The fruition of a dream three generations old

Demon's Souls Screenshot

HIGH Incredibly immersive sense of true role-playing.

LOW Might be intimidating to newer, less experienced players.

WTF Why is pausing not an option in the offline mode?

Immersion [i-mur-zhuh n, -shuh n] – Noun.
– a state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorption.

Applied to video games, the concept of immersion is difficult to intentionally create. It's certainly easy enough to understand, but much harder to produce in a convincing way. It's integral to creating an excellent experience, though—every player can relate to feeling completely consumed by a fantastic game, so as a result, nearly every game tries to achieve it. Demon's Souls, produced by From Software and published by Atlus, has immersion in spades. It drips with it. Overflows with it. It takes the player and completely envelops them in its world.

Forget everything you may have heard about the game being incredibly difficult or unforgiving. Categorizing Demon's Souls with such a narrow view and leaving it at that does the title an incredible injustice. What it actually does is submerge players deeply in its world and asks them to understand its reality. Every aspect of its identity is tied to a clear central vision. By crafting an absolutely logical, holistic world and going to great lengths to make it cohere in every way, the result is an experience unlike any other.

A lone warrior arriving in a strange land, the player is charged with choosing the sort of character they'll be before being set loose to destroy an army of powerful demons. It's as good a plot as any to start an adventure, but what sets Demon's Souls apart is that once the game begins, it's imperative to adjust expectations. The player must be willing to understand that the qualities and constructs put in place are (for lack of a better term) unique.

Demon's Souls Screenshot

For quite a while, every encounter can be a fatal one. Many will be. Although the first inclination for many players will be to take their newly-awarded sword or freshly sparkling wand and charge headlong into battle, the reality is that the only successful strategy in this mysterious, fog-choked land is cautious evaluation. Regardless of whether the player chooses to be a stealthy thief, a heavily-armored paladin, or potent wizard, it must be understood that their virtual avatar has to obey many kinds of reality-tinged rules; far more than the standard role-playing game ever attempts.

For example, as damaging as it may be, wielding a field-clearing polearm in a narrow tunnel is a losing proposition. It's too long, and the blade will strike the walls instead of its target. Swinging a massive axe results in a loss of mobility and long recovery times due to the sheer weight of lugging the thing around. Such a system isn't cheap or unfair… it's just an application of a real-world ruleset that most developers haven't implemented as well or as convincingly before.

Going further, when any given situation seems potentially dangerous, it's foolhardy to walk straight into unknown circumstances. Dark rooms are prime territory for enemies to hide in shadows and pounce from behind, and patches of ground scorched black by flame are likely unsafe places to stand. The game actually asks players to think very carefully about the nature of their surroundings in order to survive. In effect, it's crucial for participants in Demon's Souls struggle to actually play their role. Once this impossible-to-overstate fact is understood, players willing to take on its burden will be amply rewarded.

By combining a higher level of detail and interaction with some truly astounding world design, succumbing to the atmosphere and oppressive aura put out by each of the game's areas is a foregone conclusion. Setting foot at the start of a level feels as though an entire fantasy world is laid out at the player's feet, ripe for exploration and rife with danger. From the opening scenes of the crumbling, dragon-singed Boletarian Palace to the sick, dripping filth and rotten decay of the Valley of Defilement, each setting is utterly convincing and congruent with not only itself, but with the world of Demon's Souls overall. The lighting, the details, and the logic and design are incredibly strong in every instance. Squint, and you'd swear these places are real.

Demon's Souls Screenshot

Further reinforcing this cohesive reality is the way the developers have chosen to implement their online strategy. Rather than the usual suite of standard online modes, From has instead woven it directly into the single-player experience, never asking the player to break role or the game to break the fourth wall.

In each region, players are able to leave messages for other players in the form of glowing runes etched into the ground. The words "trap ahead" may give warning of unseen falling rocks, or "good guy here" may prevent skittish players from unwittingly taking the life of a friendly merchant mistaken for a foe. It's incredibly ingenious, and a perfect way to let players interact with each other without taking away from the atmosphere of each level. Taking it further, it's possible to see how other players have actually died. Every bloodstain discovered can be activated to summon a ghostly image reenacting a real player's final moments. Paying close attention to both kinds of warnings can often mean the difference between life and death, and serves to increase the eerie feeling of the unknown by witnessing brief snatches of those who've gone before.

