It’s 1:30 AM Saturday night. Well, technically it’s Sunday morning. My family has long since gone to bed and I am slowly, patiently wandering through a run down, crumbling jail guarded by mind flayers. These guys are a pain in my ass. Get too close and they send a shock wave at you, paralyzing your body so that they can walk up and wrap their tentacles around you — and if they manage to do that…turn out the lights. Thankfully, I mostly encounter these patrolling tentacle heads on a one-on-one basis.
Demon’s Souls is incredibly challenging and difficult, but it’s not overly sadistic…
This is a first for me as I generally stay away from games with a reputation for causing massive frustration, forcing you to start over time and time again until you “get it right”. I’ve written reviews chastising games for such a thing.
So why is Demon’s Souls different? And why am I up at 1:30 in the friggin’ morning slinking around a dilapidated jail? Here I am putting off reviews that I need to write and an interview to put together playing a nearly two year old game and instead I’m taking souls, running the entire Stonefang Tunnel, determined to finish it regardless of the number of times I have to start over.
After killing the Stonefang Tunnel boss I let out a triumphant, “Yes! Suck it Name of Boss I Won’t Tell You Because It’s a Spoiler!” Eat it baby! Woo hoo!”
Most of the time when I fight boss battles in games, which I generally tend to hate, I feel relief and a sense of “finally that’s over” but in Demon’s Souls I feel…pumped. I feel like I genuinely accomplished something. This game is so brilliantly designed that it has sunk its claws into me like no RPG has in quite some time. And I have restarted levels countless times. So what is it about THIS game?
I think the difference is that it knows how hard it is and it knows that you’re going to die and its design takes this into account. If you are unfamiliar with it — there are no save points, no way to pause the game. If you die (and you will) you are thrown back to the start of the level. Oh you almost made it to the boss and died? Yeah tough luck, kid. Back to the start. You are constantly on alert — especially if it is your first trip through an area. Every turn is taken with great care. Every new room causes your shield to go up and your sword/wand/bow whatever at the ready. Only after a moment of calm do you breathe again, knowing that the room is safe.
And if it’s not safe…you better fight like your life depended on it because in reality…it does.
Dying is just part of the game and each death causes you to learn something new. When you tackle an area again you know where the bad guys are, you know what to expect and know how to best approach the situation. That didn’t stop me from dying a ridiculous number of times on the first starter dungeon (a castle area with a sleepy red dragon at the top) and honestly if I didn’t know going in that Demon’s Souls was like this I might have quit.
When you step back and look at the areas, they aren’t that big and the number of enemies, at least through the first three sections, aren’t too great, but it’s the fear of death that’s staring you right in the face and every single fight feels IMPORTANT.
This is so refreshing that I think it’s one of this game’s greatest strengths; knowing that even a lowly enemy that is nothing but pure button mashing fodder in most games — can run his blade through your gut in this game if you are careless, is a just awesome. Demon Soul’s has the most rewarding combat system of any action-rpg I have ever played — bar none. Shield blocks, parries, a nasty riposte move, two handed chops, dodges, long distance arrow attacks, nasty spells, and so on. Learning how to fight has proven a great challenge but is also incredibly rewarding and it makes re-doing levels not as annoying as it sounds because the fighting is simply so much fun and so ridiculously dangerous.
I’m not even going to go into the fantastic way the game works online or the brilliant character modeling system which allows you to start with a base class (soldier, barbarian, priest, knight, etc.) but then allows complete freedom in how you custom build your class. You can go online and find countless theories and custom builds that people have created: Spell Swords, God Knights, etc. Awesome.
Most games, even ones with “save anywhere” features and difficulty levels don’t truly take difficulty into account. Raise the difficulty and the enemies cheat, the game intentionally adds more monsters or whatever and puts the screws on you just to make the game more difficult, It’s cheap. It’s also why I tend to play games on the Normal level and if a game is too silly in its difficulty approach I’ll toss it on Casual or Easy and don’t feel any the lesser for it.
Demon’s Souls WITH save checkpoints or the ability to save when you ant would be a TOTALLY different game. It wouldn’t be nearly as good. As it is now, this is genius.
It’s also a measly $20 at Amazon and if you have a PS3 and skipped it back in October of ’09 — now is your shot at redemption.
OK contest time!
Random.Org has spoken and the five winners of the Mount & Blade Warband contest are (drumroll)
I will contact the winners tonight. Thanks for entering everyone and we’ll have another giveaway soon!