Review: Demon’s Souls

This review is based on the US import version of the game. The European release comes with a strategy guide in addition to the game.

While reviewing Demon’s Souls, quite a few people have asked the question, “Is it really as hard as everyone says?”. The answer is no: it’s harder – but before you go back to Virtua Tennis 2009’s career mode, allow me to explain further.

There are different kinds of hard in a video game. There is the Mirror’s Edge hard, where you know exactly what to do but you always mess up one tiny little move and the whole game becomes a trial of nerves and shouting. Then there is the Resident Evil 5 boss hard, where you need pinpoint accuracy and tons of luck and ammo to take down a tricky enemy, you repeat it over and over and eventually get frustrated to the point of throwing your controller.

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Demon’s Souls is different: it’s all about the planning. On the face of it, the basic combat system in this hack’n’slash-style adventure RPG is fairly simple to operate, and as long as you retreat and heal when you need to, you can progress. The difficulty comes from a few things: first, the world is full of traps, ambushes and areas that are tricky to navigate. What this basically means is you will repeat the same areas over and over, slowly memorising the correct path and where the traps are, getting a little bit further each time. Each attempt is like a training run allowing you to improve your strategy bit by bit. Having said that, it is annoyingly easy to fall to your death while fighting an enemy on a narrow platform, and sometimes you’ll be randomly overwhelmed by enemies you’ve successfully tackled many times before; so expect to repeat each area many, many times.

The second prong of difficulty is grounded in the absolutely punishing conditions which befall you upon death. Die once and you turn from living form to Soul form and your health is cut to half (or some other percentage depending on your stats) until you complete the area or satisfy certain other conditions like taking down one of the epic bosses or completing a co-op or competitive multi-player task (more on that later). You’ll also lose all your currency, although your weapons and inventory stay intact.

To recover your money – which is denoted as Souls in the game – you need to get back to where you died and touch your bloodstain. Woe betide you if you die on the way though, as only your most recent bloodstain is retained, and there is no bank – the Souls you have on you are all you have – so the chances of you losing the majority of your Souls altogether is excruciatingly high. Expect to play the vast majority of the game in Soul form with half your health points. The other difficulty is that the distance between checkpoints is bordering on the insane; be prepared to lose 30-45 minutes of play time on a regular basis.

As a final word on difficulty before we get to the meat of the game, it took me over 6 hours and probably 40+ attempts to complete the first dungeon. I’m not great at video games, but I’m not terrible either. There are no difficulty settings to make it easier. However, the game exudes a certain elusive addictiveness. You will get fed up of re-spawning at the same point over and over and turn the game off, but a couple of hours later you’ll be ready to try again with the “this time I’m going to get further” attitude. Because each individual fight isn’t usually intrinsically too hard, Demon’s Souls has a knack of keeping you coming back to try just one more time, and see what comes next.

Here we are then, in the strange and eerily desolate northern land of Boletaria. The story is simple enough: everyone has turned into demons and you have to liberate the land and restore it to its former glory. This is done, as you might expect, by killing anything that moves.

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72 Comments

  1. I haven’t read the whole Review. Actually I only read the first few lines. But I really don’t agree on the ‘hard’ thing. I completed the game once and I’m halfway through New Game+.
    To my opinion a hard game is a game where you’ll die multiple times at the same spot. Without any kind of progress. This isn’t what I experience while playing DS.
    Yes, you’ll die, but that isn’t because the game is very hard, but just because you’re acting reckless and not paying attention to your surroundings. Especially when you actually killed the first boss it all becomes a lot ‘easier’.
    I don’t want to say that you’re wrong Katy and I’m not stating the game is easy. But I just want to say that I, perhaps of the few, did not experience this game as very hard.
    Sorry for not reading the whole Review. I’ll do that when I’m home from work.

    • I read a little further and I see that you’re explaining ‘a different kind of hard’. Sorry again for not reading this before, but my above statement still stands. =P

      • i agree, many reviewers have just gone on about how hard it is rather than tell us whats wrong with the technical side of the game.
        the only problem i see is that most the reviewers are getting owned because their used to playing easier games and not “paying attention to your surroundings” like you say.
        in some games you can run to an edge and there will be an invisible wall but in this you dont get that kind of cheesy help which imo makes it a more realistic game.
        im glad that apart from difficulty, theres not much wrong with this and so im gonna pick up the phantom black edition today.
        DS reviews make it clear why games of today are way to easy.

    • I only read the first few lines of your reply and I don’t really agree with it…

      ;)

    • Agree with this the game is not hard it punishes you for stupid mistakes and thus you have to learn from them. I restarted the game over 10 times with diffrent characters each time learning from the deaths. The first boss which most people will die i could beat without getting hit once just because you have got to grips with the mechanics its a very traditional and old school style of RPG. Also makes every demon soul so much more rewarding and striking fear into any player as you dont know what will be around the next corner. Cant stand people who are negative on a game just because they cant play it. Patience is what people may need at the start but finding new armour, smashing massive weapons down on enemies the size of you is just too much fun. Best RPG this generation and near best game on the PS3, this game should be a console selling game.

