Demon's_Souls_Cover.jpgThe game that started it all. Before From Software got really popular with the Soulsbourne series (mainly Dark Souls), they were mainly known for the Armored Core series; a series about giant battling robots. One thing really stands out about FromSoft’s games though: difficulty. If you’ve played just about any game from From, you know that these guys enjoy giving their fans a challenge. Sometimes it’s frustrating, and sometimes it’s refreshing.

Demon’s Souls is no different. In Demon’s Souls, you take the role of the savior of the kingdom of Boletaria. Boletaria became a thriving land once its king discovered the Soul Arts in a greed-driven quest for power and prosperity. While it did come about for a while, eventually a colorless fog swept over Boletaria, cutting off the kingdom from the outside world. Demons began to roam the fog, taking men’s souls, and those that ventured into the fog never returned. When you die on your journey to Boletaria, you wake up in the Nexus, a sort of limbo between the real world and the land of the dead. From here, the other characters teach you that King Allant’s hunger for souls and the Soul Arts have awakened the Great One, and only by lulling the Great One back to slumber can the world be mended.

On your way to Boletaria, you’re given a little tutorial of sorts as you get a hang of the controls. Once you die (and you will) you wake up in the Nexus in Soul-form with half of your maximum HP. This is like a hub where you can repair and upgrade your equipment, purchase items, and store things you don’t need to take with you, as carrying too many things will over-encumber you, making it impossible to carry more. Also in the Nexus are various other characters that may appear here based on how you treated them during your quest through the fog. Most importantly, however, are the Archstones: small portals that will take you to one of the 5 “worlds”: areas within or surrounding Boletaria. Once you complete the first area of the first Archstone and fell the first boss, you are free to tackle any of the Archstones in any order. 617989-demon-s-souls-playstation-3-screenshot-replaying-finished.jpgEach of the 5 areas are one large interconnected location, but after each boss, you’ll find another Archstone, enabling you to start from that area, kind of like a checkpoint. If When you die, you are returned to your last visited Archstone, so most areas can be a real endurance run. You’ll also find various shortcuts or things of that nature, for example, the very first boss is just beyond a gate near the beginning of the area, but you’ll need to circumvent the entire area to locate a lever to open it. When you manage to kill a boss Demon, you will regain your humanity, and your maximum HP will return to it’s full value. Be cautious, however, as dying again will put you back in your HP-sapped Soul form.

The gameplay is fairly simple, and is the basis for the rest of the Soulsbourne games. You have a normal attack and a slower, but more powerful attack. You can pull up your shield to block, or if you have perfect timing, can parry an attack away with your shield, opening up the enemy for a powerful riposte. Alternatively, you can stow your shield on the fly to two-hand your weapon, improving its damage output. You can also run, roll to dodge, and use items to either heal your HP, status, or utilize against your enemies. Finally, if you choose to, you can also use spells and miracles, utilizing a separate MP bar. Most actions take up stamina which regenerates on its own, and if you use up all of your stamina, you may be put in a tough situation, as you may not have enough to dodge-roll away from an incoming attack. If your stamina is depleted from a blow to your shield, you’ll be open for attack for a precious few seconds while you recover. Each battle in Demon’s Souls requires thought and a bit of strategy, as merely running in and hacking away may not serve you well, as managing your stamina is a huge part of the Soulsborne series. Combat is fluid, but what I feel Demon’s Souls is missing when compared to other games in the series is the weight behind every swing. The physics seem very “PS2”-esque. That’s the only way I can really describe it.

ds1.jpgDemon’s Souls requires you to study your opponents and tread carefully, as any enemy can be very dangerous, especially when you’re in Soul form, or at any point early on. Even weak enemies are dangerous when you don’t see them coming, as any depletion of HP stays with you; there is no automatically regenerating HP without special equipment. Each battle is very fun and potentially stressful as you feel out your opponents and how to deal with them. For example, a group of enemies all at once is typically certain death, but luring them out one at a time with throwing knives or your bow and arrow can make things manageable. Another example is waiting for a boss’s attack to deftly roll to the side and attack as it whiffs you.

