By now, most console gamers have heard tales of Demon’s Souls and its brutal difficulty, with its horror stories of ruthless player-killers and impossible levels. Some gamers took these horror stories as challenge to their abilities, giving them a desire to buy the game and prove that it was not actually that difficult. At the same time, however, other gamers were turned off by the difficulty. While it is no cakewalk, Demon’s Souls is never unfair in its difficulty; all monsters have one or two major weaknesses players can exploit, and all of the traps, enemies, and bosses in a level follow easy-to learn-patterns. Thankfully, there are not any overpowered or underpowered classes in the game, instead players are given complete control over character progression, with all spells and equipment being available to every starting class. Sadly, due to Demon’s Souls being two years old, the game’s multiplayer function is not widely used, and those who do use it will be a much higher level than players just starting out. With Dark Souls having just been released the day before this review post, any gamers on the fence about picking it up should definitely try Demon’s Souls out first, and any gamers lucky enough to enjoy Dark Souls on release day should not pass up the original if they are looking for more demon hunting frustration.
Demon’s Souls is hard, at least on the first time through. The enemies and traps within levels always start at the same position, and the enemies’ attack patterns are usually very easy to learn. The enemies in each level do not vary that much, and almost always include a weak poorly equipped monster, a lightly equipped variation of the weak monster, and a very strong or heavily armored monster. Thankfully, due to the small variation in enemies, all of the enemies in a level end up sharing the same weaknesses, and after a few minutes of trial and error in each area players can figure out which weapons to rely on. For example, every enemy in the first level is weak to fire, even the boss. Fans of older RPGs or action games will have no problem figuring out enemy weaknesses and attack patterns.
Not every gamer can memorize the frame-by-frame movement of an enemy, though, and for those of us that have a hard time with it, the RPG elements of the game save the day, while reflexes and memorization take the back seat. Rather than leveling up and following predetermined class progression routes, players are able to add points to their character’s ability scores one by one, making it is possible for one character to wield every weapon and spell without investing much time into level grinding. Along with ability upgrades, players can take each of the game’s weapons through various upgrade trees, creating weapons that poison, burn, or pull their strength from dexterity or intelligence, rather than strength. Most character builds the average player will dream up remain pretty balanced, thanks to the weapon system, and even with high ability scores and a fully upgraded weapon, players will still find the game challenging. Any player looking to break the game wide open for an easy playthrough, however, should consider using a character centered on magic.
The best part of Demon’s Souls is definitely the boss fight at the end of each level. Unlike the long and difficult level leading up to the fight, most boss battles are very easy. With the exception of two fights, the bosses are usually large and slow moving, giving patient players all the time they need to slowly learn the boss’s weakness and chip away at its health cautiously. Like a death anywhere else in the level, dying during a boss battle will send a player crying back to the start of the level, and unlike generic level monsters, bosses hit extremely hard, making defense and evasion an absolute must. Each boss fight is totally unique, ranging from slime blobs, Ifrit-like demons, and massive Gundam-like knights. Sadly, there is no way to re-fight bosses without using the game’s multiplayer functions or New Game+ options.
While the difficulty might be a deal breaker for some gamers already, Demon’s Souls has a few other small flaws. The multiplayer system, while innovative, can make playing with friends a chore; rather than forming parties in a hub city, like most online RPGs, players in soul form can be summoned to the worlds of players in human form, something which requires rare consumable items or the death of a boss to reach. The story of Demon’s Souls is rather simplistic, with only a handful of introductory cut scenes and dialogue to get the player up to speed with the affairs of the Nexus, and while each level has some introductory text to provide back story, the game lacks any active narration for players, meaning players must rely purely on the desire to crush the next boss in order to push themselves through the harder parts of the game. Once a player learns the patterns of the common enemies, the game relies on its levels for the difficulty, which results in some massive labyrinthine levels that require a great deal of luck to finish quickly.
Fans of the Monster Hunter series will likely have the patience to enjoy Demon’s Souls to the very end, but others will definitely have to rely on friends or self-motivation to push themselves through the game. Due to the similarities between Dark and Demon’s Souls, anyone waiting for reviews or price drops before picking up Dark Souls should instead treat Demon’s Souls like a demo for Dark, and pick up a cheap used copy in order to form one’s own opinions on the series, or to hold oneself over until the eventual price cut. For any readers that now find themselves scoffing at the claims of difficulty, or shouting “Entire review is by baby!” in a Russian accent, know that Demon’s Souls scoffs back and will offer anyone with this mindset a challenging surprise.