yield death. This isn’t so much because your opponents are hugely difficult to handle, but more so because it’s difficult to adapt to the unique philosophy that Demon’s Souls incorporates – respect your enemies. If you do not respect the creatures of this game, they will impale, crush, and maim you without mercy. However, it is the idea that death may await you at every corner that makes the experience so engrossing.
The game's fierce melee encounters will keep you on your toes.
There isn’t much to the combat of Demon’s Souls beyond the levels of precaution that you must take when approaching it. Should you have a shield, you can block attacks as long as your endurance meter can withstand the hits. A powerful blow may render you defenseless, and down you go. Enemies attack in often deceivingly extended combos, leaving what may seem like an opening for you to take advantage of, but then simply impale you when you least expect – once again, down you go. While you carefully handle melee opponents, a ranged attack from a further off enemy can you stop you in your tracks, and you will unfortunately take the full swing of the sword you were about to dodge – gameover, but not exactly.
What does death mean in Demon’s Souls? For one, you lose all of the souls you’ve collected, the currency used to buy equipment, upgrades, spells, and items. Most significantly, they can be brought to the maiden of the Nexus who will level your character, allowing you to raise the stats of your choosing such as strength, endurance, dexterity and so on. You can retrieve the souls you’ve lost if you manage to find the area where you originally died and touch your bloodstain – though if you die trying to reach that, tough luck. What’s more is that upon death you’ll be resurrected in soul form, which means half as many hit points as you’d originally have. From there, you’ll begin the level’s segment from the very start, only receiving a checkpoint and being returned to your physical form upon defeating a boss encounter. This punishing nature of how the game handle’s death is much of what makes Demon’s Souls a very rewarding adventure, and at times, a bit stressful.
You'll have to roll past many fatal attacks, but wearing heavier armor can make you less agile.
Achieving victory in Demon’s Souls means dying in Demon’s Souls, because dying awards knowledge, and knowledge is indeed power. Every new enemy you face will have something up its sleeve that you may not be prepared for. It may kill you once, it may kill you several times, but you’ll eventually learn how to defeat it. Truthfully, most enemies can be taken down with the cautious approach of walking up to them (shield raised, of course), triggering their attack, and rolling away. In this way, you can get to know their patterns, and decide when it is safe to strike, whether with a full combo or a heavy swing, or when you have time to munch on a health item to regain lost hit points. Some enemies are more ruthless than others and will not give you such breathing room, but the game is ultimately a system of patterns you must adapt to, and sometimes death is your best friend in achieving this.
Defeating a boss encounter makes for a significant accomplishment in Demon’s Souls, not so much because they are very formidable, but because they grant you rewards in the form of a large sum of souls, including a special one that can be used for valuable upgrades. Most importantly, however, it means a new checkpoint leading to the next area. It may not sound like much, but backtracking is often as boring as it sounds, and getting past a level’s segment relieves a great deal of weight from the player’s shoulders. The problem is that when you die, not only do you start at the beginning of the level, but every enemy you’ve killed is back – enemies that no longer mean anything you, who are now just predictable fodder for you to hack through. Certainly, it is the punishing nature of Demon’s Souls that makes it so rewarding, but as stated before, the line between frustration and challenge is a thin one, and Demon’s Souls crosses this line ever so slightly.
The quality of the boss encounters may be inconsistent, but ones like the Flame Lurker are sure to give you a run for your money
Reaching the boss encounter will often lead to unlocking a shortcut along the way, allowing you to get back to the boss at a quicker pace should it happen to kill you, but it only does so much. The bosses themselves are rarely interesting or as formidable as the experience working up to them proved to be, and you’ll find that many are defeated in ways that feel like exploitations of the game such as hiding behind an object to mess with the A.I., or standing in an unreachable area that would allow you shoot as many arrows as you please. There are certainly some fun ones that are quite demanding, but few of them, like fighting something as terrorizing as a dragon, ever offer a fight worthy of their epic appearances. And at times, you may be thankful the game was less ambitious with the bosses because you hardly want to die and trek the path back to them again.
In terms of the level designs themselves, they do a fine job of freaking the player out. The highlight would easily be the first of the available areas, an enchantingly dark castle keep occupied by undead foot soldiers, and which holds a nesting ground to dragons that perch outside its walls. On the other hand, some instances such as the swamp environment prove to be where the game is least enjoyable as it’s slow, mucky, and uninteresting -- as one would so naturally imagine a swamp to be. Other than this low point, and the occasional random hole in the floor to drop you to a cheap death, the levels flow rather well. Dark corridors keep the player guessing, stair ways make positioning an important part of your defense, and impressive draw distances and lighting effects give the world a very dangerous feel. Entering a segment of a level or teleporting to a new area gives a great sense of foreboding, but your curiosity will push you forward. Walking down a narrow walkway in pitch darkness while staring at two glowing red eyes visible in the distance, or spotting a knight clad in black armor holding a menacing lance, awaiting your approach, daring you to proceed – these are moments when you will question your courage.
Well conceived levels and darkly crafted visuals make turning the next corner a nerve racking experience.
There is one saving grace to the brutality of Demon’s Souls, and that is the online community. Demon’s Souls is not a cooperative experience in the sense you can play through it all with a buddy, but you can receive help by other means. What is perhaps most encouraging to those exploring the game’s harrowing castles, mines, and swamps, is that other players are in the same boat as you – they’ve been there, and so have the opportunity to tell you about what to expect in the form of a written message. The game offers a respectable variety of phrases you can jot down, and these can range from warnings to what traps and ambushes lie ahead, to what strategies can be implemented to defeat a certain foe. You’ll see these glowing writings placed on the floor as you progress, and although it can truly save your skin at times, it is most significantly a comforting sign that you’re not alone in the world of Demon’s Souls. If others can manage, why can’t you?
Another aspect of the online community comes as a double edged sword. Should you be in physical form, you may at times summon the help of a blue phantom, or rather, a player in soul form. Together you can take down a boss that’s been giving you trouble and fully reap the benefits of doing so, allowing your new friend to regain his physical form as he returns to his world. On the other hand, there are black phantoms, players who may invade your world without consent in an effort to hunt you down, reaping benefits of their own. At times the thought of another player out hunting you can be exciting, and the player versus player combat is certainly intense, admittedly more so at lower levels. At other times you may dread the idea of facing the sword of a skilled opponent mid way into your adventure – such is the life of a demon slayer.
Haunting not only in its presentation but also in its very philosophy, Demon’S Souls is among a rare breed of games that latches onto the soul of gaming, an itching desire to overcome the obstacles laid before you. Though seemingly archaic at times, you will hate your own actions more than the game itself, and when you better yourself as a player, the game will be there to congratulate you every step of the way. When you see a dragon sweep across a castle wall and torch everything before you, the game will urge you to go forward, to face the unfathomable. And it’s not like gamers haven’t faced their fair share of zombies, swordsman, and dragons, but the nature of Demon’s Souls will make it feel like the very first time -- dangerous, yet addicting.
Love it or Hate it: Warning
Edited by panzerfaust, 21 October 2011 - 01:33 AM.