by Chris Fox
In 2009 a little action RPG was released for the Playstation 3 entitled Demon's Souls. I didn't play it then, god knows what "very important" things I was doing at the time, but I should have. I heard such sound bytes as "inability to pause" and "really fucking hard" and I thought, "you know what? Not for me". Then I remembered that I love challenging, ball-breaking games and so finally in mid 2011, I began the epic grind-quest that is Demon's Souls. I'd made it to the party. Albeit a little late.
The opening cutscene fills the screen with it's Tolkien-esque epic-icity. Some kingdom is overrun with a seemingly insurmountable number of the Demons in question and it's your job as the hero to send them back from whence they came. Pretty standard, fantasy RPG wise. Next up, again as expected, came the usual highly in depth character customisation. What was not expected however, was that gender was assigned to a slider. I found this most amusing. With my Knight ready to go, I begin...
The incredible atmosphere of Demon's Souls smacks you in the face as soon as you begin play. The desolation that envelopes the senses (thanks to "The Fog") is truly something to behold. Very little music is used, instead the clanging of armour and blowing of viscous winds serve as the soundtrack. This is an atmosphere so thick you can slice it with a battle axe. As well as this, the game is attached to a real world weight. Your character's heavy armour can truly be empathised with as he (or she, depending on the slider) dives out of trouble.
Progressing through the tutorial seemed simple enough and gave me plenty of time to experience the sense of loneliness that the game piles on. Aside from the enemies, the only sign of life comes in the form of the ghosts of other users as they float silently passed. These apparitions represent people also playing the game right now and what a clever use of online functionality this is. No unnecessary multiplayer mode shoe-horned in at the last minute for Demon's Souls. The only downside is that there were times when I wanted to interact with these other players, but all I could do was jump up and down wildly in front of them. So, in fact it's exactly the same way I communicate with people in every other game.
The thrill of my first parry/riposte resonates strongly. These foes have been no match for me. Wasn't this game supposed to be hard? Through the next door I am greeted by some humongous, gelatinous pig-thing who proceeds to squash me so quickly it is as if I have had prior dealings with it's spouse or significant other. From this point forward I die. A lot. Demon's Souls isn't just a hard game, it is unforgivable. It punishes negligence so utterly that many weaker willed would-be heroes will hang up their gauntlets fairly early on. Every death has the user respawned at the beginning of the level. Oh, and the enemies respawn too. Carelessness will not be tolerated.
The difficulty of the game really shines through in the world weary cries of your vanquished foes. The appearances of said foes seem to be somewhat random as well. As apposed to a God of War style area which locks the user in a room full of enemies, the sporadic encounters with these enemies is quite refreshing. Demon's Souls' battle mechanics make the user feel as if they are actually in control, rather than activating what can only be described as a cutscene (another arguable sin of contemporary titles). This is an old school game, make no mistake. Gamers who have become too accustomed to today's spoon-feeding may be in for a shock. But the rewards are all the richer for persevering.
Demon's Souls is a deep, fully immersing experience that I have, it seems, barely scratched the surface of. The lack of a pause functionality is certainly a bold move but that aside, if have not yet sampled this title I implore you to as soon as you can. The spiritual sequel, Dark Souls, is right around the corner, hitting the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 this October. All I can say is when people ask me where I was or what I was doing when Amy Winehouse died I will simply reply, "Playing Demon's Souls".