Review: Demon's Souls

Josh Tolentino | 22 Jun 2009 21:00
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Fortunately, dying is also where Demon's Souls gets interesting, as it also constitutes the core of the game's online options. When playing online, players will often see ghostly silhouettes scampering about the area. Those represent the other players as they move about in their own worlds, not unlike the "Albion orbs" of Fable II. Additionally, players can leave messages on the ground that others can see. The available messages range from combat hints ("Magic works well here") to hilarious non-sequiturs ("Cute foe ahead"). Messages can be rated, which will reward its author with an automatic health-refill. Thus, you will often see the spots before boss battles littered with glowing messages stating: "I'm getting my butt kicked, please rate this message."

Demon's Souls' cooperative play is also similar to that of Fable II. Phantom-form players can put down a summoning sign that allows living players to invoke them into their game as "blue phantoms"; to work together to pass a stage or beat a boss. Helping a living player defeat a demon boss automatically rewards blue phantoms with their bodies and a return to their own world.

However, unlike Fable II, the phantom-summoning isn't limited to cooperation, and also extends into the PvP space. Phantom players can invade a random player's game as a black phantom, where the task is to stalk and kill that player in what essentially amounts to sanctioned griefing. Managing a successful assassination rewards the black phantom with a free revival; being defeated transfers the would-be assassin's soul points to the intended victim.

This kind of cat-and-mouse play feels incredibly tense, particularly since both characters still have to deal with the already-formidable hazards of the level itself. In fact, fighting another player is the core of one boss fight, where another player is automatically summoned and forced to be the boss in a one-on-one deathmatch, Thunderdome style.

However, the online environment isn't always abounding with multi-player combat. It can be quite difficult to find a match at the higher player levels due to the relative lack of available companions (or opponents). The location of the servers can result in disconnections, unceremoniously kicking players back to the main menu, even in the middle of a boss fight. This causes the players to be forced to redo the boss fight, only now sans any supplies used before the cutoff. But in the end, Demon's Souls manages to inject an uncommon sense of community and motivation into an otherwise solitary (and potentially will-breaking) experience.

Bottom Line: Demon's Souls is definitely not for the faint of heart. It represents a refreshing bastion of hardcore ass-kicking in a world where challenge seems to have been sacrificed in favor of accessibility. Being already in full English, it's hard to imagine why this hasn't been released in the Western market.

Recommendation: If you've been thinking that games have been too wimpy nowadays, import Demon's Souls and celebrate as it chops your face off. Well, that or at least clamor for its release.

Josh Tolentino finds it cute that the voiceovers sound like native Japanese speakers were made to speak ye-olde-English lines in whatever they thought sounded most like a European accent.

--by Josh Tolentino (unangbangkay)

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