I picked up Demon’s Souls for the PlayStation 3 from the friendly guys over at GameStop Santa Monica while visiting LA a month ago. It’s the only game I was looking forward to import, because I reckon it’ll be a while before it sees a European release, if ever. I have since put in more time into it than with many games I’m already done with (20+ hours), and I have barely scratched the surface.
Demon’s Souls is a third person action roleplaying game. You portray a brave warrior who wonders into a demon-infested land and attempts to purge it. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Nethack and other roguelikes in its uncompromising handling of the player and the need to very carefully tread a little bit further into the darkness on subsequent goes, after you’ve died quickly and messily upon stepping into something you’re not familiar with. I am really surprised at how well it’s been received, considering that it really goes out of its way to shove off newcomers.
In addition to Nethack, it reminds me of the phenomenal original Xbox title Otogi, although it isn’t as beautiful or over the top. There’s the structure of exploring new monster-inhabited lands and revisiting them to uncover secrets and the variety of foes and play styles you need to explore to be victorious. This is not surprising considering that they’re both From Software titles.
The game is all about making you work for it. Most likely you will die upon finding something new. When you die, you respawn at the beginning of the level as a phantom with only half of your health bar. You lose all your accumulated souls – combined experience points and currency, gained by slaying demons – upon death. If you manage to reach your bloodstain before dying again, in your weakened state, you’ll regain the souls you lost. You only get your body and your full health bar back upon vanquishing a greater demon boss. The outcome is that you spend the majority of your game as a phantom. If you do manage to play with your body intact, another player can invade your game and kill you, taking your souls!
The whole online aspect of the game is draconian, utterly foreign in how hard it is to understand how it works. Under certain circumstances, you can invite other players into your game to help you out. Under other circumstances, you can invade the games of others to hunt them down. You can also leave messages to other players to help them out in their games, warning them of traps and notifying them of treasures… or leading them astray with lies. The initially most intriguing aspect is touching the bloodstains of other players, which then plays back their last seconds before their death as ghostly apparitions in your world.
Despite bracing myself for a challenge, I was initially frustrated with the game, because over twelve hours, I just couldn’t make progress beyond level 1-2. I died something like 50-100 times. I begun to wonder that either this is way too hardcore for me or I’m doing something really wrong. It turned out I shouldn’t have picked the character class of Knight I initially went with, foolishly thinking it would be a safe, straightforward choice. I read some FAQs and message boards and discovered the Royal class, dubbed the “unofficial ‘easy’ mode”. This is so true I can’t emphasize it enough. After restarting as a Royal, I breezed through the first three levels in 90 minutes, dying only twice. (This is because he has a very useful magic attack and a ring to regenerate magic points with.)
Very soon after that, things turned hard again. You need to understand that the game’s five worlds are not supposed to be tackled linearly. You dip your feet into 3-1, discover that it kills you within a minute, and try 4-1 on for a size. You discover some great loot there, barely hanging onto your life, and figure out a way to take on 3-1 with your newfound abilities. It continues to go back and forth like that – you wander into the unknown, find something new, and think of a way it could help you elsewhere. Loot has never felt so good as with Demon’s Souls.
Unforgiving, uncompromising, a harsh lover; this is the most unique game on the PlayStation 3, and right up there with Uncharted on the (short) list of reasons to get a PS3 instead of an Xbox 360.