Remember when games were tough? When you'd spend hours trying to master the split second timing to complete a jump on Manic Miner or days building up your skills and knowledge of a dizzy egg game so that you could get closer to completing it? No? Don't remember? Well not to worry as Namco have finally made the decision to bring the brutally brilliant Demon's Souls to the UK, so now we can all relive the sanity wrecking difficulty of old school gaming but along with the glitzy graphics of the PlayStation 3. Demon's Souls is a thunderously audacious game that demands a lot from the modern player, but those patient and brave enough to take it on will be rewarded with a gaming experience unlike any other available. But be warned, it won't make it easy for you.
Set in the besieged world of Boletaria, a land ravaged by demonic corruption and war, you are tasked with lulling a great evil named the old one, back to slumber. To do this you must battle through 5 different worlds, slaying all manner of horrific beasts, collecting their souls and marching on your way to each stage's big boss. Once there you must destroy the arch demon, take its soul and continue onwards on your journey to the old one. A 3rd person hack-n-slash adventure at first glance, Demon's Souls actually has the heart of an incredibly detailed old school RPG. You can choose your character from a selection of 'straight out of the bag' fantasy stereotypes, thieves, knights, barbarians, wizards and so on, or custom build your own from scratch. The choices you make here will greatly affect the types of things your character can achieve through the game and as a result greatly affect how you will play. The difference between the types of characters at first seems superficial but the deeper you delve into the world of Boletaria the more you'll realise just how perfectly tailored each class of warrior is.
In true RPG fashion you upgrade your character's skills by experience points (souls) collected by slaying demons. The bigger and nastier the foe, the greater the souls garnered. But generally every demon provides a significant challenge to dispatch. Whether fighting to survive in storm blasted ruins, deep underground mines, rotting forgotten dungeons or plague ridden swamps every single bad guy that you will meet will be able to kill you in just a couple of hits. Kill you dead. And get used to dying as a significant proportion of foes will kill you in just one. To make matters worse, with no save function or checkpoints to speak of in the entire game, every time you die you are taken back to the start of the level, you lose all the souls you have collected and every bad guy is respawned.
It is precisely because there is so much to lose by dying, and that death is always so near, that the combat in Demon's Souls is consistently heart burstingly brilliant. Every desperate parry, every swipe of a sword and clash of spear on shield matters. You quickly learn to keep your shield up, that mindless swiping does nothing but tire you out, that charging most often leads to failure, and you learn these lessons via dying, a lot. But if stuck with, Demon's Souls' unyielding combat system provides the most rewarding combat you will experience on any console game.
Despite the nigh on impossible odds stacked against a player help is at hand, namely through the assistance of other players. As you venture through Boletaria you will discover hints etched onto the floor by other players, warning you about traps and the best ways to attack upcoming opponents. Furthermore you may summon other players into your world to help you defeat big bosses or join in another player's game to lend them a hand. I've lost count of the number of times a handily written message or the judicial bow of an ally has saved my bacon. I don't have enough time to go into how unique and brilliant the multiplayer aspect of Demon's Souls is, but suffice to say it creates an amazing feeling of "we're all in this together", that players all over the world are uniting to overcome the challenge.
There is so much to Demon's Souls that I haven't mentioned, the creepy atmosphere and rich detail of the levels, the tendency system that shifts worlds into darkness or light depending on the actions of the player, the magic system, and the grotesque creativity in the design of the creatures you'll encounter. I absolutely loved it but Demon's Souls unique elements and unrelenting difficulty level don't make it a game for everyone. However those who are willing to put the hours in will be rewarded with a breathtaking experience that just gets deeper and deeper.
9.5 out of 10
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