You're going to die... A LOT
                                                         "You're going to die... A LOT..." -LordKat

Game Title: Demon's Souls
Platform: PS3 (Exclusive Title)
# Of Players: 1-3 (Limited)                                                                
Genre: Action/Adventure/RPG
Rating: M (Mature)

   Demon's Souls has a notorious reputation amongst the gaming community; one that is notably comparable to retro classic "Contra 3". Imagine, if you will, that you're walking along the street, when you're immediately approached by three sluggish, pipe-wielding (think: plumbing) bunnies. They move predictably, and slowly towards you, while you wield a Great Crushing Axe +3. As you move towards the bunnies, they leap onto you, striking you one after another. You are caught off balance, and attempt to make a hasty retreat. In doing so, you miss your step, and fall off a cliff. Yes, there is a cliffside that you did not notice. However, as you fall you do notice a ledge within grasp that will lead you to safety, and possibly healing up. As you aim for the ledge, a wall suddenly pops out of the cliffside, and spikes protrude towards your intended direction. This, is in essence, what it is like to play Demon's Souls.

   The basic story of Demon's Souls is that the Kingdom of Boletaria has been ravaged by a dark fog, which carries with it a plethora of demons, and nightmares. The fog's denizens take no break in obliterating the vestiges of life within the kingdom, and the fog begins to spread across the land. In response to the plight, one lone knight, Vallarfax of the Twin Swords breaks through the fog, and warns the outlying kingdoms of Boletaria's plight. Many heroes are sent to break the kingdom free, but all fail in the process. You are the "chosen" hero, who ventures into the fog to defeat the Old One--a great demon that was awakened by the Boletarian king in his search for power and wealth.

   Yes, Demon's Souls is brutishly difficult, and you'll notice the steep curve around the very end of the tutorial. In fact, I find it rare to be able to really laud a game's tutorial, since most are blatantly designed to introduce you into the game, but offer very little insight into the game itself. It's a very stilted, and jarring cliché, that has a nasty habit of creating a bad sense of flow. However, Demon's Souls manages to weave the tutorial into the game's atmosphere, without breaking it's own fourth wall. Despite the floating box overhead, describing to you the correct button combination to use in order to initiate a certain maneuver, or action, you really feel the sense of overwhelming... isolation. It is you, against these demons. No one else.
   This is the most gripping part of Demon's Souls's magic. An unwavering ability to keep the player engulfed in the smothering depression, and isolated horror that has befallen the kingdom of Boletaria. By the end of the tutorial, you will feel as if you are capable, and willing, to face against the horrors that await you. You rush towards the final area, only to be severely flattened by a hulking demon. Thus ends your tutorial, and begins your ultimate quest in the game. This also strongly emphasises the attitude that Demon's Souls plans to take towards you, throughout your lengthy journey.

        An all-too common scenario: You're about to kick ass, and that tough guy is about to decapitate you

  Demon's Souls is undoubtedly difficult, but this is solely based on the performance of  you, the player, rather than the actual game. While in most cases, a game (ie. Modern Warfare 2) offers up a hectic escalation, where the difficulty lies in not being able to dodge the incoming fire, Demon's Souls relies solely on your ability to keep your head about you, and proceed with care, caution, and--above all else--skill. Demon's Souls does not reward the foolish, and it deftly punishes the dumb and unwieldy. It is a game crafted in the likes of Metal Gear Solid, and Splinter Cell, in which careful consideration and planning will beget a smooth, or simply capable path to the end goal. And this is not without taxing your ability to do so. Demon's Souls approaches your endeavours with impish tenacity, and brazenly challenges you to press on. Mocking you at every step.

   During this process, the game will usually lull you into a false sense of security. Most areas will start off with a series of simple, easy-to-beat enemies, and suddenly, without any warning, an enemy or more will be thrown at you that breaks the pattern completely. This will result in your inevitable, and frequent, death. The frequency of your death will ultimately decide whether this game is right for you or not, as the game becomes more frustrating and difficult, you may find yourself falling prey to the simplest of pitfalls/traps that you skillfully avoided earlier. Demon's Souls is a truly psychological experience, and in many ways is a true test of your skill as a gamer.

