Demon’s Souls (PS3)

Everything you know is wrong.

…if you’ve never played the game.

Mostly.

Demon’s Souls is a 3rd person Action/RPG hybrid developed by (who else?) From Software.   Often flaunted by people who’ve never played it, or have so for only a short while, as “the hardest thing I’ve ever seen since I found that loaf of bread behind the fridge from 1994.”  Whether or not this is true depends on the poor soul playing, but don’t let naysayers (cowards) dissuade you.

[OOOOOOOOOOORRRE!]

And let me rescind that by saying Demon’s Souls is one of the hardest games I’ve played in recent memory; it’s unforgiving, unfriendly and it wants to make you earn everything you get, as aggressively as possible.  It’s fucking hard.   It is not for the easily frustrated or impatient.  Demon’s Souls gets a reputation for being a very difficult game (yet one you can’t actually “lose”; I’ll get to that later), and this is ultimately true; however, the reason it is true is largely been exaggerated.  The game isn’t perfect, and there are few genuinely unfair and, dare I say, FUCKING BULLSHIT WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! moments in the game, but most of difficulty comes from a game that drops you into a world, says “this button does this; this is how you fight; this is what you’re doing” and then lets you go.  The game doesn’t reward recklessness, stupidity or carelessness–it has a very ‘sink or swim’ feel to it, and despite what I said earlier, most of the game is easily understood and overcome with some patience and thinking.  It’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t hold your hand, but only if you don’t enjoy having your hand held.

The difficulty curve is practically a right angle, but some people enjoy that.  Most people call the masochists; and they’re probably right with this game, too.  It takes a certain kind of player to enjoy this type of abuse.

[This is how you died.  Like a bitch.]

Despite the RPG title it is often given, it plays more like a modern Legend of Zelda game, except without the Lego Starwars learning curve.   Standard light/heavy attacks, a dodge/roll/backstep button (which the single most important button in the game) and an action button. Nothing crazy here.  The elements involved with combat can get pretty complex, however; there are a surprising variety of weapon types, from daggers and iron knuckles to polearms and spears to clubs to gigantic swords, each having a certain quality that may adapt to a certain play style–things like reach, knock-back, status effects and attack speed all play integral parts in it.   Daggers are quick, low damage weapons that are more heavily modified by Dexterity (oh, yes.  We’ll get into the ‘stat’s portion of this game soon enough.), and more suited for a quick character that can circle an enemy and rack up damage incredibly quickly; a gigantic sword, on the other hand, doesn’t have the benefit of quick attacks, instead using a higher damage output with a ‘knockback’ effect that can knock your opponent of his or her feet.  Each weapon is capable of two special attacks, known as backstab (I’ll let you figure this one out) and riposte (I’ll let you off on this one); the former is as simple as it sounds, either sneaking on an enemy and taking advantage of the opportunity or trying to dodge around him until you can land a hit; the latter is less so.  Small shields (and certain weapons) allow for a blocking motion that can leave any human(oid) enemy open for a Riposte attack; it is much more difficult to time and pull of than a backstab, but deals more damage.  Weapons like daggers and knives deal more damage towards such attacks, making their small attacks explode when used correctly.  Larger weapons still do more damage, but the damage scaling is much less.  Each weapon type and play style can lead to a multitude of strategies, so there’s a surprising amount of variety to bad with each play through.

[Armor is mostly just to make you feel pretty.]

[And yes, it’s like swinging a telephone pole.]

Armor plays a much less active, and some might say pointless, role in the game.

In your stats menu, there is what is known as a “item burden” and a “equip burden.”  Item burden just refers to how much crap you can carry at any given time (which is modified by, again, more stats); equip burden is the more pertinent of the two, deciding how exactly you’re going to be playing.  At half of your maximum equip burden, you can move unhindered and quickly, rolls and dodging unaffected.  One you move past that point, your movement and agility is stunted–rolls are slower and have less reach, your sprinting is noticeably slower.  Lighter armor obviously weighs less on the person, and the trade off is supposed to be a higher damage resistance with heavier, more hindering armor, but since so much of the game can send your ass back to the Nexus with a few hits, most armor ends up being quite useless.  This also applies to shields and weapons, all of which add to your equip burden.  The bigger the weapon, the more you have to manage your equip screen.

