Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Demon's Souls

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Developer: From Software
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: Oct. 7, 2009
System: PS3
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

0:00 I was pretty unimpressed with a live Internet video demo of this game a few months ago -- it just looked like any other dungeon hack-and-slasher. But then the game came out and all sorts of critics started praising it for its design and punishing-but-fair difficulty, so I figured I had to see what all the fuss was about.

0:01 "On the first day man was granted a soul, and with it, clarity. On the second day upon Earth was planted an irrevocable poison, a soul-devouring Demon." Wow, so we only got one uninterrupted day with a soul? LAME!

0:02 A flying beast casts a huge shadow over land. A choir chants over timpani and trumpets as a lone armored hero takes out a bunch of shambling, possibly undead soldiers in slow-mo. He gets knocked back and rises to face a skeleton holding a huge scimitar. Organ music as a glowing ghost shoots an arrow at the skeleton. A giant dragon-ish beast rises up in the middle distance and roars. Fade to white as the choir fades out. Yeah ... that intro did nothing to convince me this isn't the same hack-and-slash crap I've played a million times.

0:05 The game can't connect to the Demon's Souls server, possibly because it's a trade demo and not a retail copy. Looks like I'm going it alone...

0:07 Time to "Create Profile." I name my character "?!," because I can. I can be a Soldier, Knight, Hunter, Priest, Magician, Wanderer, Barbarian, Thief, Temple Knight or Royalty. That's a lot of choices! I think I'll go with Royalty, just because it's so different. And regal!

Demon's Souls

0:08 Appearance-editing time. People from different regions have different facial structures, and my color can range from anywhere black to white, with sickly greens and yellows in the middle. I click the "Random" button a few times until I get someone not too hideous. It takes quite a while, actually. Add on some blonde Fabio hair and we're done!

0:10 "King Allant the Twelfth, by channeling the power of souls, brought unprecedented prosperity to the kingdom of Boletaria." But then a deep fog enshrouded the kingdom and cut it off from the world. Allant had aroused the Old One, the great beast below the Nexus. The fog has demons who "hunt down men and claim their souls." The men also lose their minds, and "The mad attack the sane, and chaos reigns." Mighty warriors went to the cursed land to free it, but "none have returned" and "Humankind faces a slow and steady extinction." I am the last hope, of course. "Has the land found its savior, or have the demons found a new slave?" I'm going to guess the latter, since I can't imagine I'll finish the game. But we'll see.

0:13 As I walk through some ankle-high water, an unseen voice speaks to me. "Brave soul who fears not death. I shall guide you. So that you may lull the old one back to slumber." I walk to a bright bubble of light and emerge in an open-roofed stone corridor. Everything looks amazing ... beautiful lighting, and nice, smooth camera control with the right stick.

0:15 A graffiti message on the ground tells me that R1 does a "standard attack," which I learn just in time to take down a shambling soldier. I seem to miss a lot ... if I'm not lined up perfectly, my thrusts go just to the either side of him. Good thing he doesn't fight back. When I'm done, I end up accidentally kicking the corpse like a ragdoll. It looks pretty ridiculous.

0:17 Hold L1 puts up my guard, but I still need to be facing the attack to block effectively. It's not the kind of omni-directional auto-block that most other action games seem to have these days.

0:18 Ah ... if I click the right stick I can lock on to enemies. That helps with the aiming and blocking in a big way. As I kill two more generic baddies a ghost soldier runs by in the background for no apparent reason.

0:19 As I walk up the stairs, a slightly larger evil soldier jumps out from darkness and lunges at me. I can't defend in time and lose quite a bit of health. I munch on some Crescent Moon Grass to get back to full health.

0:20 I can use the O button for back-steps and rolls. I'm surprised at how nice the controls feel. I was expecting something much clunkier and RPG-ish.

0:21 I easily remove a few more bad guys near a swampy bog; then I touch an "Archstone" to warp to a new area. Y'know, I just noticed how quiet everything is. The lack of adventuresome music and over-the-top sound effects makes everything seem more dire, somehow.

0:22 It's still tutorial time in this new dungeon area. I learn that R2 does a slower, stronger attack, which I use to take out a lightly armored enemy. L2 parries, but so far that seems exactly like regular blocking.

0:26 My first really tough battle ... against a fully armored soldier with a large shield. He drops his guard only when he attacks. We circle warily, with me occasionally pinging his defenses for minimal damage. When he attacks, I take a lot of damage trying to parry him away. I have to eat three more grasses to stay alive. Finally I manage to get a few quick thrusts in when he opens himself up during his attacks. Takes some decent reflexes to manage it, too.

