Demon's Souls Review
Demon's Souls box art
System: PS3 Review Rating Legend
Dev: From Software 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Atlus USA 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Oct 6, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 (3 Online) 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Dungeon-Crawling: Evolved
by Amanda L. Kondolojy

As strange as it sounds, the dungeon-crawling RPG has really been making a comeback in the past few years. This very basic formula entails a take-no-prisoners format that involves a character (or party) entering a special level where saving is disabled and death means a restart.

Demon's Souls screenshot

Although this sounds pretty harsh, games like Izuna the Unemployed Ninja and Pokémon: Mystery Dungeon have applied the formula to varying degrees and achieved moderate success. However, none of these dungeon-crawlers have really evolved the franchise or pushed it past the Roguelike archetype in any way. This is where Demon's Souls comes in. This dungeon-crawler does things in a radically different way, and the results are nothing short of extraordinary.

The biggest difference between Demon's Souls and a traditional Roguelike dungeon-crawler lies in its battle system. Instead of having a traditional grid or turn-based battle system, Demon's Souls features a completely active, action-oriented battle system. But don't be fooled, there is still plenty of strategic elements in the title. When you start off the game, you'll have to choose a class. There are ten classes in total, which include staples like the magician, who can use high-range magic attacks, and the knight, who can wield stronger swords and is most effective in close combat. There are also some new classes, which include the wanderer, who does not have much defense but very high offense, and the royal, who starts off with a very high level of magic but few other natural skills.

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Once you pick a class, your journey will start. The game starts off with a tutorial where you will be thrust headlong into battle against some generic demons that don't seem to fight back very much. The game will give you the gist of the controls through a message system that allows you to read notes on the ground. The game's control is very complex, and taking your time in the tutorial is key for success in the game. Although you might be tempted to run through the tutorial and get to the meat of the game, don't - there's a nasty surprise waiting for you at the end.

After you get past all the brain-dead enemies, the difficulty level goes through the roof and you are confronted with a giant Ogre-looking boss that hurls devastating attacks at you and you will die. Although the boss has a life bar, and it may seem that you can defeat him, you can't. When you die, you will lose your soul and subsequently be transported to another realm called the Nexus. This is where all warriors go when they die. This area acts as the game's main hub, and it will be from here that you access all of the game's dungeons.

Demon's Souls screenshot

However, if you go into these dungeons expecting the same, easily knocked-over foes like the enemies at the beginning, you will be sorely mistaken. Demon's Souls is by far the hardest dungeon-crawler I have ever played, and it is quite possibly the hardest ever made. Say what you will about Rogue or Shiren the Wanderer, this one bests them all in terms of intensity and difficulty. The game only features five dungeons, and after the first few hours of gameplay, it is easy to see why. To get through a dungeon, you'll need several things: a strong command of active combat strategy, good equipment, level memorization, and patience - perhaps the latter more than anything.

The combat system, as I have said before, is completely active and almost plays like a traditional action-RPG. Your character will be able to wield several weapons/shields at a time, and each can be controlled using the PS3's shoulder buttons. In addition to basic weapon functions, you can also parry and assume several other defensive positions by pressing multiple buttons at once. Your character will also have a class specific ability that can be engaged with the touch of a button. However, simply equipping and using the right weapons only comprises a small part of the strategy you'll need to employ in the game.

Demon's Souls screenshot

The core of the battle system lies in a unique stamina-based element. After every hit, your stamina bar will drop to half or lower, but it will replenish in a matter of seconds. This is important because if you are face-to-face with an enemy, it is natural to want to hammer on the attack button until the enemy has been defeated. However, this will generally not produce very good results for a multitude of reasons. When the stamina bar is low, you can still hit, but your hits will not be very effective. If you try and hit when the stamina bar has been depleted completely, then you run the risk of your attack missing altogether and you will be open to an attack from the enemy. As I found out countless times, just running up to an enemy and attacking with all your might will get you killed in a hurry. Instead, you have to master a strategy where you can balance full-stamina attacks with blocking, parrying, and jumping out of the way in order to maximize each blow's potential. This battle system is extremely complex, and depending on the enemy, you'll have to get pretty creative with your strategy. However, this is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. Though running into battle and losing over and over again is very disheartening, formulating new strategies is a blast and finding one that works is a great feeling.

Screenshots / Images
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