Magic also plays a large roll.  It also branches towards two paths: Faith and Magic paths, depending on what exactly you want to do.  Magic tends to favor more aggressive spells, while Faith has more useful defensive spells; both have strong end-game spells, so neither path is innately more preferable.  Some weapons have a damage scale that coincides with Magic or Faith stats, so a combat mage hybrid is a very popular choice for players.  Each of the paths require an item to use (a Catalyst and a Talisman of God, respectively) so they take up an equip slot.

[Nay, unfortunately for you, foul skeleton, my dexterity is 24!]

This game is also a number fetishists dream.

There are eight different stats, each playing a different role in your character’s build.  Vitality, Intelligence, Dexterity, Strength, Endurance, Magic, Faith and Luck.  Yes that last one is real, and it actually is useful.  Each corresponds to an effect on your player, whether it be a weapon stat requirement or more damage output, each has an effect on what you are able to do.  Some weapons scale with a single stat ( like Strength), other scale less so but with several stats.  Finding a balance between upgrading your weapons (which can become hard when you need Ore) and upgrading your skill level is key.  Dumping all your souls into one are sounds kinda cool, and seems to work for a few levels, but eventually you’ll be stuck until you find a way to even out your weaknesses.  This game doesn’t look kindly on weakness.

The defacto currency of the game are ‘Souls.’  Each enemy you kill grants you a certain number of souls: smaller enemies less, larger enemies more.  Boss demon’s give a great deal of souls, and a special “Soul” that can either be made into a special weapon or consumed for more souls.  You can upgrade each of your stats with your collection of souls, the number becoming increasingly higher with each level, making you scramble for more and more souls later in the game.  They can also be used as currency for buying weapons, armor, health items or upgrading weapons.

Did I mention that you lose all of your collected souls when you die?


[Which you will do.  A lot.  You’ll remember this asshole.]

The game’s half-hearted appeasement is probably what saves the game from being unbearably frustrating: you are able to collect your lost souls if you can find your blood stain before dying again.  Every time you are killed you are returned to the “Nexus,”  a hub world between the other areas of the game, where you can level up, buy shit and store shit.  More on it later.  Let’s say you have 20,000 souls; and, let’s say you decide to fight the Flame Lurker; and let’s say things go as they probably would and he snorts your ashes in less than 30 seconds.   If you can make it to the area without before the area where you died previously without dying again, you can keep all of those souls; if you for some reason take a sword to the face on the way down there, you’ll be stuck with the 100 some-odd souls you found on the way down there, and all those 20,000 souls will be lost.  There is no real way to store your souls.  There are some items, aside from Demon’s Souls, that allow you acquire souls when you use them, but there are finite number of them in each game, so keep them handy when you find them.

There are also quite a few NPCs in the game, some very integral to the game itself.  Most reside in the Nexus, the world between worlds where the lost souls of Boletaria have come since they’ve been killed.  Every time you are killed, you are returned there (minus any souls, blood, sweat or tears you’ve left behind); in essence, there is no way to “lose” Demon’s Souls, but it’s pretty easy to say “fuck this.”

