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Old 10-20-2009, 06:40 PM   #1
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Stepping backwards into the future

HIGH Killing other players who try to steal my body. No means no!

LOW Committing joint suicide with demons who jump off cliffs

WTF Why do I need to speak to a repetitive female pirate to level up

I was compelled to write a review of Demon’s Souls in response to the general enthusiasm for this game as being some kind of high point for RPG game design. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to like this game, its problems cast too great a shadow over the entire experience.

The game has an instant freshness which has sucked allot of people in from the get-go. Not to mention the fascinating ‘soul system’, weapon upgrade options and absolutely outstanding implementation of online play. These three parts of the game demonstrate, at times, some truly innovative thinking and thorough implementation of fresh ideas. The overall aesthetic of the game is often pervasive in its distinctiveness, beautiful and eerie in equal measure.

The 3rd person perspective works wonders for the battle system, but the perspective does feel that bit more removed from the game world than I would have liked. The apparently deliberate exclusion of background music in most parts of the game is unfortunately, over time, more of a novelty than a success. At first it makes everything feel that bit more atmospheric but as you repeat levels the momentum that well orchestrated and complementary music can provide is sorely missed.

It should be stated that these stylistic choices do not fundamentally affect the experience of playing Demon's Souls and, of course, they are a subjective matter which other gamers may disagree about.

The real problems with Demon's Souls lie in the guts of the gameplay. I have played approx 50 hours and completed almost all parts of the game. During this time, I would say 50% has been spent feeling as though the game transcends its genre and 50% of the time feeling as though it makes thoroughly basic and amateurish mistakes. Playing Demon’s Souls I have regularly felt as though aspects of the level design and gameplay mechanics fail to maintain any ‘suspension of disbelief'.

Firstly, the locking-on of targets is great when you are fighting in areas that support the battle mechanics, but it functions absurdly elsewhere. For example, in the Shrine of Storms levels, when enemies decide that they are tired of their eternal existence as digital demons and throw themselves off a cliff, you often follow…unintentionally. This is not challenging gameplay, it is the failure of a core gameplay mechanic, something which is compounded by the 'world tendency' system. If I am in body form and experience a random death, I am not only robbed of my progress but enemies become harder.

This makes otherwise common pitfalls of an action title totally unforgivable in Demon's Souls due to its dual nature as an RPG. This is because the consequences of a cheap death are absolutely demotivating. How can you expect an experienced gamer to react when you have 100,000 souls after two hours of dominating enemies, only to have your mastery of the battle system foiled by the game forcing your character off a cliff and then having the enemies 'level up' instead.

There are many other similarly frustrating mechanics that function inconsistently. The climb mechanic is problematic as you only need to press in the direction of what you are climbing on to jump on or over it, which can easily have you climbing up and over a wall unintentionally. The parry, sneak and evasive roll functions all fail to instill confidence in the player with different results despite identical timing and execution on the part of the player. Not to mention the boss encounters which vary between memorable, cheaply cinematic and nonsensical.

One of the best aspects of most great RPGs is that they present you with that magical choice between proceeding further into a dungeon and risking your loot/experience or going back and saving your game. Well designed RPGs present you with this dilemma in a positive way and enable you, over time, to gain confidence in your abilities as you grow stronger because the game design will not let you down.

In Demon’s Souls, the further I got into a level and the more souls I gained, the more I worried something random would occur which made a normally thrilling risk scenario a far more negative choice between: do I keep going and hope the game doesn’t screw me over or do I go back and level up so as to not be robbed of what I have gained?

The developers had the opportunity to compensate for these issues through a more considered approach to the gameplay and level design. They could have made falling off cliffs impossible (as it doesn’t actually add anything to the game), they could have included a stealth meter or parry meter to facilitate consistency in how those systems operated. They could have gone a completely different way and allowed you to keep your souls when you die and made the game more challenging by adding more enemies and levels instead of making you repeat the same ones due to random deaths.