Not content to stop there, the developers have also added another form of online interaction: entering another player's world to help, or to hunt. By use of a special item, it's possible to leave a rune on the ground offering assistance that can be seen by other players. If the offer is accepted, the two heroes cooperate to clear out a level and defeat difficult bosses. On the other hand, malicious players can "break into" another's world and attempt to assassinate them. It's a bit of a gamble since the attacker never quite knows the strength or status of his prey, but the option is there. Whether helping or hurting, this system of incorporating interactions feels very in-line with the fantasy world created by Demon's Souls, and is a genius twist to a game that already steps out of established design mores in so many ways.

In every aspect, Demon's Souls is fantastically creative and adheres faithfully to its own identity in a way that so many other titles only stumble at. Although players expecting something more conventional may be coldly taken aback by its unflinching boldness and refusal to compromise its vision, those who can see it for what it is and appreciate what it does will find themselves knee-deep in adventure, never wanting to look back. Without question, Demon's Souls is one of 2009's finest titles, and an amazing, challenging journey without equal. Rating: 9.5 out of 10.


Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 14 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed at the time of review. All 14 hours of play were spent in the online mode.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and violence. Parents, I have a hard time imagining that your young one will be asking for this title, but if by some strange occurrence they do, be aware that it will probably be absurdly challenging beyond the ability of most children. Save yourself the headache and convince your son or daughter to play something else until they're older. In terms of content, there's plenty of blood on display and the violence comes frequently. Imagine medieval knights attacking monsters with swords and spears, and you'll get the general idea of the battles.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be aware that although all of the game's dialogue is subtitled, sound plays a key role in locating enemies and being aware of their approach. Very often, an unseen attack will be preceded by a hiss or growl. Without access to this audio information, the player is at a definite disadvantage. The game is already quite difficult, and not being able to hear these cues mean that players with hearing disabilities will have to be extra vigilant.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
Brad Gallaway

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34 Comments on "Demon’s Souls Review"

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mr.pants
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Thank you so much for writing this fantastic review and plugging this game in the podcast if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have suffered through the brutality (which in retrospect was perfect) of the beginning and had a chance to fall in love with the game like I have. I can’t rave about this game enough and thank you for promoting this enough that I went through the entire game.

Anonymous
Guest

Yea, the universe and lore of the game is good, but it fails at immersion…it fails horribly just like dead space 2 or any other game with ridiculously high trail and error type play.

once you die X number of times the immersion is gone and you just want to complete the section so you can put the controller down.

Steve Urkel
Guest
“Also I wish they would add something say that you can buy from stockpile Thomas for say 50-100k souls or something that allows you to store up to say like a maximum of maybe say 75-105k souls or something. I mean my guy is at the point now where each level costs about 90k souls, and when I die twice or get jumped by a black phantom with like 75-85k souls on me because there was nothing else to spend them on, it gets really heartbreaking. I mean maybe not a massive coin pouch like how they used to be… Read more »
Anonymous
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Just wanted to say that this is one of the best reviews I have ever read. Demon’s Souls is a very difficult game to understand and review. Well done!

Dockers
Guest
Mr. Gallaway, about your review. I found you’re review amazingly well thought out in my opinion. I just wish it could have been a little longer and included more lol but I do understand that game companies want reviewer X’s review by Y date so if they like it they can ship it with the promotional commercials. Though by the time I read your review I had already beaten the game, I found that it made me want to hop on and go at it again. I would have to say my favorite NPC to interact with in the game… Read more »
Zolos
Guest
[quote=Brad Gallaway]Hey congrats! what kind of character did you use, and what did you like/dislike overall?[/quote] Started with a Knight and concentrated on Strength and Vitality at first (i.e. melee). However i then compromised and went magic to also have some ranged attacks. World wise i didn’t like the Valley of Defilement. Also some inventory issues when for example using Soldier souls you need to do it for each individual one. Also the camera sometimes was not working properly and had to continually switch from locking to not locking enemies. Finally most of the bosses were not that impressive nor… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
Guest

Hey congrats! what kind of character did you use, and what did you like/dislike overall?

