Thou seeketh soul power, dost thou not? Then touch the Demon inside me

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Can I ask you a personal question? Are you tired of games treating you like you’re still twelve years old? By that I mean playing games with little to no apparent challenge. I only ask because for the most part, just about every game lately has a certain lack of it. Now before you start throwing out that I am one of those game masochists that enjoy the difficulties only reserved to the gaming elites, allow me to enlighten you with this tidbit about myself: I hate hard games. I loathe them actually. There is nothing more off putting to me then a game that is hard just to be so. Yet just because I don’t care for a brutal game doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be challenged.

After all I don’t want the game to beat itself, do I? I’d like to know that I had a huge hand in the final outcome of the game and that I justly deserved the rolling of the end credits. In my opinion a harder difficulty and a good if not great challenge, don’t necessarily go hand in hand. One would think so and it should work that way but like most relationships in life, they aren’t exclusive. A lot of times game developers ideas of a harder difficulty is increasing the sheer amount of enemies to vanquish, or their reaction and speed. Other times its making them have a larger “life”, making them all the harder to kill and yet others try to instill in them smarter A.I. routines. 

The thing is even those harder games help you along. The camera will shift and focus to your objective. Your life will replenish miraculously if you decide to stay stationary behind cover. A pile of health and weapon depot will appear as if by magic before the next boss or major story transition. The invisible helping hands of the game designers are constantly at work, ensuring that you see the light of day and if they’re doing their job correctly, you will never know that they are doing your dirty work for you. They are the unseen guardian angels by your side that you heathen gamers are oblivious to.

I would like to introduce you ladies and gentlemen to an anomaly. I would like to show you a peek into a game that seems like a throwback of those unapologetic games of yesteryear. A game that isn’t anywhere near as hard as most who have reviewed the game would lead you to believe. It just requires you to do one thing: it requires you to play your own game without that guardian angel by your side. You will do all the work, not just the parts that net you hero points, but the dirty work involved that others edit out. There is no happy go lucky game camera that will show the way to victory. Your life won’t recover if you squat in a corner in a bathroom position. I may have already lost some of you who forgot what I said in the beginning about the differences between most hard games and challenging games. Hear me when I say again this game isn’t hard. This game is merely challenging and you will have to play by a new set of rules, its own.

The game that I speak of is none other than Demon’s Souls and if you decide to pick it up and play it, the game will be most pleased to meet you as it will drive those sets of rules to you every minute you play it. At times while also driving a winged spear into your surprised Ramboesque face.

In Demon’s Souls, the land of Boletaria is in peril of being swallowed up by an ominous fog filled with demons that has already taken over half the world. Every man that has heeded the call of the savior who has dared entered to vanquish this evil force, has not been heard of again. You begin the game by creating a character, picking a class and with weapon and bravery in hand step through the fog to become the champion of the land you were meant to be or the latest victim of the demons that lie in wait. From the very moment the game begins its intro with primal war drums sounding off and a look into the world you’ll be soon involved in, one can’t help but be drawn in.

This world is bleak. The curse that is coursing through the land is a tangible entity. Everywhere you look you can almost feel it trying to suck your drive and resolve altogether. Death is swift and exact here. You take a not so careful step and don’t be surprised to see an arrow from an archer perched above, jutting from your neck. Or a killing blow from a creature hidden by the side of a doorway you just unsuspectingly walked in on. While we’re at it, there may even be environmental traps as well. Yes, death is swift indeed. But the thing is death is but a new beginning.

See if you’re killed in Demon’s Souls, all the souls you carry (which if you kill anything you collect a soul, which can then be used for everything in the game, from leveling up, to currency for new weapons or learning new spells) are dropped at that spot of your death in a nice bloodstain. You then are transported back at the beginning of the level as a phantom with half of your life and the enemies you defeated before respawned. Should you reach that bloodstain where you met your untimely death, those precious souls lost will be recovered once again (Diablo players may be experiencing a sense of deja vu). But if you happen to meet death again before reaching your original spot of death, a new bloodstain will take the place of the last erasing not just the bloodstain but the souls you originally had. Oh yes. What’s even neater still is you will see other bloodstains not your own but of other players that when touched, will replay the last moments of their demise. Like a visual cautionary tale to guide you.

