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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Demon's Souls

It's not often that I play a game that makes me feel completely differently about playing games in general. Yeah I play games I really enjoy and like to replay and tell people about them but that's not what I mean. I mean a game that is just so great you end up comparing all other games to it, games from different genres even generations. It's been a long time since I've played a game like this but late last year I played one and that game is called Demon's Souls. It came out last year on the PS3, published by Atlas and developed by From Software the makers of the Kings Field franchise. They had set out to make a "spiritual successor" to Kings Field and I think they pretty much nailed it but made this game a whole lot better. This isn't so much a review as it's just me talking about things in Demon's Souls I like and why I like them. In the end this is just a chance for me to talk about a game I just can't stop talking about, even now 9 months after beating it.

Demon's Souls tells the story of a land called Boletaria ruled by the aging mad King Allant the kingdom is dying. Allant has summoned the Old One from it's slumber and the kingdom has been trapped by a fog trapping all those inside. You play a hero from outside the fog who ventures into Boletaria to try and defeat the evil. You enter fight some monsters and one way or another you die. You awake in the Nexus as a spirit and then the game truly begins.

Demon's Souls is at it's heart a 3rd person action RPG. It moves at a slower pace than most action RPGS you need to time your combat, mixing attacks and blocks to survive. You are able to choose from many different classes at the beginning, ranging from Knights to Mages with everything in between. In the end it doesn't matter which you choose because and this is one of the big things I like about this game every class can do anything. Yeah a Mage will be better with magic at first but with the right leveling a Thief can cast just as many spells as their magic using friends. The starting class is just a template for how you want to fight at first if you don't like it you can make your character anyway you want. You level by killing monsters and getting souls. You spend the souls like currency to level and buy equipment. As you level each new level costs more souls but you can go back into any level and replay it to grind out souls but you only fight the bosses once.

You start the main game dead, on the form of your soul. In soul form you have half your life but do more damage. As you fight you will eventually get to a boss when you defeat the boss you are given your body back which grants you full health but you do less damage. One thing that's really cool is when you're a soul you do not make footstep sounds and your armor does not make noise as you dodge and run, this lets you sneak up on some enemies.

One of the best things about this game is the way multiplayer is handled. Even though you are in a single player world you are always online with other people. You can see messaged left by other players who were in the same place as you in their own game world. These messages can be tips to help or fake messages to make you come to your death. Now when you're in soul form you can go to other players games to help them on a particularly tough part when they lay down a summon stone. The player doing the summoning must be in body form to summon help but this also has a negative aspect to it. When you are alive another soul form player can invade your world and try to kill you for a chance to get their body back. This is just such an amazing way of putting multiplayer into a game. I can't count the times I would be running around in my body form and see the Black Phantom is Invading message and feel my stomach drop as I didn't know what to expect and where it would come from.

This adds to the game's already tough difficulty. I'm use to games now a days being a little to easy for my taste so I was excited to hear that Demon's Souls was suppose to be this brutally hard game and yeah it's difficult, well it is at first. The time it took me to get from the start to the first boss was about 6 hours but I was having a blast the whole time. The game is never difficult in a frustrating or cheap way. If you die you messed up it's always your fault. The hundreds of times I died over my experience playing this I never felt my deaths were cheap in anyway and I could look at what happened and know what I should of done to survive. While this game is hard at the start once you get into the flow of the combat and you end up just getting what this game is all about it becomes a whole lot easier to play it. The last two levels were very easy for me and some of the bosses in worlds 4 and 5 are down right pathetic to fight. Most of the bosses can be destroyed from range be it magic or what I used was a bow and I wasn't even trained high in using bows. The next couple lines are a quote from the lead designer I took from Wikipedia...

Miyazaki commented on the game's notorious considerable difficulty as "never the goal" but rather focus on creating a real sense of accomplishment. Difficulty was rather described as "one way to offer an intense sense of accomplishment through forming strategies, overcoming obstacles, and discovering new things." Other locations of the game were described as "places of evil intent" such as the Tower of Latria embodying man-made evil and the Valley of Defilement embodying natural evil, with the difficulty heightening their sense of dread and evil for both gameplay and atmosphere. The threat of death that also sees players potentially losing all their hard-earned souls was also created to emphasize this mood, that "if the Souls could be recovered anytime, there would be no suspense or sense of accomplishment". Boss battles were primarily designed to be "varied and exciting" to make sure "players didn’t get tired of the same fight" and like the rest of the game "encourage them to figure out different tactics, to think on their feet". Takeshi Kajii actually felt that the boss battles were not the hardest element; "You say boss, but it’s not just the boss. It’s everything including the road up to the boss that makes this game really hard. If you find patterns to destroy the boss, it’s not that hard. It’s how you get to the boss that makes this a difficult game."

What he's says sums up the whole boss battle experience and when I think about the boss fights like this then it makes sense the later ones are a little easier because the levels are harder while the bosses as I've said are easier. This is important because when you die either in body or soul form you start the level over. No mid level check points or saving in the middle. The worlds are broken up into hyphened worlds such as 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 etc. You you fight a boss at the end of each -# and can continue from there which is a little saving grace on the difficulty because I even think it would be brutal to have to do all of one world in one go but when you get to the point of being able to understand the game play you'll feel like you could beat a whole world in one go.

I really like the way the world is presented in this. Boletaria is a dying world and it's shown as such. All the worlds are dark with destroyed buildings and the signs of the former glory. The hub world the Nexus has only a few people trapped inside with you and their outlook is of despair with some hope you can succeed. In the worlds you run into just a few people that aren't the monsters but these people are crazed or on the way to total breakdown. The world design gives you the overwhelming feeling of being alone in your fight, this is one of the few games I've played that truly make you feel alone as you fight these insane crazy monsters.

I played Demon's Souls as a Knight. I was going to a melee build because in most RPGs that's what I do. In the end I was using my bow on all the bosses and mixing lots of magic into the attacks. For me the Knight had the good beginning melee strength and his magic was high enough to get into using spells early on. Others I've talked to about this used magic users at first and had a easier time at the beginning of the game. If I play through this again and not in a New Game + with my Knight I will try a magic user and see. I liked all the character design but I thought all the bosses were amazing. I love a game with giant bosses to fight this one has a lot of them. My absolutely favorite boss fight was in 5-3, I don't want to spoil it but the back story to it was just great and the aftermath just blew me away.

So to end this, if you like games you need to play Demon's Souls. It may not be your thing as some people I've talked to play it and just don't get it but I think it deserves to be played by everyone. It's just that good of a game. When I look back at all my years of gaming very few games will be up there as making me happy I play games because I was able to experience them and Demon's Souls is probably near the top if not at the top of this list. Just play it if you haven't, if you don't like I'm sorry but it is something special.

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