Demon's Souls Reader Review
Demon's Souls doesn't mess around. You're asked to create your avatar through basic, bare-bones character creation, happy with your decidedly dead-eyed character – you're plunged into what can only be described as a putrid sewer, not given any real explanation as to why you're there, you have no other choice but to gallantly push forward, to figure out the intricacies of the nuanced, measured 3rd-person combat. Wandering through an ethereal, dilapidated castle, cutting your way through a familiar band of your garden variety zombies, soldiers and knights, they fall with not too much fuss. As you delve a little deeper you encounter a far more formidable beast, now this chap is quite the imposing figure; sporting a great hulking axe that would mayhap reduce Godzilla a few feet. He stands at many times your height, with the apt appearance of a medieval executioner on Henry VIII's payroll. You're given no instruction other than your own base desire to survive, and survive you most certainly will not (unless you're up for a real David and Goliath slug-out) one swing from the enormous all encompassing weapon will take away the vast majority, if not all of your HP in one blow. It appears you're not particularly welcomed in Boletaria; an abrasive, hostile world that goes by some very specific rules, unseen in a generation of games where you're made to feel like Muhammed Ali when you're shucking and jiving like Boris Johnson. Victory is cheap – if not meaningless, but Demon's souls regurgitates over that ideology, the game is a mind set like no other I've seen in recent years.
You're dead, it seems. At this point the plot which goes along the lines of noxious demon dealing fog enveloping a prosperous, affluent city and threatening the human race is such an insignificance, that you would be forgiven for thinking it has no place in such a game. You're presented with the Nexus, a foreboding, disconcerting central hub that connects you to the 5 structured dungeons to fight through. You “live” on as a translucent, undermined spirit with half the hit points of your previously physical form. You can regain your life though by the means of slaying a boss enemy, using a relatively scarce item or killing another live player through “hijacking” into the game they're currently progressing through. Claim your life and you might want to cling to it, buy the farm and you're back to square one. This is a game of real emergent consequences – Demon's Souls doesn't mess around and it's advised you don't either.
The various areas to traverse, from vast castles to caustic marshlands are what some may call uninspired but the audacious game design is anything but; the currency Boletaria is ruled by, souls – obtained largely by felling enemies is a stroke of genius; used for everything from boosting your character's level and attributes to buying new equipment and purchasing recovery items. Die and you drop every soul you had in your possession, now when you die you are whisked to the very start of the area, if you would like them back you need to trek back to the position of where you fell and pick them back up, but the crux of the situation is that if you get yourself killed again those souls dissipate, never to be recovered – ramping up the tension tenfold.
You don't get what some would traditionally call checkpoints, you die (This will happen often, most likely) and you will be sent to the very beginning of the stage. To alleviate a lot of frustration, if you open a gate or lower a drawbridge these will remain so it will take considerably shorter to get back to your previous spot before the deed was done. This game can be very punishing, it demands absolute focus at all times. Take your eye off the game for one moment and you can wind up with your tail between your legs, foolishly step on a trap and take a hail of darts to your back and you have to do over – but now you know what to expect, and that's the beauty of this game; through perseverance, you can take on the world. Gaining inches through a particularly difficult section feels like you've gained a mile. There's no greater motivation than the simple elation of progression, a feeling lacking in so many modern games. The relentless challenge and the feeling of accomplishment feels like an exquisite love letter to the hardcore.
The combat is very accommodating to all styles of play, from the meaty up-close-and-personal swordplay to the more painstaking and cautious realm of archery and magecraft. The lock on system simply works once you've grasped the controls which won't take you much longer than 10 minutes. One thing for certain is that you cannot charge headlong into your foes or you may as well perform an Olympic dive into your own coffin from a high board; even facing off with one enemy, if your attention waivers onto what you're having for dinner you can quite easily wind up a deader. The game encourages to encircle the stronger enemies akin to Spartacus, eyes never leaving your opponents whether it being an A.I or human attacker, cajoling one another like a heated game of Poker to leave an opening - it can leave you breathless.
The online element to the game, while subtle, is winningly realised. When in your fleshy, physical form you can call upon up to two 'souls', players without the vitality you possess, to aid you through difficult sections or boss's who happen to be handing your posterior on a platter. The online feature works both ways, a player in soul form can break into your game and if they manage to kill you in their handicapped form they reclaim their life while you are reverted back to a glorified poltergeist. Players inclined to chivalry are able to drop messages to warn players of traps, enemy ambushes and any other kind of imminent danger which really gives you a sense you're all working together to brave these tumultuous waters; it's a genuinely innovative feature and really fleshes out the quest.
The understated audio stages the action beautifully, barring boss struggles and the Nexus, there is no music – just the chink of your armour that permeates from your laboured footsteps, shrill cries from beleaguered prisoners and crows overhead. The silence and vague ambiance deafening and heart-pounding, the exemplary voice-acting chilling you to the marrow – finding myself adverse to window-shopping: “Not buying anything? You won't last very long here...”, if there's one thing you don't need in this game it's bad karma. The atmosphere is stifling at times and really drags you in. The visuals, while a little angular in places with some low resolution textures, are appealing, with some eye-catching bloom and depth of field effects with a real moody, rustic yet enigmatic look to the art. The frame-rate does struggle when there is too many character models or alpha effects in play but this doesn't occur on a regular basis and isn't too distracting when you're so intently focused on dispatching the foes in front of you, going through in your mind what may be skulking around the corner, scouting out the items needed to upgrade your infallible Falchion, deliberating whether you're going to sell up the item you got your hands on for taking down that boss, hoping to the gods that no-one 'jacks into your game and gives you an unexpected thrashing, wondering to yourself whether you have the cojones to face the next boss single-handedly or recruit “dead” players to watch your back... the game doesn't immediately grab you by the scruff of the neck, Demon's Souls is a mindset – it slowly absorbs you.
It slowly dawns to you the kind of reward this game offers for your sheer grit and determination, yes this game is hard but your mistakes and missteps are your own fault. There is no prize in this generation greater than what this game offers – you excel at this game and you know you're head and shoulders above the rest. There's exhilaration in not having the foggiest at just what the game is going to throw at you next, there's no pause function, no exhalation and once the game digs it's claws in, you're not going to stop until the Nexus lets you.