The lights are on
I saw thatthere are no reviews yet so I am offering my opinion. Read the bottom for a quick summary.
Some games are hard. Some are punishing. Demon's Souls is both. Expect to die in Demon's Souls - a lot. Unlike some games that are downright cruel, Demon's Souls has a method to its madness.
The premise of Demon's Souls is to slay enemies and collect their souls which are used like currency. Players can use souls to buy new equipment, upgrade current equipment, or to increase your stats. The player has technically two forms that they will play in, one in which they are living, and one in which they are a soul. The latter is where players spend most of their time.
When a player dies - and die you will - they start back at the beginning of the level and any enemy that had been killed respawns. They lose all the souls they had. A bloodstain will be left where the player was killed. If they were in their body when they died, they will have their health reduced, but if they were already in soul form their health doesn't go any lower. If they return to their bloodstain, they can recover their lost souls (but not their body). If they die before making it back to their bloodstain, those souls are lost forever. While it may be a setback, souls are not all that difficult to come by.
While this may seem cruel, there is a point to dying: learning. If a player dies because something they had done was ineffective, they know to try another tactic next time. When an enemy's weakness is finally learned, they are much easier to defeat. While death is common, when the enemy is finally slain there is a sense of accomplishment that makes any death feel worthwhile. This game does not hold anyone's hand. After a short tutorial, the player is thrust into the game to learn everything on their own. The only help available is other players (which I will get to shortly).
The game is beautiful. Each location is unique and distinct such as a massive castle or a prison that brings the player to a Lovecraft-esque swamp. The enemies look great and many are creepy. Some are daunting and huge. I have no real complaints about the graphics; the game ran smoothly and I didn't notice any hiccups even when the action was frantic and I was surrounded by hordes of enemies (or really big ones). The game draws you into it's world and doesn't let go. Sometimes you are fighting in the outdoors while other times you are almost in nothing but darkness. The game keeps an eerie feel where you don't know what's around the next corner. Enemies can come out of anywhere - and often times will.
The tutorial explains how to play the game which is a little different from what most action oriented games use as a control scheme. The right trigger buttons control the right hand (R1 for a weak attack, R2 for a strong attack) and the left trigger buttons the left hand (if you have a shield you can block with L1, parry with L2, or you are free to put a weapon in that hand as well). The d-pad changes your right and left hands, items, and magic. It didn't take long to get used to the controls (though I still sometimes use an item when I mean to do something else...) and I really enjoy how it feels.
The sound was a mixed bag for me. On one end, the sounds of steel against steel, fire, explosions, and enemies attacking are as they should sound. All of it helps to really draw the player into the mood of the game. The score is a medieval orchestral style fare, but sometimes the songs are unremarkable and easily forgettable. There are certain songs that really stand out putting an excellent backdrop to a fantastic fight. The voices are where the sound takes a hit. Not only do many voices sound out of place (it seems like this kingdom has accents from all over the world), but they also sound as if they were recorded in someone's large basement with a cheap microphone. The voices tend to be extremely loud compared with any other sound, especially in the Nexus, so I turned my voice volume down.
Combat is tactical, visceral and probably the most enjoyable aspect of this game. In order to succeed you must learn to at least block attacks if not parry as well. Understanding the enemy is 90% of combat. This is action in it's purest sense; when you press R1 you swing your sword. When you press L1 (if you have a shield) you raise your shield up. It's easy to learn the basics of combat, but with so many different enemy tactics, you will combining them in interesting ways to fend off your foes to stay alive. I enjoy how the game keeps the player on their toes about what tactics to go with, or what weapon is the best in a certain environment. There are several classes to choose from at the outset, but the choice of a class is merely a template to start with: a player can choose to make any kind of character they want. This gives the game replay value as the fights will feel entirely different when approached with another style of fighting.
There is a story, but it doesn't drive the game like traditional RPGs do. It is used as a setting and backdrop as well as for the motivation. It is a typical "demon has been unleashed and you are our last hope!" tale with a Silent Hill-esque fog covering the kingdom of Boletaria. Once in the Nexus, the game transitions to a sandbox style experience where there isn't a linear path to choose; simply go to the place you wish to fight.
There is multiplayer, in a sense. The biggest use of multiplayer is seeing other "phantoms" in your game while you are playing. They appear in white and you can see them move, attack, and die, but you cannot interact with them. When they die they leave their bloodstain so you can touch it to see how they died, possibly giving clues to what's coming or how NOT to fight an enemy. Players can also leave messages in the ground which are used to give clues or request help. When you leave a message you select from pre-made messages. Sometimes there won't be an adequate phrase, but often times there is something that will get the point across just fine. Seeing a message that says, "Trap" gives a mighty fine clue as to what's coming. Also, after a certain point, players can summon other players into their game as "phantoms" or can request to be summoned. This allows two to three players to work cooperatively to fight a demon. When the demon is vanquished, the player is returned to their body.
While they game is excellent, there are a few gripes I have with it. One is the inability to jump. It seems like there are plenty of times when it would be useful to have, but alas there is no option. It doesn't deter too much from the overall enjoyment though. Weapons can't be sold and so players end up either stockpiling something they may use later, or just drop it on the ground. They could have done something a little better such as trading unwanted weapons for a small soul boost or other weapons. Lastly, I think the cooperative multiplayer was a missed opportunity to create something unique and instead made it shallow. It keeps the game from truly feeling online and instead just singleplayer with multiplayer flavor. Also, there were a few times the camera angles gave me problems, but it wasn't often. Also there is no pause button, which means there are no short breaks unless you clear out a room. Inventory management is done in real time as well.
Summary (GI style)
Concept: Create a hardcore dungeon crawler where death is the norm but part of the learning process.
Graphics: Excellent graphics pull the player into the game and not let go.
Sound: The generic sounds work well, some of the songs are forgettable, and the voices sound fairly poor.
Playability: A slightly different from usual control scheme that is fairly easy to get accustomed to and satisfying combat. The camera presented problems a couple times, and some people may not like the fact that there is no pause button and inventory management is done in real time.
Entertainment: A very addicting experience that makes you want to go back for more punishment.
Replay: Moderately High
Overall, I would recommend the game to anyone who enjoys action or roleplaying games. This game isn't for everyone, but for those who enjoy a good challenge (and a lot of killing) you will be hard pressed to find something more enjoyable. An excellent addition to my PS3 library.