To make death even more of an issue comes the leveling system, based on souls. As you kill enemies, you’ll gain a small amount of Demon Souls. Get enough and you can trade them for equipment, upgrades, and repairs, but also to level up. Here’s the catch: you can only level up in the Nexus. If you die on the way back to the Nexus, you temporarily lose all of your Demon Souls. The only way to get them back is to head to the spot where you died and touch your blood stain. If you die again along the way, all of those souls are lost forever. Sometimes it maybe better to backtrack and spend your souls instead of pushing forward into unfamiliar territory. Upon leveling up, you can choose to spend points on Vitality, Intelligence, Endurance, Strength, Dexterity, Magic, Faith, and Luck. Spending your points effectively and avoiding losing too many souls will allow you breeze through the later half of the game.

As I stated earlier, Boletaria is split up into 5 areas, usually with 4 checkpoints, and as such, bosses. All 5 locations are very different and very beautiful. You explore the area directly around Boletaria Castle, a foggy stone creation that will have you fighting humans that have lost their souls, deep mines filled with all sorts of strange underground creatures, to towers high in the sky surrounded by gargoyles. Each area is filled with unique enemies that fit the area, like sickly creatures with droopy wrinkled bodies and slugs in a putrid swamp that’ll poison you quickly if you’re not careful. Really some of the coolest enemies though are the bosses. These creatures not only have really cool designs that fit with the theme of the level, but can also be brutally tough to kill, making for some of the most satisfying-feeling accomplishments in games, another thing the Soulsbourne games pride themselves on. The locations, enemies, atmosphere, and story come together brilliantly to deliver an amazing and immersive experience.

Demon’s Souls is not for the faint-of-heart. It’s difficult, but of the three I’ve played, (Dark Souls and Bloodborne) it’s probably the easiest and most forgiving of the bunch. Though there are some real rough moments, but most of the game is fair and very satisfying to complete. Each challenge feels great once you manage to best it, whether it’s your first attempt, or your 99th. By the last few areas, I was breezing through with few issues, the last few bosses weren’t that bad.

Next, there’s the tendencies. A first time player may be mostly unaware, but as you play, based on the choices you make, those that you kill, and the number of deaths, both your Soul Tendency and the World Tendency can change. Tendencies range from Pure White to White, Neutral (Grey), Black, and Pure Black. There are certain items you can only get if you have a Pure Soul Tendency, and generally, the darker the Tendency, the more difficult things become, from gimping your HP, to increasing enemy damage. Each Archstone area also has a World Tendency, and some locations only open up under specific Tendencies. demons_soul_image_k8WQN.jpgLikewise, certain characters or events may be changed based on the Tendencies. Killing otherwise friendly NPCs can make your Soul Tendency black, while helping them will edge you toward the white side. The only issue with this otherwise neat mechanic that offers more replayability is that it is not very accessible to first timers and not explained very well at all. You’ll either have to figure it out as you go, or turn to the Wikia.

Finally, a brief section on online play. Throughout your adventures in Boletaria, you will find messages left from others. Likewise, you can also leave messages hinting at hidden treasure, or offering a battle tactic someone may not have thought of. These messages are neat and give the Soulsbourne games a sense of community. Better yet, recommending a message will heal the player on the spot; a nice bonus for a helpful hint. Once you make a bit of progress, you can summon allies to help you in tough areas or (usually) against bosses. Likewise, you can also offer yourself to be summoned. Both players will get a bit of Souls for the fight before being sent back to their respective worlds. Once you’ve completed the game once, you can get an item allowing you to invade other worlds in PvP combat. Only in human form can another be invaded, but it can lead to some tough and fun combat.

The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Challenging yet rewarding gameplay.
  • Fantastic atmosphere and level design.
  • Great enemies and bosses.

Cons

  • The confusing Tendency system.
  • The PS2-esque physics, seeming clunky at times.

Final Score: 9.5/10

All that Demon’s Souls is missing to make it a 10/10 is a tiny bit of polish. I think that’s what Dark Souls ends up being, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future Dark Souls found its way to the list of Best Games Ever. Regardless, Demon’s Souls was a great 18 hour adventure for me, and I would recommend it to anyone, provided they can handle a bit of challenge.

 

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