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Demon's Souls Third Opinion

The Sirens are Calling

Demon's Souls Screenshot

HIGH Clinging to the tiny sphere of light surrounding my character, squinting in a futile effort to penetrate the blackness that threatened to swallow me whole.

LOW Being one-shotted by a demon's sword that clipped through a pillar and being forced to replay the entire stage.

WTF That dragon just sat there and let me shoot it with 250 arrows.

Whenever people talk about the action role-playing game (RPG) Demon's Souls, the subject of difficulty inevitably makes its way into the discussion. Make no mistake about it, the game is difficult, but it is not difficult in terms of skill. No, Demon's Souls is difficult in a much more diabolical way: it is a test of willpower. The more one plays the game, the more pain and pleasure centers merge until the player has trouble distinguishing one from the other. If one does start to realize that much of that sensation is pain, Demon's Souls sings its Sirens' song, luring its prey back for more punishment.

What makes Demon's Souls so enticing is its dark and compelling setting. Upon entering the kingdom of Boletaria, the player is tasked with defeating a horde of demons that have entrenched themselves throughout its various regions. From the moment the player takes his first step in this fog-shrouded land, the game absolutely oozes with atmosphere. The dim corridors of a crumbling castle lead to parapets guarded by heavily-armored knights; in a prison fortress the moans of tortured criminals are punctuated by clear, haunting bells; elsewhere, gargoyles perch on spires connected by rail-less bridges suspended high over a murky swamp. These are but a few of the many locales, each as foreboding as the last, and each contributing to the coherency of the bleak world.

The plausibility of the world is further augmented by clever level design. Even though the stages are linear overall, they will zig and zag, up and down staircases and through tight, winding cave tunnels that circle back on themselves, leaving a non-linear impression. It's easy to believe that once upon a time the massive structures had been built with purpose by the now wanton inhabitants. Some stages have one or two checkpoints that are created by traversing a loop to open a previously inaccessible path, such as unlocking a door from behind or lowering a bridge from one side.

Unfortunately, not all stages have checkpoints, and these instances exposed a major weakness in the game's design: Upon death, the player is set back at the beginning of the stage with all of the enemies re-spawned. The game throws down the gauntlet, and at first I welcomed this challenge. As I continued playing, however, this design became increasingly problematic, most notably when it came to the demon battles. Many of the encounters with these frightening bosses were creative, engaging, and extremely intense, as they can annihilate the player, sometimes with a single attack. Players will assuredly die numerous times while attempting to learn their patterns and weaknesses. There was nothing more frustrating than when a demon's sword clipped through a pillar and one-shotted me, forcing me to replay the entire stage again just to get another chance. It does not make sense to force the player to complete a task that he has already conquered as punishment for failing at a wholly separate challenge. That is like a parent forcing a kid who fails a homework assignment to clean his room even though he just finished cleaning it five minutes ago.

The variety of available classes and nice assortment of weapons and spells should have been plenty enough to keep things interesting, but the lack of enemy intelligence often destroyed the potential many scenarios had. To be blunt, most of the enemies are dumber than zombies. While this seems appropriate—after all, they are creatures that have been robbed of their souls and have gone insane—it does not justify their sub-par pathfinding and severe lack of awareness. Many times an enemy will, of his own accord, walk right off a ledge and plummet to his death. A few placed in some stages predictably did this every single time I encountered them. Flee from the fight and the vast majority of adversaries will give up chase and turn around, leaving themselves open to critical strikes from behind. Worst of all was the fact that too many enemies could be easily dispatched from afar with a bow and arrows. This included the final boss, where I literally stood in one spot and fired dozens of arrows at it until it died; it never even got close enough for me to make out what it was!

My biggest disappointment came with the dragons. Without a doubt, these were some of the most majestic, awe-inspiring, and intimidating creatures I have ever seen in a video game. I initially imagined epic battles—dodging from battlement to battlement, slowly withering my foe down. These dreams were crushed upon rudimentary experimentation that revealed them to be nothing more than environmental fire hazards triggered by walking into specific areas. The culmination of my dismay was when I stood right underneath one of them and shot it with over 250 arrows while it did absolutely nothing to defend itself. What should have been a terrifying dragon was instead a silly giant frog sitting in a pot of water, completely unaware that it was slowly being boiled alive.

