Review: Demon’s Souls (PS3)


Title: Demon’s Souls
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (8.0 GB)
Release Date: October 6, 2009
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: From Software
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Demon’s Souls is exclusive to PlayStation 3.
The Disc Based version was used for this review.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 132 of the podcast.

Demon’s Souls is the latest game developed by FROM Software, best known for the Armored Core series. Sony published the game in Japan, but passed on it for the US. A version of the game was released in Asia that featured a rudimentary English translation so quite a few gamers imported it thinking it wouldn’t make it to these shores. Thankfully Atlus stepped up and announced they would be localizing and publishing the game here and giving it the usual outstanding Atlus treatment, bonuses and all. They were also kind enough to send us a reviewable copy which I’ve been obsessed with for the past month or so.

You'll need to learn to fight on this game's terms, not yours.

You'll need to learn to fight on this game's terms, not yours.

At first glance, Demon’s Souls looks quite similar to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Medieval fantasy with knights, castles and dragons in all their genericness. Once you boot the game up, you’ll realize how very wrong that impression is. You’re thrust into a dying world as a lonely adventurer. The corrupt king has released a horrible evil, unleashing a fog that is slowly covering the land devouring the souls of the people. They go mad, murdering each other and rising as undead, while other demonic creatures take up residence. Enter you, the brave adventurer, ready to right all the world’s wrongs. You venture in from beyond the fog and then the game kills you. Or rather, you go through a short tutorial sequence after creating your character, only to come face to face with a giant demon who annihilates you in one hit. This is sort of Demon’s Soul’s way of telling you that you’re not ready and are going to have to work to be worthy of it’s challenge. Don’t worry though, you wake up in soul form in a strange sort of purgatory called “The Nexus”, meet a few somewhat friendly faces and find out what you really need to do to save the world as well as get your body back.

The Nexus. You're home away from home.

The Nexus. Your home away from home.

This is the point where you realize Demon’s Souls isn’t like most other games. You’re going to die and die a lot, but death isn’t the end. If you’re in your body, you resurrect as a soul. Basically the same as having your body, but your HP is halved and your power is slightly increased. To get your body back, you can kill a major demon, aid another player in defeating a major demon or use a certain item. That’s only if you want to though. You don’t really need your body at all, you can just keep on playing as a soul. Of course you can die as a soul, but the only penalty is that you drop the souls you were carrying and are sent to the beginning of the level with all enemies re-spawned. If you manage find your bloodstain where you were killed, you can even retrieve those souls. However, if you die on the way to it, they’re gone for good.

Rewinding a bit, you are free to create your character, picking your gender, customizing your look and choosing between a large selection of character classes. They’re your typical fantasy fare such as knights, mages, thieves, etc. These classes give you your initial stats as well as starting equipment. Some make the game easier than others and even begin at a higher soul level (essentially your character level). Once you gain the ability to improve your stats, you’ll find that the initial choice doesn’t matter that much and given enough souls to spend, you can change your stats however you see fit. Wait…did he say “souls to spend”? Indeed I did. In this game, the souls you collect from fallen enemies or find on corpses are what you use as currency for EVERYTHING. They buy your items, upgrade your equipment, purchase magic spells and even improve your ability scores. The boss monster souls can even be used to created incredible magical weapons to aid in your journey.

What really sets Demon’s Souls apart from other fantasy-medieval themed games is the intense atmosphere. Throughout the adventure, you’re bombarded by a feeling of desperate isolation. You’re alone and everything is trying to kill you. Blood stains of fallen heroes can be found everywhere and these are actually where other real players have died. Touch it and you’ll see their red-hued ghost live out it’s final moments. You’ll even see white specter’s flitting in and out of existence, these being other people playing the game at that very moment. While it may be somewhat comforting to know other players are out there, you’re still on your own, just as they are. Glowing messages left by players can be found scrawled on the ground, giving your warnings and tips or even misleading you. All of this adds to the eerie, foreboding feeling the game seems to ooze. It’s not quite a horror game, but it definitely shares a similar mood. The levels themselves are beautifully designed to accentuate this. Filled with torn-down structures and littered with the bodies of the dead, it’s hard not feel a bit uneasy as you explore them. While you will often find yourself retreading your footsteps after an untimely death, you’ll also find numerous shortcuts and doors to unlock which tend to double-back to the beginning of the level giving you much faster access to later sections and greatly reducing any feeling of repetition.

EVERYTHING wants to kill you.

EVERYTHING wants to kill you.

