To make a long story short, Demon's Souls is the game that kicks your ass and leaves you wanting more.

To make a short story long, Demon's Souls is one of the few RPGs I've ever seen that has both tried to break the mold, and done so successfully.

From basic descriptions, the game seems like a slow, turn-based, stat-reliant "J-RPG" like so many Final Fantasies before it. In actuality, playing it for even a minute will reveal that it is what one would call an "Action-RPG", along the lines of your Devil May Crys and God of Wars. Running, dodging, swiping, stabbing, blocking and parrying are all done with buttons on your controller, in real-time. However, the differences that Demon's Souls has from these action-oriented games becomes obvious very quickly.

First and foremost, you will die. Oh, will you ever die. You may think, "Get real grandpa, I'm good at video games!". As good as you are, unless you're the kind of person who can do an entire run of Contra without getting hit once on their first playthrough, you will die in Demon's Souls. Probably a lot. But it's not cheap death. You'll not just be running through a hallway, when the ceiling falls on you without warning. No, the only thing you can blame your death on is your own actions. Odds are you'll die in battle, like a real man. Unless you are some kind of girly man, who accidentally walks into fire and burns to death, like myself. You aren't a girly man, are you?

Where was I? Right. Battle. Battle is the key feature of the gameplay, and gameplay is the key feature of Demon's Souls. Fights are difficult. They’re not especially fast, but if you fail to dodge or block a simple attack, expect to lose a good quarter of your health at least. Combine how carefully you should be acting, with the fact that you’ll probably have about three guys on you at once, and you have a very high chance of getting your shit ruined. After you get a little comfortable with the concept of combat, you’ll start to come across different kinds of weapons, each controlling differently.

You equip any of your weapons and shields onto either of your arms. Each arm can hold a maximum of two items that you can swap at any time. The difference between arms is that your left is like your "off-hand". You can use whatever is on your left arm to block, parry, or even do some quick attacks. Your right arm is obviously your dominant one, and whatever you equip here is used solely to attack. Yes, even with shields. So combinations such as sword and shield, two spears, crossbow and axe, and even (an instant classic) two shields are possible. And there's no "best" combination. It all comes down to what you like using.

Now, the thing I find most interesting about this "left arm, right arm" business is that you have yet another option. You can, by pressing a button, use both hands to wield whatever you have on your right arm. While no longer letting you parry or use off-hand items in this stance, all of your attacks are nearly twice as powerful. A very tactical decision, indeed.

Like with any RPG, lengthy stats are unavoidable, and Demon’s Souls has it’s fair share of stat-tracking. Everything up to how well swords can block incoming attacks are included in every item’s “details” window. There are, of course, stats for your character as well, but those are a little more obvious, and I'd rather not bore you to death with that. Instead, I will talk about the most important and sought-after item in the game.

Souls. These are your crack. You will come to crave these more than any new sword or helmet. Why? Because souls are the universal currency in Demon’s Souls. You spend souls in exchange for items from merchants, and also to “buy” more points to put into your character’s stats. You get souls from every enemy you defeat, and you even simply find some, in the form of usable “soul capsules”.

“Okay, so they’re both XP and gold. Why not just keep grinding and saving them all up?” you may ask. Well, because you can’t. Whenever you die, you lose all of the souls you had, and respawn at the start of the level. The only exception are the rare and finite “soul capsules” you will find scattered throughout the levels. But such is the great dilemma of Demon’s Souls. You must fight enemies for more souls, but in doing so, you risk losing them all. Well, I guess there is some respite. If you can get all the way back to where you were when you died (which isn’t always easy, since all the enemies respawn when you do), you can stare into your blood splotch and get all those tasty, tasty, souls back.

However, Demon’s Souls is not just you and the game. Every other player is impacting your experience as well. As long as you’re online, players can leave behind messages for others to read, that will appear in the level you’re in. These messages will stick around longer if other players recommend the messages, giving them a virtual “thumbs up”. At the same time a message gets recommended, the poster of the message gets fully healed, so it should be in everyone’s best interest to post helpful messages that will get lots of recommendations. However, get ready to see “PLEASE RECOMMEND THIS MESSAGE” everywhere regardless.

But of course, if you need actual help, you can bring other players themselves into your game. By activating a sign left by them, you can call the player into the level you’re in so that the both of you can double-team anything that you come across. But just as much as that would help, other players can choose to hinder you for their own means. At any time, a player can “invade” your world, appearing in the level to do everything in their power to kick your ass. Of course, all of the level’s enemies still want the same thing as well.

Well, I guess if you’re still reading this, then that means Demon’s Souls is interesting enough for you to try out. If you play video games at all, and find most games of recent to be too easy, then by all means, just… just play the damn thing. Goddamn, I promise my next review will be half this long or shorter. Just get off the damn computer and play some video games. I know I am.

Written November 12, 2009

(completed levels 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 3-1, 4-1, and almost completed 1-3. Soul Level 41.)