   Graphically, Demon's Souls is not breaking the processing capabilities of the PS3, but the environments are beautifully rendered; each with their own characteristics and themes. Incredible differences between the swamps and broken homes of the Valley of Defilement and the crumbling ruins of the once prosperous Boletaria Castle, clash alongside the murk and grim of the Stonefang tunnels, and the rudimentary beauty of the Shrine of Storms. While each prominetly displays the decay and ruin of the Fog's presence, each contains it's own identity, and dark majesty, making the many frequent trips through their brooding atmospheres memorable.
   Noteably of these environments, are the Valley of Defilement, and Tower Of Latria levels. 
The Valley of Defilement is a true "swamp" level, in which the second and third stages of the level are steeped in poisonous and plague-ridden marshland. Traversing through the swamps will randomly inflict you with status ailments, forcing you to heal on the fly, while avoiding enemies and traps--most of which are unaffected by the swamps. The Tower of Latria, is dark, foreboding, and confining. Most of the pathways in the level are perilous, and leading to large falls below. The first area focuses on the decrepit dungeons, where massive holes in the floor will lead to your death, while the second stage pits you perilously upon the rafters and rooftops of the very Tower itself.

   The gameplay in Demon's Souls is simplistic in nature, but in exercise becomes both rewarding, and harrowing. You will have your standard HP and MP bars, to signify your health and magic points, however you will also have to manage a stamina bar, which determines your ability to not only swing your weapon, but dodge, block, or recuperate from a vicious attack. You will have to time everything you do carefully, including utilising healing items, and managing your immediate inventory (accessed using the D-pad) during fights. 
   The Up D-Pad is allocated to Magic and Miracle spells, while the left and right D-Pad are allocated to holding two weapons/shields in either the left or right hand respectively. Lastly, the Down D-Pad is allocated to accessing up to 5 perishable items, all of which can be managed in your equipment inventory. Weapons and shields have a simple, and strong attack/defense mechanism to them. Most shields can be used to parry incoming attacks, if timed properly, while weapons execute a strong, and usually deadly attack. However, both strong motions put you at greater risk of flank, and open you up to being brutally slaughtered by even the easiest foe.

                                                           This... is a boss... You may begin wetting yourself

   Demon's Souls also offers a few online gameplay elements, that really enhances the experience of the game. The most noted element is the messaging system, in which you can place a message (comprised of pre-set phrases/words) in order to alert other players to treasure, danger, or leave tips on how to overcome the upcoming obstacles. The other two methods involve the use of "lotusi" which grant you either the ability to be summoned to a player's world to aid them in beating a Boss Demon, or invade their world as a Black Phantom to kill them. All three methods are woven into the game appropriately, with each carrying its own necessity in the game. I can safely say that being invaded by a Black Phantom gamer is truly frightening, and seeing the giant titling appear caused me to literally shake in my chair. This is the power that Demon's Souls has over the player.

   Demon's Souls, while an excellent game, is not without flaw. The difficulty curve is steep, and this is both challenging, and randomly infuriating. Typically, you will find extremely difficult enemies within the same area as ridiculously easy enemies, and this mix-mash can create some deeply unfair scenarios. Granted, such events can be overcome with thought and oversight, but more often than not you will find yourself between a rock, and a bigger rock with swords protruding out of it.
   Another complaint would be the randomness of a few of the bosses, and the cheaply easy way to kill many, if not all of them. Most widely known is the Flamelurker exploit, which forces the boss into a glitched area so that you may pepper it with spells, while it cannot escape the confines of the area. This leads to very unsatisfying boss encounters, especially when the bosses can be so deviously difficult, and cheap themselves. Everything in the game has an exploit, some for better or worse.

   The game also has scattered checkpoints, these of which are only located at the beginning of the first stage, and after each successive boss fight. Most levels have but four checkpoints, but these are very far apart from one another (some ranking into half an hour apart). Dying before reaching the next checkpoint will result in having to replay that entire area over again, and given the inevitable frequency of your deaths, you will more likely than not find the experience a bit grinding.

   What little voice acting in the game feels slightly wooden, and uninspired. Mostly from main characters such as Lady In Black, who feel as if they had only spent about five minutes rehearsing their lines.

   Lastly, while it feels important to have tactics involved in the gameplay, some motions like healing feel as if they take just a bit too long, and act more like a forced tactic, than a thoughtful one.

   All in all, Demon's Souls is a gripping experience in skillful gaming. You will find yourself tested to the breaking point, and lord knows I haven't touched the game for months on end, if anything just because I'm too bloody scared to go back in. It's very good at crushing one's ego, and works well at rewarding you for overcoming its obstacles... if and when you finally do.

   Demon's Souls gets a 9/10

© 2010 Scott Christian