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F13.net - Usefully Cynical Commentary » Demon's Souls - From Software & Sony - PS3

YouTube - PS3 Demon's Souls - Knight of the Tower - HD

Warning: Long and without screenshots. While I watched movies before hand (and gameplay feeds), I can assure you that screenshots and video simply do not do this game justice and I'm not about to betray it like that. If you want screenshots, google them. I refuse to spoil anything of note though, and I can't protect you from the internet. Enjoy the cover art, it's a wall of text from here on out.

On Localization
In some sort of alternate universe, this game will get localized for America. From what I've been able to dig up, there was a team on it at SCEA. In fact, it seems they even had a hand in the English version that got released in Asia and Korea. Anyone who has played it can verify that the voice acting and script is pretty superb. Even the English text is way above average for an Asian title. It's entirely possible it's the best title ever released in English only in Asia. Which is a damn shame. But I'm not really writing to get all emo about the lack of an American release. Acquiring the game is merely a matter of hitting up EBay or NCSX - and it's worth every penny you pay, whatever the price.

The Zelda Complex
More than anything else, this game bears a more than passing resemblance to a sort of unholy fusion of the old Zelda titles (NES, SNES) and the ones released on the N64 onwards. It is, at its core, a straightforward dungeon crawl. Quite literally, you make your character and proceed to crawl dungeons for a good 40-60 hours (or much longer in my case, as I simply can't get enough). Short of the basic design of having shops scattered through the world and multiple different styles of dungeon to visit (where you can find different items, etc.), the comparison to Zelda ends here. In some ways it's far more polished than Zelda may ever be simply due to the style presented and gameplay achieved, and there's no doubt it does things Nintendo could only dream of achieving - and yet, somehow, From Software scored a pact with a mean devil to get this game made. I don't know what went on during development, but I can only assume that at some point everything fell into place as the end result seems far great than the parts when separated - and there's no doubt that any words I write won't do the experience justice.

The Learning Curve
People say this game is difficult, at the beginning I did as well. But it's not difficult. You simply suck. You're supposed to suck. Everyone sucks when they start. The most apt comparison I suppose I can make is to Guitar Hero. When you start playing, you simply lack the ability to control the character the way he's meant to be controlled. Much like trying to jump right into expert the first time you drop GH into the disc slot.

There is absolutely no doubt that this game rewards patience and as it has been said on many websites, this game is more about your growth as a gamer than anything else. The player receives a previously unheard of amount of satisfaction as they level up as a gamer. You slowly slip into the controls and once you're in the zone, it's hard to leave. Much like GH, you do slowly work your way up to doing things you previously thought impossible. Sure, your character levels up and you can fight through a flood of enemies that previously would've rocked your face right off, but it's not just the character levels that do this.

To put it in even simpler terms, much like in Eve, if I were to hand someone my soul level 100 character and say "have at it," they'd probably die nearly as much as I did despite being about four times as powerful as you are when you first start out. See, there's a certain amount maturity you go through as a player in a way we simply don't see much anymore. Like when you finally mastered Mario's floaty jump in Super Mario Bros. or the first time you finally beat the first area of Dr. Wiley's stages in Mega Man 2. Sure, those single platforms are a real pain in the ass, but eventually you just nail it without an issue (well, some people do).

It is not, however, artificially difficult in any way. Nor is it unfair. It is very unforgiving in ways we don't see often these days. There are mobs that lower your soul level, an obscene number of hallways that'll screw up your flow entirely, traps that will outright kill you and finally, the death penalty. Oh, so harsh. You die, drop a bloodstain with all your souls (both the currency and "experience" in the game) and have to go retrieve it. The game spawns you at the beginning of that area and nearly all the mobs respawn. If you die again trying to get your soul, well, you leave a big empty bloodstain and lose all your souls on your previous bloodstain. But as anyone who has played it will tell you, the game will never kill you if it's not your own damn fault. The player is to blame here, there is no blaming the controller.

