Remember back in the day? When games were on enormous cartridges you had to blow into to make work? Developers were wily then, because they realized something. “Hey! Our game isn’t very long because it’s not the future yet! How can we make this short game longer? I know, let’s make it really god damn hard!” I’m looking at you Super Ghouls and Ghosts. (Side note: That is the one game my dad became mildly obsessed with for no apparent reason. I rented it, he saw me playing it, and in a total out of character for him move asked to try. Two hours later he was swearing at poorly animated ghosts and being super upset that when he got hit his armor would fly off and he would just be a naked guy chucking spears. He then NEVER PLAYED VIDEO GAMES AGAIN. Total mystery!) So dying ten thousand times just became common practice in gaming land. Soon, as technology evolved and games could get a bit longer, the difficulty curve began to go down. If you think of the current generation of consoles, what is the last game that REALLY made you want to throw the controller because of the difficulty? I played Enslaved recently on hard, the first time through, and though I died some for sure, I never felt like the game was overly challenging. An enormous challenge to just get through the game is rarely present anymore. So that brings us to Demon’s Souls. Developer From Software decided that us young whipper snappers were enjoying this whole “living” thing too much. So they made the god damn hardest game on the face of the planet. And it’s actually pretty good!
Demons’s Souls starts like pretty like a standard RPG. Create a character based off of one of ten different classes, and then go forth to save the Kingdom of Boletaria from an evil fog that has swirled across the land, bringing with it all sorts of nasty things that want to kill you. So off you go on a tutorial level, learning to use your weapon, block, dodge, and other such standard 3rd person action RPG goodies. All is going well until you turn a corner and see a giant fire-breathing demon. Aha! The tutorial boss! He looks intimidating enough, but soon you will use your new-found skills to….wait…oh. It appears I now have a gaping hole in my chest and am dead. So you, in dead spirit form, end up in a place called the Nexus. It appears that any slain adventurers who are trying to defeat the fog end up here. Portals back to the realm of the living enable you to get back to your body, which seems like a good idea. That is, until you talk to the one soul guy who’s just sitting around because he’s gone insane from DYING SO MUCH and has just decided chilling in the super boring nexus is superior to wandering back out to the real world only to be killed by demons again. He is a clue that this will not be easy.
So the game works like this from then on; You adventure out into one of five worlds, intent on destroying the boss demon inhabiting each. Killing smaller demons along the way will get you souls, which act as both currency and experience. The aptly named Maiden in Black will give raise your skill points in exchange for souls, or the vendor will sell you new weapons, armor, or perhaps some arrows for a bow. Gathering souls is a dangerous process though, because there is a pretty big caveat. When you die, all of the souls you have collected are lost. The only way to get them back is to start the level over and make it back to your corpse. Die again on the way (and yes, all the foes have respawned) and those souls are lost forever. Also, when you die, the game gets harder. Demon’s Souls employs a Black and White tendency system for the entire world. As the black tendency gets stronger (which happens every time you die) enemies become more aggressive and gain in power. As I played through the game, it dawned on me that the actual alive form for my character would be a rare thing indeed. Being in spirit form results in having less health, but also makes the aggro radius of enemies smaller, since you are sort of ethereal and all. The cycle of gameplay goes like this: enter a stage, die, learn from that death, get a little further. The game will sometimes be nice and have some sort of door open that will enable a shortcut through part of the level, so you don’t have to do EVERYTHING over again. These are very far apart though and expect to be doing the same sections a BUNCH of times regardless.
The character you create initially appears to be based on the class selected, but that really isn’t true. All of your stats, such as endurance, luck, or vitality, can be leveled up using souls regardless of the class. Class just dictates where the starting points go. I suggest that you commit to one kind of character, although every character should at least be able to use a little bit of magic. The buffs it provides will prove invaluable. One of my favorite things about Demons Souls is just how different a character can feel depending on stats and equipment. For my main game I basically created a ninja. My strength only enabled me to wear light armor, but I was *fast*. I could use a small shield and block some of the weaker enemy attacks, but dodging was the real key for me. The game employs a stamina meter, which goes down as you do demanding things, such as attacking (yes, attacking) dodging, running, or pretty much anything. When I tried a game and played as a Knight, the difference was astounding. Decked out in insanely heavy and very shiny armor, it was a totally different experience. I couldn’t dodge anything, but my shield was a freaking wall. As I lumbered around the world, very very slowly, the difference between my two characters was striking. I have yet to build a ranged class, be it mage or a bow user, but I imagine the difference would be much the same.
