Demon’s Souls is a game which is preceded by its reputation. In the West, Asian copies began flooding in early this year featuring a rudimentary English localization. The game received nothing but praise and respect for its high level of difficulty. Fans of RPGs and PS3 owners alike waited with uncertainty as to whether a U.S. release would ever become a reality. When Atlus finally announced they would be bringing the game over, I was excited to say the least. I have spent the past month previewing the game thanks to Atlus and certainly have a lot to say about this title and its reputation.
Story — Let Sleeping Demons Lie
The game’s story is rather dark and surreal, more so than one might expect from a game with a WRPG appearance:
A great king who had been channeling the power of spirits mistakenly awoke a massive demon, simply referred to as The Old One. Its revival causes a strange fog to encircle the kingdom, which causes demons to emerge and snatch the souls of the kingdom’s inhabitants. Those who have their souls taken go mad and turn on the living. The player assumes the role of a brave warrior who enters the fog from the outside world in an attempt to return The Old One to its slumber.
The feeling of loneliness and danger I get from the story seems to jive well with the game’s lack of coddling the player. You will feel like the unimportant, lost wanderer you are assuming the role of. Now, when I reflect on game with similarly distraught settings, it seems strange to have received the guidance I did.
System — Survival of the Soul-iest
Everyone’s journey into Boletaria will begin by creating their character. Character creation includes selecting a name, gender, job-class, and appearance. Who doesn’t love creating a video game self? I was a bit confused by all the different attributes, but once I was able to alter my character’s stats, I found that weaknesses are easily buffed out with enough effort. This may ease any anxiety you have when it comes to selecting a job-class.
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I love games where your character is not limited by their initial job-class. With enough work, Demon’s Souls will allow any character to sling a powerful bolt of magic or lift a giant sword onto their shoulder. This allows you to enjoy and sample nearly every aspect of battle and decide what’s best for you.
Once your character is created, your life of soul-acquisition beings. Every living thing can be bested in an advanced hack-and-slash fashion, earning you souls. Souls are the currency of the game’s dreary world; they will be needed to level up your character, buy items, and strengthen equipment. These soul-filled-enemies are not without their wiles and if given the chance can kill you.
Joining forces with an ally makes it easier to take down some of the larger enemies in the game.
Life and death are strange concepts in Demon’s Souls. Life is defined as having a body, which is the highest state of being in the game. Once you die, your character wanders in a blueish spirit form. You will have about half your HP but have slightly stronger offenses. I found that I really had to get over my attachment to my body. For whatever reason, I felt naked without it even though the game is essentially the same as a spirit. Eventually I settled into this notion but had to fight everything that my mind has absorbed about “good” or “bad” from any game ever. In a way, I was a zen trainee, and Demon’s Souls was my master hitting me on the head with a knobby walking stick.
Recovering your body requires you to either defeat a boss, help a stranger defeat a boss, or defeat a stranger. This means that there is really no shortage of bodies for you to inhabit as long as you aren’t afraid of a little multi-player. There is also a rare item called “Stone of Ephemeral Eyes” which instantly orders up one hot pile of body.
Having a corporal form can be dangerous since losing it in a certain level will affect that world’s tendency negatively, pushing it towards darkness. Worlds with darker tendencies have stronger enemies better suited to continue killing you. Tipping the scale the opposite direction will require you to defeat a boss or team up with an ally and defeat a boss. Likewise, invading a player’s game and impaling them will net you a decent tendency hit to your character. I found that this system helps break up the monotony of levels since they change based on the tendency of their respective world. Playing with the difficulty is also fun in a dangerous kind of way.
Difficulty — Walk Along the Razor’s Edge
If Demon’s Souls were a Rorschach test and you showed it to 10 gamers, 9 of them would wet their pants. Every time. I am not saying that the game is unbelievably hard, it just has a reputation of being unbelievably hard. In my experiences, however, this isn’t true.
Bloodstains show the final moments of slain warriors and provide warnings to players.
The game is challenging — there is no argument there — but it is not unfairly so. Players who respect the system and make a genuine attempt to learn and understand it, rather than fight against it, will see this as well. I think that this mentality is something many of us have lost. We play games to beat them and developers make the games so that they are beatable. Demon’s Souls, however, was made to be beaten by those who truly love it.
Presentation — Gloom Orchestra
Considering the gloom of the game’s world, I was happy that each of the five areas the player can visit differ, which prevents any sense of visual monotony. I think if every level took place somewhere in a castle’s walls it would probably turn a lot of people away. In addition to successfully gloomy, albeit varying aesthetics, the game’s mood is further enhanced by its music and sound. I recall one instance quite vividly in 3-1 when walking thorough an abandoned prison. I could hear the cries of trapped dredglings as well as a rather angry warrior echoing through the level. As I approached the floor and cell where the warrior was held, his cries seemed to get louder… Scary stuff!
When it comes to the game’s re-localization, Atlus’s revamped version is essential to anyone planning on getting into the game. There are not a lot of times when Demon’s Souls explains things to you, but I found the few explanations that do exist very clear and helpful. This was certainly in contrast to what Aram had shown me when demonstrating the Asian version of the game, which was rife with inaccuracies and confusing abbreviations. It also should be mentioned that the North American version is getting its own server where everyone will be just as much a nub as you!
Atlus is offering their re-localization in both a standard edition and a special edition, the latter of which includes a guide by the makers of DoubleJump books, which is certainly a huge plus. By pre-ordering the game consumers will also receive a pretty snazzy full soundtrack:
Aram of Atlus PR explaining the benefits of Demon’s Souls Special Edition between sniffs
I plan on writing a mini starter guide which will be available sometime soon on the site! It may be unnecessary considering the amount of of info out there on the game, but I have been asked for advice from a few people.
Conclusions — Ichiban
For more of my thoughts on the game please check out my recent podcast at PSNation.
I know the caliber of gamers that read my site aren’t afraid of a challenge, so long as there is a great game tying it all together. I assure you that Demon’s Souls nails this formula, providing a healthy challenge, an immersible atmosphere, and a complex but enjoyable system. This game offers a truly rare experience and is easily my favorite title of 2009. Come October 6th, I will eagerly begin my journey again in the game, and I strongly urge you do to the same!