Everybody has trials in their life, from simply getting up in the morning to giving birth to your first child. You’ll agree with us, readers – life can be hard. Which is something that From Software has realised, grabbed hold of and run with.
In fact, Demon’s Souls is quite simply the toughest and least forgiving game released in the last 15 years. Don’t let that dissuade you, but you have to realise that to play this game is to not just welcome punishment, it’s to invite punishment into your house and make it a cup of tea. You will die loads, you’ll scream and shout, but you will be satisfied after playing the weirdest and best RPG on the PS3. The premise is actually rather simple. A dark fog – known as one of the Old Ones – has covered the land, summoning great evils and turning people bonkers. This is a real crap in your coffee, and thus you decide to head out into the lands, collecting souls and gaining strength in an attempt to (at the behest of the goodly Monumental) stop the world ending.
You’re not the strongest hero in the land, nor a legend, nor anything, really – you’re merely a guy (or girl, if you want) who is going on an adventure. It controls like a more complex Zelda – a straight-up action RPG with real-time combat, rolling, dodging, parrying and blocking with a big shield. What’s special about Demon’s Souls is that you aren’t even locked into a class – if you want, you can potentially build a character both proficient in magic and sword-fighting, if you have the time and the energy to grind sufficient souls.
You run around areas, killing enemies and collecting souls that can in turn be traded for items, weapon upgrades, or be used to upgrade your base statistics. In fact, they’re the currency that controls most things in Demon’s Souls – while the occasional upgrade requires some ancillary item, you’ll always need souls.
This is the first sign that Demon’s Souls is one tough mother. Every soul that you collect has to be rationed and cleverly placed into whatever you need in that moment. Do you choose some herbs to heal you up, or do you save them for a big stat upgrade? Sadly, the game makes the decision for you quite quickly – you’re not going to be saving much of anything.
You see, every time you die, you leave a blood stain – this carries any and all souls that you had collected before your death. That, and when you die, your health is cut in half until you gain a Cling Ring (raising it to 75%) or kill a boss (pushing it back to 100%). It is a brutal, unforgiving game that will constantly punish you for your mistakes, and make you rethink difficulty in games – nothing else will challenge you quite so brutally.
The good news is that the controls are tight, responsive and intuitive. When you eventually learn how to take on each situation, there’s a tremendous sense of power and reward in everything you do. Enemies leap at you, and you can trick them into throwing themselves off bridges. Groups of monsters rumble towards you, and you can roll into the thick of them and in one swipe take them all down, then roll out of the way of an oncoming projectile.
For every one of these large-scale battles, there are equally epic one-on-one melees that play out like the final scenes from Return of the Jedi. You really have to try and learn what the AI is doing to survive, and the payoff is knowing that you really did out-do them. This isn’t a game for the faint-at-heart – it’s for dedicated aficionados.
From Software has made a twitchy, utterly skill-based RPG that requires you to analyse and approach every situation differently. Eventually you become a killing machine, expecting death at every corner, and not letting up until everything around you is six feet under.
It’s a long game, too. There are over 12 different levels, and each one has certain parts that require you to return later. At one point during the first level, you turn a corner and face off against a huge knight with bulging red eyes. If you’re the type to turn tail and run, you can survive his initial strike for the first five hours.
It’s graphically stunning, too, looking more like the old Ultima games than anything that’s ever come out of Japan. You won’t find cat-girls, effeminate heroes or happy endings for the most part. This is a demure, slow and rewarding game that harks back to generations long past, but with the graphical sheen and tight controls that you’ll both thank and curse.
For every moment we spent screaming at our TV and throwing our controller we had four moments of awe. Demon’s Souls is the scrappiest, hardest and best RPG released so far on the PS3 – and, in our opinion, it’s one of the best we’ll see on any console this generation.
Sep 21, 2009