Review: Demon’s Souls (PS3 Import)

Demon’s Souls
Publisher: Sony
Developer: From Software
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date (Asian): 02/24/2009


One of the reasons the PS3 is my favorite system of the current consoles is how import friendly it is. I’m imported games from Japan like X Edge, which will be known as Cross Edge when it hits US shores next months. Darkstalkers and Disgaea in the same game? How could I not? I’ve also imported games from England like Singstar 2 with a better track list and six months before it hit US shores. Hell, I’ve even downloaded games from the PS Store by making different region accounts.

When it was announced by Sony that

A) Demon’s Souls was never coming stateside AND it was supposed to be one of the PS3’s killer applications

And

B) That the Asian version (not to be confused with the Japanese) was going to have full English options including voice acting and instructions, I pretty much HAD to get it. It took about a month to get here through Yesasia.com, but it was ten bucks cheaper (and with free shipping) than Play-Asia.com, so it was worth the wait compared to the savings.

So now I’ve ransacked Demon’s Souls. As anyone can import for the PS3 without modding the system or getting a boot disc the only question that needs to be asked is, “Should Demon’s Souls be your first import game for the PS3 considering you don’t need to know a word of Japanese to play it?”

Let’s find out…

Let’s Review

1. Story

When I first turned out Demon’s Souls, I was quite impressed. The opening cinematic was quite impressive and pretty and it did a great job of explaining the world and recent events in the game. Basically, a Kingdom has been sealed off from the rest of the world by a thick fog, or miasma. Inside the kingdom, a great number of demons have appeared, collected the souls of humans and growing more powerful with each harvest. Those humans that have managed to survive have gone mad or succumbed to evil. As a lone hero (kind of), you enter into the mist to not only slay the demons, but to collect souls yourself so that you too can grow in power and defeat the menace.

Then of course, you die. This is where the game introduces you to the Physical Body and the Soul Body. When you die, you keep playing, albeit it now as a Soul Body. A Soul Body has less Hit Points than your usual form which puts you at a greater disadvantage than when you died originally. Ouch. You can regain your physical form by slaying a demon or using a special artifact, but for the majority of the game, just assume you’ll be in a Soul Body rather than flesh and blood.

When you die, you will leave a bloodstain where you died. When you return to the game, if you touch that bloodstain, you will regain all your collected souls. As this game has an online component, if you touch a bloodstain from another character, you’ll get to watch a re-enactment of how they died. Neat.

Sadly, this is all the story there is. After that great opening, the rest of the game becomes nothing more than a hack and slash RPG with little to no other story points guiding you or explaining the world of Demon’s Souls. This was a huge letdown for me, as I was hoping to learn all about the various demon lords, their backgrounds, personalities and even encounter some memorable NPC’s. Nope. It’s just one big button masher for the most plot, and the plot be damned.

After an excellent start, the story/plot of Demon’s Souls just dissipated and left me, at best, cold, and at worst, pretty damn bored.

Story Rating: Bad

2. Graphics

I wasn’t impressed by the visuals of Demon’s Souls. To be honest, the character creator looked like something out of a bad WWE game; most specifically the god awful Wrestlemania XXI. No matter what you do, your character WILL be fugly. Thankfully, I chose the knight class to start with so I never had to see my guy’s face. Go armour!

There are five zones in the game, all of which are vast and offer some nice scenery. The downside is that the game is just too shadowy and muted when it comes to colours. I could make the obligatory Gears of War joke, but it’s too easy and cliche at this point. GoW is at least detailed in its drabness. Demon’s Souls is pretty much greys and pastels and just very dull. Due to all the darkness, the overall lack of colour and the awful character designs, the game feels, at times, half finished and it looks more like a PS2 than a PS3 game to me.

The demons themselves are VERY undewhelming, as are most of the enemies you encounter in the game. In fact, a lot of enemies are just generic foot soldiers using the skins of one of the many classes you didn’t pick at the beginning of the game. Here’s a fun example. The first sort of mini-boss in the game is a knight with SLIGHTLY different armour colouration from my character. No, I couldn’t pick my armour colour. So when we encountered each other, I had a bit of confusion as to who I was. Granted I had only played the game for ten minutes and if I had been a Templar Knight, Mage, Noble, Barbarian or one of the other character classes, it would have been easier to tell them apart. Still, again I found myself disappointed with Demon’s Souls If only because this was to be a major release, and yet it has an astounding lack of depth in terms of opponents, colours and textures. I will say that the bosses in this game, especially the Red Dragon and Blue Dragon, are amazing.