There are several (like Stockpile Thomas, who holds your excess items and Boldwin the Blacksmith who can repair and upgrade items for you) NPCs in the Nexus that vital to your playthrough–others who are there also play a large role, such as Saint Urbain (Faith spells) and Sage Freke and Yuria the Witch (Magic spells).  The kicker?  They can all die.  All of ’em. The Maiden in Black (the one who grants you “Soul Levels”) is the only exception.  Granted, there’s very little reason to kill anyone in the Nexus, but to say that it won’t happen is a little bit of a stretch–any accident bump of the attack button, any dropped controller or pesky cat can essentially ruin your fucking day.  Once you attack an NPC, they will be hostile–permanently.  There is no solution.  The only real remedy to is to immediately turn off your PS3 and restart the game, hoping it didn’t save.  While this certainly falls into the “Bullshit” category, there are other things in the game that reek of more sinister intentions…

[Picture above:  the single most cruel and horrid joke played on a fanbase by any developer ever.]

There are several NPCs that reside outside the Nexus, lost souls of Boletaria.  Some give items that you cannot find anywhere else; other provide back story into the plight of Boletaria; some are merchants you can’t find in the Nexus.  All of them are fully vulnerable.

In fully Demon’s Souls fashion, every single NPC is to be figured out, every secret and every intention.   Quests can be given (from simple ‘save me’ to ‘assassinate these people for me’), items received and some will even wander the level and help you fight enemies (and bosses).  You are given you real indication of anything amiss with them.

I won’t spoil anything.  But if you really want to know, look up Yurt.


The game also features a unique multiplayer setting.

Not in the traditional sense of the word, Demon’s Souls allows the online players of the game to interact with the other players in some subtle (and others not) ways that make for an interesting experience.  Players can leave messages to all the other players in the world: where items are hidden, how to kill an enemy, what the bosses weakness is.  Some can do it cruelly, and they will.  Players also have the ability to summon “blue phantoms”  (if you are in “Body form,” which I’ll explain in a second) to help you complete the level.  You can also ‘invade’ another world as a “black phantom” in which your goal is to kill the other player and are rewarded souls for doing so.   This can create an interesting experience alongside the already unique world of Demon’s Souls.

A little explanation is probably necessary for a few things:

There is a thing called World Tendency.   Actions do you can affect this, bringing it closer to a White World Tendency (WWT) or a Black World Tendency (BWT).   Every time you die, you are revived in “Soul form.”  There are ways to revive to your original body, however:  defeating any boss will revive you; successfully invading another player online will revive you; items called “Stones of Ephemeral Eyes” can also do this.  Any time you die in Body Form you are shifted towards BWT; any NPCs you kill shift you as well.  To raise your World Tendency, killing Black Phantoms, Boss Demon’s and a few bad NPCs can do this.  There are certain events that will only happen with a ‘pure’ Black or White World Tendency.

[Fuck this level]

Finally, how it looks.

It’s gorgeous.

Say what you want about how it handles, but there’s no denying how good Demon’s Souls looks.  Aside from some framerate issues with when things fill the screen (very rarely), it’s smooth and immersive.  Each of the world’s you fight through is creative and unique, each having a theme and well crafted idea behind it; the art direction is absolutely fantastic, bringing each of the world’s to vivid and often horrifying life.   From the desolate, ruined Boletarian Castle to the Tower of Latria’s sense of dread and hopeless despair to the dark and hot mining tunnels of Stone Fang Tunnel, each is fully realized and completely adds to the experience you have with the game.  It can say that I’ve had times where I wanted to look around at all the details in the levels.

All the enemies revolve around their area; each of the bosses provide a unique challenge specific to their world, and I love the game for it.

—-

This game isn’t perfect.  It’s hard.  It’s frustrating.  And some of the complaints from naysayers are valid points from a game that has some flaws; however, this is an experience I’ve so fully enjoyed I cannot say to avoid it for superfluous reasons.  Patience, timing and critical thinking (and maybe some planning on your stat paths) can take the game from insufferable to pleasantly challenging, and the accomplishment is much more so for finishing it.

It’s a fantastic game that, for once, hearkens back to days when games were hard because of technological limitations.  Except now they’re just being dicks.

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One Response to Demon’s Souls (PS3)

  1. Pingback: Atlus extends online servers for Demon’s Souls | Main Event Network

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