20th July 2010 - Demon's Souls is a game that had infamy even before it hit our shores. A PS3 exclusive released in the States at the end of 2009, it became known on gaming sites as a “take no prisoners” RPG. Now finally after more than 6 months it has officially been released in Australia, and you are in for one hell of a ride. Block off some time where there are no distractions and prepare some calming chamomile tea - you're going to need it.
Demon's Souls sees you take control of a warrior of any number of diverse classes, and head into the land of Boletaria where an accursed fog is bringing great demons that consume souls. You follow in the steps of countless warriors who are trying to rid the land of the demons, which is a lot easier said than done. A third person RPG, Demon's Souls is a game with a difference. It has what you would expect in an RPG - characters that gain experience and upgrade their skills, weapons, armour etc becoming ever more deadly. It has a range of attacks with melee weapons, bow and arrows and magic. It has puzzles to solve, a type of open environment where you can choose where to go, and large end-of-level bosses. So what makes this game so different to others? It is so unforgiving it borders on ridiculous. Ridiculous, but incredibly rewarding if you have the patience.
Typically games throw heaps of sword fodder at players especially in the first couple of levels to get them used to controls, practice, achievement etc. In Demon's Souls you had better get used to the battle mechanics and fast, because there is no such thing as an easy enemy here. The first guys you come across in the game will take you apart in a few hits if you go in hackin' and slashin' with disregard. The developers have made a game where you immediately get a sense of your vulnerability and the need for battle tactics and a mastery of defence and agility.
The controls are fairly simple with the shoulder buttons correlating to actions for your left and right arms respectively, and the face buttons performing different functions such as using inventory items, dodging and interacting with switches etc. They are easy to use, and the tutorial at the start of the game gives you a good handle on them before a nasty surprise which I won't spoil.
You are able to assign two weapons to each hand which gives good variety as you can choose to whip out a bow or magic at a distance, slash with a sword, or crush with heavy blunt objects. Each weapon has characteristics which make it effective against different enemies. Finding these weaknesses and figuring out enemy behaviour helps your job significantly. Using the right weapon which takes two strikes to kill versus one that takes five can mean the difference between moving on or dying.
So the controls are solid and you have the right weapon for the job. What makes the game surprisingly difficult and why even low level demons will hand it to you if you're not careful is your stamina. Every single move that interacts with an enemy costs the stuff, and there is never, ever enough of it. Slash your enemy. Lose stamina. Block an enemy attack. Lose stamina. Dive out of the way of an attack. Lose stamina. It gets used up with just about everything other than walking. It does return quickly when you're not doing anything, but managing it in a fight is the key to this game and the main reason you will die - again and again and again. When you die you don't simply start the level again. You lose your physical form and become a spiritual form. You have half your life and your stats change slightly but you can still interact with the world as you would in physical form. There are several ways to regain physical form but the main one is to kill a boss demon.
Now don't get me wrong, for some of you this game may not sound like much fun dying so much. It can get frustrating at times, but when you do finally beat that boss or get past the series of demons blocking your progress, the sense of achievement is awesome. No guts, no glory. When a level is finally finished it is enormously satisfying and makes the whole process worthwhile. The key is sticking at it and going back to previous sections to upgrade your character if you keep getting slaughtered.
The final reason Demon's Souls is so hard is there is no pause button. You can never pause the game. I found this an interesting decision by the developers as it certainly makes you pay attention. You can't simply enter your inventory and heal or decide what weapon to equip while enemies approach, as while you're doing that you're getting attacked. It does make for more strategy and preparedness, but it's bloody frustrating when the phone rings or your wife wants something and you can't do a thing about it. Either focus on not getting killed and sleep on the couch for the night (albeit probably playing this game!) or put the controller down and hope you're in a spot where no enemies are patrolling.
There is a unique multiplayer element to the game as well. When in physical form you can summon other online players who are in spirit form (blue phantoms) to help you fight through the level. The reward for the summoned player is they return to their physical form after clearing specific conditions. The flip side of this set-up is that spirit form players can invade your game as black phantoms with the objective of killing you, which sends you back to the start in spirit form and allows them to gain their physical form back!
The art style in Demon's Souls is wonderfully gloomy and dark. The castles and tunnels are beautifully designed, with good detail and drab colour giving it a lifeless, apocalyptic feel. The character designs are fantastic and varied. The demons are a mixture of humanoid and other. The other category holds everything including blobs, flying fire-breathing dragons, and giant spiders. All of them look fantastic and I didn't experience any graphical glitches during standard play regardless of number of characters or the size of them (most enemies are around your size but the end-of-level demons can be huge). The only problem I had was when I was invaded by a black phantom. The movements of the phantom were glitchy and collision detection was off which I assume was due to data transfer. It made fighting them difficult as you always felt about a half a second behind.
The voice acting with the few NPC was good enough, never feeling overacted or too cheesy. The music suited the tone of the game, only really being a little overbearing and annoying during boss battles where the tempo and loudness are pumped up. Sound effects were great with nicely sounding metal clangs of weapon on armour, magical effects and screeches of demons surrounding the home theatre.
Demon's Souls offers a lot for buyers. The game is fairly long straight through, but then again no one will ever make it straight through. Players will spend hours on each level trying to get past each section. There are three sections per level, each with a demon boss and plenty of hidden loot and pathways to explore, which makes going through again and again worthwhile. Characters and weapons can be upgraded in hundreds of different combinations, and having the multiplayer aspect makes for interesting encounters.
So Demon's Souls has finally made it to Australia, with one hell of a reputation preceding it. Is it deserved? You'd better believe it. A deep character development system allows the freedom to create a heavy melee fighter, powerful mage, and everything in-between. Strategic RPG gameplay which does away with running into a fight mindlessly swinging, and replaces it with mastery of timing and enemies that can tear you apart easily and frequently if you let them. Demon's Souls is not for the faint hearted or the impatient. It can be frustratingly difficult at times and the lack of pause is a pain in the arse, but the reward and sense of accomplishment for finishing it is well worth the journey.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
+ Excellent character customisation
+ Thoughtful, strategic fighting
+ High difficulty but rewarding to beat
- Difficulty will put off some impatient players
- No pause function
Reviewed and Written By Khye Davey