on 20 August 2010
It's hard to think of another game which is as innovative and yet old-school, so punishing and yet open-ended, so brief and yet expansive as Demon's Souls is. It has been called everything from the best PS3 game to the hardest RPG ever, and having now earned the Platinum trophy over 75-odd hours, I'm inclined to agree with all the praise that has been heaped on this wonderful game.
My single favourite aspect is the combat. There's nothing quite like clashing with a tough enemy with a tight defence, rebuffing their attacks whilst waiting for an opportune moment to counter or parry. There are literally dozens of weapons in the game, from rudimentary swords, bows, spears and so on through to mighty blades which cleave the sky in twain. That every foe can, at the outset, defeat you if you let your guard down adds to the tension and makes every single battle intense and fraught.
You collect souls from each enemy you defeat, and these can then be traded for upgrades, items and weapons. However, should you die, you're returned to the start of the level, all enemies respawn and you lose accumulated souls, which languish where you died, awaiting to be re-collected (until you die again, then they're gone). It's a perfect risk/reward system, and the game thrives on careful play and forward planning. Most levels aren't particularly big, but with the number of enemies populating them, they can easily each take over an hour to complete. Luckily the game autosaves continuously, so if you do need to switch off mid-level you can do so and return later with no punishment. Shortcuts are also available in most levels, so huge chunks can be cut out if necessary, and these are permanently unlocked once activated.
Playing the game comes in two flavours - body form (nothing to do with ladies' hygiene) and soul form. You start the game in body form, but upon dying you come back in soul form - with half health (although kind of ¾ health really), and you must beat the level's boss, help out another player online or use an item to get back your body. There are different events which happen depending on what you do (far too much detail to go into here), such as meeting particular characters and unlocking hidden areas. To get the most out of the game you really need to use the Demon's Souls Wiki, but save that for subsequent play throughs.
The online modes are incredible. Basically, you can co-op with two other soul form players as well as get involuntarily invaded by another player, who will regain their body if they defeat you. Aside from this, players can post prescribed messages all over the game, so you might find out how to beat a boss, or use it to warn others of a trap or tough enemy. You can also see other players' last few seconds before death, which can help prepare you for the trials ahead.
The bosses are so good they deserve a mention all of their own. They range from twisted humans to massive deformed beasts, but most of them have a unique quirk, and beating them is a battle of attrition, skill and dexterity. Nothing is left to chance in this game and the bosses are perfectly balanced, and deserve to be remembered alongside the likes of Shadow of the Colossus or Zelda for its incredible and memorable confrontations.
Lastly, I suppose the difficulty needs a mention. Demon's Souls is a hard game, but most of it comes down to common sense, and most deaths come from avoidable player mistakes. Proceeding slowly, keeping your shield up and learning the level as you advance is the best tactic, and once you complete the first couple of levels, you'll have somewhere to grind for souls, which makes it all a bit more manageable until such a time as you can tackle the tougher enemies and levels. Patience and perseverance are definitely needed, but the game gets easier as you level up, get better equipment and learn the enemies.
Demon's Souls is an amazing game that embraces the new whilst keeping in touch with the aspects that made the 8- and 16-bit era so memorable. There aren't many games like it on PS3 - a third-person action RPG with an emphasis on combat and dungeon crawling, and with enough depth to rival the mightiest RPG - but it's so good that it sits up near the very top of the PS3 tree and occupies a niche all to itself. If you have patience, like a challenge and lament the lack of RPGs this generation, you owe it to yourself to buy this game.