"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).
Community review by fleinn (May 15, 2009)
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