Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Demon's Souls

I picked this game up practically on a whim. The only knowledge I had of it was what my best friend told me off and on, and while that seems like a completely insane way to decide the fate of $60, I figured I could trust his judgment. When I found out that Demon's Souls comes from the makers of the Kings Field series, I started to warm up a bit more, as I loved those games on the Playstation.

I bought my copy on launch day (the sales girl at Gamestop had no idea what it was. Typical) and headed home for play. Sixty hours later, I can't put the damn thing down. This is precisely why I got my Playstation 3: to offer me deep and engaging experiences that I can't find on other consoles. Ah, the benefit of owning more than one machine! Here was an action/RPG that had incredible graphics, great gameplay, a long quest, lots of awesome boss battles, and tons of dungeons to explore. It sounds great, doesn't it?

For the most part, it is. Demon's Souls is a great game that is very rewarding for those who decide to stick with it. The problem is that the initial learning curve is larger than any other game I've played this generation, and the way the whole game works takes some getting used to. Those who stumble into this expecting a traditional RPG set up are going to be disappointed, and they're going to be pretty confused for the first few hours.

For example, players obtain souls when they kill enemies, and these are used for everything you can imagine. There is no money in this game, so you're using souls to buy weapons, spells, the works. You also use these souls to level up, and by "level up" I mean " enhance your abilities." There is no general level per se, and the game offers no experience points at all. Want an archer? Better raise that dexterity. Like casting spells? Work on intelligence. This system lets you create a totally unique character, but it can be a major pain in the ass sometimes. For instance, I started with a temple knight, and I chose to work on improving his magic. Late in the game I found an awesome White Bow, but my dexterity was six levels too low. I spent an hour grinding just to be able to use it. Inconvenient? Yes, but damn was it worth it.

The whole game seems designed to test your patience and determination. Should you die in a level, you're sent back to the beginning, and all the enemies are revived. Yep, you have to do the whole thing all over again. Moreover, all the souls you collected are taken from you, and you have to trek all the way back to where you died to reclaim them. Should you be slain along the way, you lose them permanently. Oh, and did I mention that the game has no pause feature? Yeah, all your curing and equipping is done in real time, so if you're not prepared for a particular battle, you're going to get killed really fast. Fortunately, all the items you found and the doors you opened remain, so you don't have to worry about losing that awesome sword you found just before a skeleton skewered you with a single blow.

That's the allure of Demon's Souls. This game kicks your ass, takes your name and address, and then goes to your house and kicks the ass of everyone in your entire family. It's hard, damn hard, but it's not impossible. That being said, I can certainly see some people getting turned off by it. I know I've already seen a fair share of used copies at Gamestop! The sense of accomplishment you get from killing one of the powerful bosses is immense, and that sense of "I need to explore just a bit farther" keeps pushing you onward.

All this goodness doesn't mean that the game is free of flaws, however. In fact, there are a few things that are downright unforgivable. The no pause thing is a pain in the ass, but being able to only equip two weapons on the left and right hands sucks. Why let me carry all these cool things if I can't use them quickly? I'm forced to go with magic and a shield on the left and a sword and bow on the right. But what if I want to use a talisman to cure myself or cast a miracle (there are both miracles and spells)? I'm screwed, that's what. Also, how come I have more rings than Mr.T but can only equip two? What about my other eight fingers?

Another thing that I don't like is the lock-on feature. It's useless for bows (which thankfully have zoom, that makes shooting easier), and it craps out when you don't want it to or sticks around when you want it to turn off. This can be a serious problem if an enemy leaps at you or closes in. The camera can go nuts in these situations, and the lock-on means you can't get away quickly enough to avoid death.

And you will die, young adventurer. You will die, and often. Being in soul form means you have less energy, but it also means that other players can't invade your game. That's right. Since Demon's Souls is online all the time, you can see the phantoms of other players all around you. Should you be revived by defeating a boss or using a special stone, those other players can invade your game as Black Phantoms. I've heard people say that they like this because it keeps you on your toes and makes things more exciting, but personally, I hate it. I've had two instances where I was exploring a stage, and some idiot invaded my game and killed me. That meant I had to go all the way back to the beginning and do it all again. It was neither exciting nor invigorating. Granted, you can unplug your PS3's ethernet cord and play in peace, but then you don't see the messages of other players and their phantoms, which are useful for figuring out how to tackle specific enemies.

As major as they might sound, none of these problems is game-breaking, and Demon's Souls is just too good to pass up because of them. This is an RPG worthy of both your cash and time, and if you like castles, dragons, and dungeons, this simply must be in your game library.