Demon's Souls

Winston Churchill said that victors tend to write history, and one could easily say the same about the history of videogames. There are many titles that “official” videogame reviewers praise to the point where it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to find dissenting opinions, let alone even the remotest criticism of such games. However, the Internet has paved the way for average gamers such as this reviewer to contribute opposing opinion to the zeitgeist, with Yours Truly having been able to identify serious flaws in even the most highly-acclaimed titles. Among these hypothetical masterpieces is Demon’s Souls, which received plentiful journalistic fellatio upon its release in 2009, falling under his ever-increasing list of critically-acclaimed disappointments.

The first warning sign of things gone wrong is that the developers and publishers of the game in both Japan and North America apparently loved their own logos to the point where they force players to sit through every one of them every damn time they load the game, contributing a small but nonetheless noticeable chunk of potentially-wasted playtime. Ominous drumbeats introduce the stereotypical backstory sequence, which is actually one of the meatiest parts of the plotline, with Demon’s Souls barely attempting to weave anything resembling an engaging narrative, and thus making baffling the claim that this title’s gameplay is “rewarding,” given the lack of any significant reward other than more tortuous gameplay.

“Tortuous” doesn’t even begin to describe the gameplay of Demon’s Souls, with the player choosing from one of many classes, each with its advantages and disadvantages, upon starting a new game. Afterward, the game throws the player into a tutorial level introducing the exhausting gameplay, where each enemy slain nets the player Souls they can use to increase both a stat and the player’s soul level by one, or purchase healing items, new equipment, repair weapons and armor, and so forth. Death, however, costs the player all acquired souls, with the player needing to touch their bloodstain if they manage to reach their previous place of death to recover lost Souls. However, should the player die again while attempting to reach their bloodstain (with all enemies in a world respawning with each death), those previously-acquired Souls are gone for good, consequentially wasting the player’s time.

When the player dies, their maximum HP reduces by half, although an accessory can mitigate this penalty; the only ways to recover maximum HP are using a rare item or defeating a boss. After the tutorial level, which the player, at least in this reviewer’s experience, is unable to revisit, the game introduces players to the Nexus, a hub where the player can increase one stat at a time with Souls to increase Soul Level, buy items and equipment, repair weapons and armor, learn new magic spells, and so forth. One should note that the player is unable to increase Stats and Soul Level until defeating the first boss of the game, with the woman in black allowing players to do so for some reason changing her location every time the player returns there.

Aside from defeating enemies, another way to acquire souls is to consume soldiers’ souls and the souls of bosses received upon defeating them, although one can supposedly use these in weapon/armor upgrades or spell acquisition, so using them in want of a stat increase is usually not a good idea. Weapon and armor upgrades require both Souls and materials dropped by enemies or occasionally found from corpses in each of the game’s five worlds. Combat itself is fairly basic, with the L1 and R1 buttons using weapons (or shield) equipped to the left and right hands, and the L2 and R2 buttons allowing for more powerful, but slower, attacks with either weapon or shield. Having a shield and blocking is fairly critical to survival in Demon’s Souls, as even normal enemies can very easily slaughter the player, with some ironically being harder than the bosses, and even more of said difficult enemies appearing if a world reaches “Pure Black World Tendency.”

This reviewer found it nearly impossible to advance through the game without using a special cheat that allows for item duplication, handy for things such as consumable Souls that can grant limitless potential for stat increases, although this cheat often doesn’t overcome the cheapness of certain enemies, not to mention poorly-designed dungeons where a simple misstep can cost the player their life, and consequentially their Souls if they fail to touch their last bloodstain. If the player chooses not to cheat, there also lies the problem of the game auto-saving all the time, and thus being unable to reload a previous save state if they waste healing items on a tough enemy that ends up slaughtering them. Ultimately, the gameplay is tolerable with the aforementioned cheat, but by no means superb.

Control doesn’t fare any better, with the developers making the critical error of not allowing the player to pause the game at all despite the real-time nature of combat; apologists claim that the player can technically “pause” by quitting the game, although this is a poor substitute for a standard pause feature. Also missing are automaps , which have been present in RPGs of previous console generations, and thus there is no excuse for the lack of this useful feature that would have alleviated the game’s strenuous disposition. Also sure to offend players who think that linear games automatically suck is the game’s general straightforward nature, with the ability to select from five different worlds being the only freedom of exploration the title offers. Ultimately, interaction could have definitely been better.

There is very little actual music in Demon’s Souls, which is another of those titles that relies mostly on sound effects and ambience for its aurals, not to mention voice acting that is decent, but definitely not enough to make the game worth buying, even at its Greatest Hits price. The sound effects are mostly decent aside from a weird Darth Vader-esque breathing sound whenever the player or an enemy takes damage, although what little music is present is utterly forgettable. Ultimately, there’s very little to prevent players from listening to other music while playing the game.

Inarguably the best aspect of Demon’s Souls is its visual presentation, which is realistic and appropriately reflects the title’s dark nature, with only some minor blemishes such as blurry textures when seen close-up and some slowdown.

In the end, Demon’s Souls is not a bad game; it is, however, a lazy one, hurt both by what it lacks, such as automaps, a pause button, music, and adjustable difficulty, in addition to what it actually has, such as mediocre gameplay and plentiful repetition. Despite its flaws, it would receive a sequel, Dark Souls, with its developers claiming it to be even harder. Granted, it might be worth a look only at its Greatest Hits price, but those interested in the title should consider themselves warned.

The Good:
+A cheat which can make the game easier.
+Nice graphics.
+Good replay value.

The Bad:
-Inconsistent difficulty.
-Repetition galore with each death.
-No in-game maps.
-No pause button.
-No music 99% of the time.

The Bottom Line:
If you find taxing gameplay to be “rewarding,” this is the game for you.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 5/10
Controls: 4/10
Story: 2/10
Music/Sound: 3/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 6/10
Difficulty: Inconsistent
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours

Overall: 5/10

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