Visceral Experiences: A Demon's Souls Impression

I had a couple in mind, titles. The most disturbing was, "Possessed by Demon's Souls"...but I knew that would cause more than just an eyebrow to raise. Getting on, I have recently picked up Demon's Souls for PS3, and wanted to chip in my opinion on this game. In short: it is awesome.

This game is often called hard. For me, hard means difficult to achieve because of execution, not mechanics. To relate that to video games, hard for me is not "your weapons do less damage, and you take fewer hits to be killed." Hard isn't telling someone they can complete a game whatever way they want, then forcing them to use specific skills/abilities at certain points whether you have developed them or not. That isn't hard, that is stupid. It is stupid because it is creating a mechanic that you must work around, stacking the deck against the player in hopes that the player develops the skill to compensate.

I like to think of this as a comparison between Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and Halo, modern examples of the classic argument between simulation and arcade. Games like Mass Effect and Fable are fun, but you would be hard pressed to claim they are realistic. Think, then, of Demon's Souls (DS from now on) as to Fable/Mass Effect as GRAW is to Halo, and we're well on our way.

Combat in DS is built upon the idea that you know your enemy, or are capable of dodging, blocking, avoiding them until you know enough to gut them effectively. You will die. A lot. In annoying ways. For instance, in one level not far in, there are dogs that come streaming down a hallway and lunge at you. They will kill you in short order if you freeze up and don't act, even if wearing thick plate armor. While I was rightly upset about this and had a few choice words...I soon discovered they were actually quite easy to dispatch if I kept my head, used my weapons effectively, and played it slow and defensively. Sure, I got upset, and there are likely other enemies out there which will do the same.

In addition, I actually listened, and I could hear them long before they came after me, and I could tell by the barking they were making whether they had picked up my scent and started after me or not.

Or take the parry/riposte mechanic. This is very difficult to master, and requires split-second timing. But, it does in real life as well. To parry, you must have a weapon or shield capable of parrying, and then when the enemies strike is about to hit you, you hit the parry button. Problem is that not every mob attacks in the same manner, with the same movements, etc. So it takes time to learn the timing with each monster one runs into.

After a successful parry, one can riposte, which does considerable damage. This also requires some timing as the parry action causes only a brief interruption of the enemy attack. But note that the deck isn't stacked against you to get these things done...the game isn't trying to trick you into failing...it just requires that you do it right.

This is not a game for the impatient. If you are used to the casual 12~15 hour to play through the whole game, you will be a fish out of water. If you expect to be a master before picking it up, you are wrong. If you think you will be immune to forgetting you are on a staircase without guardrails with a fall that will kill you, or a precarious pathway with a similar death-ridden impact when you land...you won't be. You will die, and you will have to learn from those deaths or just stop playing all together.

This is a game for the patient and those willing to put in the effort to get better. Martial arts are a good parallel. One cannot decide they are going to master a form in one year and just walk around with impunity. It takes time, dedication, practice and determination. In the same sense, not many games are as devoted to the realistic "wow, it doesn't take much to kill me" mechanics of high-fantasy/medieval combat.

But, in the same sense that enemies can easily dispatch you, again remember that you can do the same. I don't know how many times I have been struggling with an enemy...only to discover some pattern or weakness that makes fighting them considerably easier. Sure, if I screw up, they will demonstrate that they are still very capable of destroying me, but I know that the game hasn't changed at all.

To wrap up this fairly long look at DS, I want to say that knowing the game is going to kick your butt and be merciless about it up front makes a world of difference. I knew that this game would be punishing of errors, and I am glad for it as it forces me to learn from them immediately. And just as with most tasks, when success is earned after a hard fight, a true sense of accomplishment is felt.

So, if you are willing to learn and have the patience to do so, DS is a great game well worth your time, which rewards dedication and patience. If not, you are better spending your time and monies elsewhere.

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