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Review: Demon's Souls

Alexander Sliwinski
Alexander Sliwinski|@Sliwinski|October 12, 2009 5:30 PM
Demon's Souls is not your friend, nor does it want or try to be. Your relationship is on its terms and you can love it or leave it.

From Software's dungeon crawler comes from some sick, demented alternate plane of existence, where arcades are thriving and popping quarters into your console is how publisher Atlus recoups the costs of the game. It's a reality where Diablo was a tremendous flop because gamers have accepted masochism as the only measure for a game's quality. Demon's Souls is your leather-clad mistress and -- the worst part -- if you can withstand the pain for almost eight hours, you may, in what can only be described as a horrifying epiphany ... begin to enjoy it.
%Gallery-34304%I hate myself for liking Demon's Souls. Each sprawling level is full of enemies jumping from corners and challenges that will have boulders plummeting down stairs, the floor breaking out from under you at the most inopportune moments and enemies that will end you with one hit if your timing is even the slightest bit off. It's a gauntlet of experiences with a difficulty curve that maintains the incline of a sheer cliff.

I pity anyone that was in the room during the first hours I spent playing the game. I railed against its lack of direction, its clumsy inventory system, the presumptive nature of the character stats -- don't even try to talk to me about its (almost controller-snappingly difficult) parry and riposte timing. As someone who's been playing video games for the better part of his life, I could have sworn Demon's Souls' numerous, poor design choices were rectified or exterminated years ago in past games.

Even as I write this, I can't tell you if Demon's Souls deserves the high critical marks it's been receiving. It's like rewarding the most disgusting kind of elitism; imagine if Guitar Hero actually required you to play a real guitar to take part in the game. I've accepted that I'm not having what would normally be classified as "fun" with Demon's Souls. I'm having an experience. It's an escapade that builds up so much tension that when those rare moments of success occur, it's as if the defeated monster was made corporeal and I was given the opportunity to beat it in its lifeless face with a shovel a couple extra times, dig a hole, bury it and dance on its grave!

At some point, though, Demon's Souls does click and becomes an adventure that feels like it'll be worth pushing through. It may happen in the first hour, or it may happen after six, embarrassing hours, as you question why you're still playing. But, at some point, the urge to press on will take hold -- that is, if your anti-masochistic side hasn't already won and mercifully forced you to snap the disc in half.

With time and experience, you'll start finding an uneasy balance while attempting the different realms within Demon's Souls. For the greater good, maybe team up with another player in the game's online co-op or leave words of warning for other online travelers with the in-game note system. Eventually, a sixth sense will develop for that invisible point in a dungeon where you know it's time to go back; a recognition built upon innumerable deaths that it's time to cash in those souls you've collected, and then hop back into the fray.

Recognizing your own skill and limits within Demon's Souls, then picking those proper moments to upgrade your skills, is probably the only piece of advice I should relay for playing the game. Giving any more details or description will diminish the experience of being dropped into a game where you'll have very little idea of what to do next, not to mention, deprive you of those first hours of the game where you'll question if Demon's Souls is just a cruel joke on the modern gaming experience.