Release Date: October 6, 2009
Developer: From Software, SCE Japan Studio
Disclaimer: Within the following review, I will be referring to Dark Souls for references in comparison to Demon’s Souls, regardless of the fact that the former was released last year. I happened to play Dark Souls first and then went back and tried Demon’s Souls. I apologize for the confusion.
I don’t know what it is exactly about these video games based on achievement and reward – which is met after hours and hours of punishment – that makes them so damn fascinating. I suppose we have all forgotten how we all used to play video games in the 16-bit era; without the help of cheats, guides/walk-throughs and the internet. We used to rely on our own imaginations and curiosity in order to explore and advance in our adventures. Nowadays we have innumerable ways of finding out how to progress through a video game easily. However, as much help we may find and gather (even from other players themselves), there is no humanly possible way to advance “easily” through a game like Demon’s Souls.
Demon’s Souls is the first game in developer From Software’s Souls series of role-playing games that are a throwback to the era of Dungeons & Dragons. This video game was From Software’s prototype of a dark, dungeon crawling role-playing game that was meant to give the veteran gamers a sense of déjà vu. Those familiar with dungeon crawling, dark fantasy RPGs such as the Ultima series, but particularly Shadow Tower Abyss along with King’s Field (both by From Software) will more than find a niche here. Despite that, Demon’s Souls is not a game only for “old” gamers, but for anybody who has more than enough cojones to try this gleefully brutal journey.
Demon’s Souls, like Dark Souls, is a relentless assault on all the senses. It feels like with Demon’s Souls, From Software merely tested the possibilities of a grim, dark fantasy role-player with inexplicably high difficulty. The developers also tested the idea of open world-type areas which could be navigated seamlessly, not openly. From Software also wanted to test out the intricacies of an elaborate and even innovative online function involving a player versus player mode. Among these, there are several other elements that link a fire between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. The menu designs are similar in both, the choice of armor is similar; yet different because in Demon’s Souls, gender makes a difference in what you can wear. In addition, much of the lore of the world and character descriptions, as well as the world map are technically missing. All in all, despite similarities, both games progress in overwhelmingly different directions, and that is a tremendous feat for From Software.
For this developer to craft two almost-identical twins in the same shape, size, and form, and for them to feel very, very different is no easy task. Notwithstanding the fact that Demon’s Souls feels like an “incomplete” version of Dark Souls — because many of its issues were addressed in the latter — it doesn’t change my opinion about it. This game is a potent beast, there is no other way to describe it. This game doesn’t screw around. It doesn’t hold your hand, yet it doesn’t need to for you to feel invited to play it. As a matter of fact, this is a party you don’t need an invitation for. Demon’s Souls, like Dark Souls, has quite a welcoming tutorial area (which you can’t replay with the same character if you happen to die in it), and many of the mechanics of Dark Souls were set forward here.
For instance, souls are the form of currency and vital for leveling up. If you happen to die in Demon’s Souls (and don’t worry, you will die!) your life bar [hit points] will be split in half and your character turns into a soul. You probably will die from going through that tutorial area’s boss fight, and if you happen to survive… don’t celebrate just yet, since the game has a “sweet surprise” in store for you that will send you to the Nexus. The Nexus is Demon’s Soul’s Firelink Shrine. This is the hub for all the game’s areas and will also serve for storing items, leveling up, and even exchanging a couple of conversations with some vital NPCs you’ll meet throughout your quest. As soon as you arrive here, you will be introduced to some of game’s story.
The story in Demon’s Souls is presented in an old-fashioned and even romanticized way, I daresay. It turns out that this greedy King Allant XII is using the power of the Old One; a malevolent demon and source of a Fog which is seeping over the borders of his kingdom of Boletaria. This Fog is turning men into savage power-hungry creatures who must survive by feasting on the souls of other living beings, therefore plunging everything into apocalypse. You as the hero, must brave through the Deep Fog and conquer all of the demons residing in Boletaria’s locations, thereby essentially saving the world. Now just like Dark Souls, a major part of the plot involves crucial moral choices at certain points. It’s good to note that Demon’s Souls is what started all of the moral ambiguities found in both games.
And what moral choices they are… I fancy how From Software combines this part of the story with one of the boss fights. One particular moment involves slaying a demon who has resigned her humanity because she’s realized that humanity’s cruel fate cannot be undone. That is all I will describe about this character and boss encounter. One must truly experience it oneself to understand the emotional sensitivity, and moral ambiguity placed in such a situation. I didn’t know the details of why things were what they were, and why they must flow in such direction, yet I couldn’t help but feel afflicted about how my actions were damaging all parties involved and changing the course of Demon’s Souls. It also doesn’t help that I decided to leave this boss fight for last… Anyhow, I have heard differing opinions on this matter, though this is the beauty that From Software has created once again. They have turned gamers against one another thanks to the brilliant writing, and mesmerizing direction from Hidetaka Miyazaki. As for the rest of the boss encounters, they are fantastic as well. There is another jaw-dropping fight I will describe later, but I just happened to find this moral choice to be the best of them all.