Zolos
Guest

Just wanted to say Brad….

I finished it!!! I am very proud of myself as i didn’t think i could do it. Maybe a NG+ at some point. Who knows.

What an awesome, awesome game!

Zolos
Guest
Yeah i have stopped using Twitter tbh Brad. I am hanging in there. Barely…10-11 hours in and only managed to beat the first two bosses. But this game really is something. I can’t put my finger on it. It frustrates but at the same time it does not put me off from trying again and again! I had played Uncharted 2, which i thought was excellent, just before this game but Demon’s Souls is something else. I think about it while at work, when at lunch, when i wake up, when i go to bed. It’s always on my mind.… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
Guest

Hey Zolos!

Long time no see… haven’t seen you on Twitter lately.

Yeah, the game definitely wants you to figure things out on your own, a real FromSoft trademark.

Hang in there!

Zolos
Guest

I started playing the game yesterday and i am loving it in a kind of masochistic way.

My only issue so far is that the game does not tell you how to do anything at all. It took me around 2-3 hours to understand that i had the Cling ring on me and how to equip it. I am trying to figure out how everything works on top of the already difficult gameplay.

Brad Gallaway
Guest
Just for your information, I’ve completed the game. Since completing it, i went on and completed it again. i documented my continuing progress in my blog posts, but i guess you didn’t see those. There are a lot of factors that go into game reviewing, and finishing a game is only one of them. schedules, other games, deadlines, workloads, timing of release, and so on… it would be a perfect world if reviewers could finish every game before writing a review, but that’s just not realistic. we do it when we can and as often as we can, but it’s… Read more »
Anonymous
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Brad Gallaway, why can’t you play the whole game before reviewing. There has been numerous times I saw you review a game without finishing, or play partially. Many times you finished but played far to little, never mastering the game before reviewing. Sometimes you even give up on the game after a fews hours and made the disservice of doing a review. You should be a professional, you should play the whole game at best of your capabilities before giving your informed analysis. When the game requires a second playtrough to see all the games, you always ignores it, but… Read more »
Dale Weir
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http://www.just-rpg.com/default.asp?pid=3499 Atlus press release below: DEMON’S SOULS, CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED PS3-EXCLUSIVE ACTION RPG, NOW AVAILABLE IN RETAILERS ACROSS NORTH AMERICA; RELEASES TO OVERWHELMING PRAISE AND NUMEROUS AWARDS Experience one of the most innovative online games of all time… IRVINE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 6, 2009 — Atlus U.S.A., Inc. today announced that Demon’s Souls™, the award-winning action RPG for PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system, is now available in North America. “With its bold blend of deep, involved action RPG gameplay, breathtaking visuals, and some of the most innovative online features in years, Demon’s Souls for PlayStation 3 system delivers the hardcore gaming experience platform… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

I am actually not hearing impaired, but I still think it is cool that they include this information. Likewise with the info for parents (which I am not either).

This game looks great and I just ordered it.

abfackeln
Guest

[quote=Brad Gallaway]i was? where or which one?[/quote]

The quote was in an Atlus Faithful newsletter. The newsletter was a full graphic (not just plain text). so I would imagine that they will/ are using it in print and electronic ads.

Pigroast
Guest

Great review, I look forward to getting my copy on monday.

This game has been one of the hardest to obtain in a while 🙂 I hope it makes an impact and publishers take note!

Brad Gallaway
Guest

Yeah, i think people who say the game is hard aren’t really being very accurate. it’s nowhere as annoyingly hard in the way Ninja Gaiden or DMC is — it’s balanced, it’s fair, and there are rules that govern the action. like you said though.. patience is required and you have to wrap your head around the fact that it’s not another hack-n-slasher. ; )

Thanks for the comments!