The Controls
Perfect. Perfect to a fault. Every weapon moves a little differently in one way or another, even shield has its pros and cons, and armor weight matters. The controls are, in fact, why I call this game a "Dungeon Crawler Simulator" instead of just a dungeon crawler. The damned controls are so precise that any victory is a satisfying one. It means you, the player, did something. Unlike Fable 2, where the game practically played itself, in Demon's Souls, the environment and enemies are a constant threat - as such, you learn very quickly how do deal with many of the enemies. Even after a hundred hours though, and a few ten levels, I can still die to the first type of mob you find in the game. They're not very threatening, but if pressed, I could give about three different areas where you can just get surrounded and raped. These situations are why the controls work so well - you learn to deal with this sort of assault, and you feel like a better gamer for it.

Sure, it sounds insane to say that it makes you a better gamer, the phrase is absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds. Unfortunately, it's what the game is about. It grows on you and you grow with it. Much like how you felt as the narrative in Deus Ex or Planescape unfolded, this game rewards you in entirely different ways - ways you might not have known existed before - and a good part of this is the way the controls work.

Eventually, your character will become an extension of you. Even the worst gamer, given enough time, will become an absolute monster in this game should they be willing to just try.

The Online Stuff
In a weird way, Demon's Souls is basically an MMOG. You are always aware there are other people. You'll see their white ethereal ghost in your world playing the game simultaneously. You won't see what they're fighting, but you always know. And you can always tell how long they've been playing just based on how their character moves. It's an absolutely unique system that I really wish other games (in this online enabled age) would adopt en masse. Particularly things like Mass Effect, Guild Wars, Zelda, and Mario. All of them could benefit from this sort of thing in one way or another.

In short, despite not actively playing with other people, you never feel alone. It's gratifying in a way I never expected.

In addition to their ghosts, you also see bloodstains of places people have died. When you walk up to it, you get a contextual "x" and can see the final moments in the life of that player. There's a great wealth of information to be weened from this, and it contributes to the fact that I don't think the game actually needs a strategy guide that explains, well, strategy (I can't remember the last non-Double Jump guide that did this anyway). Perhaps Japanese guides are more in depth, but for the meat of the game, the combat, everything you need is in the game itself. Speaking of...

"This is harsh. Evaluate me" - you're going to see that a lot. There's a system in place by which you can leave a message on a the ground for other players to see and read. It's a brilliant way to communicate with four different international audiences (those being english-speaking, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese). They're all preset messages and translate to whatever region your PS3 is set to (much like the game itself). Many will be useful - "Watch out for overhead ahead" in places where things will fall on you, "left" or "right" in places where you can find treasure, and even things like "Ambush!" or "Watch our for enemy sneak attack" when things are about to get risky. There's also a rating system in place, and when you rate something, you heal the player whose message you just rated. And now you know what "This is harsh. Evaluate me" means. Ironic that the most common message I suppose, is the one you should rate the most and happens to also be the most cryptic. People drop it when they're having trouble, simply so people will heal them. Anyway, just another thing to contribute to the idea that you are "never alone." Despite being, oh, so, very, very alone.

As far as multiplayer goes, it warrants a mention. Without spoiling any story or lore, I have to give mad props to From for coming up with the multiplayer system. There are two core types of stone: blue and black.

When you are in soul form (which I'll explain under life & death), you can put a blue stone on the ground. People typically do this before a boss and for good reason. When you drop a blue stone, it allows a player who is currently in a living state to summon you to help them finish an area (or play through an entire area - as is often the case with 4-1 and 4-2 - also explained later). Up to three people can be in a group at once, and when a boss is beaten, the players in soul form are revived. In addition, the players all rate eachother (S through E, like any proper asian game) and souls are distributed based on that. In other words, it is in your best interest not to be your standard online gamer. The multiplayer is all business, and I think because of that, the game succeeds in a way that other games simply don't - I have yet to run into a player that is purposefully a jerk, and that's something entirely new in online gaming. Also, there's no voice chat - and obviously on purpose given it's an IP owned by Sony. Voice chat would take away from what the game is trying to do. In short, multiplayer is there to fulfill a need - help against some of the tougher enemies and for getting through the harder zones. It succeeds in spades because it wasn't trying to be something it wasn't - which I suppose, is how this game came to be the masterpiece it is - and good on From for coming up with such a system.

The black stone is for invading other worlds and trying to kill the host. Yes, that means there's PVP - and just like everything else, it's also incredibly satisfying. However, words can't do it justice so I'll just let you experience this for yourself - should you cough up the money for the game (and you should).