What’s here is acceptable and it will easy hold you over for a while, but it’s also nowhere near what we’ve come to expect from top tier PS3 visuals and as I said earlier, it sometimes felt like a high end PS2 game rather than a PS3 title.

What is it with next gen games and a decided lack of colour and detail. Sorry kids, but if you can’t make colour work with a high end high-definition system, then you’re doing it wrong.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

I was really impressed by the voice acting and English translations in this game. Considering this is an Asian edition and that Demon’s Souls is more than likely not heading stateside, I was expecting nothing but Engrish from beginning to end. Instead, the menus, instructions and in-game text are nicely done and it felt like I was playing a North American release. The voice acting, especially in those opening cinematics was especially impressive. The actors really made this game feel like an epic adventure. The inflection, delivery and pacing all set me up for that eventual “What happened to the plot?” moment two to three hours into the game.

Sound effects are well done too. This is one of the few games I’ve played where they get the clang of sword on shield just right. It’s a bit odd that none of the humanoid characters make noises when hit or killed though.

When there is music, and to be honest, there isn’t a lot, it’s glorious. Those opening cinematics will really make you think this game will have both an epic plot and score. Alas, neither is true, but at least when they do crop up, it is solid quality across the board.

The sound is easily one of the best aspects of Demon’s Souls. It’s just too bad that there’s so little in this game.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

Like most of Demon’s Souls, I was a bit disappointed in this area as well. Although I can understand why they went with the particular control scheme they used, at no point did it ever feel natural of comfortable to me.

For example, L1 is for the shield (or secondary weapon) you carry in your left hand and R1 is your main weapon which is wielded in your right hand. See, it makes sense, but compared to other button mashers, it just doesn’t FEEL right. As well, there’s a bit of lag between say, attacking with your sword and then raising your shield. Considering the timing of these two actions is a matter of life or death in a lot of skirmishes, this gets annoying quickly.

Other odd control choices are using the O button for the dodge/backstep/roll option, which would normally be assigned to an R button, and the lack of ability to pause the game at any time. This REALLY sucks. The rest of the controls are pretty straight forward. X is to interact with people or pick up dropped loot. The Square button is for using items. The triangle button switches you from wielding weapons with one hand to two hands and back again.

One of the coolest control options is that by pressing the select button, you can leave messages for other Demon’s Souls players. Let’s say you fall down a giant pit that you somehow missed. When you get back there, you can press select and choose to leave a message like “Giant pit ahead.” The ability to help/warn your fellow gamers is a wonderful idea and it has been a major factor in uniting the Demon’s Souls importer community. Ninety-five percent of the time the messages are helpful, but every so often you’ll encounter a message left by a douchebag that will actually provide you with erroneous information. Thankfully you can rate the messages so the quality ones will stay in the game far longer than the ones written by jerks.

As for the actual gameplay, it’s a standard hack and slash. Enemies respawn whenever you enter or leave an area. You attack, defend and kill or be killed. One very different implementation is the stamina bar. Each attack or block takes a bit of your stamina bar away. When you don’t have enough stamina, you can’t attack or defend. Well you can block, but blocking without stamina costs hit points, so you probably don’t want to do that. The stamina bar is constantly refilling. This is an interesting idea, but there a big problem in the respect that enemies and bosses don’t have a stamina bar or the issues related to it, thus putting you at a MASSIVE disadvantage. I mention this here now because it IS a gameplay issue, but it will also cost some points in the balance section a little later on as well.

The game is surprisingly deep with the fact the game will vary slightly based on if you are in a Physical Body or a Soul Body and that you can shift the alignments of both you and the very world itself with certain critical actions.

