Demon's Souls Reader Review
Shown first at the Tokyo Game Show 2008 with a seemingly generic and lackluster presentation marred by frame rate issues the game was one of the few new games announced by Sony.
The game was released to Japanese gamers in the beginning of February and received by the press with mixed approval, some rating the game as an average action game but more promisingly some reviewers loved it. At the end of February the Asian version of the game was released, featuring Chinese and English text to complement the English voice acting that was already in the Japanese version.
The Demon's Introduction
Starting the game it is immediately clear from the tutorial that this game is different. This is a game design that is going back in time to a day where games were challenging and knew that the best reward for the player came from the sense of accomplishment in overcoming challenges. Not diluting the challenges, but giving the player the tools to overcome them.
Demon's Souls is an action RPG set in the Kingdom of Boletaria as it is beset by the Old One, a demon from the ages. The Old One has attracted other demons that have taken over various areas of the land. This doesn't sound altogether much different from other RPGs but what separates DS from the others is in the presentation, the level planning and the relentless challenges.
The first thing you learn when you go into the world of DS is that you will die many times in the game. You also learn that dying is ok as your soul has been trapped by the Nexus and the Nexus will keep you around as a soul until the Old One has been dealt with. To deal with the Old One you have to track down and kill the lesser Demons, with every Demon killed you grow stronger and with every Boss Demon conquered you revive your body from its weakened soul state. Most of your time in the game will be spent as a soul unless you are so (remarkably) good that you never die.
From the Nexus you are allowed the choice of moving to 5 different areas in the land, each one with 3 Boss Demons (apart from the first area which gives you 4) that you have to take care of. In the beginning the game locks you out from all areas but the first until you kill your first Boss Demon.
Exploring an area is more like exploring the locations of Ico, Ninja Gaiden or Prince of Persia rather than the simple levels of Dungeon Master, Diablo or Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance. While exploring and killing enemies you will come upon locked doorways and gates that you can later open up to allow for shortcuts to reach areas you previously had to fight to reach. Fighting a Boss Demon and conquering it creates a new portal for you to use as a destination from the Nexus. Besides being a traveling Hub the Nexus also functions as a safe area where you can buy upgrades, level up your character and weapons and also dump off your loot.
The Demon's Goodness
But what makes it good?
The combat and controls are great and the range of options give you so much to choose from that there will always be a solution for every enemy. Even if one solution may involve you running far away. And that's part of the reason why the combat is so good, knowing when to retreat and knowing when to attack is key. You have a range of options from simple blocking and bashing, parrying and dealing counterattacks, to stealth blows from the back, running attacks, two handed extra powerful attacks, various spells and ranged weapons. The second part of what makes combat fun is in the enemies, you will have to learn the patterns of the enemies to learn how to take care of them. Some being vulnerable only from the back, some that only expose themselves after they've made an attack, some who you need to separate from their pack to take care of.
And then to top it off the fights against the bosses are all very unique, some destroying the environment around you, some using weaker enemies to distract you, some breaking the rules of the boss fight as you've learned them. And some even changing the rules completely by summoning other players as the fighter against you.
The Demon's Uniqueness
That's where Demon's Souls changes from being a good and immersive dungeon crawler to something truly unique. Instead of being a simple coop mechanic the multiplayer component of DS is integrated within the game as part of the theme.
As you are exploring the world you will note white phantoms moving around, these phantoms are other players. You cannot interact with them, you can only observe what they do just as they can observe you. You will also note blood pools and red messages on the ground. Inspecting a blood pool will show you how another player died. Reading the messages will give you hints from other players. Sometimes the hints are there to help you, sometimes they are there to trick you. Putting down hints yourself that are helpful is rewarded by getting your health recharged whenever another player rates your message.
Later in the game you will receive a couple of stones, a blue stone that you can use to put down blue messages that makes your soul available to be summoned by another player. You can only use this stone while you are a soul and you can only see and use the messages if you are a revived and fully alive.
But being alive comes with a risk. A risk of being invaded by another soul, a greedy player that is using a black stone to invade your game to kill you. Killing you will net him a reward and revive him so that becomes alive.
The Demon's Conclusion
Demon's Souls is a game for gamers who loved the games of old that were challenging but always fair. A game for gamers who don't need to be hand fed challenges to keep playing. A game for gamers who are fed up with the handholding that's so common in the game design of today.
The game isn't perfect, the frame rate issues from the TGS build were all solved but the ragdolls for enemies react to you pushing them around and makes the game look a bit shoddy. Also there is a distinct lack of shadows from characters (I'm guessing this is the fix for the framerate issues), they are there but they only appear on dynamic objects and never the static level geometry. There are also limitations in the multiplayer component in that you cannot talk to the people you are playing with and can only emote with them. The issues that keep it from being a 10 for me however is just the fact that some of the bosses (and enemies) have unintended exploits in their behaviour, if From Software had just had a little bit more time I'm sure these (relatively minor) things could have been resolved.
Because Demon's Souls really is a beautiful, immersive and unique game that pushes all the right buttons for us old school gamers.
9 / 10