Demon's Souls User Review
This game is a love ballad to the old-school, hardcore gamers. It harks back to the side-scrolling titles of yore in that you are required to memorise level layouts and enemy positions in order to have any degree of success. Even from the beginning you will feel largely outclassed as the weakest enemies are more than enough to kill you. Thankfully, it is fairly easy to gain souls early on with which to power yourself up, but this too becomes far more difficult as the soul requirement to jump to the next level becomes very large. There are eight stat pools to choose from and a single upgrade to any of them will increase your soul level, and as a result the number of souls needed to level up again. Each of these pools affects a different aspect of your character, from melee attack strength to fall damage, stamina and many others besides. It does, in a way, force you to specialise in a certain set of abilities as a jack-of-all-trades will likely not be powerful enough to make it through the game, unless you are constantly farming for souls. In most cases enemies will not drop a great number of souls, which makes it difficult to progress, however, it is absolutely necessary to continue to level up your character for if you do not, regardless of how good your equipment is, you will wind up dead.
Speaking of equipment, this is probably where Demon’s Souls shines as an RPG. There are dozens if not hundreds of options to choose from ranging from shields, swords, axes, spears and even attack gauntlets should you choose to use them. Each of them has different statistics, and there are also several ways for them to deal damage in pierce, slash and blunt. Some of these weapons are further boosted with magic and the best part is that some weapons and attack types are more damaging to certain types of enemies. It requires practice to determine the best weapon to use in any given scenario, but even so, I found it more than possible to run through the entire game using only a very small selection of weaponry, as I found myself unable to acclimatise to the attack styles on offer by other weapon types. This is more of a personal detriment than any fault of the game.
In addition to the diversity on offer, you can further improve your weapons by upgrading them with the blacksmith found in the Nexus. To do so, you will have to bring him ores (more often than not dropped by slain enemies) and demon’s souls. Speaking of the demon’s souls, they are the currency of the game and are earned by slaying the enemies found in the worlds. I actually have a small gripe with this set-up, and it is that you cannot sell any extra weapons in exchange for souls. This results in a huge library of unwanted weapons (or at least it will if you’re like me and only drop an item if you find yourself overburdened). It makes sense, as it is not supposed to be easy to amass souls, though I cannot help but see it as an oversight.
You are able to equip any item at any time (provided that you are the correct gender, and have the requisite stats at a high enough level) although the game does not pause while doing so. To offset this, you have two slots for each hand and switch between the items in these slots with a simple press of left or right on the D-Pad. Similarly, any spells that you have remembered are switched between by tapping up, and your consumable items, including grasses to regenerate your health, spices to regenerate your Magic, and turpentine to apply flame to your right-handed weapon, among other helpful objects, by tapping down. There are five slots for consumables and so plenty of choice. These are used by pressing the Square button and usually take a second or two to apply, which means that it is best to use them when you have a spare moment or else you will likely be interrupted by an enemy assault.
As usual, camera control is mapped to the right stick and character movement to the left. R3 is used to lock onto a target, which makes attacking them directly an easier process, and if the wrong enemy is selected it is usually easily remedied by a quick flick of the right stick in the direction of the enemy you wish to target. Now, if you are like me, you will use your primary weapon in your right hand and shield and bow in your left. I personally found this to be the best way to equip, although others would surely disagree. This way, you can perform a quick attack by tapping R1 and a stronger, slower attack with R2. Holding down L1 will keep your shield up will block most incoming attacks, while tapping L2 will parry, provided you can get the timing right which is no easy feat. If you manage to successfully pull this off, you can follow it up with a riposte with R1 for massive damage and, more often than not, a one-hit kill. You use the bow by switching weapons then tapping L1 to equip your arrows as well. A second tap of L1 will bring up a sniper-type view, which is good for long-range enemies although the arrow doesn’t fly straight so you must compensate for that. And tapping R1 fires the arrow. Of course, depending on your weapon loadout, and even the types of weapons you choose to equip, the combat system will vary somewhat, but what is above is how I usually played.