Finally, there’s the online component of Demon’s Souls to look at. We’ve already covered the ability to leave messages for each other, but there’s a whole hell of a lot more to experience in this regard. When you get to a certain point in the game, you can actually summon another player or two (The back of the game says up to three other players, but I’ve yet to get a full four man team to actually work, so I’m playing it safe by saying only three players. The problem is that with each update to the game, some things like World Tendency have changed dramatically, so it could just be that the four player party was nixed somewhere…or just isn’t working right.). In order to summon friends or strangers, you must be in a Physical Body and your friends will be in a soul form. You’ll need to find their “Blue Eye Stone” in order to summon them. Together these allies can help you against a boss, and in return, they will be awarded a physical body again. Yay! This nice twist on co-op play once again reinforces an awesome spirit of teamwork and kinship you normally don’t find in playing an online game with veritable strangers. You can even rate each other on how well they worked with you so other players know if they’re summon a twat or not.

There is also a PVP option. If you find the “Black Eye Stone,” you can replace a boss in another player’s game and fight them to the death. This is one thing I’m not a fan of, as this encourages gamers to be complete dicks to each other, such as leveling up pretty high, getting a ton of swank gear…and then going into the game of someone who is new to the game and slaughtering them. Here’s a great example of being a dick for the sake of being a dick in the game.

Overall, the controls are subpar, but the engine is amazingly deep and has a lot of promise to be something major. I also enjoyed the online aspects and how it, for the most part, is geared towards fostering a positive friendly community amongst players.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

Although Demon’s Souls is a mostly linear game, like most hack and slash games, you can at least go back to previous worlds and areas and catch things you might have otherwise missed. This can be anything from spells to battles with character that were very hard at lower levels but yield a great deal of souls.

You also have nearly a dozen character classes to start from at the beginning of the game. The further you get in the game, the less distinction there is between these classes as everything blends together. However, in those early stages, you live or die based on your character class and the inherent items you receive from your choice. Sure the enemies, items locations, and the like will all stay the same, but different classes and playing with your friends and allies can really change how the game FEELS.

Sure, compared to a lot of other games, Demon’s Souls will feel like a one shot unless you have friends that also imported the game or you are active in the DS import communities online, but compared to other action role playing games, there are a lot of reasons to come back to this title again and again.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

6. Balance

This is the one area where Demon’s Souls falls apart, and horribly so. My big problem with the game is that souls are currency for everything. You use them for stat increases, buying weapons, fixing weapons, buy armour, fixing armour and more. This is all well and good, except that when you die, you lose all your souls and you can’t get them back until you find the spot you died in the last time around. Here’s a perfect example of things going hideously wrong.

“Oh look. I have to fight five things at once. Oh no, my weapon just broke. Oh no, now I am dead because I can’t really fight back. Oh well, I guess I’ll just repair my wea…nope. No souls. I guess I’ll just buy a new…nope. No souls. Oh well, I’ll fight weak enemies until I level up and have a better chance at fighting unarmed. Nope. You need souls to level up.”

See where the problem lies? If you have some item break and then you die, you are sucked into a downward spiral of suck where you are at such an extreme disadvantage that you have no choice but to fight weak enemies, retreat back into the Soul World, heal up and repeat for a long time until you have enough souls to fix your stuff or buy new gear. The problem is that everything is crazy expensive, which means you will more than likely be bored to tears by the time you can get on with the game. By that time though, you won’t want to. You’ll want to move on to something more rewarding and less time consuming.

Even worse is that Demon’s Souls could have had a way around this. The same way around it that other action RPG’s have. Buy a ton of crap and then store. Then you can sell it in case you lose all your souls so that you can at least by something decent. This is known as the Sword of Vermillion principle. However, Demon’s Souls ass rapes you once again by making it so that you can’t sell anything. Once you have an item, you can either store it or delete it. You can’t sell anything, which is utterly insane. It gets even worse when you are considering buying a new weapon or armour as you can’t compare how well the item works unless you buy it! Remember how I said everything is crazy expensive? Well now you just spent thousands of souls on something that was inferior to what you currently have and there’s no way to recoup. This is JUST. PLAIN. STUPID. From Software needs a serious kick in the ass for this.

Factor in this issue along with the strange gameplay and the horrible implementation of the stamina bar and you have a recipe for abject failure. Even if all these things were fixed, Demon’s Souls would still be a challenging game due to the size of the world and the lack of a pause feature as well as the lack of a true saving system. WITH all these balance and gameplay flaws, Demon’s Souls is a pretty poorly designed game and it will drive away far more gamers than it will endear. Because the world are so long and you will have to replay them several times from the beginning (as you have to beat or perish in one shot) without any checkpoints, this game has more in common with 8 and 16 bit games where cruel punishment was the sport of the day. I really don’t think people that started gaming with this generation or even in the past two will be able to look past the challenge. Instead, they’ll just be frustrated and pissed at how much they paid to import this thing.