So that brings me to the most unique aspect of Demon’s Souls, other than the relentless difficulty. The online portion. There is no true multiplayer. What you get is some sort of weird hybrid that actually makes sense in the game world. Other adventurers like yourself are also in the fog, although each inhabits their own world. However, sometimes, you can see them. A blood stain on the ground in a level can be investigated, which results in you seeing the last few seconds of somebody’s life. This is not some npc or pre determined thing, this is how somebody else PLAYING THE GAME has died recently. It’s actually a good way to spot traps, as watching a ghost just keel over in front of you generally means there might be something around the next corner. More importantly than watching people die is the messages. Canned messages can be left for other players, such as “treasure ahead!” or “beware of trap”. These show up as red runes on the ground. It’s a very cool feeling to be able to read these messages and then decide if you want to trust them. Messages can be rated in the game, so if a treasure ahead message sends you off a cliff and to your death, give it a down rating. The worse the rating the less time a message will remain in the game world. More direct interaction with players can come in one of two ways. The first way is summoning a player into YOUR game as a blue phantom. A summoned blue phantom’s job is to help you defeat the level you are currently in, and they are rewarded with experience and will be brought back to life if they succeed. There is no voice chat in-game, or even the ability to type messages. There are only a few emotes. It’s strange, but it actually gives a really exciting sense of teamwork given how bleak the world is. I was summoned into another game as a blue phantom to find myself standing with the summoner and one other blue phantom helper in front of a very very large swamp demon. No words were said, but the fifteen minutes of the three of us fighting the boss were very rewarding, and the cheers and bows (I’m a ninja I bow to people ok) that followed our victory before us phantoms faded back to our own games were probably the most sincere you will find in gaming.
So that brings me to my absolute favorite part of Demon’s Souls, which is the OTHER way you can directly interact with players. Namely, red phantoms. This is player vs player combat at it’s most stressful. Other players can INVADE YOUR GAME. There I was, working my way through a difficult level (because they are all god damn difficult) when the message appeared. A red phantom has entered your game. Where is he? I have no idea. Enemies will not attack red phantoms, but they will still attack you. If you defeat an invading red phantom, you get a massive soul amount of souls and he actually LOSES a level. If you are defeated, he gets a soul boost. I was losing my freaking mind. Then, as I was fighting a freaking skeleton, there he was in front of me. A red phantom, playing the knight class I had fiddled around with only hours before. I dispatched the skeleton with my leet ninja skills just as he lumbered near me with a huge shield and scary looking spear. What followed is the most focus I have given a game in the last ten years. Knowing that your opponent is another player just adds a level of “OMG!” to the whole experience. It is here you really start to appreciate the difference in character classes again. I didn’t do a ton of damage with my hits, and his took about half of my life away, but I was faster. We fought for almost 20 minutes, both of us using healing items, doing tactical retreats (if he went and stood near some enemies, I’d be insane to try to follow, as fighting him and those guys would be suicide) and probably both FREAKING THE F OUT at our televisions. As I struck the final blow and managed to down him, and the satisfying glow of getting a bunch of souls surrounded my character, I needed to take a break. Call of Duty multiplayer is fun, but it can’t hold a candle to the rush of this. (So as not to appear to have too big a head, a few hours later I was invaded again, this time by a mage character, who absolutely destroyed me in about 30 seconds with some wacky fireballs. Not good times).
The biggest complaint I have with Demon’s Souls is not the difficulty, which is over the top. It is the lack of explanation of how to do things. It is disturbingly easy to screw up your character or the entire game through a small error. Trying to make a character who can do a bit of everything will probably result in you having a sucky character, which makes the extremely difficult game nearly impossible. Friendly npc’s can be attacked and killed with no obvious penalty, except they remain dead FOR THE REST OF THE GAME and will be unable to help you in any way. This includes characters in the hub/friendly zone of the nexus, to the point where I would never even keep my finger near the attack button while I was there, because if I slipped and stabbed the blacksmith through the chest by accident, I would be unable to buy or sell from him ever again. The weapon upgrade system, and the stats that weapons get from doing said upgrades, is also super confusing. I’m not even going to attempt to explain it here. I read about four different guides on the internet about it and I still probably don’t fully understand it. Just be aware that the game does a poor job of explaining how the systems it uses actually work. If you are going to commit to playing this game, which I still suggest you do, I heavily suggest that you do a bit of research into what kind of character you want to build and what kind of weapons and armor you want to end up with. It is easy to waste resources without knowing it.
But don’t let the last paragraph deter you. Demon’s Souls is FUN. It’s stress inducing sure, you will die a lot sure, but you get a real sense of victory that most other games don’t even come close to matching. The only example I can come up with is downing a raid boss for the first time in WoW. The story is confusing, but the atmosphere of the game is stellar. I found I didn’t care that much about the story. It was me against the world, with only a few cryptic messages and occasional ghostly allies to help me. The game will suck you in and not let go. Isn’t that all we really ask for anyway?
Filed under: Games | Tagged: black tendency, blacksmith, blue phantom, character class, death, demon soul, demons souls, Elrood, Enosh, Faceplant, From Software, nexus, raid boss, red phantom, RPG, stockpile thomas, super ghouls and ghosts, tophat, White tendency, World of Warcraft |