So hardcore it makes us all look casual.
PlayStation 39.00
Overall 9.00
***First off, before I start the review, I'd like to point out that this game is 100% import friendly. The PS3 is region free, and the game has English voiceovers and subtitles. There is no reason not to import this game if it interests you, and if it does interest you, I'd recommend hunting down a copy soon, as it is becoming a very hard game to acquire.***

Over the past few months I've had the pleasure of playing Demon's Souls. I've beaten it twice, and have loaned it to a friend. This is a hard game for me to review. There are some flaws in the game that will be major annoyances to some people, and there is the game's crushing difficulty that will turn off others. The score I attach to this game is reflective of my own experience with the game. This is not a game for everyone. First and foremost, Demon's Souls is a game that requires you to put in a lot of effort. You get out of it what you put into it. Every thing you accomplish in this game will be something you fought hard for, and that is why I love it. There is a sense of accomplishment provided by this game that is matched by few others.

Before I talk about what the game is, I'll talk about what it isn't. When the first screen shots showed up for the game, several people around the internet were billing Demon's Souls as an Oblivion styIe game with Japanese art direction. As appealing as that description is, it doesn't describe Demon's Souls. This isn't a sandbox styIe RPG in the vein of the Elder Scrolls games, and in the end, there isn't anything about the game that is comparable to JRPG design either. The bosses are gigantic, and the character designs are fantastic, but they don't seem to be at all similar to what you see in most Japanese games.

Demon's Souls is, at its heart, a pure action RPG. There isn't much of a story in Demon's Souls, and for the most part you will either experience the game by yourself, or with the help of other players that you can summon into your game. There is no voice chat with your co-op partner, which may be seen as an annoyance by some people, but for me it only served to preserve the game's sense of isolation. There are some NPCs that you will run into in the game as you explore new areas, but most of your NPC interactions will be done in the game's hub world, The Nexus. The Nexus is a place that traps your soul at the beginning of the game. Within it are 5 archstones that serve as portals to varied regions in the Kingdom of Boletaria. Each area has unique enemies, huge bosses and incredible level design. Whether you are exploring the crumbling walls of Boletaria Palace, the depths of the Stonefang Mines, the Shrine of Storms, or either of the other fantastic levels in the game, you will always be up against a challenge, and you will continue to run into new enemy types and be forced to develop new strategies for dealing with them.

This game is difficult, but not cheap. There is no pause button, and the game does not let you manually save.(although it autosaves very frequently) Fighting enemies and killing bosses earns you soul points that are simultaneously the currency of Demon's Souls, and the experience points. Buying an item with souls can be a hard choice when you know that you can also use the same souls to level up. When you die in the game, you lose your souls. You must make it back to the spot where you lost them without dying in order to regain your lost souls. This can make for some tense moments. The other thing about dying is that you lose your body, and you awaken at the start of the level in Soul Form. This means that your health bar is cut in half, and it is easier for you to be killed while in Soul Form.

There are four ways to regain your physical form in Demon's Souls. The most common ways are to either beat a boss demon, or use one of the rare Stone of Ephemeral Eyes items that will resurrect you. The more interesting ways to regain your physical form are to either let yourself be summoned into someone else's game to help them beat a boss, or to invade their game as a Black Phantom in hopes of killing them. Playing the game in co-op is a lot of fun, and while it was frustrating at the beginning, as I got better at the combat in the game, I began to look forward to Black Phantom invasions. As challenging as the game's enemies are, there is nothing like going toe to toe with a human opponent who is as smart as you are. The PvP in this game is a phenomenal game of cat and mouse. They invade your game and if you have time, you can conceal yourself and choose to confront them when you have the upper hand. There is nothing like getting the drop on a Black Phantom invader and turning them from hunter to hunted.

The real standout element of the game is easily the various enemies and demons that you fight. They all require different strategies to take on. The game is a learning experience, and sometimes the most valuable lesson is learning when to run away. There are enemies in this game that can kill you in one hit. You always have to be on your guard and take every encounter seriously if you want to survive. Fortunately the combat system is very deep, and there is a wide variety of weapons, spells and miracles to aid you on your way. The combat system is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of playing styIes. If you want to play as a nimble mage that focuses on ranged combat you aren't at a disadvantage compared to an iron clad knight swinging a sword bigger than he is as long as you know how to adapt. Some bosses are weaker against ranged combat, and others are weak against melee attacks. Knowing how to exploit their weaknesses is often more important than being leveled up. The sense of accomplishment you get when you beat a boss demon after a long hard fight is fantastic. This game presents some truly epic fights with some bosses being on the scale of something you'd see in Shadow of the Colossus.

My only major complaint regarding the game is something that most people aren't going to know about, or care about. There is a system called World Tendency in the game where the enemies you run into in an area, and the difficulty of said enemies, can change depending on your actions in the world. The rules governing world tendency are way over my head, and in the end, while there are certain things you won't see in the game without manipulating the World Tendency, you can experience all of the bosses and beat the game without every needing to understand it.

On a technical level, the game's graphics aren't perfect. There are framerate issues in certain areas, nothing in the game seems to cast a shadow, and in general the graphics look a little dated for a game that came out in 2009. I should also point out that while the game uses the Havok physics engine, the fallen corpses of your enemies behave very oddly, as though they don't weigh anything at all.

There is a barebones story in Demon's Souls that involves restoring the kingdom of Boletaria and defeating the Demon's that have taken over the land. There are some minor elements of choice in the game, but the game never explicitly lets you know that killing a certain NPC or saving them will have an effect on the story. Things are much more grey and mysterious than something as overt as, say, choosing whether or not to harvest a Little Sister in Bioshock.

When you beat the game you will wake up back in The Nexus where you are free to start all over and play through the game at an even higher difficulty. This is the only way that you will be able to obtain every spell and weapon in the game, as you will need to use the souls of various demons to make new spells and weapons. I imagine most people will be content with beating the game and moving on, but it is nice to know there is an even greater challenge awaiting you after the credits roll.

In the end, this game has been the most unique experience I've had in years, and it is something that I can easily recommend to anyone looking to play one of the most challenging games ever made.

9 out of 10
Posted by rragnaar Mon, 18 May 2009 22:20:27
Tue, 19 May 2009 12:59:50

Awesome Review. You know the difficulty thing is only a problem if it is unfair. You say it's not, so no problems there.

P.S. if you want to copy things over from GS to the VG Press or vice versa, just copy the html. The pictures and layout will be the same.

Thu, 03 Sep 2009 12:20:34
thanks for the review.  it helped me understand some of the ways in which the game is  ultra difficult, which is something i had been hearing a lot about.

do you have some useful tips for finding ways to overcome this?  like you said it doesn't sound like it is a simple case of level-grinding
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