Demon's Souls; a title not currently out in the UK, is it worth the import cost?
The basic premise behind demon's souls is your fairly usual end of the world, in fact it has a similar premise to the recent Prince of Persia, a big bad God has been sealed away after nearly destroying the world and the ruler of Boletaria decided to throw caution to the wind, use the powers that shouldn't have been used and released the big bad once more, people die lots of screaming wailing and perhaps even some gnashing of teeth and then you come along, the last great hope for the people of Boletaria. That pretty much is the story of the game, yes it's a weak story but that appears to be the only bad thing about the game so far.
The game starts with the usual character customisation and allows you to select from various classes from thief to a member of the royal family. The choice of character has no effect on the story it merely sets your skill points at certain levels.
once all that is done, the game starts. . .
And now a warning Demon's Souls is not a game for everyone, it is an action RPG, it has been likened to an updated Blood Omen or an adult version of Zelda, that said the game is hard, not hard as in "Why can't I get past this bit?" but hard as in "What the hell just happened I'm dead. . . . Again!" make no mistake you will die a lot in this game, but it's not such a bad thing, in fact at the end of the tutorial section the game actually starts with your death.
Upon death you lose your physical form, your health stats are halved and your soul is taken to a place called the Nexus, this is where the original people sealed off the big bad and you discover that you are now trapped in it, no big deal you can still go out and fight in an effort to reclaim your physical form and progress through the game.
Graphically, this game isn't too shabby, there are some very nice visuals and moments where your jaw will drop, this is most likely to happen during boss battles, especially when you realise the scale of the characters you're fighting. Here, as a perfect example, is a shot of one of the bosses, the little guy that's been highlighted? Yeah that's you.
So as you can see, there are moments when you will feel totally over-whelmed by the odds against you.
Everything in the game seems to have this really nice polish to it, the graphics do a wonderful job of setting the scene and in some cases really help the gameplay along as well. While it's a very dark game, the use of colour has been put to very good effect, quite a few titles on the PS3 have this washed-out effect or haze to the graphics, Demon's Souls doesn't rely on that, it uses the colours to set the atmosphere and it does it very well.
The first thing that a lot of people have said about this game in a negative manner (aside from the lack of a story) is that there is no music, to a certain extent this is true, the only music in the game comes from the opening titles and boss battles, during the actual levels themselves music is practically non-existent. But in this case it is not a bad thing, just like the graphics, the sound (or lack of it) is used to set the scene and again it does a fantastic job, the musical score is a very rich classical style and would easily sound at home in a high production movie or even being played in a concert, it's well written, well paced and not over-powering, if you happen to buy the collectors edition you'll get the soundtrack CD with the game and that can be worth the extra price alone.
Other sounds within the game are the usual fare, footsteps, grunts, swords clanging and dead things groaning, all of which are used well and don't feel overdone.
Simple controls are used for everything and they feel very intuitive, walking with the left stick, camera with the right and so on.
Combat however is a little different, you have a choice of weapons and as such a choice of attacks, R1 does a basic attack, R2 a stronger attack, L1 blocks with your shield (if you have one) and L2 does a sweeping move with a shield that will allow you to push an enemy away. If you get your timing right that sweep will leave the enemy exposed and allow for a quick riposte with your sword either killing your opponent instantly or leaving them weakened to the point where a kill is easy.
You can also switch from one handed attacks to two handed with a simple button press, this allows for stronger attacks but limits your defence, so it does mean it's always a difficult choice opting to go for a two handed attack.
You can also change weapons on the fly, either for different shields or even switching from a sword to a bow or crossbow, this can all be done by a simple tap on the d-pad and again works very well for the player.
The problem arises however if you need to switch out more than that, so for example you have a bow, a crossbow, a sword and a wand, you have your sword equipped with the bow ready, but you come across an enemy that is immune to physical attacks, at that point you have to go into the equip screen and switch out for the wand, however the game does not pause while you do this so you need to be in a safe area before making the all important switch.
Firstly it should be pointed out that the currency used in game to improve your weapons, armour and buy supplies are the souls of those that you kill, there is no money, no bartering and no other option, you need the souls of the fallen to aid you in your quest this is important as without their souls, you cannot buy new weapons, repair or improve your old ones, buy new spells or even build up your skills.
Now comes the real meat of the game, how it actually plays, this is not a game you could pick up casually, Demon's Souls is a punishing game, it's not unfair, it's not cruel but it is very demanding, if you try to do something which you shouldn't be able to do (like walk into a group of 5 enemies when starting out) you will die, no ifs no buts, just a "you are dead" screen and you're back to the last checkpoint you hit with all of your souls dropped.
But the game does have ways in which it can help you out and aid you in avoiding the dreaded death screen, firstly when you die a pool of your blood is left on the floor, if you reach that you can reclaim all of the souls you just lost, it's a nice feature and allows you to get back into the game without getting too depressed about dying a lot.
Secondly if you happen to be signed in to your PSN account while playing you'll notice a few other changes to the game, there are other blood pools on the floor, touching one of these blood pools will give you a brief recording of the last ten seconds before that player died, but it only shows their body movements, not what killed them, therefore some of it is left to guesswork on your part.
Another interesting feature is the ability to leave notes on the floor for other players, these notes are compiled from a series of pre-created sentences (to avoid rude words) to allow players to leave hints, however the notes can also be misleading, meaning that you run into certain death thinking you were going to be safe.
Playing while online also allows for you as a player to summon other players to aid you, this is with the aid of a rare item and will allow teamwork on some of the harder areas within the game.
Finally there is the option to invade another player as a phantom, this again uses a rare item, but if you invade and succeed in defeating the other player you get your physical form back.
Overall it works very well and Demon's Souls is a very immersing title, unlike a lot of other action games, this one forces you to improve at every step and to think before you act, it's a refreshing change from the usual run and gun style of gameplay of late.
Demon's Souls has the now obligatory trophy support, but even this is done well, there aren't any of the silly "Well done you started a new game" trophies, the trophies on offer are given as a result of getting past some of the harder points in the game such as the bosses, this again adds to the overall sense of achievement for killing a boss, it could be that Demon's Souls is one of the first titles to get trophies right.
The game does have its flaws though, the first one, as already mentioned being the very poor story, which really lets the title down, such a well crafted piece of work needed a stronger story to it.
Combat has its own issues, notably the riposte move mentioned above, getting the timing right can be an absolute nightmare, however this makes it all the more satisfying when you get it right.
One of the drawbacks of a lot of games is that they hold your hand too much, without giving the player any choice as to where to go next, this game suffers from the opposite, you are thrown in at the deep end without any guidance as to where you should be going, this can lead to the player feeling like they are bashing their head against a brick wall.
As already said, Demon's Souls is not a game for everybody, it is without a doubt one of the hardest games on the PS3 (that I've played so far) and will challenge even the most die-hard RPG fans, it's challenging, punishing and in some cases downright evil, but it is definitely a game worth playing if you like a decent RPG with some challenge.
It does have a very steep learning curve that could be likened to a cliff face, but this also adds to the overall feeling of achievement when anything does go right during play.
There are debates at the moment as to which is the better title Demon's Souls or Dragon Age: Origins, I'll let you know when I get the chance.
A very tough, beautiful RPG with a steep learning curve and some very well implemented gameplay innovations,
it could be well worth the import cost for the EU, slightly let down by the lack of story and objectives.