The Sirens are Calling

Demon's Souls Screenshot

HIGH Clinging to the tiny sphere of light surrounding my character, squinting in a futile effort to penetrate the blackness that threatened to swallow me whole.

LOW Being one-shotted by a demon's sword that clipped through a pillar and being forced to replay the entire stage.

WTF That dragon just sat there and let me shoot it with 250 arrows.

Whenever people talk about the action role-playing game (RPG) Demon's Souls, the subject of difficulty inevitably makes its way into the discussion. Make no mistake about it, the game is difficult, but it is not difficult in terms of skill. No, Demon's Souls is difficult in a much more diabolical way: it is a test of willpower. The more one plays the game, the more pain and pleasure centers merge until the player has trouble distinguishing one from the other. If one does start to realize that much of that sensation is pain, Demon's Souls sings its Sirens' song, luring its prey back for more punishment.

What makes Demon's Souls so enticing is its dark and compelling setting. Upon entering the kingdom of Boletaria, the player is tasked with defeating a horde of demons that have entrenched themselves throughout its various regions. From the moment the player takes his first step in this fog-shrouded land, the game absolutely oozes with atmosphere. The dim corridors of a crumbling castle lead to parapets guarded by heavily-armored knights; in a prison fortress the moans of tortured criminals are punctuated by clear, haunting bells; elsewhere, gargoyles perch on spires connected by rail-less bridges suspended high over a murky swamp. These are but a few of the many locales, each as foreboding as the last, and each contributing to the coherency of the bleak world.

The plausibility of the world is further augmented by clever level design. Even though the stages are linear overall, they will zig and zag, up and down staircases and through tight, winding cave tunnels that circle back on themselves, leaving a non-linear impression. It's easy to believe that once upon a time the massive structures had been built with purpose by the now wanton inhabitants. Some stages have one or two checkpoints that are created by traversing a loop to open a previously inaccessible path, such as unlocking a door from behind or lowering a bridge from one side.

Unfortunately, not all stages have checkpoints, and these instances exposed a major weakness in the game's design: Upon death, the player is set back at the beginning of the stage with all of the enemies re-spawned. The game throws down the gauntlet, and at first I welcomed this challenge. As I continued playing, however, this design became increasingly problematic, most notably when it came to the demon battles. Many of the encounters with these frightening bosses were creative, engaging, and extremely intense, as they can annihilate the player, sometimes with a single attack. Players will assuredly die numerous times while attempting to learn their patterns and weaknesses. There was nothing more frustrating than when a demon's sword clipped through a pillar and one-shotted me, forcing me to replay the entire stage again just to get another chance. It does not make sense to force the player to complete a task that he has already conquered as punishment for failing at a wholly separate challenge. That is like a parent forcing a kid who fails a homework assignment to clean his room even though he just finished cleaning it five minutes ago.

The variety of available classes and nice assortment of weapons and spells should have been plenty enough to keep things interesting, but the lack of enemy intelligence often destroyed the potential many scenarios had. To be blunt, most of the enemies are dumber than zombies. While this seems appropriate—after all, they are creatures that have been robbed of their souls and have gone insane—it does not justify their sub-par pathfinding and severe lack of awareness. Many times an enemy will, of his own accord, walk right off a ledge and plummet to his death. A few placed in some stages predictably did this every single time I encountered them. Flee from the fight and the vast majority of adversaries will give up chase and turn around, leaving themselves open to critical strikes from behind. Worst of all was the fact that too many enemies could be easily dispatched from afar with a bow and arrows. This included the final boss, where I literally stood in one spot and fired dozens of arrows at it until it died; it never even got close enough for me to make out what it was!

My biggest disappointment came with the dragons. Without a doubt, these were some of the most majestic, awe-inspiring, and intimidating creatures I have ever seen in a video game. I initially imagined epic battles—dodging from battlement to battlement, slowly withering my foe down. These dreams were crushed upon rudimentary experimentation that revealed them to be nothing more than environmental fire hazards triggered by walking into specific areas. The culmination of my dismay was when I stood right underneath one of them and shot it with over 250 arrows while it did absolutely nothing to defend itself. What should have been a terrifying dragon was instead a silly giant frog sitting in a pot of water, completely unaware that it was slowly being boiled alive.

With its absorbing world and realistic class role-playing, Demon's Souls had so much going for it. I would have loved to play through the game again with a variety of character classes, but my desire to do so has been completely snuffed out by the feeling as though I have finished the game several times over already. Obviously the archaic "restart the level" design choice was a huge contributor, but perhaps the class I chose and the manner in which I played was also a factor. Whatever the reasons, the result was that Demon's Souls ended up being one of those games that I wanted to like more than I actually did. Despite this—and because of it—I will be keeping an eye on From Software's next project, hoping for a spiritual successor. Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

— by Joseph Boyd

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 50 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time).

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14 Comments on "Demon’s Souls Third Opinion"

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Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 7 months ago

It does actually save your place in a level. Pick up an item, go in and out of your menu screen and ping – saved, right where you are.

If you die, you restart. If you turn off the machine before you die, you’ll be at the last place you did either of the above when you turn it back on.