This is perhaps where I find the most irreconcilable part of the experience. A game which requires you to play for hours at a time without saving or keeping the benefits of your hard work absolutely must have consistent gameplay mechanics. If the developer demands dedication and perfection from the player then the player has the right do demand perfection and forethought from the developer.

In Demon's Souls, the cracks in the gameplay will eventually catch up with the player and punish them for no reason. This randomness presents the game with a major contradiction as an action RPG. As an action title it mostly succeeds, but as an RPG title that is supposed promote enjoyment in terms of growing your character and venturing into previously impossible areas, it fails.

Demon's Souls gave me the ongoing and irritating feeling that it is not difficult, but very random. The most recent comparison I could make is to a game which I finished recently on PC called 'The Witcher'. It's a 3rd person action RPG which utilises a combination of swordplay and magic. When it worked, I enjoyed the core battle system in Demon's Souls more than in The Witcher, but the battle system of the latter was for more consistent in its implementation making the RPG aspects of the game infinitely more satisfying.

And no, Demon's Souls is not as difficult as everyone says it is. It's actually fairly easy: the enemies are easy to kill, the bosses simple after a couple of tries and the battle system easy to master. But cheap deaths and inconsistent game mechanics undermine the entire experience.

Demon's Souls is, unfortunately, not as broad in scope, enemies, story or gameplay as it suggests early on (it doesn’t take long to do almost everything) and the game is artificially lengthened by uneven gameplay. This is something that I cannot forgive when I put time and effort into a game.

I get the feeling that if Demon's Souls had have come out in the late 90s as a PC RPG it would have been seen for what is is by a far more cultured audience, which would have criticised its regular trial and error gameplay as regressive and tedious.

Overall score 6.5/10

Disclosures: This game was obtained via an Australian retail store and reviewed on the PS3 console. Approximately 50 hours of play was devoted to single-player online mode (completed 1 times).

Parents: the game isn’t tool violent, albeit dark in tone. Not much to worry about here in terms of graphic violence and no course language to speak of.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: There is not much background music and all spoken parts of the game are supported by subtitles. The sound effects etc are not important to gameplay and the online mode provides support through text based messages.

Last edited by drunk_koala; 10-25-2009 at 04:43 AM. Reason: See Post 2
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Old 10-20-2009, 11:40 PM   #2
Brad Gallaway
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Hey Koala.

Thanks for the review. here's my initial feedback:

>it's about twice as long as we usually run, and certainly too long for a second opinion. first off, you'd have to chop it down to the 1000-ish word range.

>there are a number of typos and such.

Chop 'er down and clean 'er up, and i can give you more specific feedback (if necessary) after that.

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Old 10-22-2009, 11:46 AM   #3
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I don't really consider Demon's Souls an RPG. Just a straight up dungeon crawler.

And while I've only played about 20 hours and barely scratched the surface (I'm not the greatest gamer by any means), I have not personally had much trouble with randomly falling off cliffs. It has always been of my own wrongdoing. And I can see why targeting a creature would cause you to fall off the cliff if he/she/it falls (you've targeted it...the computer doesn't care where the critter that you've targeted is), so I tend to avoid doing that. That's a joke, nevertheless it can be pretty easily rectified by the gamer. Personally I think being able to fall off the cliff is just one more annoyingly nice thing about the game. I've done it, it's utterly frustrating, but I like it because up to now every time I've fallen off it's because I've done something stupid. Again, maybe in time I'll randomly fall off and then agree with your review even more.

Your review is very clear and if Demon's Souls were a true (or truer ha) RPG I'd completely agree with you, but so far I feel as if I've been playing a very unforgiving (and so far not really random) repetitive (but to me in a good way) dungeon crawler. The two genres have different goals, and Demon's Souls delivers for what it is.

By it's nature I'm not in it so much for the story, and the mechanics have been consistent throughout for me. Maybe as I get deeper though your critique will be validated.
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