The game forces you with this mechanic to play the game methodical, to take everything in before you take a step. Because while death is swift, it can be avoided very easily if you are patient and cautious. That archer that shot you in the neck with the arrow? Yeah if you would have looked up you would have seen him. That killing blow from that creature hidden by the entrance to the doorway? Yeah if you would have snuck in slowly before entering, you would of being able to notice him. And that environmental trap you set off could of been avoided altogether had you been, guess what, paying attention. This game punishes stupidity…not gamers.

This also goes to the epic Demon bosses you’ll encounter. Like great boss battles of past games, they all have weaknesses, you just have to find out what it is. Prior to that you will be their bitch. At times you may even feel that way with the regular enemies too but just remember to think and solutions will bubble up to the surface of your mind. There is something so awesome about getting past a certain part of a level your stuck at or an enemy that was raping you and you get their number that is so kick ass. You’ll get plenty of those moments of actual accomplishments in this game. For while the challenges may be steep, once past, will be fondly looked back and remembered.

Let’s get one thing out of the way as well. The game looks great. Not Killzone or Uncharted great but a what this game is working with is not only awesome but polished great. Through my gameplay so far I have seen many memorable sights. From epic flying dragons breathing fire and devouring men foolhardily standing still among them, to Demon bosses whose mere intros are a thing of beauty. Armor changes are reflected in game so if you change from Magician’s robes to a Knight’s armor you will see your character sporting those new duds. Its not just a cosmetic thing either as the heavier the armor the less mobile you will become. Even down to their animation. Wear a bulky armor and watch as your steps you take look to be heavier and even the sound changes. The new clink sound of your armor is noted. Not just by you but the enemies around you.

Speaking of sound, Demon’s Souls employs very little of it by way of music. It has it, don’t get me wrong. It just doesn’t barrage your sense with it… and it works. Though your exploits in the lands of Boletaria may not have an accompanying musical score as you walk about, what you do hear is the wind, the shrieks of enemies, the releasing of arrows before even seen, bells chiming in the distance, the singing of a musically inclined merchant and plenty more. Yet find yourself in front of a Demon and in comes an orchestral score sweep in as you battle wits with it made all the more enjoyable and powerful for the lack of it prior to.

Lately there have been discussions in our C blogs about immersion and videogames. Just know that this game has it in spades. I love this game and the world it lets you inhabit. I literally haven’t stopped playing it since I got it. I’ve been meaning to put up my impression blog for this game for a bit but kept telling myself I need to slay one more Demon before I do. I still feel like I need to slay one more. I still feel that I need to see more but seeing as this isn’t a review, I’ll keep it short (if you call this short).

I haven’t even talked about multiplayer yet. How as a phantom you can help others defeat Demon bosses. How you can even invade others game session and in turn become almost like a sub boss to them. Or just outright invite someone to a duel, one on one winner takes the loser souls. But really what I love about the multiplayer is how it just compliments the single player affair. There is no chat. Some may find that unappealing but it doesn’t take you from the role you are playing because your helper at your side is talking about beer, or another game. Instead Demon’s Souls has emotes used. Press the ‘x’ button and hold it and a list of varying emotes will appear for you to choose from.

Also, while there is co-op for up to four total, there is no way you can invite a specific friend to your game. Bummer, but there are ways around it. By coordinating with a friend prior to you can plan where to meet so that you can roll together. Protip: find a place out of the way and not a popular hangout and you will be successful in your endeavors of having that cadre of friends helping you out. Hell, i still feel like I’m leaving stuff out, like when you’re playing and you see faint glimmers of other players in real time playing the game, like you are in the same section. The ‘world currency’ of the game and changing of it from black to white which affects certain things that I’ll let you figure out.

Is Demon’s Souls for everybody? I’m going to buck the trend, like the game does and say yes. Yes it is for everybody. It needs to be experienced by everyone. Some have said it’s an excursion not worth taking. Too much work to be fun. Those gamers are missing the point of the game. Demon’s Souls isn’t meant to be rushed through to the end lickity-split like the next game. It isn’t about beating it and moving on. Actually beating the game will net you yet another level of challenge to wade through. Quite simply Demon’s Souls is more about the journey than the end result. And what a fantastic and even whimsical journey it is.

When all is said and done and the end of the year comes around, I have a strong premonition this will be my game of the year.