Life & Death
During your first game, odds are the majority of the time you're going to be in soul form (or, well, dead). You know what, that's OK! It's safer to travel in soul form (for reasons I'll cover in World Tendency below) and you have 50% (or 75% should you not miss the extremely obvious Cling Ring in the first 30 minutes of the game) of your regular hit points. Yet another thing they did to make you learn really fast that you need to get better and quickly. When you beat a boss (whether in your own game or someone elses), you will be brought back to life. You can also use Ephemeral Eyes (an item) to be resurrected.

When alive, you can summon other players, be invaded (souls can't be invaded by PK types), and you have 100% of your hit points. While this may sound better, it's really not. When you die in human form, you cause a great shift in the World Tendency towards the black. This makes the game harder (but also makes the rewards better - sometimes much better should you find yourself in a pure black zone).

World & Character Tendency
Instead of some half-assed good and evil system (I'm looking at you Lionhead and Bioware), there is instead a tendency system. Ranging from pure white to pure black, the game changes based on how the world is shifted. You shift towards white by killing bosses and you shift towards black from dying in human form and committing evil acts (killing another player, a helpless NPC, etc). Both have their cons and benefits. In my opinion, this is best experienced, so we'll keep this section short.

Crafting
Look, there's a full ore and crafting system. It's pretty damn great and the item variety (given that every weapon type has a different combat style) is just downright amazing. From anime huge swords to tiny stabbing knives and knuckle dusters, this game has pretty much everything you would want from a dungeon crawler. It's far more satisfying than any MMOG crafting system simply because it's so easy and oh so rewarding. Each weapon and shield has multiple trees you can branch off to using different types of ore at different levels to customize your items and there's a wealth of unique items you upgrade into via boss souls. Oh, right, souls.

Souls
Here's where the game sets itself apart from other titles in the genre - each boss (and some demon's) drop valuable souls. As I've mentioned, souls are both the currency and stat-upgrade experience of the world. Well, the demon's souls (the real deal), actually open up entirely different avenues of play. Some will upgrade into a powerful weapon or spell and some will do both - and at that point you have to make a decision that you can't change (or add to) until New Game +. In other words, if you're playing right now and have been eating those über souls, well, you might as well start over.

Protip: Talk to Blacksmith Ed in 2-1 after you get the red hot demon's soul in 2-2. Do not eat it. They didn't put these souls into the game just for kicks.

It's a fairly robust system, and every soul counts. On your first character, I wouldn't really recommend fretting it, you'll be a 1,000x better by the time you finish your first game and will make a new character, nearly guaranteed - unless you don't like fun.

The Level Design
This may be the feather in the cap. The thing that escalates this game above nearly all others. It is a goddamn work of art. The level design here is simply perfect. Everything is "just so." You can tell someone loved making this game. Every area has a style and everything meshes oh so well. The dungeons wrap around themselves and create shortcuts that you don't even realize until after you've done it and the flair in the game is just... substantial. It's really quite an amazing achievement - what they've done here and I'd suspect that even folks who don't care about level design will be fairly impressed by what's going on here. This world lives in a way other worlds haven't lived before.

Make no mistake though, it is a decrepit wasteland. The areas are absolutely oppressive from the opening castle to the pool of fetuses (not kidding) to the final elevate ride, this thing just oozes style. It's reaches a level you probably never thought you'd find outside of a Lovecraft novel and there is no doubt in my mind that the level design is the true innovation here. Despite all the online stuff MMOGs should steal in some form (or learn from), every third person action game can learn something from the level design. Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, Gears of War, Zelda - you name it, it doesn't matter what the game is; the level design here is simply better. It's a damned astounding achievement and From Software should be rewarded for it.

There aren't enough words for me to give this the credit that's due and I'm already approaching "too many words" so lets wrap this thing up.

The Best Console Game Ever Made
In the first thread we have, I frothed and got a lot of people to buy the game. After a few ten hours with it, I exclaimed that it was the second best game I've ever played. having now logged somewhere near 80 hours, I'd say it's pretty official.