Gameplay is further fleshed out by the use of the Circle button, which is used to sprint or dodge, both of which use up Stamina (as does attacking, but it regenerates at a fair clip). I found both of them useful for keeping out of range of enemy attacks. The other addition is the use of the Triangle button. This forces your character to use both hands to hold onto whatever you currently have equipped in the right-hand slot. It results in much more damage and slightly slower attacks. This I found to be a largely useless addition, but a nice option when I needed to dispatch of an enemy quickly. One problem that irked me was that there is no jump button, which makes it impossible to jump over barriers to get to a lower level. It would be largely unnecessary, but I would still have liked the option rather than simply being able to roll. Your character will climb up on certain ledges by itself, but it isn’t enough.
Perhaps the most innovative thing about the game is the way your character survives. When you take off on your journey you will be in Body form, though this quickly comes to end as you are transported to the Nexus in Soul form. You cannot return to your body until you take out a boss demon and as a soul your health is halved. It is an immediately daunting prospect, given the strength of the enemies, but something that you must be accustomed to, as you will spend most of your time as a soul. Also, when you die as a soul, you are reset to the Archstone, (the Demon’s Souls version of checkpoints, although they are only present at the start of each section of a level. Basically, from where you start to the point that you slay the boss demon there is no save point, so be careful out there), and the souls that you have acquired are stripped from you. They remain at the point at which you died as a blood stain that you must touch if you want to get them back. This mechanic actually makes farming slightly easier, so long as you can return to your blood stain without dying and then make it out of the level alive.
I really have no gripes with the set up whatsoever although I can understand why other people would be less than enamoured with it. What I personally found to be the best thing about the entire game was the amount of tactical diversity required to complete it. With some enemies it is better to simply run up and attack them head on, while others are too powerful to do so and are better picked off with bows or magic. There are still others where these are largely ineffective and so parrying is really your only option. This carries over to the bosses as well. They are all incredibly powerful, however, each also has a set weakness. For example, there is one that is weak to fire. Another is blind and so as long as you remain quiet he can’t detect you. Some are impervious to magic and others are too big and too fast for you to be able to get in close. It forces you to think about the ways in which to beat them and serves bring something special to the table.
But this diversity isn’t limited to the stratagems that you need to use. Each enemy archetype looks, and usually acts, differently to every other. This would be good if there were only a few different enemy types but with over fifteen, with each usually confined to a single world, it shows an attention of detail rarely seen. There are also some levels with traps as opposed to simply enemies, which makes for a nice change of pace. But yes, each of these enemy archetypes (I say that because most have different variations within them, ranging from crossbowmen, to forms with higher HP, or different weaknesses) is immediately recognisable. I honestly can’t praise the developers highly enough for this success, especially when you consider that most of them hold a humanoid form. This is great but where the design truly shines is in the bosses. Many of them are inventively designed, fitting in well with their surrounds. Moreover, many are legitimately frightening and will leave you sitting in awe thinking, ‘How in the hell am I supposed to beat THAT?!’. It’s absolutely wonderful.
I may be starting to sound a bit like a broken record now but the variety of environments on show is similarly impressive. Yes, there are only five worlds to explore as I’ve already mentioned, but each of them looks distinctly different. Whether it is the sprawling castle battlements of the Boletarian Palace or the swamps and rickety architecture of the Valley of Defilement, each of them brings out a unique flavour from the game while somehow managing to retain the defeated and miserable atmosphere. But the worlds themselves are craftily designed to make use of space. Normally in games there is a straightforward progression through levels, but no such thing exists in Demon’s Souls. The worlds spread about, leading up and down levels and sometimes doubling back on themselves so that the ending of the level is in the same place as the beginning. So you get levels that are by no means large, although they feel it as a result of this multiple layering.
And I must make special note of the animation system. Most weapons have different animations tied to them while you actually get the feeling that your character is sprinting when you make them sprint, rather than the usual quick jog animation. When combined with what is seen in the enemies and bosses, it’s amazing.
