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Demon's Souls (PlayStation 3) artwork

Demon's Souls (PlayStation 3) review

"The Kingdom of Boletaria was once a prosperous and advanced society, founded as it was on "soul magic" - or the art of drawing on souls to cast powerful spells. But the lords of the realm grew decadent, and without the discipline and restraint needed, awakened a mythical beast, "the Old one", reducing Boletaria to rubble, and leaving a host of demons to feast on the souls of the remaining population. "

The Kingdom of Boletaria was once a prosperous and advanced society, founded as it was on "soul magic" - or the art of drawing on souls to cast powerful spells. But the lords of the realm grew decadent, and without the discipline and restraint needed, awakened a mythical beast, "the Old one", reducing Boletaria to rubble, and leaving a host of demons to feast on the souls of the remaining population.

Much lighter than this everyday life in Boletaria never seems to become after that. But the allure of power from the soul arts, and perhaps the glory from conquering evil, would draw any hero able to wield a sword to the Kingdom. You are such a hero, led through the thick magical mist that surrounds the Kingdom by a mysterious voice promising you a future as Champion for the people of Boletaria. As much as is left of them.

After you step through the mist, the game lets you familiarize yourself with the controls. You control your character in third person, and can wield a variety of one- handed or two- handed weapons, a shield or a second off- hand weapon. Or, if the situation warrants, a large shield or weapon in both hands, to gain some strategic advantage when a light shield and quick sweeping attacks is not enough.

There are also ranged weapons. Bows for long distances, while crossbows can be used as a secondary off- hand weapon, if you wish, for a quick shot towards an enemy just out of reach. Magic and miracles will be available to all classes later in the game as well, depending on the character's magical abilities and level of faith. The magic (or the soul arts) can be used offensively by a magician, or defensively by a melee character. Just as with melee, there is no one solution to how the game should be played. Or whether you will use the soul arts to grow your physical abilities only, rather than acquiring new unique spells, or imbuing weapons with unique souls.

As versatile as the fighting system is, and how fluid it handles, it is not overly complicated, though. R1 and R2 for right- handed attacks, L1 and L2 for left- handed attacks or blocks. Tap circle in any direction for a dodge, hold circle to dash. Click the thumb- stick to lock on to a target. And combine dodges and attacks in a controlled fashion for combos. The challenge lies in knowing when to attack and when to save your strength - as well as when to run away and hide in a corner. Which thanks to the game's punishing difficulty might seem like a good option very often.

But the game is not unbeatable. In fact, the game is built in a way that gives you a real sense of accomplishment every time you defeat a stronger opponent. From the first demon slave, to the immense Tower Knight and onward - when you finally defeat them, you are confident it is your skill at the game that wins, rather than simply luck, increased stats or better equipment. And it's been a long time since I've seen an attempt at a game like this. Never mind one succeeding as well.

Why it succeeds is more difficult to explain. It is, after all, a fairly unassuming hack and slash game at the surface, even though the hand- made animations throughout the game are impressive. But perhaps it is the indirect way the narrative is told, and how it gives depth to the gameplay without intruding too often. Perhaps it is the ambiance, from the violent boss- fights, to the brilliant in- game cinematic transitions, and all the way to the terrorizing dark tunnels where a small irregular drip of water somehow successfully replaces the standard horror- flick soundtrack.

Or then again perhaps it is the fact that your hero is a regular guy, mortal and vulnerable - and who is only important in this world if he can fulfill the prophecy the mysterious voice promises.

Of course - in the tutorial level, you barely have the time to scratch the surface of any of this. And then you die.

Your soul, however, remains in Boletaria. You are trapped in a place called the Nexus, the heart of a device tying the realm together by a number of Arch- stones, which was once used to prevent the mythical Old god from rising. Now only one stone remains, as the maintainers of the others have long perished, disappeared, or worse.

So this is where the game begins, when you - in spite of candid advice from a very depressed soul sitting by the entrance to the last Arch- stone - take your character through to the remains of the ruined Boletaria Castle. Where you are greeted by a flesh- eating, fire- breathing dragon, and a small army of demon slaves. Then it gets worse. Plague, thunder demons, Giant Wargods, Witches, mind-flayers and eerie songstresses to name a few.

