Review: Demon’s Souls

Demon’s Souls is a western-looking but Japanese made ‘RPG’ – in the loosest sense of the word – which has become somewhat notorious, even legendary, for its ‘challenging’ difficulty and it’s old-school ‘hardcore’ sensibilities. Something which has made it a bit of a hit with ‘hardcore’ gamers.

This view of the game is horseshit, based on false nostalgia and a failure to recognise that things are a damn sight better these days and that technology has taken us beyond the conditions that made old-school games, necessarily, difficult.

A mysterious fog has enveloped a kingdom and all word from within has been cut off. The greatest heroes and adventurers from beyond this land have ventured into this fog and none have returned. Being a masochistic dipshit who can’t take a hint like any reasonable person, you’ve followed them into the fog only to be annihilated in turn by a giant demon and waking up, a lost soul, in a weird cathedral like space called The Nexus where, it turns out, you have to venture forth as a sort of ghost in order to collect enough demon souls to reincarnate and take on the forces of evil lurking in the fog.

There’s a massive difference between ‘challenging’ and ‘fucking with you’. Demon’s Souls is very much in the latter camp. The game is not difficult in an honest way but, rather, seeks to deliberately screw with you in order to make the game as difficult as possible, not for any real story reason but just out of pure sadism and the desire to create a ‘challenging’ game experience. This sadistic (and not in the fun kinky way) ethos infects the entire game from the premise and execution of the ‘reincarnation’ gameplay to the exacting timing needed for any of the special moves and actions to work, right down to the control method selection. You’ll repeat things over and over and over the slightest mess up means you’ll have to play the whole level all over again, right from the start.

When you’re playing through the levels to gather enough souls to reincarnate you’re on half health, so in order to play a level normally you’re expected to complete it on a higher difficulty to start with, ludicrous.


You can’t even pause for chrissakes and every time you do fail at a level, you go right back to the start, lose ALL your gains and all the enemies respawn.

The controls seem straightforward to start with, the usual move, block, attack, swap-weapons and swap items controls. The problem comes about with their deeper implications, the combinations and timings of what you’re trying to do and the layout of the controls seems to have been deliberately chosen to make fighting and so on even more difficult. For example, you get a parry/riposte manouevre and a jump-back move that are both meant to protect you in combat. They don’t unless you’re somehow blessed with Neo-like reflexes that slow down time to a crawl allowing you to hit the femtosecond long period in which such moves are effective.

There isn’t a huge amount of atmosphere, despite the nice intro and the fairly lengthy explanations of the background. The levels have all the soul and character of an assault course and other than ‘collecting souls’ you have little to no reason or understanding as to why you’re repeatedly going over the same, grindingly-dull fights and one-shot kills of your character over and over again in the vain hope of lady-luck striking and you being able to progress to another level of frustrating, repeated death.

The game is pretty enough but a little off, a western style RPG that feels as though it was made by someone working on second-hand descriptions that they didn’t quite get. It’s dark, nasty feeling, the bad guys – at least the ones I saw – are spooky enough and not over-the-top as they can be in many games. Skeletons, mad-men, demons and the possessed. We didn’t make it past the first proper level though, so I can’t tell you anything about the later sections.

Old school games were tough because there often wasn’t the technology to save your position, so you had to play them in one sitting. They were also often difficult because difficulty was a way of adding longevity to a game when you didn’t have so much storage and memory to play with and couldn’t necessarily have shitloads of levels for people to play in.

Old is not always better, that’s a logical fallacy. We have the technology now to make games that aren’t pixel-bitching snorefests and enough storage that games can have a lot more play and story value without forcing you to beat your head against a wall six-hundred times to progress.

I think this is part of some backlash against the Wii, Kinect, DS etc and the casual game/kiddy game/’girl game’ and their percieved level of easiness but I think how games have actually developed is more into interactive entertainment. I don’t generally play a game on hard, rather I normally choose easy or normal as I want to balance the pleasure of accomplishment with not being horribly frustrated – plus I don’t have a huge amount of time to invest in these games and I use them as a break.

I remember old-school games and while they were difficult, they didn’t deliberately set out to fuck with you. The controls weren’t deliberately foxed, special moves might be difficult – but they were possible. If an old-school game was a difficult mountain climb, Demon’s Souls was a difficult mountain climb made worse by being forced to wear lead shoes and having a rabid weasel stuffed down your pants.

In summary, about as much fun as volunteering to be raped with the Se7en strap on, sans lube.

On the Plus Side

  • Pretty graphics, but that’s par for the course these days.
  • We didn’t pay full price.
  • Deep but ultimately pointless character customisation (like painting the sistine chapel on a conker).

On the Minus Side

  • Sadistically difficult.
  • Incoherent.
  • Controller-breakingly frustrating.

Style 2
Substance 1
Overall 1.5