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Demon's Souls PS3 is tough in the way that games used to be tough. But this harsh master was a perfect way to lay to rest frustrations of all those impossible games I tried to fruitlessly complete while I was growing up.
Back when I first played games it wasn't unusual to get frustrated to the point of hair loss. I would often gnash my teeth and wail at the insane difficulty. But since returning to gaming I've realised this is the experience that I am now after. For this reason, I loved and hated Demon's Souls more than a little.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World on the Sega Master System 2 was, to my mind, just as hard as Demon's Souls. In the days before you could save your game, if you died and had no lives left, it was game over and back to square one.
The game came pre-installed on the machine. If you turned it on without inserting a cartridge, Alex Kidd was loaded. It was a standard platforming challenge - go from point A to point B trying not to get killed, collecting power ups and extra lives as you go. It involved all of the usual hazards - fire, water, spikes, frogmen and featured end of level bosses who challenged you to rock, paper, scissors matches before you could progress. Oh, and a shop that allowed you to purchase cool stuff - like a motorbike.
Even though the difficulty level increased the further I progressed, I was happy to work at it. This all built towards the final boss battle. And that was where I came unstuck. I got all the way there, building up lives over the hours and hours of play, but could never defeat him.
Such was my disdain that my parents threatened to take away the "computer" if I couldn't calm down. To get all that way and end up having to start all over again nearly brought me to tears. Suffice to say, I never actually finished the game having decided that I didn't need that level of anger in relation to a game.
Demon's Souls PS3 brought all this flooding back.
Demon's Souls PS3 brought all this flooding back. It really is that tough. You need to think and experiment and think some more. You will die, repeatedly, before you get a handle on how the game works and how you progress.
It doesn't help that it's not linear. This isn't an "arrive at castle courtyard, kill all zombies, move to next location, kill all zombies eventually end up at the boss" type of game, even though it appears like that at first. In fact, treat it like that and you will end up throwing things at your TV.
Softly, softly is the best approach to begin with. Demon's Souls is very much about venturing, learning, dying and coming back to try again.
Levelling up is not done on the move but requires travelling back to The Nexus which is a safe haven for your character. Progression involves spending time travelling through a level collecting souls and then hightailing it back to The Nexus to use them.
This actually worked well for me - because these days I only have short periods of time in which to play. I could explore part of a level, learn how to defeat the enemies and then come back next time and do it more quickly.
However, there is a drawback. You spend an hour battling through a level, killing everything that needs to be killed and then decide to go back to The Nexus to upgrade a weapon. But when you get back, everything that you killed has been brought back to life and you need to defeat them all over again. As you progress through a level, you open up shortcuts that will allow you to get back to earlier areas more quickly but it still involves battling through resurrected foes.
Demon's Souls provides genuine punch the air moments when you figure out a strategy that works.
Demon's Souls is split into five worlds each with at least three areas so there is plenty of scope for spending half an hour here or an hour there. A note of caution though, once you start learning how to play the game (ed: learning to play, what a novel idea these days) it can really suck you in. It encourages you to reach a little bit further, to explore around the next corner, to see whether that next enemy is stronger than the last. Every time you play is a learning experience that allows you to delve further and avoid death for a little bit longer.
It's this ever changing difficulty that is the make or break for a Demon's Souls wannabe. I can imagine that some people will get so frustrated that they will take the disc out and never put it back in again.
For me, the difficulty is actually what brings me back time and again. It creates an ever growing desire, maybe need, to defeat the boss that has been giving me beating after beating. Demon's Souls provides genuine punch the air moments when you figure out a strategy that works and you see the boss that you have struggled against falling to your new tactic or your upgraded weapons.
It all adds to my desire to go on to the next boss and see what challenges it presents. To rectify the mistakes made travelling through a level the first time. To collect all of the weapons and armour and other goodies hidden in the levels. To exorcise my Alex Kidd demons, quite literally.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: