|Demon's Souls is a Japanese produced RPG for the PS3. No turn-taking here though. Thank god...|
Demon's Souls is an evil, mean, asshole of a game. One that ignores, and even flat-out mocks what video games have become these past few years. Cast aside thoughts of accessible, mainstream gaming, where waggling wins and achievements pop up at every turn; there's no "Hey, you're awesome!" back-patting here. Forget quest logs, check-points...and feel lucky you get even the slightest hint of a tutorial. Souls instead decides to treat you like an adult, see. There is no hand-holding. No gradual introductions. No learning curve whatsoever. Just harsh and brutal death. Over and over and over again. Until you learn, fool.
I get this point outta the way immediately, 'cos if that sounds like sheer pain to you, turn away now and go back to playing Wii Sports. This game ain't for everyone, and that's fine.
Be aware though, that you'll be missing out on one of the most unique and original experiences of the year in the process. You big fat douche, you.
|Clichéd and generic it may look at first, but look between the lines damnit, DS has buckets o' charm. Freaky, fucked-up, twisted charm|
With that covered, let's backtrack a bit. Demon's Souls (sic) is a third person action RPG for the PS3. I forget specifics of the largely irrelevant plot, but basically an evil beastie has been rewoken beneath the mighty kingdom of Boletaria, and unleashed an army of monstrous evils upon the world. Zombies, dragons, skellies, goblins - all your favorite medieval archetypes. Expect not the World of Warcraft looking cartoony demons though; Souls is a considerably darker and more grisly affair. As a surviving human adventurer - one boasting Oblivion-caliber levels of customizable ugliness - your job is to simply massacre said demons with everything you have. Yawn.
Shortly into the game, you "die" however, and are pulled into a netherworld of sorts known as The Nexus. This becomes the game's hub and your one place of solace, in which you can buy items, upgrade weapons, level your dude, and pick your next mission amidst the game's five different territories.
As you quest throughout these regions, you have to contend with a mildly complex mortality system. As Courage Wolf preaches, there is no death, see; when you die in Souls, you return as a ghost and continue playing. Albeit with 50% health. Corpse runs will regain your lost XP, but the more important differentiation is how these states factor into the multiplayer. More on that later.
What Demon's Souls ultimately boils down to though, is a violent and mature Zelda for adults. A proper, fuck-off, hardcore hack 'n' slashing dungeon crawler. Which may not sound particularly interesting nor original, but soon proves anything but...
I mentioned the difficulty right out the gate for instance, but while it is indeed frustrating to die often and repeatedly, it's a huge plus in many ways, and flavors Souls with much of its personality. It's a god damn scary
game, see. Charging in blindly and button bashing will get you nowhere, DS requires a slow, methodical pace from the player, where studying your surroundings, exploring every nook and cranny for loot, and peering over ledges with a telescope take up huge chunks of your time, rather than just the typical hacking and the slashing you'd expect. It reminds one of the olden days of video gaming, where you'd have to make notes, whip out graph paper, and sketch out maps while you played. You'll find yourself forced to decipher and learn very specific tactics and strategies here, while testing out numerous different weapon and armor combinations on every enemy to find out what works and what doesn't.
And that, to me, is what makes the game so damn engrossing. The depth and nuance required to simply survive
. There's no auto-map that magically shows you what a level looks like. There's no waypoints telling you where to go. As mentioned, there's not even a quest log at all. There's just you and your wits. Charge in like a loon all you want, but you will
die, and you'll get nowhere. But take this shit seriously, study your environments, and learn from your mistakes, and will
reap rewards. You need not raw skill to survive here. You need patience.
Then there's the aesthetics. "Grey and dull" you may be forgiven for thinking on first firing her up, but no; Souls has a style and a vision that it sticks to - dark and foreboding - yet mixes it up wonderfully within that context. Perched above the walls of cold, grey, ruined Boletarian Palace for example, you'll spot epic, distant cities miles off in the horizon; subtle, yet oddly optimistic vistas that remind you of a happier time. Or how about the dank, depressing, yet bizarrely neon prison cells of Latria, evoking a time and a place with all the detail of an Unreal III-engined game, but with far more artistry and sheer beauty backing it up. Souls is very much a Japanese developed game - with buckets of the sleek style that comes with that - but is aimed considerably more at a Western audience, and thus feels noticeably more in keeping with one (to its credit). Androgynous characters exist not.
This is Harsh. Evaluate Me
Finally, there's the online mode, which could probably cover an entire article in and of itself. You see, for what is on the face of it a solo-focused, subscription-free adventure, Demon's Souls doesn't half push some boundaries on the multiplayer front. Just the sight of fellow players' "ghosts" fading in and out of your game in real-time is cool enough in its own way - reminding you that you aren't alone as you explore these ominous worlds - but the ability for all players to leave messages in the game world - scrawled notes on the floor for everyone else to read - adds a completely new dimension to the whole experience that I've not really seen before.
|I have no idea what's going on here|
You'll see these messages everywhere. Some may warn you of an impending enemy ambush. Some may point out a hidden shortcut someone may have discovered. Others will signpost cool loot and treasure, while many will simply order you to back off and not come this way until you've leveled up considerably. These tips actually make the game noticeably
easier, to the point where I genuinely wonder if it would be completable without 'em. I've regularly nabbed exceptional weapons, awesome armor, and avoided impossible battles due to the helpful nature of my fellow players and their messages. It fills the heart to see such a noble and positive community rallying to the cause in such a way. To see fellow adventurers banding together to topple an immeasurably evil fucker of a game. You'll feel so excited to discover a new tactic yourself, or a hidden stash, that you'll gladly share it with the world and do your bit to help too. And I love that I want
to do all that.
Yeah, the occasional dick-tard may tell you to "step off this ledge" into a bottomless pit, but a rating system self-polices this all superbly so that such messages are very much in the minority, and auto-delete pretty darn quickly. The coolest part of the whole thing is...it works.
I haven't even got to the "real" multiplayer component. 3 player co-op take your fancy? It's here, albeit not as you'd perhaps expect. The human/ghost dynamic touched upon earlier is very much built into the co-op, so that any human player can summon these ghosts (or "Souls") into his world to help out, and in return they'll be returned to human form themselves as a reward. Think of it as a temporary arrangement that's beneficial to both parties. Needless to say, much like an MMO, the insane difficulty drops hugely with some pals backing you up. It almost feels like a - gasp - normal game, and one ponders whether it was simply designed to be played this way, and this way only.
There's a versus component of sorts to go along with that, but like all the online features, this is built seamlessly into the same living, breathing single player world. Instead of summoning allies, players can force their way into other players' games as "Phantoms" you see; evil souls that are similarly rewarded for merely hunting the player down and murdering them. Stalking your fellow players and pouncing at just the right moment is worryingly fun, and nothing'll get the blood pumping more than the bright red on-screen warning that your game's just been invaded by such a bugger.
There's even one instance where you'll join a player's game in this manner and actually turn into the level's end of mission boss. Some of which hints at the sort of ground-breaking "cross-player" antics we were expecting in the now shit-canned The Crossing.
Hopefully I'm doing justice to some of the game's more intriguing concepts though, which certainly help it stick out as original and unique within this genre...if not gaming, period. There's certainly plenty here I've not seen before in my 28 years...
Hack 'n' Slash Those Wrists
|Souls has a super deep character leveling system I've not even touched upon. Along with the now almost-standard facial customisation, there are tons of classes to choose from. These prove barely a starting point though, with you able to level your toon in whatever direction you so choose at any point down the line|
Demon's Souls is by no means perfect however. It has glaring flaws out the arse, even. I mildly detest the control system primarily, which despite the game being rooted as a dungeon crawling brawler, oddly opts for an FPS control scheme. Your twin sticks work the movement and camera, while the triggers handle your attacks. It's a little awkward, and takes a couple of hours o' getting used to to be honest.
This isn't helped by a somewhat awful lock-on system that refuses to play nice, and a camera that, while not broken per se, does get a little confused in Souls' more confined and claustrophobic spaces (of which there are many).
Then of course, there's my original bullet-point. The game's frickin' tough. For the most part, that toughness falls into the "okay, I see what I did wrong there. I won't make that mistake again" category - and is all the more better for it - but it can also be for downright stupid reasons too. Accidentally dropping off a ledge 'cos the controls spazzed out, the camera locked-on to the wrong enemy no matter how many times you tried otherwise, and so on and so forth. That would be forgivable, if dying in this game didn't set you back potentially hours at a time. If you're a hurl-controller-against-wall kinda guy, it'll see some serious action at times like this. That, I promise.
Real Demon's Souls Starts Here
Yet I find it far easier to forgive these niggles in light of all this game does right. Souls just feels like it's been constructed by demented geniuses; crazed masterminds with an undeniable vision, and the talent and ability to realize it in the most unique and surprising ways. The choice to provide zero checkpoints seems puzzling and flat-out cruel on first starting the game up for example, but the maps are so impeccably well designed that a little exploring and plenty of deaths later, you realize it's not quite so clear cut as that. Pulling levers, finding keys and opening locked doors are permanent, world-changing events, opening up new routes throughout the epically long - yet effortlessly realized missions - that essentially let you fast travel back to the later sections on respawning. So checkpoints? No. But finding and unlocking your own shortcuts? Oh yes. That's cool
. And totally organic.
I bring it up 'cos it's a good example of the sort of understated but superb ideas going on at all times in the average Demon's Soul session. Ideas. That's what this game is all about. And boy, it's got 'em oozing outta every pore.
As you're probably starting to see, there's a hell of a lot to learn and figure out here (exasperated mildly by the lack of an English manual in my import copy). And what may seem like a frustrating button basher with silly controls on first go, slowly mutates into an insanely deep and rewarding epic with endless amounts to see and do. There are just so many areas to explore, paths to take, skills to learn, weapons to forge and secrets to uncover, you'll be hard pressed to see it in all 5 complete play-throughs. Some of the branching stuff involving certain characters is particularly riveting and subtle, and I haven't even touched upon the bizarre "world tendency" events which I don't even fully understand yet.
It's a game that'll invade your life and become both your best friend and your worst enemy. A game that'll have you cursing its name and screaming in pain one minute, then smiling the biggest smile and giggling with glee the next. A scary, horrifying experience, that's simultaneously rewarding, engrossing and sorta inspiring. A tense but riveting solo game...and a fucking fun multiplayer one.
It ain't for everyone, no sir, but it sure was for me