With its absorbing world and realistic class role-playing, Demon's Souls had so much going for it. I would have loved to play through the game again with a variety of character classes, but my desire to do so has been completely snuffed out by the feeling as though I have finished the game several times over already. Obviously the archaic "restart the level" design choice was a huge contributor, but perhaps the class I chose and the manner in which I played was also a factor. Whatever the reasons, the result was that Demon's Souls ended up being one of those games that I wanted to like more than I actually did. Despite this—and because of it—I will be keeping an eye on From Software's next project, hoping for a spiritual successor. Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

— by Joseph Boyd

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 50 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time).

Category Tags
Platform(s): PS3  
Developer(s): From Software  
Publisher: Atlus  
Series: Demon's Souls  
Genre(s): Role-Playing  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Online Features?

In your review you make no mention of the online components: the written hint system, the white phantom/bloodstains, or the blue and black phantom invasions. All of these features are integrated into the gameplay and are part of the overall experience.

So while rational and well-written, your review, without addressing this, is quite limited. It would be like reviewing Modern Warfare 2 and not mentioning the multiplayer.

While I liked the game a lot

While I liked the game a lot more than Joseph here, I can't help but agree with all of his criticisms. The lack of checkpoints is an interesting decision and one I fully understand -- you're meant to worry since dying on a boss is a major inconvenience -- but after the third time repeating a level it stopped being a challenge and instead became an exercise in tedium since you knew exactly what to do and could pull it off almost every time. I started liking the game A LOT more once I learned to be less stingy with healing items during boss fights.

I also agree about the dragons and AI in general. The latter didn't bother me much though as the environments were so dark you could rarely see an enemy until they were pretty close to you. There as also a lot of variety to the enemies, so learning their patters, strengths, and weaknesses remained compelling (except for when repeating the same sections for the umpteenth time as the author points out).

There's a lot of great elements that aren't covered here; most notably the online message leaving system, which practically made the game for me as I truly felt like I was exploring a tomb that others had died in. But for what it's worth, I'm glad somebody was willing to speak out about these flaws (in an otherwise awesome game).

Refreshing to see a review

It's actually refreshing to see a review of the game that highlights a very valid flaw. I know most players of Demon's Souls immediately want to rip your intestines out as soon as you dare criticise the brutal way it makes you replay the same stuff over and over, but it is a definite design flaw. I'm sorry.

I really like the game, and appreciate the core challenge offered (I'd personally score it an impressive 8/10), but I basically took any exploit, tips, guides, or whatever to beat most bosses, rather than beating them properly, purely because completing the same stuff over and over isn't appealing to me. Yet if there was merely a check-point - just ONE check-point - before each boss, I would have happily died several times in order to learn the encounter. But there you go.

You also highlight that you died due to a boss' weapon clipping through a wall; there's another pretty big overall flaw. The game prides itself on being fair, yet there are many times you will die due to inconsistent elements. For example, there are these skeletons you will encounter later on, and the way they use their weapons is of vital importance if you are to counter. The problem is, the animations are completely inconsistent in that if you hit them in melee, they will 80% of the time recoil, but for 20% of the time they will ignore your attack completely. Since the game makes it so you can die with one hit, having animations that cannot be consistent is a very frustrating fact to swallow.

There's also the general feeling that there being one rule for you, and another rule for your foes - usually to their advantage. Take the swamp in one of the later worlds; you are realistically bogged down and unable to move properly, yet all the enemies - regardless of their weight, size, or equipment - move like they're on land. I'm calling bullshit on that.

So yeah, overall it's a great RPG and does things I've been wanting for a long time. However, it isn't the pinnacle of the genre, and has many issues to overcome for future instalments.

Wow, no...

I found most of the review to be... well, pointless.

It's interesting that I never have the same experience with a game that reviewers do. They speak of flaws or glitches they have found, clipping in your case, that I never experience.

When I shot something with an arrow, it came for me, every time. Did not matter what it was, dragon or shield blob thing. For me to get something to fall off a ledge, I had to maneuver it that way... never did it of it's own accord.