  2. Another fine review katy. You’ve kinda put me off this though, i love rpg’s, and i’m always up for a challenge, but this sounds like it could get frustrating. May wait a year or so til it’s a proper bargain then pick it up. I’d be annoyed to pay full whack for a game i might not end up playing too much.

  3. I generally don’t have a whole heap of patience when it comes to games, having not even completed Uncharted 2 yet due to the unholy number of times I keep dying, but having read this review and so many other articles about DS since it was first release, I’ve always been really intrigued by it, and definitely would love to give it a go. Who knows, if I make it through I might finally complete the 20+ games I have left to complete as well! Great review :)

    • With Uncharted2 it is worth dropping a difficulty level or 2 as the story progression makes it worth it

      • I’m literally right at the end, but I can never find myself wanting to finish it now which is a shame

    • Started and finished Uncharted 2 first time on Hard. Loved it. Challenging and was just left wanting more.

  4. If there isn’t a easy setting im not interested (or good enough really). What can i say im a wimp, i may just rent it as i dont want to get my ass beat over, over, over and over again for £40

    • u still wouldnt get past the first level if u rent, this may take me years

  5. Reminds me of Ghouls N Ghosts, not gameplay-wise obviously but in terms of learning your way through a tricky path & if so much as 1 of your character’s pixels comes into contact with anything else then you lose all your armour & have to proceed wearing only a loin cloth, knowing that death and restarting the level is imminent.

    Again, the only way to progress was through learning from your mistakes.

    Demon’s Souls doesn’t sound the game for me, I easily get fed up repeating my steps in modern games as it is, without that being part of the core design.

    • You should rent it. I get easily fed up, too. But DS is different from other modern games. You die if you make a mistake whereas in other games you die because of controls/camera or AI problems.
      AND repeating stuff in DS is actually fun. After defeating your first boss you actually have different levels you can play in parallel so if you die in one level you can first try a different one. Motivation is always high so you should rent it and play until you defeated the first boss.

  6. I love it, this is the kind of games that make me sweat… and not WoW or stuff like that, no offense anyone, you can play lying on your bed.

    Demon’s Souls is the BEST game I have ever played… and that’s a HUGE amount of years//games.

  7. Can’t praise this game enough. I’ve had it for ages and it still holds it’s own. A superb game. Can’t wait for the follow up!

    • I agree with this wholeheartedly.
      I imported the US version last year and absolutely love it :)

      • I got DS on day 1 here in the US and finished my 1st playthrough at around 65 hours, only because I love Boletaria! NG+ is great because new areas only accessible with certain tendency in NG are all open…

  8. I found this game too hard! but my son (15) loves it and has completed it about 8-9 times now.

    • how long does a playthrough last?

  9. Very nice review. I’ve read a few but still didn’t really understand what it was all about. I think I might pick this up in my next dry patch, maybe after I finish red dead and final fantasy. Also, what stops you from loading your prvious game back up once you die?

    • Saving is tied to your character, it saves automatically when you complete a dungeon or upgrade your stats, and at no other point. So there is no way to load a save from part-way through an area.

      • This is not correct, at least for the asian version. It saves if you pick up an item, it saves if you change your equipment and it saves if you use “quit game”. So you can pick up the game at the point where you left last time. This definately works midlevel.
        BUT if you die, it saves instantly so reloading doesnt work. Rage quitting not recommended ;)

      • Maybe you could recheck your american version and update the part of the review saying you have to play for 30min or longer?
        Otherwise great review!

      • DJ-KATHY is partially incorrect, the Game saves every few seconds, descreetly in the background. My PS3 crashed mid way through a battle and upon re-booting I was plonked smack bang in the middle of the battle again.

      • Sorry, you’re both right of course. It does save whenever you equip or make some character alteration otherwise you would lose the stuff when you re-spawn. What I meant to say was you can’t go back when you die to an earlier save because it saves when you die.

        I finished this review late last night, need sleep :P

      • Thanks for clearing that up everybody! It had been bugging me for a while. I think I may pick it up and try to plat it over the next 6 months for bragging rights. The eyepet and ashes cricket platinum has lost me some trophy respect i feel

      • You are all partially correct but not entirely. The game saves when you die but not before you respawn at the start, you have maybe 10-15 seconds of “you died” and loading screens before it saves. I actually got through my second and third playthrough by quitting to xmb instantly the moment i died and forcing the game to save every time a hard bit came up by changing a piece of equip. Works like a charm but be careful not to quit after the loading screen goes away since your save can get borked. That also helps a lot if you’re trying to get white world tendancy.
        There was no mention of the fact that as you progress through a level you usually unlock shortcuts that makes it a lot easier to reach your body or boss if you should die which is a nice feature!

      • I did mention that.

      • So you did, I apologize.

  10. My god, this sounds hard!
    Will have to rent it or something to see if i can master it :)

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