The design of the game is simply sublime and needs to be seen to be believed. However it isn’t all sunshine and roses. The texture work is good but there are some places in which it can be found lacking. The environments are often dark and as a result, difficult to see. This helps add to the immersive nature of the game but when you die as a result of not being able to see a platform that you are trying to jump to or not seeing an enemy looming about you, it feels somewhat cheapened. The camera can also go a bit spastic at times leaving you with an awful view of your surroundings, but this is rare and easily remedied. In my play through I encountered a few instances of frame rate drops although these really had no adverse effects on my experience. The final thing that I want to touch on is that, in spite of the beauty of everything, there seems to be a general lack of colour and detail. By no means does it look bad, but most of the time none of the environments will leap out at you and make you say, ‘Ooh… Look at that!’. It’s a mite disappointing although would hardly enough to turn most people away.
It’s difficult for me to label anything as the worst part of the game as it is, all around, a great production, but if anything must be said to be so, it would be the sound. Don’t get me wrong, the orchestral accompaniment that is present throughout much of the game is rousing and indeed, having the Black Phantom Edition, I played the soundtrack in my car for weeks on end and still do pop it in occasionally. From the heavy drum beats of some tracks to the more gentle and soaring strings of others, it certainly aids in getting one in the mood to play. Not only that but the simple melodies fit in perfectly with the medieval setting. I think though, that I would have liked for there to have been some heavier riffs involved in some of the more difficult boss battles.
The sound effects are very good, whether it be the growling of certain enemy types, the twang of bows or the slashing of a sword, and better yet it all matches almost perfectly to the actions on screen. It’s quite impressive but altogether lacking. It doesn’t quite seem to be enough. I’m not entirely sure why not though. There is definitely something missing. Similarly, if I’m being completely honest, the voice acting is rather ordinary and comes across at many points as being flat and almost unprofessional in its delivery. When combined with the general lack of dialogue options it comes across as very weak. The standout performance is, without a doubt, the Maiden in Black. Her particular intonation and voice works on me and somehow manages to elevate all the voice acting in my mind. She is wonderful.
And, she plays the largest role in the story, besides your created character, who I must admit is quite fun to play around with trying to get the right look. This is nothing new to someone who has played any RPG from Bethesda or Bioware, though I found there to be a lot more detail in the character than was found in Fallout 3 or Dragon Age: Origins. That may be a subjective observation... Back to what I was saying before I got sidetracked; the Maiden in Black is the one that brings you to the Nexus, the hub of worlds, after you are killed in the tutorial section. Your resolve was already strong in wanting to free the world from the colourless Deep Fog and she facilitates this by giving you the power of the soul arts.
The aforementioned Deep Fog has swept across the land of Boletaria once more, bringing with it swarms of soul-hunting demons. Each day the Fog progresses further across the landscape edging ever closer to the other lands. Many warriors have entered the Fog, seeking to free Boletaria from its plight, but none have been successful and now a new warrior steps forth. Once you slay your first boss Demon you are asked to visit the Monumental, who explains the history of the fog, and the source of it. It then tasks you with freeing the land and returning the Demons to whence they came.
After that is done, the world is open for you with five separate lands to explore, and each of them must have the Demons eradicated before you can banish the fog once and for all. The story is really quite simple, but it works as a great pretext for the game design, and so it can’t really be faulted. There are few cutscenes, and most of these are only to introduce the next boss, which only further accentuates the lack of any real story.
But the story isn’t really why anyone would play Demon’s Souls. Most people will want it for the rare challenge on offer, and this is aided by longevity. My first playthrough lasted almost forty hours and that really is the tip of the iceberg, as once you have completely finished the story, the game resets you in New Game + mode, which increases the difficulty. The same thing happens every time that you complete the game. So it becomes progressively more difficult, yet allows you to retain any items and levelling bonuses that you may have gained throughout the previous playthroughs. It’s a wonderful system that will likely keep drawing you back into it, if you have the time and patience to put up with the difficulty and this, once again, is the biggest caveat to the game. It has a determined audience. It knows that it is after the people who will continually persevere and not fair-weather gamers. If you don’t think you can roll with it, then stay away. If you’re up to it then I most highly recommend Demon’s Souls. In my opinion, any real gamer MUST at least try it.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.