I want those souls.
This thought runs through my head over and over as I eat my dinner, barely focusing on the food before me. My thoughts are filled with the bloodstain chock-full of souls I left splattered in the middle of the Boletarian Castle, surrounded by demon warriors just waiting for me return for them.
I need those souls back.
Demon’s Souls is the new action-RPG from Atlus and it is not for the faint of heart. If Halo ever frustrated you with the Library, then you are not ready for Demon’s Souls. This game makes the Library look like World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. The concept of the game is that you are a warrior who decides to try to lift the darkness from the world by defeating the evil demon lords who rule it. Or something like that. The story, though well-written and voice-acted, is barely there. It’s simply an excuse to throw you into hell and watch you claw your way out.
The game is played in a 3rd-person perspective and at the start you create a character and choose one of several classes to start with, but fear not: you are not constricted in anyway by what class you choose. You can start off as a mage and never learn another magic spell if you desire and become a powerful melee warrior. The choice is up to you. The classes merely determine how your initial stat points are distributed. It’s up to you how you want to distribute them, one point at a time.
Which leads to how you improve your character. Now, let me preface this by saying that you don’t have to level up a single time. You can literally play the entire game with the stats you start with, from start to finish, and defeat the final boss as such. God help whoever does that, because I expect you will be doing about 1 HP of damage to said boss per attack, so I hope you don’t have to go to the bathroom because you can’t pause Demon’s Souls. Ever. At all. Just warning you..
Now, when you defeat an enemy you gain souls. Some enemies give you as little as 8 souls, some as much as 2000. It just varies on the strength of the foe you have vanquished. Souls are used as both experience and currency. Want to level up your character’s HP? Get some souls. Want to buy a better sword or upgrade it? Get some souls. Need arrows or healing items? (And you will) Get some souls. Magic spell in the shop caught your eye? You guessed it…souls. The fun part is that the amount you need to raise your attributes increases every time you do so don’t expect to grind your stats and simply overpower the game because you will likely go insane first.
When the game starts, you find yourself in a brief tutorial area, which ends with you getting pwned by a giant boss. Your souls goes to the Nexus, which is the hub of the game. Here you level up, buy weapons and spells and pick which area you want to go to next. There are 5 worlds, each one having a few sections in them and once you defeat the first area, you are free to explore as you wish. I recommend doing so, as some great items can be found in different areas if you look hard enough. When in soul form, your health is cut in half, although a ring you find near the start brings this up by 25%. As a bonus, you do more damage in soul form, which is fine because you will spend most of the game in soul form. In order to get your body back, you must defeat the area’s boss or use a rare item. Generally, beating the boss is the best option.
When going through a level, in soul or in body form, when you die (Notice I said WHEN, not IF) you will return to the Nexus with all of your equipment and items, but you lose your souls. So if you had about 3000 souls and didn’t return to the Nexus to spend them, they are gone. Unless…you manage to fight your way back to the place you died and touch the bloodstain you left. If you can do so, you get your souls back. If you die on the way, those souls are gone forever. Now, since enemies respawn every time you return to the Nexus, you can always fight more demons, but you run the risk of doing what I did the other night, which is play for an hour and a half only to lose all my souls and have nothing to show for my wasted time. Being overconfident and not focusing on the battle at hand has led to many a lost batch of souls.
So why does such a game, which reeks of repetition, which I revile, appeal to me so much? Namely, thanks to the combat, which is so spot on, that when I die, I know it was MY fault. I mistimed a parry or didn’t watch my stamina bar close enough. There are NO cheap deaths here. The enemies all have distinct patterns and it is a matter if simply being observant and quick. When you see an opening, don’t hesitate or you will regret it. I got more of a rush playing Demon’s Souls than any game since the original God of War. When you slice through katana-wielding lizardmen like a hot knife through butter, you know it was complete skill that won the day for you and that feeling is addictive.
Demon’s Souls also boasts the most unique online system I have ever seen. As you play, you sometimes see blue specters running around. Those are other people playing the game right at that moment, at that spot. You are always connected to the servers, unless you sign out of PSN, but I would not play any other way. There are also messages, short and tweet-like, that players can leave for one another. Some give hints such as, “There is a treasure up ahead” or “The next enemy is weak against fire”. Such messages can be a life-saver, as one instructed me not to bother with a shield, which was sage advice because if I had tried to block the ensuing attack with my shield, I would have died. And if messages are helpful, you can give them a thumbs-up, which heals the person who left the message, wherever they are. This can be a great boon when you are in trouble and suddenly you are notified that someone liked your message and your health fills. It creates a great sense of community, of us against this harsh game world, and it truly adds a layer of awesome to the whole thing.
If you are having trouble and are in body form, you can drop a blue stone and pull someone in the same level who is in soul form into your game and suddenly, Demon’s Souls is a co-op game! Together you can defeat the boss of the area and then the soul form player returns to his game. The soul form player must also drop a similar stone, so don’t worry that you may get pulled out against your will. But there is a more sinister aspect of this: another player can invade your game if in soul form and attempt to kill you! If they do, they get their body back. Imagine the terror of seeing a message that states, “Black Phantom Starkiller81 has invaded your realm!” and knowing that there is another human being walking around your level, waiting for you to be hip-deep in demons before plunging a knife in your back. Talk about survival horror! Dead Space and Resident Evil can’t compete with that kind of tension.
One thing I want to mention that adds to the difficulty is the fact that you can’t manually save the game. Demon’s Souls auto-saves almost constantly, so if you think you are going to simply reload your last save and recover your souls, you got another thing coming.
The graphics and music are also very well done and coupled with the tight controls that never fail you make for a game like no other I have ever played. Except for the extreme difficulty of the game, there is not one bad thing I can say about it. Demon’s Souls is one game that no hardcore player can afford to miss out on. You will curse and gnash your teeth, but you will dive right back in again and again until the last demon is slain. For Christmas this year, I received Demon’s Souls, Dragon Age: Origins, Uncharted 2 and Modern Warfare 2 and I have been playing a little bit of each waiting for one of them to really hook me. It has finally happened because for the last 4 days, I have been on a straight Demon’s Souls bender and there is no end in sight. I can’t recommend this game enough, one of the best of the year.
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