The first hour or two of Demon’s Souls is possibly the most brutal and unforgiving section of any video game in recent memory, the tutorial alone is designed to kill the player to introduce them to the game while explaining almost nothing else. Sadly, the game only gets harder from that point forward. If it wasn’t for the fact that the basic mechanics of the game where so sound the game would be entirely unplayable, but because of this one small aspect it ends up being one of the deepest niche games in a long time.
After the tutorial, the player is taught the flow and function of the game. Unfortunately, this section is done so poorly that most people will simply stop playing before they beat the first level. The only thing that changes past this point is that the character is allowed to level up after it is completed. Once unlocked the game becomes more manageable as cleared areas can be repeated to earn enough souls to level up, but this still doesn’t change the fact that the player unlocks the right to level their character up.
Souls are the currency used for everything: from purchasing skill points, to leveling characters, to buying or upgrading new weapons. Souls are gathered from enemies that are killed, different amount depending on the difficulty of the enemy. This becomes rather infuriating as all souls gained are dropped at the moment of death. These souls can be picked up again if the player can make it to that point in the level, but after death, all enemies have respawned and the soul drops only remain from the last player death. Another death on the way to the last soul drop area means that the first chunk of souls magically disappears, along with all of the grinding done to get those. This may sound confusion, but the gameplay is designed to be challenging, but rewarding if completed.
The game tries to balance this out in several interesting ways. The first is that all items gained during play are kept, so healing or attack items can help progression a little bit. The second is that all short-cuts opened in that level remain open, so if there has been enough progress made there is no need to backtrack through the entirety of the level. Last, are the notes and deaths left by other players. A player can choose to leave a cryptic message from pre-selected script leaving vague hints at what to do next, so “watch out for the enemies ambush” normally means that there is demon hiding behind the next doorway. Character’s deaths are left in the form of blood stains which show the last several seconds of play before the other gamer was killed. While these can be amusing, someone dying in the first five seconds of the first level, they also show where the next attack is going to come from as enemies are always in the same exact spot.
The game does allow the player to customize their features a bit through a series of sliders, although all of them are terrible. It would have been better to choose from a series of predetermined faces than have to play around for 10 minutes to find a face that ends up ranging from ugly to lump of clay someone stepped on. The rest of the game looks fine, enemies are odd and disturbing at times, and many things have the mandatory next gen glow to them, but none of it is really very impressive.
The games sound is functional, and all of the characters in the game are voiced. Too bad that none of it is done well enough to really stick after the game is turned off. Most of the weapons end up sounding the same and enemies can sound creepy enough at times; they never really cross the line to being memorable. Happily, none of it ever manages to detract from the gameplay.
Demon’s Souls manages to find itself in a very weird spot. It is entirely hard to recommend as a purchase to anyone due to its insane learning and difficulty curve. Most of the game is designed to make the player figure out the entire thing themselves while explaining nothing. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a deep and enjoyable game that rivals other niche titles like Disgaea, just that it needs to be dug out to make the game fun. While it is hard to give the advice to run out and purchase this game, it deserves a rental and a couple of hours of play. If you can make it through inventing curse words during that time, it is a clear purchase.
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