From Software's latest RPG masterpiece impresses on almost every level
- Atmospheric, challenging (to put it lightly!), it will keep you going for ages
- Online mode destroys the game's mood, can occasionally be too 'old school' for it's own good
Demon's Souls has proven to be an unexpected hit for From Software, but it has deserved every success -- it really is one of the few essential RPGs.
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After a short tutorial, a giant demon smashed my hero to pieces. He was then kinda-sorta revived in a ghost form, and I started Demon's Souls proper. I wandered up the steps to a mammoth Gothic castle, knocked off a few zombie-things, and was generally feeling pretty good about myself.
“This game is meant to be really hard,” I said to myself, and yet I was cruising. I entered an inky-black, claustrophobic tunnel. WHAM! A zombie-thing slapped me from behind the veil of darkness with a monkey-jump that would have impressed Donkey Kong and I was halfway to the first of many deaths.
Demon's Souls is a relic from the past — and I say that with all due love and respect. It's painfully difficult, requires a lot of trial and error, and moves with a methodical plodding that makes it hard to qualify as an 'action RPG.' The most basic of enemies are quite capable of knocking you off — the big ones are truly frightening — and this is one of the few games where a dragon really is something you don't want to square off against.
From niche masterpiece developer, From Software (Lost Kingdoms, Armored Core), Demon's Souls is a sequel to the venerable King's Field series in all but name. Where the earlier games were slow-burning first-person dungeon hackers, Demon's Souls is a slow-burning third-person dungeon hacker. Like the earlier games, Demon's Souls is old-school Gothic, filled with slump-shouldered and sad-faced NPCs, pea soup fog and damp colours.
And, like the King's Field series, Demon's Souls is unforgiving. The odds are stacked against your hero, the bosses are monstrous, and there's a great deal of trial and error in the gameplay. You’ll eventually earn your physical form back in the early stages of the game, but you won’t keep it for long.
The game then gets harder each time you die, as you are tasked to recover your physical body as a 'soul' — a soul with a fraction of the health of a physical body, weapons that are rapidly degrading, and none of the experience you accumulated prior to death. How do you return to your fallen body in an inferior state? Good question.
To rub salt into the wounds, Demon's Souls features a 'light and dark' system — each death brings the world one step closer to darkness. The darker the world, the tougher the enemies. The tougher the enemies, the more you die. It's the dictionary definition of 'vicious cycle'.
And yet, for all the challenge, you won't put down Demon's Souls. A death is not an excuse to go and play something easy; it's a challenge to improve yourself. Every step farther is a reward in itself, every boss defeated is Christmas come early, and for the trophy whores, earning a platinum on this one may as well be the equivalent of a Nobel Prize.
It's not all good, of course. From Software is creatively brilliant, but just as stubborn in sticking to decidedly archaic conventions. Combat is slow and clunky — tactical, yes, but a challenge rather than a joy to engage with. Character models and the game world of Boletaria are detailed, but also coated with a sheen that, at times, makes everything look plastic. Music is minimal but effective, while the sound effects haven't evolved far from King's Field on the PlayStation 1 and 2.
Finally, the online mode, while undeniably creative, is an ugly clash with the overall theme of the game. Demon’s Souls was designed as a solitary, lonely experience, but having blue souls pop in and out to help you knock off a demon, and playing cat-and-mouse with red souls looking to PK you, greatly cuts that autophobic atmosphere to the detriment of the game. It ultimately feels like a modern concession to an audience that craves MMOs.
Ignoring the uncomfortable online mode, however, Demons Souls is a unique and essential single-player experience. It'll test the patience of even the most hardened gamer, but it rewards perseverance three fold. It's also the closest to an essential RPG the PlayStation 3 has had to date, and will undoubtedly go down as a cult icon of the generation.
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