Balance Rating: Dreadful

7. Originality

Although the core of the game is your basic mindless hack and slash, Demon’s Souls does bring a lot of new things to the table, even if most of them are poorly implemented. I love the ability to leave hints and tips for other gamers, and playing with friends is a blast.

Demon’s Souls is amazingly deep and also features some of the biggest worlds I’ve seen in an action RPG, which has both its up and downsides to it. Even the core aspects of an action RPG are tilted on its head, from a very different control scheme to the…sigh, inability to sell items.

Demon’s Souls doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does put a new coat of paint on it.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

Like most button mashers/action RPG’s/beat ’em ups, Demon’s Souls is quite addicting. The hack and slash combat is one of those things that has sucked gamers in since the dawn of this form of entertainment. You can find yourself playing for hours and not even realizing how much time has flown by.

However, there are some downsides to the game. The first is that the levels are huge, and if you die, you have to start at the very beginning of the level again. Sure you can find some short cuts along the way, but as there are no checkpoints or quicksaves, you have to be prepared to play a level over potentially dozens of times until you get through without a scratch. This will either utterly turn of a gamer, or drive to complete due to a mix of determination and spite. Then there is also the issue of break equipment, which seems to turn off a lot of gamers. Now I don’t mind it. I love Koudelka after all and equipment breaks in that all the time. Still, when everything is so expensive in Demon’s Souls and you lose everything when you die AND you can’t sell items, that’s another thing that’s going to turn gamers off.

Sadly, as good as this game can be, there’s a lot here that will discourage gamers from getting too far into the title. Still if you make it far enough, you’ll find multiplayer makes up for a fair share of the issues that plague this game.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

As Demon’s Souls is only available by importing currently (and probably forever), that cuts the potential fan base down dramatically, even if the game is entirely in English. Most gamers just don’t want to import, even if they know how.

Even if you do import and you are an action RPG fan, you’ll have to ask yourself if the peculiarities of Demon’s Souls are to your liking. For everything I liked about Demon’s Souls there was also something I really disliked. I have a hard time justifying this purchase to myself, and I’m the most gung-ho import gamer writing for Diehard GameFAN.

If you’ve ever been curious about importing, but had qualms because you didn’t know the language, this would be the game to get. At the price tag for shipping this one across the Pacific though…no, I just don’t think it is worth it.

Demon’s Souls is a cult game at best, played only by those willing to shill out extra money to have a more exclusive English-language game. Even then, half those people getting it won’t be playing it for long.

Appeal Factor: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

If you are interested in importing Demon’s Souls, you will be hard pressed to find a more active and helpful fan community than the one for this game. Just don’t ask, “Does it have a US release date?” and you’ll be fine.

From a very active Gamefaqs forum to a wonderful wiki at http://demonssouls.wikidot.com/intro (Careful, as the grammar/English isn’t that great, but you should be able to weed through it), the English speaking Demon’s Souls community is the most active I’ve seen for an import game since the old Sakura Taisen days. If you’re having problems getting past a boss, need a map, or are unsure of whether you should go for a magic/miracle or melee oriented character, this is the place to go. No matter when I was playing, there were always at least half a dozen other DS gamers online at the same time that I could have summoned or attacked. For an import game, that’s pretty impressive.

So a mediocre game, but with a great fan community for a game designed to actually have a great fan community. That’s something Demon’s Souls excels at, even if it falls short in other areas. If you do decide to import this for one reason or another, you’ll be more than happy with THIS aspect of the game.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Demon’s Souls may sport English in-game text, voice acting and instructions for those of you who import the Asian version, but in the end, the game doesn’t provide enough bang for the buck. Although the game occasionally sports some decent visuals, it’s a dingy dull looking title for the most part with a control scheme you will either love or utterly hate. It’s also a wildly unbalanced game sporting many “new features” for an action RPG that might have sounded good on paper but provide some serious issues when it comes to actual follow-through. Still, the game boasts one of the best and most helpful fan communities out there for an import title, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more import friendly title for the most import friendly console of all time. Demon’s Souls isn’t a top tier title, but it does have its moments.

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