And that is the Kingdom of Boletaria. Death comes often and quickly, before your soul will be returned to the Nexus again. Denying you either life or death, until you grow stronger with the soul arts, and succed in your mission to collect all of the Demon's souls. Until finally the Old god can be lulled back to slumber.

In the meantime, you have but little choice to go forth and collect more Demon's Souls.

(notes: reviewed the Asian/Chinese version, which unlike the Japanese version has english subtitles, menus and voice- acting, and is completely playable, for hours upon hours).

fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (May 15, 2009)

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zippdementia posted May 18, 2009:

Fleinn, hi. Zipp here.

You do a decent job in this review of introducing the world and the combat system and then... what happened? You sort've drift off into "in the know" talk about half way through, by which I mean you seem to be addressing people who have already played the game. I'm left knowing nothing about what kind of game it is. Is it open world? Is it linear story? Are there bosses at the end of dungeons? Is it non linear? What challenges await those who master the combat system? Is there skills and bartering? Are there towns?

The main problem is that you detail a small piece of a larger painting without ever dipping the brush in the ink.

Okay... that sounded ridiculous. I have an unhealthy love of metaphor. Suffice it to say, your review could use some grounding. But don't be discouraged. Your problems are not hard to overcome. Otherwise, you have a nice style and voice that I'd like to see you develop. Keep on writing.
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fleinn posted May 19, 2009:

"I mean you seem to be addressing people who have already played the game."

..Yeah, I worried a bit about that. I think I thought in a very inspired moment :p that it wouldn't really describe anything useful with the game if I added that it has four worlds with four stages and a boss at the end. Like.. reviewing a book, and mentioning how many chapters it has..? None of the worlds have the same setup either, and I really wanted to avoid switching to meta- description in between everything else.

But there should probably be something. I'm just not sure what.. Do you think it would look better if I said somewhere that there are four arch- stones left, and four locations with four separate stories tied together by the nexus, and so on.. Or will that just make the review.. even more hopelessly pretentious than it already is.. hmm.
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zippdementia posted May 19, 2009:

Actually, I thought this:

"It has four worlds with four stages and a boss at the end."

Was pretty spot on. It's short, it's descriptive, and it tells me what I need to know. You could probably stand to elaborate a bit. Telling us the differences between the worlds isn't a bad thing. I've never played the game, but I would probably set it up something like this...

"The game has four worlds, with four stages in each world. At the end of each stage is a boss. You can do these worlds in any order. When I looked at my choices of a Fire planet, an Ice planet, a world filled with ancient ruins, and a Utopia made up of waterfalls and naked women, you can guess which interested me the most.

That's right. I couldn't resist. I had to go to the Ice Planet.

After selecting the planet, my soul was whisked away into the dark tide of the ether, coming to rest at last inside a small icy cavern. I had barely moments to look around before I was attacked by something that looked like George Lucas' cousin."

And so on and so forth.
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zigfried posted May 19, 2009:

I've not played the game, although I did read the review!

Knowing that there are four worlds with four stages and a boss at the end would not have been useful to me at all. I would actually see that as trite filler that adds words without adding meaning. It's common for 3rd person action games to have a series (or hub) of worlds, each with a boss. That's not what makes the game stand out, unless there's something peculiar about how the worlds interact with each other.

The review starts off specific and becomes broader, indicating that what initially feels simple turns into something grand. I think it's a strong structure. However, the review cuts itself short before really tapping into that grand-ness. I think a couple more paragraphs near the end, building up the scope of the adventure, would help.

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fleinn posted May 24, 2009:

:) Thanks both of you. That the world opens up - very happy that came out right. Maybe I'll try replacing the "why it works" thing later. Like you say, there had to be something there, and I couldn't think of anything useful to write down..

..but the thing is that the game doesn't actually try to hide the game- mechanics from you. It just makes them irrelevant. ..and that makes no sense.

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