Now, the die and start at the beginning "design flaw". I never had a problem with this, mainly because it didn't happen to me much. If it did to you, you were playing the WRONG WAY, plain and simple. It's easy to avoid death as long as you look and observe how things react and attack. For the record, I was never one-shotted by anything in the entire game. Even the Dragon God didn't do that. Hell, I made it thought multiple levels without death, because I was cautious about every move I made. That is how the game is meant to be played.

I had no problems with enemy animations, attacks... anything. Was the game easy? Not necessarily. However it took patience and careful observation, and if you don't have that, too bad. Oh, and the final boss... he attacked me as soon as I saw him for the most part.

Critique of the writer?

@Anon- by starting with a statement that you found the review most of the review... well- pointless, your critique of the review sounds more like a critique of the writer, and more of a conversation ender than a starter.

Instead of proceeding from the notion that opinions are right or wrong, try writing as if you respectfully disagree with the ideas.

Peace.

No kidding...

It was somewhat a critique of the writer, it almost has to be... he wrote the review. It's a comments section, not just feedback on the writing.

Just seems that he played the game in a way that it wasn't meant to be played. And the review suffered from it. He wants his own opinions, that fine. At least don't attempt to exploit the game.

Anyway, I'm not sure he fully understood the game. As I said, many of the problems he experienced, I did not. That isn't an agree or disagree problem, that is a "how the hell did this even happen that way" problem.

Demon's Souls Responses

First of all, thanks all for the responses.

Multiplayer - Earlier drafts of the review did contain these elements, but I wanted to keep the review short enough so as not to get bogged down, and that was some of the fat that got cut off. I concede that the review is limited by not touching on multiplayer. Although I don’t think it is as limited as some of the comments seem to suggest. The comparison between the multiplayer modes of Modern Warfare 2 and Demon’s Souls is not very useful. Multiplayer is an entirely separate mode of MW2 and likely in and of itself provides hundreds of hours of entertainment for a significant portion of players. It’s the reason many people buy the game in the first place. In contrast, DS is a single player game with some multiplayer frills that really are not integral to the overall experience. One could play the game without the multiplayer and get by and large a similar quality experience.

For what it’s worth, I played probably ⅔ of the game with the multiplayer active, but eventually I turned it off as I felt it cheapened the experience. I appreciate the fact that they wove the multiplayer aspects into a single-player game in a fluid manner, but DS is a game where lack of knowledge is an essential ingredient for preserving the atmosphere of the game. The hint and bloodstain system was basically an in-game spoiler system and detracted from the surprises.

Teaming up with other players made bosses exponentially easier to the point of being a joke (there are some exceptions like Maneater). I did not get the impression that bosses were designed to fight multiple players. In my experiences as a blue phantom, the bosses focused completely on the player I was helping and I was able to whack away more or less freely at them. My four or so experiences invading other players were pretty anticlimactic as they consisted of either a) Sneaking around for a couple of minutes searching before the other player left the stage, or b) Getting almost immediately obliterated by the other player and 2 blue phantoms. Obviously this is my experience. YMMV.

Anon @ 12:39 - If you think I did not play through the game cautiously, you’re very mistaken. I played a thief class and used the thief’s ring nearly all the time, and occasionally the spell. I was extremely careful and deliberate, creeping along slowly.

Concerning the clipping sword - I don’t mean to suggest that the game is buggy - overall it’s very polished. My assumption was that if I could not walk through the pillar, then the boss could not swing his sword through it. Boy was I wrong. I’m okay with getting killed easily, but having to replay the entire stage when, given my knowledge, there was no way I could have reasonably prevented it - that’s not fair, it’s just frustrating.

That was just one example of me getting annihilated by a boss because of my lack of knowledge. Let me give you another example: I enter a boss room. I am standing on a ledge and it’s totally dark. Charging blindly seems very foolhardy, so I begin creeping around the side looking for my opponent. Out of nowhere a tentacle hits me and knocks me off the ledge, killing me. I behaved completely reasonably and as a result I had to play the entire stage again.

