Review: Demon’s Souls (PS3)October 12th, 2009 | Written by Danreb Victorio | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews
While titles like Shin Megami Tensei and Eternal Sonata may have done their share to sort of revive the quality of RPG’s as of late, the genre hasn’t done much this generation in terms of finding a unique identity. Master RPG publisher Atlus has made quite a few attempts, and none may be as daring as Demon’s Souls—a game that lets the gameplay tell the story.
The story in Demon’s Souls takes place in the Kingdom of Boletaria, a place where the souls of many have been lost during a great war. The beginning of the game has you creating a character. You’re given a specific number of souls to increase various attributes, and from there you’re all alone. Venturing the bloodied castle walls and courtyards filled with zombies and other frightening creatures while reading glyphs on the ground serves as your tutorial, and it is here where you learn about the various strikes you can make with your weapons and other methods of customization to make the gameplay even more smooth. And before you know it, you die.
Dying is a way of life in Demon’s Souls, and it’s going to happen a lot. While Demon’s Souls is a dungeon-crawler in the simplest sense, you can’t just go from room-to-room and hack-and-slash at demons. It takes a whole lot more strategy than that. When you die, you’re sent to the Nexus, a place where souls pray to the goddess in hopes of getting their lives back. After death, you can go back to any level from the Nexus, but you’ll be stuck in Soul form, where your health is halved, meaning you’ll have to be more cautious. Thankfully, every level in the game is built with the same accessibility as it had when you first explored it. So while you’re transported back to the beginning of the level, everything from the location of enemies to your place of death should remain the same, so being careful is definitely a strategy.
Of course, being careful is not without its risks. While it would be foolish to run around Boletaria, it would be even more foolish to slowly walk through every area. One time we were walking on a bridge, and it collapsed into another death. The environments in the game are breathtaking in two ways. Not only are they extremely well detailed, but also they’re also breathtaking in the sense that you’ll die if you’re not paying good attention to what’s happening.
That’s why one of the more unique and interactive features in Demon’s Souls is in the glyphs that are left on the ground. While a good number of them were built into the game, quite a few of them are left by human players to help you out. Demon’s Souls, for the most part, is a single player experience, but the game remains online for a reason. Oftentimes players will leave notes for other players informing them of the hazards ahead, and you have the option of rating those memos. Memos with high ratings stay around longer, while also increasing the amount of health for the player who left that memo. It’s quite an intuitive system, and the developers at From Software should get on the pat on the back for that.
As aforementioned, the location of your death is quite important. While you don’t lose power-ups or weapons when you die, you do lose souls, which not only work as points to up your attributes, but they’re the game’s main source of currency as well. That isn’t the most compromising situation, but if you’re fortunate enough to get back to where you died, you can usually touch your bloodstain and regain all the souls you lost. However, if you die before you even reach that area—that stain is gone. As horrible as that is, it’s going to happen, especially when you’re looking around for shortcuts to get to the area’s endboss a little faster. So it’s really a tough decision at your discretion when it comes to when you want to use the souls you have.
Speaking of bosses, when you’re lucky enough to even reach one, you’ll probably die a majority of the time. And then when you get back to fight it again, you’ll die again. As hard as it is to venture around the depths of Boletaria, the bosses are even harder. These oversized behemoths are a great tribute to the 2D days where bosses literally covered up two-thirds of the screen, and with the game’s camera, they become even more troublesome. Quite a few of the bosses in the game will require you to switch weapons and switch magic on the fly, while also running away to avoid strikes that’ll virtually kill you in one hit. As hard as they are, later bosses in the game also have the advantage of flight. There’s one boss that flies and throws spears at you. Each bossfight is virtually unfair, but when you overcome them, there is no greater sense of accomplishment. To make it even sweeter, you come out of Soul mode and earn your life back, which also doubles your health, so to say killing a boss will make you happy is an understatement.
As great as RPG games usually look, oftentimes the visuals just consist of handcrafted backgrounds that cannot be interacted with. This isn’t the case in Demon’s Souls, as almost everything is at your disposal. Loose weapons will be on the ground and hung on walls that you can launch at your enemies, and almost every artifact has some sort inscription. The artwork in the game is extremely impressive, from the intimidating flying enemies to the extreme detail with the game’s rancid environment; almost everything in the game can pop out and become believable.
When a game depicts a thriller, the sound has to be top-notch, and Demon’s Souls’ sound is exactly that. What little music the game has does a great job at emulating the mood, and the various drops of water to the frightening screeches of enemies in the area really give you the feeling that you’re all alone in Demon’s Souls. The voice acting in the game is also impressive, even though the mouths of the people or things talking aren’t moving. But like its look, everything in the game sounds believable, and that’s what makes Demon’s Souls seem like it’s a game ahead of its own time.
If you didn’t get the hint already, Demon’s Souls is an unforgiving title that won’t be enjoyed by the most weak-hearted of people. But if you can get by its excruciating difficulty, you’ll find a game that has all sorts of things to uncover. The combat system is robust, the amount of exploration is amazing, and the game looks and sounds beautiful. Combine all this with the game’s masterful storytelling without hours and hours of dialog, and you have what’s probably the best and most frightening role-playing game this generation so far—just in time for Halloween.