Demon’s Souls Review

Demon's Souls


  • Developer: From Software
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Platform: PlayStation 3
  • Release Date: October 6, 2009

Although countless dungeon crawlers have been released throughout videogame history, there has never been anything quite like From Software’s Demon’s Souls. This Atlus-published action RPG uses sprawling, atmospheric worlds, haunting game concepts and mechanics, an unconventional control scheme, and formidable difficulty to envelop players in an experience that is easily one of the best of the year.

Amid a thick fog, Demons have descended to claim the souls of the living, and it is up to players to walk a path between spectral and corporeal planes of existence, slaying these beasts and restoring the world to its former, peaceful state. This will take place across five distinct locales, each guarded by up to four major demons (bosses) and a multitude of less epic foes, all of which are unique to the areas that they inhabit.

Demon's Souls

Unlike the throwaway encounters in many other games, Demon’s Souls makes each new confrontation, from the delightfully distinct and often awe-inspiring bosses, right down to the game’s basic enemies, a significant event to be taken very seriously. It is easy to be killed in Demon’s Souls, especially when enemies attack in numbers; a slow, thoughtful approach is usually the most effective. Combined with the already overwhelming supernatural themes and lonely, imposing environments, this instilled sense of danger engages players much like a survival horror title. The fear of the unknown lurking around every corner and the apprehension with which players are forced to proceed through each surreal and, at times, downright creepy world make exploration in this game highly suspenseful and engrossing.

Death is a very fluid concept in Demon’s Souls, and operates like a distant evolution of the ring health system in Sonic the Hedgehog. When players are killed, they lose all of the souls—the game’s currency AND measure of experience—they have collected from killing enemies, and are revived in “soul form” at the beginning of the level. They may then continue as if still alive, but with less health and a slightly augmented difficulty level, until they defeat a major demon or revive using a special item. When they come upon the site of their prior death, they may reclaim their lost souls by touching their own bloodstain, and the only serious loss is time. Dying before reaching the bloodstain forfeits those lost souls forever. The Sonic reference highlights the idea that any isolated death is minimally consequential, but two deaths in a row, without reacquiring what was only temporarily lost the first time, is detrimental to players’ progress.

Leveling a character is immensely important in this oppressive game world, so players may find themselves doing a bit of grinding to earn more souls on more than one occasion. Although an initial character class must be chosen from a list of 10 at the journey’s outset, only by trading souls for stat boosts will a character truly develop into a specialized warrior. Just because a character begins as a knight doesn’t mean he or she can’t ultimately become a powerful magician or priest, and vice-versa. Likewise, a huge list of weapons and armor can be upgraded using souls and ores in a myriad of ways, including many special weapons with powerful effects, each tailored to a different type of character. Two separate (and UNequal) blacksmiths offer different upgrades, making the depth of this tiered upgrade system quite incredible, consistently offering new goals for which players will strive throughout the game.

Demon’s Souls features a unique control scheme that maps left and right hand actions—blocks, parries, normal and strong attacks—to the four shoulder buttons, quick-access consumable items to the square button, and a lock-on/target swap function to the right analog stick. Players can roll out of harm’s way with the circle button and quickly swap equipped weapons, items, and spells with the d-pad. Other intricacies include the ability to wield a weapon with two hands if it is otherwise too heavy for the character to use, or simply to improve its efficacy in battle. This all feels very natural and quickly becomes second nature, although there can be occasional hangups and mistakes related to the lock-on function, and the third-person perspective, action-oriented gameplay, and level construction may leave gamers searching for a jump button that isn’t there.

Players have significant influence over their characters, from stat-building, to equipment management, to in-game action, but there are still elements that make the game feel much bigger than the players themselves. An original online component has been implemented in Demon’s Souls, allowing players to make both positive and negative impacts on others’ games. At any time in online mode, players may select from dozens of phrases (warnings, hints, irrelevant banter, etc.) in the game’s menu and leave them as glowing messages on the ground, viewable by anyone on the server in their own single-player games. Phantom versions of other characters also make short, intermittent appearances as players traverse the same areas at the same times, and soulless bloodstains can be touched to reveal visual playbacks of how others have met their demise at those particular locations. Additionally, special stones allow players to enter others’ games, either to help slay demons, or to kill the host player in exchange for revival from soul form. This intertwining of worlds works well and expands upon the epic feel of Demon’s Souls.

The primary reasons for faulting Demon’s Souls are mostly tantamount to the game’s successes. The game’s difficulty and the slow grind of progress are most likely to repel easily frustrated and impatient players, especially because retreading old ground repeatedly can cause one to become more impatient and try to rush through the familiar parts, only to act carelessly and fall into a cycle of… death and frustration. However, the rush of danger throughout the game and the feelings of conquest that come with each incremental success compensate for (and wouldn’t exist without) these obstacles. Also, the story is not as riveting as the gameplay, but the minimalist approach to narrative complements the desolate atmosphere, and makes players hunt for and piece together lore from the game’s many item descriptions.

Demon’s Souls is a unique and awesome experience. Its immense and immersive world, fine control scheme, deep gameplay, and creative concepts are hampered minimally by the frustration of the grind and a daunting level of difficulty. The game engages players from beginning to end, and keeps calling them back for more. PlayStation 3 owners would be making a mistake to pass up what is one of the best games of 2009 so far.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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