We're not in the business of reviewing games we don't finish, so I'll say right away that I did not finish Demon's Souls, the latest action RPG for the PlayStation 3. Because of this, we will not be giving it a review score this week. This write-up is going to have to suffice. Sorry.
It's not that I didn't want to finish it. I truly do, and I look forward to doing so. It just isn't going to happen now. The review date is upon us, and I've got plenty more game to go. On top of this, Atlus has pulled down the gaming press test servers to prepare for the game's retail launch.
I regularly plow through 80+ hour epics in no time as a reviewer, barely breaking a sweat; I'm kind of known for that around these parts. And it's not that Demon's Souls is a long game; that's not the case at all. The issue here is that I couldn't finish it in a timely manner. It was just too hard for me to do so, and I think I was playing it wrong.
It's not that Demon's Souls is a bad game. Actually, it's a very good game, and one that I'd recommend to gamers that like a stiff challenge. It's an incredibly rewarding experience at times, too. This is the type of game where patience and a mind for strategy are more important than reflexes. But it's also the type of game that is so difficult that you'll sometimes have to put the controller down and step outside for some fresh air. It's been awhile since I've played a "controller breaker." Demon's Souls is definitely a controller breaker.
Collecting souls is the whole point of Demon's Souls, an action RPG from From Software, published by Atlus USA. Become a warrior, fight enemies to get souls, get stronger. But you'll have to make it out of each level intact to make good use of these souls, and that's the real challenge here. If you die, you lose all the souls you've amassed. My problem is that I died far too often.
You'll see: you will die in minutes. You're supposed to. That's not a bad thing, mind you. It's kind of how Demon's Souls work. You're supposed to get up, dust yourself off, learn why you died there, and then come back in a soul form, doing your best not to die there again. In this soul form, you'll have half the hit points you did as a living person, making it even easier to die again. Can the dead die again? Not really. But you can fail as many times as necessary, forcing you to start over from the level's start each time. I did this many, many times, losing everything I gained for sometimes an hour or more, starting over from the very beginning each time. Frustrating is an understatement.
Hard, but pretty.
Demon's Souls is all about learning from mistakes. My problem is that it took me too long to do so. An online-connected game will give you plenty of help as far as learning from mistakes goes. You'll see the souls of other gamers playing on the same level. If you see a blood stain on the ground, that's where they died. Using it, you can actually watch their dying animation, giving you some hints on what not to do when you proceed. Messages can also be left for other gamers (or yourself) to warn of upcoming dangers. Both are nifty ways to help gamers ascend the steep difficulty incline, but I feel like Demon's Souls is so difficult that you're better off being as cautious as possible at all times. Depending on these blood stains and messages is a sure-fire way to become a blood stain yourself.
So why couldn't I finish Demon's Souls? I think my main problem is that I played it like an action game for too long. While you have a sword to swing and full control of your character, mindlessly slashing away is a quick way to find yourself face down on the ground. My desire to explore had me mashing the R1 button to swing my sword as quickly as possible, with the goal of taking down enemies as fast as possible. It turns out that I should have used the aiming feature (R3) and battle strategy (like long-range magic attacks) instead. The game also provides evasive maneuvers (backwards roll) and a shield that took me too long to put to good use.
I also didn't place enough stock in memorization. Things go down in Demon's Souls almost exactly the same way they did the time before, when you died. Enemies are in the same place, for the most part, as are obstacles and checkpoints. Much like the more challenging dungeon romps of our youth, Demon's Souls needs you to know and expect what is coming up next. You'll have to go into battle fully prepared for all of the level's obstacles. The amount of patience required to learn from your repeated deaths is immeasurable.
This will not end well.
Simply put, I was not prepared for the challenge Demon's Souls provided. I've played some difficult games lately, but this is on a whole different level. This is not a negative thing, and I feel like you'd have to play it to understand the depth of this statement. I just want to make it clear that my lack of preparation and patience is the cause for me missing the review time frame, and that the game is not at fault in any way.
Would I recommend Demon's Souls? Wholeheartedly. It's a beautifully crafted game that demands your undivided attention and forces you to recall gamer skills that you proably haven't used in more than a decade. Don't let the fact that I didn't finish it dissuade you from enjoying it. I can't wait to jump back in. Don't let the difficulty factor stop you, either. Demon's Souls is difficult in the best way, much like some of the best NES and Super Nintendo era games were. Those with enough patience and dedication will be rewarded with the type of game we just don't see much of anymore.
reviewed by Dale North