ZippyDSMlee
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5 years 7 months ago

[quote=Skybane]It saves constantly, with almost every move you make. Just doesn’t save your spot in a level. [/quote]
Quick saving without position or close proximity is not quick saving is dickary to screw with the players progression because they could not think of something better to do…. which is on the other end of Bioshocks no price instant respawnng…

Skybane
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Skybane
5 years 7 months ago

It saves constantly, with almost every move you make. Just doesn’t save your spot in a level.

ZippyDSMlee
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5 years 7 months ago

Game needs optional quick save feature, nuff said.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 7 months ago
When I say black phantoms, I guess I mean other players invading my game. The regular phantoms like Ostrava and others weren’t very problematic though. I’m actually surprised the tower knight one-shotted, I don’t remember him having a strong enough attack for that. Though I imagine not having a stronger melee class might reduce your health significantly. I could just handle more hits I suppose. It must be easier to fool the AI at range, and not just from melee. I haven’t been able to replay the game yet either. I’m sure I will at some point though. I would… Read more »
Joseph Boyd
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Joseph Boyd
5 years 7 months ago
The level where I got hit by the tentacle was the Adjudicator boss fight, although that wasn’t technically a “one-shot kill” since it was the fall that actually killed me (just looked this up: I guess it wasn’t a “tentacle” but was actually his tongue. I never got close to him but killed him at range). Tower Knight and Old Hero one-shotted me with specific attacks. I don’t want to dwell too much on the specific phrase “one-shotted”, as there were several fights where I simply was destroyed by two or three hits in succession, or being knocked off a… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 7 months ago
So, our experiences were completely different. I, personally, was never killed unfairly. Unless you count those damn black phantoms, of course. I will admit the Dragon God was anticlimactic, but I only referred to him because you said someone said they were one-shotted multiple times. If the Dragon God didnt do it, none of the other enemies could. He was more environmental. However, the dragons in the castle… When I shot one, it flew off. When I shot the other, it looked back and breathed fire, then flew off. I guess chalk that one up to world tendency, which I… Read more »
Joseph Boyd
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Joseph Boyd
5 years 7 months ago
First of all, thanks all for the responses. Multiplayer – Earlier drafts of the review did contain these elements, but I wanted to keep the review short enough so as not to get bogged down, and that was some of the fat that got cut off. I concede that the review is limited by not touching on multiplayer. Although I don’t think it is as limited as some of the comments seem to suggest. The comparison between the multiplayer modes of Modern Warfare 2 and Demon’s Souls is not very useful. Multiplayer is an entirely separate mode of MW2 and… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 8 months ago
It was somewhat a critique of the writer, it almost has to be… he wrote the review. It’s a comments section, not just feedback on the writing. Just seems that he played the game in a way that it wasn’t meant to be played. And the review suffered from it. He wants his own opinions, that fine. At least don’t attempt to exploit the game. Anyway, I’m not sure he fully understood the game. As I said, many of the problems he experienced, I did not. That isn’t an agree or disagree problem, that is a “how the hell did… Read more »
RandomRob
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RandomRob
5 years 8 months ago

@Anon- by starting with a statement that you found the review most of the review… well- pointless, your critique of the review sounds more like a critique of the writer, and more of a conversation ender than a starter.

Instead of proceeding from the notion that opinions are right or wrong, try writing as if you respectfully disagree with the ideas.

Peace.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 8 months ago
I found most of the review to be… well, pointless. It’s interesting that I never have the same experience with a game that reviewers do. They speak of flaws or glitches they have found, clipping in your case, that I never experience. When I shot something with an arrow, it came for me, every time. Did not matter what it was, dragon or shield blob thing. For me to get something to fall off a ledge, I had to maneuver it that way… never did it of it’s own accord. Now, the die and start at the beginning “design flaw”.… Read more »
Crofto
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Crofto
5 years 8 months ago
It’s actually refreshing to see a review of the game that highlights a very valid flaw. I know most players of Demon’s Souls immediately want to rip your intestines out as soon as you dare criticise the brutal way it makes you replay the same stuff over and over, but it is a definite design flaw. I’m sorry. I really like the game, and appreciate the core challenge offered (I’d personally score it an impressive 8/10), but I basically took any exploit, tips, guides, or whatever to beat most bosses, rather than beating them properly, purely because completing the same… Read more »
Jeffrey Matulef
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Jeffrey Matulef
5 years 8 months ago
While I liked the game a lot more than Joseph here, I can’t help but agree with all of his criticisms. The lack of checkpoints is an interesting decision and one I fully understand — you’re meant to worry since dying on a boss is a major inconvenience — but after the third time repeating a level it stopped being a challenge and instead became an exercise in tedium since you knew exactly what to do and could pull it off almost every time. I started liking the game A LOT more once I learned to be less stingy with… Read more »
Elvis is Alive!
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Elvis is Alive!
5 years 8 months ago

In your review you make no mention of the online components: the written hint system, the white phantom/bloodstains, or the blue and black phantom invasions. All of these features are integrated into the gameplay and are part of the overall experience.

So while rational and well-written, your review, without addressing this, is quite limited. It would be like reviewing Modern Warfare 2 and not mentioning the multiplayer.

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