Demon’s Souls also started that sombre and moody atmosphere found in its successor. Fortunately, thanks to its online capabilities, the experience was not always the loneliest. In fact, I found the online community a bit more tight-knit than Dark Souls. Perhaps because Demon’s Souls is a PS3 exclusive, whereas the Dark Souls community is split between two consoles. Demon’s Souls began the concept of seeing other players’ bloodstains (as a warning sign), also written messages, and even summoning signs; which allow friendlies to collaborate as well as fight one another. Playing this game with somebody else is nothing but a blessing in disguise, because you will need to.
This isn’t a joke, you will have to play this game online to enjoy it fully. Demon’s Souls does away with another boss fight that shatters the proportions of what’s capable in player versus player (PVP) matchmaking. I won’t spoil this fight either, although be prepared to jump out of your seat once you’re pulled into an unexpected boss fight. Demon’s Souls literally integrates the online portion of the meal as the bread and butter of its existence. Bless Atlus for not shutting down the online servers like they previously warned they would. This in turn would have made the adventure much less titillating. Furthermore, as in Dark Souls, you can invade people (and it’s much simpler) and be invaded all the same. Thus, keep your eyes open for those fog doors, as music ushers in after you trespass one.
The original soundtrack is composed and arranged by Shunsuke Kida. Now, the music by Kida I consider to be a bag of mixed to good proportions. Mixed, because I found the music in Demon’s Souls to not be as enrapturing as Dark Souls’ but this is because of several factors. One, the music doesn’t sound like it was recorded in the best possible quality. Second, most of the areas don’t have any type of sound accompanying them (it’s almost the same in Dark Souls, yet it doesn’t feel as empty). Third and final, the score just isn’t as intense and as memorable as its acclaimed successor’s. Now the good, some of the boss fight themes are preposterously fitting such as the two I described earlier. The music from Demon’s Souls may not be in every area, but it is used wisely where it’s heard. Having said that, the soundtrack compliments the small, humble vision that From Software had in mind for this game. It isn’t loud and aggravating, yet it doesn’t falsify thrills in its deliverance. It is what it is and it works.
Playing through Demon’s Souls I noticed some of the shortcomings which are addressed in its spiritual sequel. For example, Dark Souls does not feel as linear, the world is much bigger and boasts better design, the textures don’t look as soft as they do here, and there is much more variety in its weapons and armor. Either way, I have met several online [hardcore] players in Demon’s Souls who claim this game is much better (and tougher) than Dark Souls for several of these reasons. Sure, in Dark Souls you’re not sent to the beginning of the world if you happen to die, you don’t lose half of your life bar when you die, you’re not limited with the number of items you carry at a time, there is no item burden as you can carry however many you want without feeling cumbersome, and back-stabbing in PVP isn’t nearly as effective in Demon’s Souls. All of these points are fair, though in Dark Souls’ favor, I will say that the game incorporates several other spices to balance the difficulties between the two, but that’s for an entirely different topic.
The frame-rate, Demon’s Souls biggest enemy, isn’t a behemoth big enough to water it down. Yes, you read that correctly. This game has the same exact problem I complained about in Dark Souls. However, I can somehow comprehend how difficult it would be to combine many elements such as the world-tendency (your alibi and the world’s alibi), and how it changes depending on your actions in the game, while it combines it with the different environments and how all the world levels are interconnected. Add in a PVP match, boss fight, enemy encounter, world NPCs, and your own hero to the mix, and we have the right amount of frame-rate issues enough to make Demon’s Souls dodging mechanic become a troll’s best friend. That’s another problem with this game. The dodging is far too overestimated. It is given such power and control, especially in PVP matches, that sometimes it can make the match run for a very long time. Whereas other times, it can end the fight by the time you dodge your opponent, even if properly executed.
Aside the frame-rate and the dodging there is little to nothing to complain about here. There is very little room to complain in fact, when you have a role-playing experience as robust as this one. One that challenges the very notion your actions take on the plot, despite the fact that whatever you choose to do won’t change the course of things… until a certain point that is. For that and for more I must praise From Software. They have provided me with two very similar RPGs in essence, yet that is mere illusion for what lies beneath each one. And beneath Demon’s Souls lies a stoic, undeniably punishing, yet ultimately compensating experience in many different ways than Dark Souls. From Software has done it twice now, and back to back no less. It is a feat only they know how to execute and deserve all accolades for it. Let me close by saying: I will never look at PVP the same way again, and I also won’t question the defiled ones unless provoked.
- An amazing adventure with the same sense of wonder and exploration as Dark Souls
- Boss fights are one of a kind
- Online connectivity is relevant and expertly used
- Plot take more prominence than in Dark Souls
- From Software sets the bar high for a video game genre which wanes more than waxes
- Soundtrack isn’t quite as all-mighty as it sets out to be
- Frame-rate issue present here and in Dark Souls
- Dodging in PVP is the hardest enemy and hurdle you’ll have to overcome