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Review: Demon's Souls

Today is a good day to die.

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.

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.

  1. Ducer15
    Since: Jun 2009

    Nice review Katy. I would question if Dragon Age’s graphics (on PS3) are actually better than Oblivion’s graphics.

    Comment posted on 25/06/2010 at 13:18.
    • jikomanzoku
      Since: Jan 2010

      Dragon Age buildings would all appear to built from breeze blocks to me.

      Comment posted on 01/07/2010 at 16:21.
  2. Watchful
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Oct 2008

    Well that’s convinced me to buy only my third Blu-ray title of the year.

    Comment posted on 25/06/2010 at 14:01.
  3. Elliot
    Since: Sep 2009

    With the Nexus, the bloodstains, the emphasis on stats, the punishment of death, and the linear dungeons, the dark atmosphere, and the simple battle system, this game sounds like a proper attempt of recreating the Diablo magic for consoles.

    Came out today, and I didn’t have it preordered like I promised myself I would :(. Been spending a lot of money, recently… Will have to ask the girlfriend… *whuppah*

    Comment posted on 25/06/2010 at 14:05.
  4. jikomanzoku
    Since: Jan 2010

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but if you die, you can save the game (by quiting to menu) and your bloodstain will remain in place for you to battle back to when next you load it.

    Hope this saves some of you from pulling an all nighter in the desperate hope of retrieving large numbers of souls from boss areas – You can come back and get killed later, after you’ve slept, eaten, stopped roaring etc.

    Comment posted on 25/06/2010 at 15:05.
  5. iAvernus
    Since: Nov 2009

    Sounds hard, but sounds like something I might have a go at. When I have some extra cash I might just pick it up. The price will motivate to complete the game =)

    Comment posted on 25/06/2010 at 18:28.
  6. samiro05
    Since: May 2010

    I’ve read many reviews of this game and they’re all the longest ones I’ve ever seen. From it being very easy to just read the first few lines of a review saying this game is very hard I think all the extra effort and detail put into the review is key to expressing all the good points and showing the game’s excellent qualities.

    I think I would love to play this game if it was the only game I had, however I feel that if I did die and lose so much time I would just leave it and unfortunately not come back to it from either cowardess or laziness :/

    However, this review was excellent :)

    Comment posted on 26/06/2010 at 21:35.