This is the best console game I've ever played. I didn't realize it before hand, but Metroid, Resident Evil IV, Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3 were all pretty high on my top 20. Well, Zelda is now nowhere to be found. The other three are still present simply because they do things differently, in their own way, and succeed on those achievements. Demon's Souls absolutely turns Zelda right on its head. The level design is better by an order of magnitudes, the sound is a aural sex, and the controls are an achievement on their own - I don't even need to get into the multiplayer here. It's simply the better game. It's the best dungeon crawler I've ever played, it's easily the best next-gen game available right now, and it's quite possibly the most satisfying game I've ever played. The only reason Deus Ex sits above it on the total list is because the story was just so well done and I have a thing for good game writing (funny, because the writing and voice acting in Demon's Souls is absolutely top notch). I can assure you however, that the gameplay here is better than anything else in my top 20.

People who only play PC games are missing out. People without PS3s are absolutely missing out. At this point I'm even comfortable saying that even if SCEA doesn't know it, this thing is absolutely a system seller for people that love dungeon crawlers. Hell, for people with a passing appeal of dungeon crawlers it's a system seller. ****it, if you have any appreciation for gaming, you owe it to yourself to play this. If you come up with some excuse for not playing it - it's your own damn fault. For those of you without a PS3, I feel sorry for you. No, I pity you. It's just that good. This thing came out of left field and gaming is better for it - and as gamers, you owe it to yourself to get on the bandwagon and get this thing. If that requires buying a console you don't want, so be it. In fact, this game has vindicated an entire generation of games that was muddled in mediocrity with few bright points. Or rather, I suppose, everything looks mediocre in retrospect.

tl;dr
If you don't find some way to play this, it's your loss. Not mine. Much like Deus Ex and Planescape, I wish I could go back and do it all over again for the first time and I suppose that's the real hallmark of a standout game. Now buy the goddamn thing.

P.S. I'd be lying if I didn't say I get some smug satisfaction out of being able to say "if you're not playing this, you're doing it wrong" - and I really mean it this time.

P.P.S. You will die a lot, just dust yourself off and do it again. I died about 200 times in my first game. In all three of my subsequent ones (all about 10-15 hours in) I've died a grand total of somewhere between 8 and 12 times between them. You will get better, I promise - and it will scratch an itch you never knew you had.

P.P.P.S. I don't care if I sound like a fanboy-idiot. I bet most of you can't remember the last time you loved a game this much. :neener:
 
^ Yeah it sounds like an interesting game but just saying that nothing you say/do will make the game justice because its THAT good doesn't convince me.
 
As far as games go, we should always be skeptical, especially if reviews are THIS good. Several people from another forum are playing through it and all echo this experience, so I think I'll give it a shot. It sounds worth it even if it's only half as good as people say.
 
I find it kind of sad how games/consoles have to have so much technology/graphics etc just to appeal to humans now. Remember when the Atari and other consoles of it's kind came out? These things are going to be so real one day that real life will be heading towards the way of the ancient Atari. Real life just won't appeal to anyone anymore. Oh well.
 
I got this game in the mail yesterday, and have layed it only for about 20 minutes. My impression so far, it IS pretty badass, and I can see what they're saying about the learning curve, because it's tough. So far though, it is pretty good. I'll update after I have some true impressions(more than the introduction).
 
I find it kind of sad how games/consoles have to have so much technology/graphics etc just to appeal to humans now. Remember when the Atari and other consoles of it's kind came out? These things are going to be so real one day that real life will be heading towards the way of the ancient Atari. Real life just won't appeal to anyone anymore. Oh well.

They don't have to. I myself am a sucker for graphics, I bought Crysis simply because it looked awesome, and yet I still enjoy games like Mario, PacMan and Tetris. Simply put better graphics = better immersion, on games that are trying to achieve as much realism as possible to draw the player in good graphics are a must. Sure most of the time graphics won't make the game more fun, but they will make it more enjoyable. Then again there's usually some little graphics thing that's cool as hell, though namely those usually involve physics.
 
The review in my OP is a bit exaggerated, but, it is a great game. The difficulty is something that I haven't seen in agame in quite some time. Even while sober, it is quite difficult. Just as I feel I'm getting the hang of it, I come across an enemy who obliterates me with one hit. It is frustrating when this happens(you WILL die a lot), because you start at the beginning of the level and have to work your way back to your boodstain to get your souls back The souls being currency. Basically, if you have a PS3, the game is fun and rewarding. Definitely worth checking out.
 
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