Remember a time when games didn’t cater to the lowest common denominator, didn’t force you through long and all too often boring tutorials and where you would spend hours memorising boss patterns only to miss-time an attack or block, and have to start the whole level again? Me neither but this is Demon’s Souls.
Demon’s Souls is set in the mystical kingdom known as Boletaria, a fictional kingdom which inspired by darkness and currently in the medieval Europe era, bearing more than a resemblance to sections of Oblivion. Boletaria has been surrounded by a mystical fog which has cut off the once great city from the outside world. This mystical fog has also summoned demons who devour mankind’s souls, an action which does not kill the unfortunate human but instead, turns them crazy. Neighbouring Kingdoms have sent warriors in to find out the meaning of the fog and you are one of the very few to make it through. The story plays a minor part of Demon’s Souls with few cut scenes and just a general lack of focus, although it must be said that the story set up helps push the player through the game and gives an explanation for how you buy, upgrade and use the souls that you have collected. The story is there if the player is that way inclined but a lot of it is hidden away in NPC chat.
Upon loading Demon’s Souls, the game confronts the player with the usual fantasy RPG options such as classes consisting of: knight, priest, thief, magician, temple knight, soldier, wanderer, barbarian, royalty and hunter. You’ll also have the option of very detailed yet familiar appearance sliders to enhance your character further. The classes in Demon’s souls offer little more than different starting stats and equipment. Each class can use every weapon and item in the game so there’s little for you to worry about when choosing between them, as each can be levelled up to match your style of play. As there is no difficulty setting in Demon’s Souls the classes offer a rudimentary difficulty option for the player. For example, the Royalty class is a good choice for any newcomer as you’ll start with some decent equipment and spells, whereas if you opt for a greater challenge, selecting the Barbarian class will sort the men from the boys.
The levels in Demon’s Souls are accessed in a non-linear fashion from the centre hub called ‘The Nexus’. You are only required to defeat the first level in world one before all five areas are open for you to peruse through and search for souls - the form of currency which is used for everything from increasing your stats, to buying new items or upgrading weapons. Unfortunately if you die you’ll lose all the current souls collected, simply leaving a blood stain. Fear not however, as if you can find the courage to make it back to the crimson stain, without dying, you’ll regain all the previously collected souls.
Because of that, Demon’s Souls is a very difficult and punishing game and after spending hours farming souls you can easily make one mistake and before you know it you haven’t made it back to your blood stain, losing all of your collected souls. This is an ever familiar scenario when playing through the game. Just to make it that extra bit harder when you die you become a phantom with less health than a human, which will probably mean you’ll die more often. You can regain your body however by doing a number of things, ranging from killing boss demons or using the online multiplayer features.
The meat of Demon’s Souls exists in the gameplay and it’s here that the game steps up and instantly becomes one of my personal favourite games of the year. Naturally, like anything else Demon’s Souls, the hand to hand combat is difficult to grasp at first. Fear not, as within a few hours you’ll be parrying and hitting enemies like the temple knight you always knew you were inside, using your sword, halberd or meat cleaver of course.
Using the games auto-target feature you can play the way you want to play and this is where it gets interesting. Feel like Rambo? Simply run in to any area with two massive swords and show them who’s the boss. If you want to be a little more subtle, simply creep forward with a silver catalyst (magic wand) and shield. How you play is up to you.
Demon’s Souls offers a very interesting risk-reward scenario when it comes to contact, whereby you have to choose between going for the heavy attack which hits hard but also has a long wait period where you risk being hit and killed yourself, or keeping your shield up and using the light attack, going for less powerful but safer tactics. Again it all depends on your playing style.
The melee combat is thoroughly enjoyable and it is truly satisfying to kill each and every enemy and boss demon. Range attacks, such as using magic and bow & arrows, involves the user locking on to the target or, in the case of bow and arrow, manually aiming, are enjoyable in themselves but there is not quite the same satisfaction of blocking the enemies heavy attack and countering with one of your own, leaving him dead. For the combat enthusiast there is a lot more to learn and generally, the more you learn the more of a blast the game is to play. Fans of Oblivion and Monster Hunter will feel right at home here.
Demon’s Souls is able to hold its own in the graphics department but does not hold a candle to other PS3 exclusives such Uncharted 2 and Killzone 2. The character models look nice enough and there’s some lovely lighting in areas, which certainly keeps you on the edge of your seat (especially if there’s 200k souls on the line). Occasionally some of the object textures look muddy and the game does occasionally struggle to keep its solid frame rate up in very busy areas, but all in all the graphics and game performance get a solid pass.
Demon’s Souls contains one of the most innovative yet occasionally frustrating multiplayer experiences I’ve seen in a long time. As you’ve just read, Demon’s Souls is primarily a single player focused game. However that said, if a level or demon is giving you some trouble and you just can’t seem to dispose of the enemy, you can respond to the signs that other players have placed on the floor and summon them into your game to help you out. This allows both the host and the blue phantom - the player who has been summoned - to earn souls together and to kill the demon bosses. Remember when you die you appear back as a phantom? Well this is where the phantom can redeem himself and return to the human state. While this does mean there is no co-op with friends in theory, it is easy to organise with your partner where he or she will put down their co-op sign for you to summon them.
In yet another twist, while a network player may help you, he can also hinder you. Online players can join your game, if you’re connected online, and attack you at almost any moment, providing you’re in the human form. The excitement of seeing the prompt that you have been invaded by another human player is unmatched in most other RPG games and makes this one of my favourite parts of Demon’s Souls.
The wearisome part of Demon’s Souls is in fact the game’s difficulty. Although occasionally frustrating it shouldn’t put you off as in the long run, the difficulty is what makes the game challenging and exciting. It’s a fantastic RPG and after a few hours you’ll be slaying demons and enemies like the badass knight in the opening cinematic. This is definitely a potential game of the year and any RPG fan should have this in their collection!