Dying for the Greater Good
June 18, 2009 – When playing Demon’s Souls, you’ll meet with death with extreme frequency. But that’s all part of Demon’s Souls greatest innovation. Every time you die, a trace of your “soul” will be left behind, and if you’re playing on an active internet connection, your soul will be uploaded to the game server. It will then appear in the games of other people playing Demon’s Souls, showing up as a red splotch on the ground precisely where you died. When they pass by they can press a button and your ghostly apparition will act out the final moments of your death, giving a hint to other players as to what awaits them.
If a ghost shows up on your screen, turns around a corner, and suddenly meets a violent death, you’d better be sure you’re prepared for anything before you go that way. With any luck, this could turn one of gaming’s most frustrating events (dying) into one of its most interesting.
In addition to leaving behind a glimpse at their death, other players can also leave behind short written hints that can aid you in overcoming difficult sections. Sure, Demon’s Souls is said to be incredibly difficult, but with these types of features in place, the game actually feels more like a community effort to overcome this incredible challenge than an unbalanced exercise in frustration. However, if that amount of community interaction is insufficient for you, there’s also a three-player online cooperative mode being planned, so you and two friends will be able to do boss runs. We’re also told that there will be a competitive mode for up to four players.
The story revolves around a king who used the magic of souls to attempt to bring prosperity and power to his land, but because of his actions, a dense fog appears. All those who venture into the fog are never seen or heard from again. The king’s actions had awakened the Old One, and caused the dark fog that created soul-craving demons. In other words, tempted by the promise of power, a forbidden magic is unleashed causing a zombie apocalypse. It sounds like a fairly standard fantasy storyline, but any storyline that culminates in zombies and/or demons for me to kill is OK by me.
The way Demon’s Souls actually plays seems pretty similar to that of The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion in third-person mode albeit with better control. It features a real-time combat engine that relies far more on the player’s own skill and timing than on imaginary dice rolls (as is the case with many RPGs).
Just like Oblivion, it also features a deep character building mode. Throughout the game you’ll collect souls which essentially act as your experience points. You can then use those souls to purchase new abilities, upgrade your character, and even your weapons. However, since the same currency is used to upgrade all of these different aspects of your character, you’ve got to be mindful of how you spend them.
When you begin the game, you’ll choose one of thirteen different class archetypes, only ten of which have been revealed so far (Knight, Priest, Thief, Magician, Temple Knight, Soldier, Wanderer, Barbarian, Royal, and Hunter). As the game goes on, though, you can spend your souls to become fluent in another discipline. A Knight-Magician, for instance, would have a mastery of swords and spears, and would also be proficient at using deadly magic spells.
At this point in the development of the game, the only cause for concern is a potential lack of variety in the levels. The level that was shown off during the demo was the tutorial, which took place in a giant castle. Here we found almost nothing to offer any respite from the endless stone halls and dark corridors. The developers have said that the game will feature “about five major worlds” including the castle, a mining area, and a marshland. If all of them are as monotone as the demo level, then the experience could begin to suffer over the course of the 20-30 hour campaign.
From Software is known for providing wonderfully bizarre and innovative products for the Western gaming audience, and Demon’s Souls looks to be no different. Though it’s perhaps a bit more conventional than the epic political satire of Metal Wolf Chaos, and slightly more tame than the over-the-top action of Ninja Blade, Demon’s Souls rivals anything else From Software has created in terms of sheer ingenuity.
Demon’s Souls has already been released in Japan, and it has been so well received that it has not only sold well but has even been credited with a spike in PS3 sales in the region. You can look for it to arrive Stateside on October 6, 2009.