Demon's Souls Reader Review
I approached Demon’s Souls with a lot of trepidation. Reading all I could online, the games reputation was punishing; a meal of merciless struggle, served with a cold drink of liquidised joypad. I’m no video-games spring chicken, but I’m by no means amazing. My hands get fuddled during beat-‘em-ups for example. I endlessly forget the layout of the buttons, pressing Agonisingly Slow Punch, instead of the Block that will save me from an obvious and telegraphed sweep move. As you may already know, there is nothing friendly about your Friends in these circumstances, and I fear the emotional scars may never heal.
Demon’s Souls – with its focus on timed blocks, parries and Agonisingly Slow Sword Chops – was never a good idea for me on paper. My common sense was screeching while I handed over the £40 – what the (it said), “Why don’t you just wrap £40 around your fist and punch yourself in the face?” I was glad to have dismissed these concerns though. This game now haunts my dreams.
The first World gripped me for sure. My initial steps through the Boletarian Palace 1-1 took nearly 5 hours of tentative nervous shuffles around corners. Hacking enemies with my Soldier’s Broadsword had me hooked though. The sense of actually swinging a sharp and heavy lump of steel was terrific. It didn’t feel bad to die because I knew I’d have the same fun hacking up all those same enemies on the way back to my dropped Souls. I also knew that dropping 500 souls in the depths of the Palace only meant that by the time I got back there, I’d already have another 500 souls from the journey.
Finding and upgrading a Bastard Sword a little later (befitting of my character, “El Bastardo”) further liberated the hacking and slashing. The damage numbers escalated. Weak enemies would go down in a single 2-handed strike, and often a whole hoard of them in close quarters. Taking down my first Red Eyed Knight with it (after several failed attempts and eventually a proper strategy) was a moment of pride I can only expect you find when your first child sticks two Lego bricks together.
I’d truly earned that sword though, and that’s the point. I’d tip-toed through the first two areas, blundered into unexpected ambushes and trudged back to my bloodstain countless times. Then eventually the tense Boss fights, attacking from safe vantage points and biding my time. Heart pumping in my chest as my ineffectual ranged weapons run out of ammo and I have to wade in with Betsy (I’d named her by then).
The earned Souls paid for upgrades to my Strength to allow me to hold Betsy in one hand. After that revelation, now I could block more effectively, opening up new strategies. After that, Souls fed into upgrades to the sword itself, and with each upgrade I could feel a distinct increase in power and confidence.
I had reached the point where I was in love with a sword that wasn’t even real. So imagine my horror when realising that against enemies in World 2, it was as effective as a sponge-cake. The Winged Spear I’d been ignoring throughout World 1 was now essential with its Piercing attack (over Betsy’s Standard one), and I needed to start the soul-collecting and weapon-upgrading all over again.
After plucking up the stones to give World 3 a try (after a heart-in-mouth fight with World 2-1’s Armoured Spider), Betsy was back in favour again. Creeping around the haunting claustrophobic walkways of a hellish prison are the Mind Flayers – squid-mouthed magic using horrors who carry a distinct and eerie bell with them. Trial and error taught me that wading in would reduce me to a stain. A sneak attack from behind though (each weapon has a brilliant and powerful backstab), and Betsy would kill the creepy gits in one strike. So again the game changed its pace. Now I was noting the timing of patrol routes, using that awful bell to gauge their distance, ducking and sprinting into position and then attacking unnoticed when their backs were turned. I’m sure it would have looked very sneaky, were it not for the huge Bastard Sword resting over my shoulder.
Passing the prison cell with the heartbreaking female singing, I began to feel a little bit uneasy. This World was a departure from the previous two most notably in its sound design: the place was just depressing.
Each Mind Flayer was giving me a fairly substantial reward, and World 3-1 is unnaturally crammed with item pickups. I was being pushed farther and farther by greed alone, and the unease soon gave way to heroics. All the time, in the back of my mind, there was a voice saying “Hey! Hey you! You’ve got enough souls. Go back and spend them before you get murdered!”
A dramatic kick-in from new enemy that fired blue rays of death brought me back down to earth, but on my return (with another few thousand souls netted), I found a place to cheap-shot it with arrows. Feeling ever more cocky, I reclaimed my original souls and carried on.
By the time I’d got to the Boss I was feeling superior in every way. I’d bagged a load of loot (pumping soul points into my Luck stat really paid off), collected over 10,000 souls, and was generally feeling like I could saunter up and tweak the nose of the Boss. Just before I went past the point of no return (where you’re basically locked into a Boss fight and you either win or die), Mr Common Sense jumped up and stood in my way. “Are you bat-shit insane?! You’ve got 10,000 souls, and you’re about to walk into a Boss fight that will 100% kill you first time?”
Fair play, I thought. With that many souls I could do some pretty good levelling up. Ok you win, I reluctantly sulked. It wouldn’t take long to run back to here and whack that Boss once I’d safely spent my souls, so off I ran back to the safety of the Nexus hub.
And straight off the edge of a shadowy balcony, to my death. For once, Mr Common Sense was silent.
Demon’s Souls, contrary to what you may have read, is not the teeth-grinding struggle that the gaming press claim. Rather, it’s a game of patience. Slowly and methodically inching through the 5 huge worlds, chipping away at the re-spawned hellions until you know their locations. Opening shortcut gates and eventually sprinting directly to the lair of the Boss with the right equipment, spells, healing items and strategy. Getting killed is just another part of the grind, providing you have the determination to get back to them again with yet more souls collected on the way for a bigger payout later.
Sure it is cruel. The tutorial level ends with an unavoidable killing. A second death before you return to your bloody stain means your uncollected souls are gone forever, and there is an awful lot of trial and error in new areas. It’s true that the game wants you dead, and it hammers the point home by making you spend the vast majority of your time in Soul Form with reduced health.
Factors like having to use the online Wiki to find out how you level up only added an idiosyncratic charm to the game. You can accidently kill merchants – what other RPG would let you do that? And if you want the better upgrades to your weapons, you’ve first got to kill a certain Boss and provide its Soul to a character not even found in the Nexus hub. You have to work hard for literally everything.
But for those with patience, it is an excellent slow burner. The rewards are not just in the loot and levelling, but in the general sense of achievement. There’s nothing tangible in the game that makes you feel that way, but you know you’ve absolutely earned everything you’ve got. To the point where you let yourself down when you use a safe, cheap-shot strategy on a Boss. You want to wade in and get your hands dirty, because getting to that Boss wasn’t easy at all.
The only real issue I have with Demon’s Souls at all is back down to my cack-handed inability with joypads: if I press Square accidently, I chew through my precious Healing items whether I need healing or not. And I can hardly blame the game for my button stupidity.