Demon’s Souls: If At First You Don’t Succeed…..

…try, try again.  And again.  And again.  And again.

Look, I have video game chops.  I’m not some n00b that just started playing video games.   I cut my teeth on an Atari 2600, and I’ve personally experienced why “Nintendo hard” is a phrase that means something.  I’ve gotten more headshots than I care to remember, and I’ve died probably millions of times in video games.  I’ve owned at one point or another almost every America-released console out there and I’ve logged over 160 hours on Oblivion without hardly even touching the main quest in the game.  I’m good at video games.  Really good.

You kids today have it easy, with your save points and your checkpoints and your respawning without much in the way of consequences and your one-hit-and-you-win end-game bosses (ahem, Fable III).  I now throw down the gauntlet if you own a PS3 and I challenge you.  The challenge?  Play Demon’s Souls.

I know, I know, I’m a bit late to the party with the game.  But it’s hard.  It’s not quite Nintendo Hard, but it’s difficult.  I just picked it up last Sunday.  Just yesterday, I got through the first boss fight in the first section of the game, not because I’m not good at the game but because it’s that danged hard.

But it’s supposed to be.  That’s one of the selling points of the game.

I’ve probably played through the first section of that darned castle 150 times.  As you play the game and defeat demons, you collect souls, which are the only in-game currency.  You use those souls to power up your weapons, repair your equipment and buy new stuff.  If you die, you keep all of your equipment but you lose all the souls you’ve accumulated and not spent to that point.

Then you respawn at the beginning of the level..but so do all the foes.  If you can get to where you died, you can regain the souls that you had previously collected but if you die again before getting there, those are gone forever.  Of course, stuff doesn’t come cheap, so you have to try to collect as many souls as you can and not die.

And that’s the hard part, the not dying.  Even if, like me, you’ve memorized where all the monsters are in a section because you’ve gone over it again and again and again and even if you think you know the patterns of the creatures you’re fighting, you’re still going to die, then it’s back to the beginning of the level so you can do it all over again.

I’ve learned that, as soon as I get the souls and ores I need to buy whatever hunk o’ gear I want, I head back to the nearest merchant and spend those souls.  Often this means returning to Nexus, the game’s central hub, to talk to the blacksmith there to upgrade my gear and then return back to the level.  At the start of the level.  With all the monsters back and in all the familiar places.

Is the game harsh?  Yes.  Is it unforgiving?  Yes.  Is it just plain hard?  Yes.  However, unlike many modern games, when you accomplish something, you actually feel like you’ve really accomplished it.  It wasn’t handed to you.  You don’t one-shot-kill the boss, it’s a nasty and brutal battle.  The risk-reward setup of the game makes you want to push on, makes you want to succeed if for nothing else than the ability to say “I did it.”

The online component of the game is very, very neat.  Essentially the game is a single-player affair, however, you can see and hear other players online as translucent spirits running around that fade in and out of existence depending on how close they are to you.  Supposedly, and I haven’t figured out how to do this yet, you can summon another person into your world.  Also, you can apparently enter another character’s world as a “black phantom” and hunt them down.  There’s no way to pick whose world you pop into, though.

Also, there’s a player-driven hint system.  You can leave messages for other players and read messages they left.  If you like a person’s message, you can recommend it.  If you recommend a person’s message, they gain a little health..a reward for helping you out.  Likewise, if someone recommends your message, you gain a little health.  You can also touch the bloodstains that are littered throughout the game (and there are lots and lots of them).  When a character dies, they leave a bloodstain and, when you touch it you get to see the last few seconds of that character’s life.  This can actually be quite helpful, and can give you clues to hidden threats.  I know it’s saved my bacon a couple of times.

While Demon’s Souls is only for the Playstation 3, fellow Xbox 360 gamers don’t feel too bad.  The spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, is coming out in October and is going to be on both platforms.  Dark Souls is supposed to be even harder than Demon’s Souls so I look forward to the challenge.

Bring it on!

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