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Set against a medieval fantasy world, Demon's Souls on PS3 is a new third person action role-play game that constantly punishes the player and offers little of the hand holding seen in most modern games. It is a dark, depressing world that does little to entice the player to come back, yet somehow it has me captivated.
The game started unceremoniously by thrusting me into my task of freeing the kingdom of Boletaria from an unimaginable soul devouring evil. My character determinedly marched through darkness towards a glowing light as a ghostly voice told of the horrors that had befallen the land. I knew little of what lay ahead, and the game wasn't going to tell me any more without a fight.
Entering Boletaria gave me an immediate sense of oppression. A desolate kingdom in ruin, its only life coming from shambling grey beings that lug rusted weapons behind them. These animated corpses came at me with out reason; I killed each in turn and trudged on through the dark castle.
As I fought my way through the corridors I wondered what the fuss had been about online about the games punishing difficulty. The fodder thrown at me seemed to barely warrant breaking a sweat. Then I entered the final chamber. The stomach of a huge creature filled the screen, it killed me. Seconds later I reappeared as a spirit in the Nexus, Demon's Souls' hub world.
Entering Boletaria gave me an immediate sense of oppression. A desolate kingdom in ruin, its only life coming from shambling grey beings that lug rusted weapons behind them.
Demon's Souls on PlayStation 3 is a game that forces the players to inch their way forward. Every turn is a new opportunity for death - be it from stumbling upon an over powered enemy or falling down a hole; trial and error is a necessity. Death proves only a minor setback though, only robbing the player of souls (experience), which can be recovered if you find the bloodstain that marks your last resting place. Yet the game even makes this feel like too much of a risk to take, ensuring caution at every turn.
Demon's Souls instils a fear of everything, because anything can kill you. If your health is low even the lowliest grunt can be your undoing. If you are careful though, these missteps can be manageable, but I am rarely cautious. On more than one occasion I entered an area I have no business venturing in to. My overconfidence soon saw me slaughtered, leaving my soul filled bloodstain tantalizingly out of reach of my still underpowered hero.
On one occasion in particular my quest to recover lost souls drove me to despair. After battling a huge spider demon, my success left me emboldened. This newfound confidence pushed me forward. Instead of banking my experience in the Nexus I foolishly ran on, past opponents who would cause me no trouble. Eventually I found myself at a dead end, and cornered by five enemies who had perused me. In isolation these aggressors would have proved little more than a minor irritation but in force they quickly cut me down. After I rematerialized I could see my precious blood at the end of the trail. I attempted to inch my way carefully forward, attempting to pick off the weaker opponents in isolation. My struggles alerted the pack, and I was overwhelmed once more, losing me my life and the spoils of victory. Controller smashing frustration instantly replaced my nervous fear, but it didn't stop me heading straight back to playing.
They sit in stark contrast against the grim, hostile world; their glow a comforting warmth, a reminder that I was not alone.
It isn't all darkened solitude, Demon's Souls also has an inventive online component. Ghostly apparitions of other players can be seen around you, and glowing messages from them radiate on the floor. As I played these flashes of colour always caught my attention. They sit in stark contrast against the grim, hostile world; their glow a comforting warmth, a reminder that I was not alone. Messages range from simple comments and advice to offers of help from players willing to manifest in your game world. I stopped to look at one, hopeful, it said ‘Behind you...' I get stabbed in the back and die. Again, I ram my controller in to the arm of my chair.
Demon's Souls is a game that will divide opinion. The oppressive environments, lack of direction and inability to pause mean that the player must be willing to set aside large chunks of time to enable them to deliberately grind through the game if they hope to make any progress. It takes a specific kind of person to enjoy this kind of punishment, but for those masochists to whom this sounds appealing it is a game with few rivals. It provides hours of tense, nerve fraying gameplay and sits as something truly different from other titles currently available.
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