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Old 12-27-2009, 10:40 AM   #1
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Please rate this review: Difficulty and Demon Souls

Difficulty and Demon Souls

HIGH Repetition allows you to hone your combat skills to a high degree.

LOW An outdated level reset system each time you die.

WTF The almost haunting but hilariously high operatic vocals in the opening movie.

The haunting orchestral music and piercing vocals of the opening movie set the mood of a game people have come to know and fear, that is Demon Souls. An RPG with a dark epic setting of castles, dragons, kings and magic placed in the land of Boletaria. Slaying your way through castles and arenas filled with horrible skeletons, a variety of monsters, all with simple but great visuals and a minimal soundtrack that chimes in when it needs to.

With a number of RPG's I've seen across the years that often show a lighter side, it is a fresh welcome to see a game that displays such a bleak feeling of despair. Though the bleak feeling not only comes from its dark setting, but also from its startling difficulty. With its older generation mechanic of 'level-reset-once-you-die', and long distance save points, Demon Souls fits into the catergory where once completed, one could boast about their completion of the game. I expect speed runners to be all over it by this point.

With its combat system, gamers teach themselves to use their weapons effectively. It forces you to be slow, steady and careful. With only a few options with combat per weapon, it doesn't stray into unrealistic combat moves of the front-flip jump and sword-spinning kind that you normally get in many other weapon based games. Realism is a natural component of its strict combat system, where one wrong step will suffer the gamer serious consequences. At one point in the game I was searching for a purpose to continue, because such consequences had bothered me and I was willing to quit.

Which brings me about such design decisions and me contemplating about video game difficulty in general. The game attempts to deliver a true blow to the gut once a player takes the wrong approach or makes a mistake. While most games have no serious consequences upon death, Demon Souls attempts to create consequences that feel heavy and have gravity.

Considering its dark-gothic setting and realistic combat, I feel it is natural to assume that 'From Software' purposely designed consequences that give feelings similar to ones in our own lives when we face consequences. Most games go easy on the player, and rely on simple 'continue' screens. Demon Souls does the opposite in an attempt to feel real, to create a devastating feeling.

In real life, when I do something wrong that has a serious consequence, I would have to bare that consequence. The same cannot be said for Killzone 2, which when you 'Die', no true consequence is given.

While still a video game, Demon Souls persuades you to put your mind and soul in to the gameplay and push your mental limit to succeed till the end. If you fail, you lose almost everything, and your time is inevitably taken away from you, which is a real life consequence. The amount of souls you lose leaves a sting in your performance and will to continue.

Demon Souls has been given high praise, and for good reason, despite its shortcomings. In particular, its way of issuing difficulty. The only problem with Demon Souls is the stage resetting. It generally makes the game tedious in ways it shouldn't be, and while it does contribute to the overall despair feeling of the game, it never bothers to implement a different method of difficulty.

For example: A shooter does not truly do justice to game design if the only thing a shooter does to maintain high difficulty, is... to have less health packs than there should be. In the past, technological impairment stopped developers from creating the level of AI we possess in our games, today. Now we shouldn't have to rely on older generation techniques to make games harder.

In this day and age, developers should be moving towards more unique techniques to provide high difficulty. The purpose and existence of the stage reset, in my mind, is just a way to create difficulty without the responsibility of designing new challenging gameplay. It's always easier if you apply an old 'tried and true' method of game design, if you wish to create high difficulty in a video game.

This lack of development in the change of difficulty is apparent in many video games. Demon Souls popularity is a reaction to the easier video games that are currently on shelves, but Demon Souls is no exception to the lack of development. Using stage reset mechanics doesn't do any justice to the progress of video games.

Of course, discovering new ways to implement difficulty is no easy task. In a medium such as video games, and with its current nature of consumerism we can only rely on indie titles to experiment with new ideas. We expect elements in the future like story, gameplay and difficulty to evolve. Perhaps it is time to seperate gameplay from difficulty, in the sense that we experience it so much in Demon Souls, it becomes something else on its own. It becomes another piece to the puzzle that makes up such a game. Some games exist that have absolutely no difficulty at all.

I'm glad that such a title like Demon Souls is able to show its true nature, while both being obscure and appealing to a majority of hardcore gamers. It succeeds at merging gameplay and difficulty with its setting and feeling, something that few games rarely do. I await for the next title from From Software to see what they'll come up with next.

Hopefully, a new game mechanic expressing difficulty in a unique, groundbreaking way.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the Playstation 3. Approximately 60 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes and no time was spent on the multiplayer mode. The game has not been completed.

This is my first full review, so all criticism is welcome. Thanks.
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Old 01-01-2010, 01:58 PM   #2
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Re: Please rate this review: Difficulty and Demon Souls

Sixty hours and not completed? Really?

Difficulty is probably a hot topic among developers and producers. An adjustment in difficulty usually means you're taking more damage with less health while your opponents are enjoying the exact opposite. Resetting the entire stage may seem a cheap stab at difficulty, but I feel it fits well with the game's theme.

For the review itself, it seems to move imprecisely from point to point. Perhaps consolidating your ideas into slightly lengthier paragraphs may help with your organization.
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Old 01-02-2010, 06:17 AM   #3
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Re: Please rate this review: Difficulty and Demon Souls

Thanks for the criticism, and I'm taking into account everything you said, which I do agree with. I'm rewriting it out again, to make it a bit more consistent. Cheers.

Oh and about the Sixty Hour thing. I died a lot on my first attempt and I realized I wasn't strong enough to continue after the third boss. I didn't want to resort to grinding, so I rearranged my strategy, and started from the beginning. Then I died a lot, again. That's why I never completed it.

Last edited by Cybrmynd; 01-02-2010 at 06:49 AM.
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