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PS3 REVIEW – Demon's Souls

Posted February 10th 2010 by Jordan Mammo.

Demon's Souls

Many of the most intense moments in Demon's Souls occur when I'm alone and nothing is happening. They occur while I'm ascending a long, spiraling staircase as slowly as possible, afraid that at any moment something, anything, is going to kill me in one swift move. They occur while I'm staring into a dark dungeon hallway, debating whether to lumber further into dank, disgusting cells or simply turn around and take my treasures with me.

It's not just that I'm scared of what I can't see ahead of me. It's also that I can most definitely hear whatever the hell it is that I can't see. And it sounds terrifying.

Prisoners and miners moan. Enslaved, wretched-looking zombies scuttle around prison floors. Huge slugs slosh around murky water. The slightest sound is enough to unnerve. Sometimes this makes the absence of anything even more frightening. Little is scarier than plunging headfirst into a thick, poisonous swamp, your armor clicking and clanking, only to stop, look around, and notice... nothing. You've lost your sense of direction. An armored warrior, suspended in silence. Rain is falling so hard you can't see two feet in front of you. The poison is slowly eating away your health. You're barely mobile because of how mucky the water is. And the swamp is patrolled by a meat-cleaver-wielding phantom and other slimy creatures.

Demon's Souls is home to one of the most oppressive atmospheres I have ever stepped into, and it works wonders with the sordid landscape. Many games are based on the premise that the world is being threatened by an ancient demonic power, and this one is no different. As a knight, a magician, or some other class you choose at the start of your adventure, you are the last hope for the world. Whereas other games then let you explore lush, beautiful vistas and talk to peaceful villagers, however, the world in Demon's Souls looks and feels as if an overwhelmingly repressive force has descended upon it. In fact, half of the dozen or so people you meet in this game are rotting away in a prison cell until you set them free.

So, yes, Demon's Souls is harsh. Its unforgiving nature serves to teach you a few things, though. Namely: don't be an idiot. Slow down. Take your time. Observe, listen, and for the love of God keep your shield up! Maybe you remember playing the Legend of Zelda series back when your shield was important. Well, in Demon's Souls your shield matters. A lot. In fact, everything matters. The kind of sword you're wielding, how much it weighs, how much your leggings weigh in comparison to your helmet - all of these factor in to how your character attacks and moves, which in turn influences how you approach the challenges before you. The entire game has been crafted with such attention to detail that it essentially demands you take notice of your surroundings and arm yourself accordingly, because doing so can mean the difference between staying alive or losing your footing as a Lovecraft-inspired demon paralyzes you and proceeds to indulge in your face.

That there are serious consequences for dying drives home the idea that you shouldn't be rushing into situations like a renegade. Losing your life means you lose all your souls (the game's currency, required to do anything from gaining levels to upgrading weapons), your physical body, and start the level over as a spirit. Normally you'd be able to invite people playing online into your game in order to tag-team stages and bosses, but as a spirit you lose this ability and must also play with only half of your health. The advantage of being a spirit, then, is that you have the ability to either invade someone's game in order to hunt them down and kill them or let someone else voluntarily summon you into their game for co-op. Otherwise, if you can make it back to the spot you died, you can reclaim your lost souls and keep progressing, though you cannot regain your body except by killing bosses, helping another player kill a boss, killing another player online, or by using rare items. If you die on your way back to your souls, you lose them permanently.

Through its decrepit atmosphere and thoughtful design, Demon's Souls makes death worth considering at a time when most games and gamers don't think much of it, and that's probably its greatest achievement. In many titles, when you die you simply re-spawn at a recent checkpoint and go on from there. That there is potential to lose your body and/or tens of thousands of souls on your nerve-wracking trek back to where you died previously lends this experience a much more tangible feeling of dread and loss that's lacking in other titles that offer enemies as simple fodder for your combo counter. But that's what makes overcoming the obstacles rewarding. How far are you willing to explore a level when you are woefully equipped? Are you willing to forgo heavy armor for increased mobility, even if it means a bad dodge or a mistimed parry can lead to your death? Precise controls don't leave much room for blaming failure on anyone but yourself, and how you approach different situations will often say more about you than it will about the game.

This emphasis on deliberation suggests a much slower pace than may be expected for a game that's often billed as a dungeon crawler. This is definitely true, but it's actually when Demon's Souls is most like a dungeon crawler that it is least compelling, and when it is most like a slow, suffocating survival-horror experience that it's at its peak. Both intimate and lonely, the world is littered with signs of other souls like yourself, shadows of people playing online. They leave messages for you to read, and when another player is exploring the same part of a level as you, they can be seen briefly wandering around as a white ghost. Some players can be summoned to help, and some will invade to try and take your own soul.

More often than not, though, all you'll see of them is their white shadow lumbering through the very same terrain you are, lingering for a few moments only to disappear into thin air.

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Posted in: Reviews, Gaming

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User Comments

JoeyJoJoJrShabadu

I recently got the game, and I had the exact same feeling. This game is scarier than the last couple Resident Evils. This 'World Tendency' deal is a little confusing, though.

Wednesday, February 10th 2010

extremesonic

Really have to get this at some point, but I've got so many games on the back burner, and school has been such a black hole for my time recently. Luckily reading week is coming up, so hopefully I can put a dent in that pile.

Wednesday, February 10th 2010

Batist

Avatar

This game truly is great

Thursday, February 25th 2010

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