Bryce
Guest
Good review, even though opening anything with a dictionary definition is kind of corny! You’re right on that this game goes the extra mile to suspend the player’s disbelief than any other RPG. I was shocked to discover that for the first time in my RPG experience, I could actually shove a rapier between jail cell bars when a morningstar didn’t work. It achieves this to the point where any highly stylized character you may want to invent, say someone who runs around naked dual-wielding axes, will be incredibly ineffective. Unlike other RPGs, though, you won’t consider a lack of… Read more »
Dale Weir
Guest

Thanks for pointing this out. We’ll contact Amazon.com to see if it will take it down.

Mike
Guest

I have been reading various reviews of this game prior to making a purchase and came across your excellent review. Your review pushed me to buy the game. Great Job! The problem is, I noticed the same review, almost word for word (paragraphs cut out for length reasons I’m sure), on the Amazon product page for this game (Deluxe Edition). I am not sure how you feel about that but I thought I would alert you. For all I know it is you using an entirely different name. Probably not 🙂

http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A1B124AVX0QH2B/ref=cm_cr_pr_pdp

Brad Gallaway
Guest

i was? where or which one?

abfackeln
Guest

Brad, you were quoted in a Demon’s Souls ad.

My copy is now in route for delivery. It should be waiting for me when I get back from NYC. I have been watching a lot of videos of Demon’s Souls and I am really hyped.

abfackeln
Guest

[quote=Brad Gallaway]Only one more day to the official release… Looking forward to everyone’s impressions. be happy to answer any questions, as well. [/quote]

Amazon has a October 13th ship date for my copy. 🙁 I am going to be in NYC for a few days, so I guess it doesn’t matter anyways. Maybe I’ll buy it tomorrow and cancel my Amazon order.

Brad Gallaway
Guest

Only one more day to the official release… Looking forward to everyone’s impressions. be happy to answer any questions, as well.

dethkiel
Guest

Been looking forward to this title for 2 month, read multiple reviews, noobody has a bad thing to say. I am beyond excited about this.

abfackeln
Guest

I really hope this game lives up to my expectations. All of the videos I have seen have looked great. The reviews have been really good too. I am just scared that I am too excited for the game.

Brad Gallaway
Guest

Yeah, the ragdoll gets wonky at times, but it’s a *tiny* part of an incredible game. Demon’s Souls is the sort of title that’s impossible to appreciate with just 15 or 20 minutes of trying… the greatness doesn’t come out until you’ve been playing long enough to let the title reveal its brilliance. it’s a slow burn for sure.

same Anonymous
Guest

i guess the poor resentation put me down, the ragdoll physics are really strange

oh well never judge a book by its cover

Brad Gallaway
Guest
Hey guys, thanks for the positive comments! looking forward to your impressions of the game… it’s on my short list for GOTY, definitely. Boy> sadly, the pre-release press version of DS isn’t compatible with the retail versions. the servers reviewers have been using will be wiped and repurposed for the public, so after 10/5, i won’t be able to go online any more and my game save isn’t compatible with the retail edition. i’ll be able to finish the game offline on my own, but if i want to play with others i need to get a retail copy and… Read more »
Pibbman
Guest

Sounds pretty good, but I also have to give this site props for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing notice at the end of the review, as someone who is Hard of Hearing, it really is appreciated that this was mentioned and that I’m aware of it.

Gotta agree with above poster, gonna bookmark this site if thats the kind of attention to detail you guys do here! 😀

DC1
Guest

Hey GameCritics, Your site is now bookmarked!

justGAMES
Guest

It’s a good review I wasn’t really interested in the game until saw the latest trailer on gametrailers.com then knew it was a buy for me. WTF!! you can’t pause the game?? that’s scary but I’ll have to see can’t wait for october 6th I won’t have to buy any games (demon’s souls, uncharted 2, borderlands, ratchet, and clank) that month it’s my b/day

Boy
Guest

WOOOO!

I was already anticipating this game to a degree that was just silly, but now I can hardly contain myself.

I hope you’re still playing this when we plebs get access to it, Brad, so we can be inappropriately excited about hanging around in dismal, depressing environments together. 😛

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