Review: Demon’s Souls (Sony PS3)
by Ian on October 5, 2009

Demon’s Souls
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 10/06/2009

Demon’s Souls is a seriously hardcore game for seriously hardcore gamers. The setting is bleak; heros of the realm have been seduced with demonic power and want to carve your heart out. You can’t escape Demon’s Souls even in death.


Story / Modes

The story seems very minimal at first, “End of world coming. Please be killing demons already,” and becomes a bit deeper. There are characters to find in your journey and, if you choose, to ally with or defeat, take their souls, and loot their corpses.

The story is a familiar one. The power of man became greedy and supernatural powers awoke to punish mankind for its arrogance. In this case, it’s the King of Boletaria using soul magic.

The tutorial mission starts with you, a wannabe heroic dude, travels to the cursed lands of Boletaria to kill demons and free it from the curse that will slowly devour the world if the Supreme Badassed Soul-Munching Old One is not forced back into its pissed-off-ancient-slumber.

Here’s the thing about Demon’s Souls. It hates you. It hates you so much, it actively tries to kill you in the tutorial. This is the same tutorial that ends with an open the door and ZOMG HUGE DEMON who then splatters you all over the walls sequence. Immediately after, it’s “Hi there. You’re dead. I’m the Demonic Goth Chick and your soul is trapped in the Nexus until you save the world. Get to work, thanks.”

Initially, the only people in the Nexus are the Maiden in Black (her real name in the game) who will level you up at a progressively increasing cost of souls, a completely dickish blacksmith that you will be tempted to bash, and a guy who holds your stuff for you so you won’t be overly encumbered, and a couple of noob spell trainers. Others will appear as you rescue them in the game levels ahead and they will be willing to teach you various levels of miracles and magic, aquire better items, and more.

I should take this time to mention that you can kill anyone in the game. Unlike you, they will not come back if you kill them. I thought that this was a little strange that you are trapped in the Nexus, but no one else seems to be. Oops. If you kill the vendors or trainers that you still need, you’ve basically screwed your game and have to start over.

I get the concept that this is a free form game in the spirit reminiscent of the hype around Fable in that you can do whatever you want in a nonlinear environment. In some respects, this is true of Demon’s Souls, however it is bare bones implemented and hidden in strange ways. Specifically, depending on your interactions with some NPCs, your level alignment, your soul alignment, and other mysterious details.

Because this is so complicated, relying only on the slim hints given to you in the game and the notes that other plays leave on the ground, you’ll want to reference a strategy guide or this wiki if you get stuck or confused.

Story Rating: Pretty Poor


Graphics

The movie sequences at the beginning and in plot-based cut scenes are fantastic and don’t look like anything I’ve seen produced previously.

The monsters, fully interactive and somewhat destructible environment, light effects and transparency of glowing phantoms, magic and flames are captivating and push the limits of PS3 hardware and feel very immersive with their detail.

I had some questions though. First, if you’re going to have 50 slider bars to customize your player character at the beginning of the game, why not make sure that you can see some aspect of them. If you’re going to cover them with armor after you’re out of the immediate noob area, why bother with such customization?

The immersive and varied areas are scary, dark, and/or bleak and filled with monsters and badasses that can one-hit-kill you. The big demons are huge and fearsome and quite well done. Fighting them feels like you are a cricket with a pin trying to kill a gorilla on meth. There are no easy fights in this game. If you are currently alive, you can summon a couple of other players who have placed blue stone sigils and co-op the level if the black phantoms don’t kill you all first.

Graphics Rating: Incredible


Sound

If you’re a fan of non-word-using-vocals, this is your game of the year for sound.

Seriously though, the setting period is dark and medieval with kettle drums and a choir from the cathedral of evil. The music matches the bleak and horrible feeling of playing this game. Horrible in that everyone hates you and wants to stab you in the face with their dirty spears.

Apart from the soundtrack, which is well scripted to correspond to boss fights and new areas very well, voice acting struck me as solid and passionate.

Sound Rating: Great


Control and Gameplay

The gaming dynamic of this game is immersive. To me, I didn’t feel like I was playing through an interface at all, but my hero was drunk and uncoordinated and vaguely responding to my Playstation controller. The play of the game makes you feel that you are very alone in a world that doesn’t like you.

There’s a lot to talk about here. Demon’s Souls does a lot that I haven’t seen done before. Some of it is very cool. Some of it sucks a lot.

Things I liked a lot:

  • It’s hard. Really hard. Unforgivingly brutally hard.
  • The network play is integrated and interesting at times. Summoning random players into your game is neat. Seeing other people playing as ghosts is also cool. Reading notes from other players is occasionally interesting.

Things I didn’t like at all:

  • There isn’t any effective controls over PvP.
  • Lots and lots of grinding for levels and materials

As the North American servers for Demon’s Souls were not yet available (Atlus spins them up on this coming Tuesday, the 6th of October), I was playing on servers in Asia where everyone has been playing for many months. There was never any shortage of guys to black phantom into my game and unleash the beating upon me. Once they break into your game, neither of you can escape until one of you is dead. Someone 100 levels ahead of you on the exponential experience requirements per level coming to kill you whenever you think you might be doing well isn’t fun. Not only did they kill me almost every time that I was able to get resurrected into my living body, but they also broke most of my equipment.