Combat is very action-based and part of what makes this game so challenging. If you don’t get a decent grasp on it, or at least figure out ways to work around it, you’re in for a world of hurt. The combat may seem a little clunky and imprecise at first, but it does work very well once you get the hang of it. You’ll have plenty of options for different strengths of attacks, dodges and blocks or parries with your shield. You can even enter a first person view when you have a bow equipped to take precise aim. Magic works very similar to melee and range combat, needing to be aimed or cast at the most opportune time to avoid being skewered before the spell goes off. The enemy AI isn’t always the brightest so it’s very possible to take advantage of that and find a safe spot to snipe foes while they get stuck or run around trying to figure out how to get to you. For the most part though, they’re smart and dangerous enough to keep you on your toes, so catching a little break to take out a tough enemy is a little refreshing. Really, if you approach the game with caution and never run headfirst into a new area or situation the much vaunted difficulty isn’t bad at all. I’d say it’s tough, but fair. There are a few cheap deaths here and there, but I never ran into anything game-breaking or frustrating enough to throw a control at the screen.

The sense of scale the game captures is astounding.

The sense of scale the game captures is astounding.

Graphically, Demon’s Souls works extremely well. It’s not the best looking PS3 game you’ll ever see, but it still looks good and the large, desolate levels are rendered quite well. Character models get the job done and the monsters tend to look fantastic, especially the bosses. These things are HUGE and extremely threatening. Maybe not Shadow of the Colossus huge, but it’s very satisfying to bring them down. Everything animates well, although some canned animations can look a bit strange when stuck on odd surfaces like stairs. The music in the game is very moody and atmospheric. The battle themes are great and it makes good use of vocals through haunting chants.

I mentioned the fact you can see other players flitting about as ghosts in your game. Well, unlike most RPG’s, Demon’s Souls actually contains multiplayer. After defeating the first boss, you’re given a set of stones allowing you to co-op with other players. If you find a blue message left on the ground you can summon the player who left it into your game to aid you. Likewise you can leave your own message and be summoned into other players games. Later on you’ll receive a black stone that allows you to enter other player’s games to hunt them down and kill them, reaping their souls as a reward. It should be noted that you need to be within 10 or so levels of each other for either online type to work. Unfortunately, because of this and the lack of players on the review servers, I was unable to try out the online. If playing the retail version’s online portion changes my review score, I will update both here and on the podcast.

NOTE: Atlus informed us that the servers for the game will not be active until October 6th, the game’s official release date. If you’re lucky enough to find a copy early, please be aware you won’t be able to get online until then.

Team up with a friend! Maybe this dying world isn't so lonely after all.

Team up with a friend! Maybe this dying world isn't so lonely after all.

After completing the game, you are given the option to tackle it all over again in New Game+ mode. You keep your equipment but the difficulty ramps up even further. You can keep on going through it again and again after completing, plus you won’t be able to get all the items with just one playthrough. All you Trophy hunters are in for the long-haul because it’s gonna require multiple plays to get all the Trophies.

Special mention should also be made for Atlus’s incredible bonuses. As usual they’ve gone above and beyond what’s necessary to bring you an incredible package. All preorders at participating retailers get you an art book and soundtrack CD. The game features some great art so this is a very cool bonus. There’s also the Deluxe Edition for just $10 more and it includes a nice looking slip case plus an exclusive Strategy Guide by DoubleJump books. I do implore anyone picking up the Deluxe Edition to NOT use the strategy guide on their first playthrough. Half the enjoyment is in the feeling of danger and exploration which would be ruined by knowing what’s around every corner.

Thank you, Atlus!

Thank you, Atlus!

So is this a game that’s “not for everyone?” Well, the answer to that is; sort of. It’s an RPG unlike most others and it’s also a very challenging, hardcore game. However, the sheer uniqueness of it helps to cross the genre-barrier a bit so it’s very possible this game may have a broader appeal than your standard JRPG, although the challenge could hold it back. I think any RPG or Action-RPG fan should definitely at least try it out. Just go in with an open mind and no pre-conceived notions on what it should be. Play at least past the first boss (Phalanx) as the game doesn’t even really open up until after you’ve defeated it. I absolutely adore this game and sincerely hope everyone who plays it does as well. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had from any game this generation and is a definite contender for my game of the year. Well done, Atlus and FROM Software, well done.


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Written by Mark Senger

Glenn’s second co-host on the podcast , Mark graced the airwaves from late 2007 to early 2010.

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