Enemies shot with an arrow usually did usually come after me, but most of them would give up and turn around, and I could keep hitting them with arrows, or just backstab them. Off the top of my head, almost all of the soldiers and reapers fell into this category, and most of the skeletons, and all of the tentacle-headed magicians. Furthermore, none of them communicated with each other or coordinated attacks. They never bothered to wonder why their companions would take damage, rush off, and never return.

Many enemies did not come after me. I find it very difficult to believe that shooting any of the dragons with an arrow caused it to “come for” you. All of them were just environmental hazards and nothing more, including the Dragon God. The Grey Demon in Shrine of Storms stood there and did nothing as I just peppered it with arrows. I could go on.

The final boss... yes he/it/she (still don’t know what it was) did move toward me, but got knocked back by every arrow, resulting in probably the most anticlimactic final boss fight in recent memory.

Look, I enjoyed the game, but all of these things kept it from being at the top of my list.

Ok then...

So, our experiences were completely different. I, personally, was never killed unfairly. Unless you count those damn black phantoms, of course.

I will admit the Dragon God was anticlimactic, but I only referred to him because you said someone said they were one-shotted multiple times. If the Dragon God didnt do it, none of the other enemies could. He was more environmental.

However, the dragons in the castle... When I shot one, it flew off. When I shot the other, it looked back and breathed fire, then flew off. I guess chalk that one up to world tendency, which I never really understood the differences. But everything responded to arrows for me, I don't know.

About the only time enemies reacted together is when I alerted one in an area, then they all came at once. They never observed each other taking damage or anything of that nature.

Your review was fine, and I now know that the game can differ drastically. There just didn't seem to be enough justification for a few of the things you mentioned. Maybe there can't be, shit happens. I just want to know, what level did you get hit by a tentacle? I can't recall a level where that would happen.

The level where I got hit by

The level where I got hit by the tentacle was the Adjudicator boss fight, although that wasn't technically a "one-shot kill" since it was the fall that actually killed me (just looked this up: I guess it wasn't a "tentacle" but was actually his tongue. I never got close to him but killed him at range). Tower Knight and Old Hero one-shotted me with specific attacks. I don't want to dwell too much on the specific phrase "one-shotted", as there were several fights where I simply was destroyed by two or three hits in succession, or being knocked off a ledge, etc. When I look back at my approach, I don't think *should* have done anything differently, and I didn't really think it was my fault given my knowledge. So my problem comes not from the unfairness of the death itself but from the unfairness of the punishment.

I do think the game offers very different experiences for different players, especially with regard to character class. I don't know what class you played, but your black phantom example is probably another case in point. As far as I can remember, the black phantoms were all incredibly easy for me. Shoot them with an arrow (or three), and flee until they stop chasing you. They return to their post. Wash, rinse, repeat. Reliable, but boring. This strategy worked even for the Ostrava black phantom (actually I never even knew that it was Ostrava until I had finished the game but I was trying to figure out how to get through the locked door behind the red eye knight in 1-1). Like I said in the review, I really wanted to play the game again, perhaps as a holy knight or a magician, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to do it.

Makes sense

When I say black phantoms, I guess I mean other players invading my game. The regular phantoms like Ostrava and others weren't very problematic though.

I'm actually surprised the tower knight one-shotted, I don't remember him having a strong enough attack for that. Though I imagine not having a stronger melee class might reduce your health significantly. I could just handle more hits I suppose. It must be easier to fool the AI at range, and not just from melee.

I haven't been able to replay the game yet either. I'm sure I will at some point though. I would recommend playing through as a melee class though, as I didn't have a remotely similar experience it sounds.

Game needs optional quick

Game needs optional quick save feature, nuff said.

Um, it does

It saves constantly, with almost every move you make. Just doesn't save your spot in a level.

Skybane wrote: It saves

Skybane wrote:

It saves constantly, with almost every move you make. Just doesn't save your spot in a level.

Quick saving without position or close proximity is not quick saving is dickary to screw with the players progression because they could not think of something better to do.... which is on the other end of Bioshocks no price instant respawnng...

It does actually save your

It does actually save your place in a level. Pick up an item, go in and out of your menu screen and ping - saved, right where you are.

If you die, you restart. If you turn off the machine before you die, you'll be at the last place you did either of the above when you turn it back on.

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