Review - Demon's Souls

Demon’s Souls is one the most difficult game I’ve played in years and I love it! I find the choices made in its overall design both compelling and fascinating. In an industry where the current trend seems to want to make games easier and more accessible for the masses, it’s nice to see one game proudly stand up and pound its chest challenging gamers alike. It’s a call to arms of sorts for the hardcore.

For those of you who don’t know, the Prince of Persia series was recently “rebooted” to contain mostly simple button presses and thumb-stick gestures to execute “complex” maneuvers. It’s a divisive concept in the gaming community, and though I enjoyed the game quite a bit, I do admit that the trend is starting to bother met. Take Uncharted 2-- even though it's one of my favorite games of the year, the auto correcting jump mechanic had me shaking my head at times because I felt it was removing some of the games inherent gameplay challenges.

Embarrassingly I recall an incident from last year where I was playing Burnout 3 and became so boiled over with frustration I physically twisted and cracked my $50 DualShock 2. I cracked the internal circuit board rendering it completely useless. “Way to go Mark!” I thought, “What are you, 12 years old?!” Clearly this was a stupid and expensive reaction on my part, but I had had it with the game ending crashes caused by bumper tapping. I’m just the type of guy who doesn’t tolerate cheap and unapologetic design tactics in games.

I bring this up for two reasons: First to make it clear that poorly designed games can frustrate me to point of time travel. Secondly, I never once came close to feeling this kind of frustration in regards to Demon’s Souls challenges.

I think for most gamers to really appreciate Demon’s Souls they must make a conscience decision to be up for its back-breaking challenges. At its core, Demon’s Souls is an intensely exhilarating and well crafted experience coupled with unmerciful consequences for dying. But once one is aware of that fact, you will be forced to constantly contemplate your strategies knowing full well that even quickly turning a corner could have dire consequences.

Death in Demon’s Souls (see, even in writing it makes me wince!) has several penalties: It restart you from the very beginning on your current stage, you lose all your currency (souls) and all previously defeated foes will respawn sans bosses. In contrast of a game with a very generous checkpoint system like Batman: Arkham Asylum--checkpoints simply do not exist. I would like to be clear on this because it so very much goes against the grain--there will never be an automatic save made for you, nor is it even possible to manual save the game at your every whim.

Intimidated yet?

Hey, the game is not completely ruthless though. If you return to your fallen corpse without dying then you will be able to recover 100% of your souls. However, if you do die along the way then they will disappear completely leaving you with nothing but your weapons and health. You do have the opportunity to stashed away Demon's Souls, equipment and items with a friendly NPC located in the game’s hub (The Nexus), for safe storage. So if you utilize your resources properly you won’t completely lose everything.

I know it might sound too frustrating to even consider playing, but what Demon’s Souls manages to do is increase the intensity and quality of the experience without it feeling cheap. Almost every time I died in the game it was due to the fact that I wasn’t being careful enough, or frankly I was just practicing improper battle techniques.

So why would someone want to play this game? The only explanation I can give you is my own—Demon’s Souls managed to invoked emotions that I've not felt in a very long time. Its deliberately slow progression made me appreciate seemingly simple acts, but ostensibly were monumental progressions.

If the difficulty of Demon's Souls is at the core of the game’s draw then the boss fights are definitely the cherry on top of that cake. Yes this game has fun boss fights. Sing some praise with me! Though they can be a little outlandish at times, they are mostly radiating with originality and are enjoyable crafted sequences.

Demon’s Souls is a game full of "tough love"—it’s firm, but fair. If you slip up with your hand in the cookie jar even once then you will get it slapped hard! In some instances this means losing hours of your concerted efforts at the flick of the games wrist. Undoubtedly at some point you will dip your head in despair. But once you realize you were the one at fault you will suddenly realize that you're back in the game honing your skills and surpassing the games challenges. It's incredibly rewarding.

I'll never forget playing the game for the first time--it was a 4 hour session that ended with my jaw aching. Later I realized that it was from me gritting my teeth the entire time. I that pretty much sums up my experience with this game.