Editor’s note: As any regular reader knows, I think Demon’s Souls is the most brilliantly designed game of last year. I really hope that developers are inspired and adopt the title’s ability to synthesize many different mechanics into one, smooth experience. Tony is also enamored with this dark fantasy adventure and recommends that you look past the infatuation journalists displayed with difficulty. -Rob


Now that the holidays are behind us, I want to look back at one of last year’s most impactful titles — Demon’s Souls.

Many of you likely didn’t play the game. Demon’s Souls is a PlayStation 3 exclusive, but more importantly, the title was very quickly labeled as being one of the most difficult experiences of the past decade.

This isn’t a review, nor is meant to be a diatribe about an overlooked gem. Rather, I merely hope to shed a little more light on this oft misunderstood adventure.

Demon's Souls: Dragon God

Unfortunately, the professional press — despite giving mostly glowing reviews — have frightened off many would-be adventurers with tales of “brutal challenge,” “incredibly strict gameplay,” and loss of all progress with little recourse. Let’s sift through the haze, shall we?

 

First and foremost, Demon’s Souls is not an “impossible” game; the gameplay is not cheap or completely unforgiving. As far as role-playing games go, this dark fantasy title is incredibly refreshing in spite of a reliance on many age-old conventions.

Although an incredible amount of depth in terms of building one’s character and influencing the world of Boletaria shapes the game, Demon’s Souls is actually more of a survival-horror adventure than anything else. Most enemies spawn at precisely the same locations, the atmosphere is unbelievably foreboding and nuanced, and you’ll likely still feel greatly intimidated by the creatures and world late in the game.

I say Demon’s Souls is more of a survival-horror adventure than an RPG because the game is more focused on staying alive than merely increasing levels in hopes of eventually plowing through low-level enemies.

Demon's Souls: Penetrator

No really weak adversaries populate the game; things just don’t work that way in Demon’s Souls. You can put 20 to 30 hours into increasing the soul level of your character, but even the lowly guards and dreglings of the first area will still pose a significant threat if you’re not careful.

What’s the bottom line? Boletaria is always a dangerous place.

Does this mean the game is solely meant for the “hardcore” crowd or folks who revel in masochism? In this gamer’s humble opinion, no. The reality is that the game is designed to give players a very specific type of experience — one that is engaging, rewarding, and completely immersive.

If I had to point at one particular element of Demon’s Souls as the game’s defining quality, I’d probably have to go with attrition. The trait is in almost every fiber of the game, which — undoubtedly — forces you to pay attention at all times and respect the severity of your situation, regardless of how powerful you may think you have built up your character.

Demon's Souls: Valley of Defilement

Speaking more specifically, stamina is probably the one gameplay mechanic that grounds Demon’s Souls in a very unique way. The concept of stamina is nothing new; however, when coupled with the game’s combat and control style, stamina is definitely a very — if not the most — important factor of gameplay.

When your character attacks, rolls, or blocks, he uses stamina. There are no endless combos. If you aren’t mindful of your stamina bar at all times during an encounter, you could very easily leave yourself open to a fatal attack.

The amount of weight your character carries is also a major part of how he performs. Although this, too, isn’t something we haven’t seen before, equipment burden is a gameplay device you don’t usually experience in real-time.

If your hero’s equipment exceeds half his maximum load, he’ll begin to move slower; his rolls are delayed and more lumbering, and he cannot attack as fast. If you push your character past his maximum capacity, he will actually become stunned when trying to roll or dodge.

Demon's Souls: Tower of Latria

These are some of the fundamentals of Demon’s Souls that many folks might find difficult to accept immediately because — though not new as gameplay devices — they’re completely fresh in terms of design and how the player experiences them during the action.

That being said, Demon’s Souls is very much a modern adventure that any type of gamer can enjoy. Hardcore gamers don’t have a monopoly on patience, and really, that’s all that’s required of you beyond a sense of adventure.

Demon’s Souls is one of the most exciting, challenging, and — thankfully — rewarding games that came out last year. If you’ve been holding off playing the title for fear of not being able to break past the level of difficulty, do yourself a favor and at least rent the game. If anything, the atmosphere is what may not be necessarily for everyone, not the challenge. But no one should be afraid of what awaits him in Boletaria.