0:29 I do a quick change to my "Catalyst" and now I can cast "Soul Arrow," a blue projectile spell. I use it on an annoying archer, taking him out with one blast. I get some more grasses for my trouble, but I can't seem to figure out how to assign them to my "use item" button. I have to go through the inventory menu. Hmmm...

0:31 I come to a grey doorway and choose to "Enter fog." Everything is gray and dreary. I'm really liking the stark, quiet atmosphere.

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0:32 Up some stairs and through more fog to find a HUGE Cthulhu-headed beast wielding an axe that's twice as tall as me! I switch the catalyst and cast some spells at him but fail to dodge the first swing of his big axe. "YOU DIED." Well that was quick!

0:33 In a cut scene, a black-clad magician lady floats above a weird white pool and sprinkles green dust on my corpse. "So the world might be mended." She explains my situation: "This is the Nexus. It holds together the Northern land of Boletaria. Thou canst not exit the Nexus, but each of the five Archstones will connect thee to another node." Back in control. the game explains I can reclaim my physical body by "capturing Demons' Souls." Hey, that's the name of the game!

0:34 I talk to a nearby ghost-man. "Well, you slipped through the fissure too, did you? You came for Demon's Souls? Or to save this land and be remembered as a hero?" The voice acting is slow and plodding.

0:35 A blacksmith asks if I'm "here for my services." Dirty! If I bring him souls, he'll give me weapons. "With your souls, I can eke out a living, and with my weapons, you can go on living. Not a bad deal, eh?" As translations go, that's pretty good ... "Do come back alive. I need your business," he says as I leave.

0:38 I touch the Archstone and warp to the Boletarian Palace, which I'm told has terrible dragons and hungry soldiers. Not necessarily in that order.

Demon's Souls

0:39 In a cut scene, a dragon flies down from and lands on the castle steps with a massive controller rumble, leaving rubble under his mighty talons.

0:41 Enemies jump out from behind wooden piles, four at a time. Luckily, they all shamble in a relative clump, making it easy to take them all out at once. It's pretty easy to block their heavily telegraphed, relatively weak attacks. My maximum health level is a lot lower now, probably because I'm dead. Also, I'm all glowy.

0:44 After a few more generic enemies, I pop around a stone corner and have to switch to my magic to take out an archer up on a platform. Then back to my rapier to fight two energetic soldiers. Still liking the controls, but I keep forgetting how to lock on ... I want to tap L2 instead of R3.

0:45 I see a shimmering opening in the ground. It looks a lot like the "fog" door opening I went in before. I walk over and fall down into a black void. "YOU DIED." What?!?!?! But it was shimmering! Grah!

0:46 I'm back at the beginning of the castle. And of course all the enemies are back, in exactly the same place. Sigh.

0:48 The repetitive series of timed button presses to take out these identical enemies is getting almost musical. One, two, three, squish, ugh.

0:49 I'm back to the shimmering pit. This time I'm smart enough to go around it and duck into a simple dining room. The fight in there is actually pretty thrilling, with lots of diving and lunging. We break the dining room table in all the fracas. Now this is more like it!

0:51 Outside again, I fight two armored soldiers who actually work together pretty well. I manage to outflank them and do the old one-two-three squish.

0:52 So far, all the items I've found have either been useful health items or useless weapons/shields that are worse than my current equipment. I guess that makes sense, since I am royalty. But still...

0:53 It seems if I attack too much too quickly I get tired and can't attack or block for a few seconds, leaving a big opening for counterattacks. Looks like I've gotta watch my green energy gauge as I fight. I like this ... adds a timing wrinkle to some of the tougher battles.

0:54 In a nearly pitch-black corridor, I'm getting attacked by soldiers with torches now. The lighting is pretty amazing.

0:55 So I'm fighting a couple of guys through a doorway on a landing at the top of some wooden stairs. During the fight, I hit O to roll backwards and avoid an attack. This causes me to roll off the landing and fall 100 feet or so to my death. I find myself missing the invisible barrier and improbable edge-grabbing of other games.

0:56 Of course, I'm back at the beginning of the castle again. Four more minutes won't let me see anything new, so I'm gonna call it an hour now.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? The controls and atmosphere have been enough to overcome the frustrations so far. I don't know how much longer that will last ... especially if I'm stuck in this godforsaken castle for much longer. Still, for now, I'll give it a bit more time.

This column is based on a demo build of the game provided by the publisher.

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