Review: Demon's Souls

-Nøél Villa

Yes; Demon’s Souls. The game that brings hardboiled gamers to their knees, possibly for dirty favors, if you know what I mean. If you’ve heard of this game, then you may have heard the rumors: this game is difficult, it is merciless and it will beat the hell out of you; that is, only at first. Much like every good game, it has a learning curve that once conquered, becomes smooth sailing.

Story: Upon beginning, Demon’s Souls would seem like a very surface-level game. You have a lone wanderer (accompanied by ten thousand other lone warriors you interact with online) who hears of the plight that has befallen the southern Kingdom of Boletaria. Vallarfax of the Twin Fangs, breaks from the Deep Fog that has engulfed the land, to tell the rest of the world of what happened: The Old One has arisen from the depths due to the foolish attempts of King Allant at meddling with the Soul Arts. And because he hoped to bring eternal glory to his kingdom, he gave himself to the Old One, which was sealed below the Nexus—You still with me? Ha! Of course you are—So now, this Deep Fog creeps across the land, bringing forth hordes of demons, and you, lone wanderer, come into Boletaria with ambiguous motivation: “Have you come to collect demon’s souls? Or to save this land and be remembered as a hero?” For power or for glory?

Behind all the terminology, it’s actually pretty simple, and it all revolves around Demon’s Souls (considering the title of the game hasn’t already spoiled it for you). King messes with power; power destroys land; you come in and learn of said power; and by the end of the game, you decide whether you eliminate this power once and for all, or attain it for yourself. It’s a cute plot, that although seemingly trite, is wonderfully fleshed out by virtually everything you come across in the game. The Archstones (your waypoints into the 5 different worlds in the game) provide scant backstory to tease your imagination; the worlds themselves tell various stories through brilliant level design, and the NPCs brighten your otherwise desolate adventure with stories of their own.

Overall, immersion is achieved not by narration but by the very thing video gaming has going for it: interaction mixed with level design. Simply traversing through the walkways of Boletaria’s ramparts, getting lost in the underground mines of Stonefang, creeping by Mind Flayers in the dank prison corridors of Latria, clinging to the steep cliffs of the Shrine of Storms, or wading through the poisonous swamps of the Valley of Defilement brings buckets of dark fantasy immersion right up your nostrils, and if that doesn’t, then don’t bother finding anything else. No other game has told a better story of dark fantasy with less words.

Gameplay: Third person perspective, with the smoothest movement and camera turning I’ve ever seen in a third person perspective game. The playable character is quite easy to control,

but the button commands just take a bit of getting used to (since there is no jump function, the square button is for your items, and you attack with R1 and R2. Being used to hack and slash games for a long time, I found the compulsion to keep on pressing square to attack, when I first started this game.)

The game’s difficulty primarily hinges on the fact that your movements are limited; every attack you make, every hit your shield absorbs, every dodge you perform consumes stamina. Don’t worry—it replenishes automatically pretty quickly. That is, if you can get out of an enemy’s fire-blast-of-death attack in time to recuperate, because if you run out of stamina, you lose the ability to defend, and once that happens, it’s back to the start for you.

And that’s another thing that contributes to the difficulty curve: The fact that you will die. A lot. No matter how good of a gamer you are, you will always have to die, and the game teaches you this fact early on in the game—during the tutorial. Though dying here isn’t as risk-free as in every other game, wherein you respawn as quick as Zerglings at the nearest Vita-Chamber, ready to take on the next Zerg rush. Oh, no! Take note that upon killing enemies, you earn their souls. In this game, souls are everything. They’re your money, your experience points, your credit card, your life, your dog and more, and you carry all of them with you on your journey. The thing is, once you die, you drop all of your souls on the ground. You respawn at the very beginning of the level, and all the enemies you previously killed will be back to bar your path. Now, you have to retrace your steps, kill everything, and pick up the souls you dropped, and if you die again along the way—goodbye souls forever, here is a desk you may hit you head. Though once you finally kill a boss, you earn a checkpoint for the next stage. With stronger enemies ahead. Booyah.

Now, let’s talk about the enemies. The thing that makes them difficult is the fact that you have no idea what you’re up against. More stress is added because of the cost you have to pay once you die. You don’t know what type of attack swings this enemy has. You don’t know what magic lazer machine this boss has up his sleeve and you don’t know how bad they can screw you up if you’re not careful. Actually, not even the utmost caution will get you through this game, once you find certain enemies that’ll zap your cautious ass if you don’t move and attack the right way.

But once you complete the game, your efforts will be rewarded: with New Game +. What does that mean? You can play the game again! And now, the enemies just got way stronger! What’s the point, then? A challenge, for one. Playing New Game+ is like playing hard mode after you’ve played normal on any other game. Plus, you can get even stronger, by earning more souls for experience, as the enemies give off more souls than before. I myself, have comepleted the game up to 5 times so far, and they just keep on getting stronger, yet, perfectly matching your rate of leveling up.

All-in-all, gameplay is evenly-paced and is never unfair. It is only merciless, and there is a difference. Unfair games will kill you because of a gameplay defect. Demon’s Souls

will only kill you if you deserve it (which is every single time), and it won’t stop until you’ve learned how not to die. It’s as simple as that.

Presentation: Demon’s Souls’ controls are wonderfully precise, and the simplistic plot is forgivable for such a gameplay-rooted game. But aesthetically, it may need some refinement.

I find the introductory narration a washed-out storytelling technique, which although produces a very fairy tale-esque air around the game, is a very cop-out way to put forth the plot. I’m getting tired of all these “In the beginning, this and this happened, so you better remember this list of important names or else you won’t get the story.” We don’t want a very condensed history told through a disembodied narrator; we want the story to unfold as we play it.

And I believe much more could be said about the demons you kill and the places you visit. It’d be better to know what kind of enemies you’re killing, and how they turned out that way. A bestiality would be nice, perhaps? (Or was it called a bestiary. Bah, potayto potahto.) Also, the meager descriptions of each would could turn out to be a weak point for the immersion, if you’re the kind of person who gets off on backstories.

The graphics, on the other hand, look splendid. The amount of detail found in stone walls and rocky tunnels is consistent, and not a single area looks out of place. There may be graphical clipping from time to time, but none too serious to distract gameplay. Demon’s Souls has its own unique visual style, and can be pleasing and haunting at the same time.

Moreover, this game, as I’ve mentioned before, is real dark fantasy. Dragon Age? That’s not dark fantasy; it has rainbows strewn all over it. (I quite liked DA:O, though, don’t get me wrong.) When you talk about dark fantasy, you want to take fantastical elements and beat it until it bleeds. We’re talking about spider-scorpion-centipedes with faces of men, huge unknown masses of moving flesh and tissue, carcasses of people and animals scattered all over the streets, tentacles coming out of the ground, dead babies in poisonous oceans, and whatever else obscured in darkness by the tiny radius of your Augite of Guidance, the character’s little flashlight thingy.

Conclusion: This game is not unfair. When you get down to it, the only thing you’re losing here is time. But that’s why you buy a game in the first place, isn’t it—because you have the time to play it, and because you want to spend time on something. Demon’s Souls gives you lots of time to perfect yourself. It may usually be a trial and error thing, but once you experiment on things, execute those to the dot, and finally kill a boss, there is no greater satisfaction. The controls are spot-on, it has outstanding replay value, and if you have the patience, you will definitely be playing and replaying this game for a long time. I know I did.

Verdict - 98%