There is a reason why they’re doing this. They’re trying to shift their aspect, for the level, their soul, or both, to black.

33 There is a dueling mode available post-completion of the game if you acquire a red stone. There’s also three playable modes per map as the game changes depending on the light or dark aspect of the level you are in. This aspect is dependent on a variety of factors like dying when alive, killing the boss demon of that world, becoming a black phantom to harass other players, and others.

Atlus has released a couple of introduction videos that prospective Demon’s Souls players should check out:

Here is the thought that this rating came down to in the end: “Would this game be more fun if there was some more depth of control or if the interface wasn’t so mysterious?”

My answer was “Yes. It would be.”

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable


Replayability

If you enjoy playing the same levels over and over again, farming up items, and dying repeatedly, you’ll enjoy this game. Frustration is the period setting of Demon’s Souls.

There are a large amount of starting classes and, because it is a hard game, characters would be advised to specialize. Playing again with another style of play could be interesting and add to the gaming experience.

Also, like many I encountered in the game, you can get your replay rocks off by killing other player characters repeatedly.

Another replayability success story would be this guy who has played way way too much and is still looks to be having a difficult time.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre


Balance

This is not a well balanced game. Casters have an uphill job compared to the warrior classes for example.

Summoning help into a game, if it is even available, will increase the chances of a high level player killer coming to murder all of you even though you may need help to kill bosses depending on your class and level at the time.

The deck is stacked against you. If you don’t like being the underdog absolutely all the time, then your love affair with Demon’s Souls will be a short one.

Balance Rating: Awful


Originality

There’s nothing like Demon’s Souls. I haven’t played a game this hard or this bleak in a very long time. Game elements that I’m used to encountering are either missing or hidden. It is definitely something different and I predict will be used as a yardstick for the next gen console RPG for years to come.

Originality Rating: Classic


Addictiveness

Initially the challenge of a game that metaphorically ripped my head off, corpse humped me, and called me a noob was a motivator to play more. In the end, the constant violation from black phantoms and my inability to pass higher levels without needing to grind out a couple of dozen more levels or find unreliable assistance from online players was what led me to stop playing.

I would really suggest that you get some friends together and summon each other into your games. If that was easier to do in this title, I would have wanted to play it more.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent


Appeal Factor

This game is pretty. This game is difficult.

When I got my first real look at Demon’s Souls at E3, it was a clear standout as being something different. It stood apart from all the others in aesthetic and gameplay.

This will be a must-have game for the uberhardcores out there who have been looking for a challenge. A challenge, this is.

Appeal Factor: Great


Miscellaneous

m02_b2There is a lot of great thought in this title. I really really wanted to like it on the whole. I liked so much about it, but as I progressed in the game, I never felt my stride in acclimation to Demon’s Souls. Just when I thought that I was getting the hang of things, something would go wrong. Random online players to help out were unavailable, black phantoms (pk’ing online players) would kill me in the rare occasions I was alive and not a soul, many of the characters and interfaces left questionable at how to proceed.

There are hard games, but not giving any clues at all besides whatever signs that other players have left in the game world is excessive.

Game elements seemed not to fit together here, but Demon’s Souls is a unique title that I imagine that all hardcore gamers I know will play it.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average


The Scores

Story: Pretty Poor
Graphics:
Incredible
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay:
Enjoyable
Replayability:
Mediocre
Balance:
Awful
Originality: Classic
Addictiveness:
Decent
Appeal Factor:
Great
Miscellaneous:
Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary

Only the most brazen of RPG enthusiast will be all about this game. For them, it may be their game of the year. For the rest of you out there, this unforgiving masochismfest will only frustrate and depress you. If you like being dominated and whipped in the privacy of your own home, this will be a welcome addition.

For those of you that like the appeal of difficult gameplay, slowly building up a character over the course of months, finding hidden details and secrets in the 100th time you’ve grinded through a static dungeon, and crushing players weaker than you, this is your ultimate game.



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Ian

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  • Wariyaka

    There seem to be some serious misunderstandings here.

    “This is not a well balanced game. Casters have an uphill job compared to the warrior classes for example.”
    Eh? The spell caster classes start out as EXTREMELY more easy to play than the warriors. If you think warriors are superior I honestly wonder is you have played this game enough to review it. There are players out there who play the whole game as Royal class without levelling up at all. Try that with a soldier.

    “Summoning help into a game, if it is even available, will increase the chances of a high level player killer coming to murder all of you even though you may need help to kill bosses depending on your class and level at the time.”

    Just wrong. The level of who can invade are strictly within borders set by the level of the player in Body Form and it don’t change with the summoning of helping blue phantoms.

    Also if you have too much problems with invaders you can just play offline. You can’t get help but you wont get invaded either. The choice is wholly yours and yours alone.

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