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This article is targeted at those of us who usually stay away from games that are very unforgiving, punishing, harsh, and brutal. I’m talking about games that come to be characterized by long corpse runs, loss of items upon death, or which require you to start all over if you die at all. Demon’s Souls is such a game …but it’s much more forgiving than it lets on. If you just give this game a chance, just play it through the first level of World 1 to success, anyone can see this game isn’t as tough as it let’s on.

The time is ripe for a late article about this game because soon it’s spiritual successor will release this October: Dark Souls. This is what prompted me to pull this old game off my shelf and have another play through. Like many gamers, whenever a sequel is coming out I try to catch myself up on the old versions and get back into the groove of the story.

Demon’s Souls is a dark, terrifying game. No really, it’s pretty terrifying. It’s not just the suspense of what’s lurking around the corner, or the knowledge that if you die you’ll have to do everything all over again, or the creepy environments with equally creepy sounds that keep the hairs on your arms standing. What’s terrifying about this game is the fact that it’s truly just kind of scary. The story is unique which is complimented by equally unique gameplay. You’ll literally be afraid for your life! But in a really gratifying sort of way. It’s hard to really chew down on what makes this such a great game, so I’ll sum it up by stating it got the RPG aspects perfect.

The object of the game is the kill the arch demons which have taken over the kingdom and eventually to destroy the source of evil once and for all. You begin as a soul, because you’ve died and been saved by the keepers of the Nexus. Hope is not lost for you …if you can get through 1-1, you can retrieve your body and be restored to full health.

This game is deceptively punishing. On the one hand, losing your body throughout gameplay means you have to beat the levels with only half of your health. On the other hand, once you really learn what the game is all about and how to get around, the brutality of it all minimizes. Due to the unique way the levels and gameplay are crafted, the game succeeds at making you a better player after every defeat. Before you know it, you’re winning far more than you’re losing and the difficulty level actually decreases as the game goes on, because you’re tactically a better player.

As you conquer levels you earn souls which can be used to upgrade your equipment and upgrade your skills. The deeper into the worlds you get, the greater the cost to improve your skills. Unlike the item inflation that happens in most RPGs, Demon’s Souls offers very few items in terms of the total number of unique ones in the game. However, item acquisition is much more rewarding in this game partially for that reason. The other reason is that when a unique item drops its extraordinarily useful. For example, you don’t find armor sets one item at a time. When you come across a set, you find the entire set. Unique enemies can drop the very weapons they use to fight you. Item acquisition is both daunting and immensely rewarding. Furthermore, you don’t really replace the items you find. Equipment is situational, so you just swap for the right fight and you get to make it more powerful through NPC allies.

One more feature that has a really ingenious implementation is the multiplayer aspect.  If you turn on the game while connected to the PSN, you’re automatically in multiplayer mode.  This allows you to see phantoms; ghosts of other players across the network.  You can’t communicate with them, but you can see their actions which may help you figure out what’s lurking around that corner.  You’ll also see blood spatters on the ground which indicate where a player recently died.  Touching the blood allows you to see the last few seconds of that players life before they died, giving you clues as to what killed him.  Players can also leave short messages scrawled on the ground which can either tip you off to dangers or send you bumbling to your death.  Lastly and most deadly is that players can invade each others worlds.  If you need a body, you invade the world of a player who has one …and if you can kill him, you can take his body.  If you’re the one being invaded, you’ll get a message.  With things generally in your favor, its in your interest to find the invader quickly and kill him for his souls.

While the game is only for PS3, anyone who owns the console and who also really likes RPGs ought not pass on this. It is one of the best RPGs of our time and Dark Souls will no doubt also satisfy when it comes out.

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