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Hands-On With Demon's Souls

Sony and From Software are bringing some dark fantasy to the PlayStation 3, and we take a hands-on look.

This screenshot is very misleading.
While I've long subscribed to the sentiment that you should always give games some benefit of the doubt when they're in an unfinished state, it can sometimes be difficult to muster up that much optimism. Demon's Souls is a PlayStation 3 action RPG being developed by From Software, a company best known out West for its Armored Core series, that's making its debut here at TGS. It's entirely possible that this is a game that requires more than the brief 10-minute demos that Sony was allowing--a good portion of which was soaked up by character creation and a slow-moving opening narration--to get to the good stuff, but so far Demon's Souls is looking pretty generic and disposable.

That opening narrative sets the stage for much dungeon crawling with a kingdom that has fallen prey to demons who have taken to feasting on the souls of its citizens. As delicious as those innocent souls are, apparently they are but the proverbial stuffing for the even tastier Thanksgiving turkeys that are the demons' souls. Many an adventurer have failed to return from quests to slay these demons and harvest their dark power, but you play as a character who seems to stand more of a fighting chance, seeing how none of those other guys got their own video game.

The version being shown at TGS is thick with Japanese text, but most of what was on display was pretty self-explanatory. First there's the character creator, where you can choose gender, facial features, and character class. There's a good amount of customization options for your character's appearance, though it seems like it might be a bit of a challenge to make a face that doesn't have the kind of bland, patched-together appearance that pervades character creators. Things fare much better from the neck on down, and there's a good amount of visual differentiation between the character classes. I went with a pretty straightforward fighter, though it would appear that you can expect the different character classes to feature varying levels of proficiency with close-quarters and ranged combat, as well as magic use.

With my character created, the demo dropped me off in front of a mossed-over medieval castle, one staffed by the brittle husks of the kingdom's now-soulless populace. Demon's Souls gives off the impression of a game that the people up in arms over the color palette in Diablo III might make, all bleak and dreary and cloaked in shadows. Indeed, apart from the game's third-person camera perspective, Demon's Souls owes quite a bit to Diablo-style dungeon crawlers, with a focus on simple combat and loot. While I can't speak to all of the different classes, my character had two basic attacks and a shield for defense, and each action was mapped to a different shoulder button. The combat itself felt really clunky, particularly when faced with multiple enemies, where targeting became a bit of an issue. I could equip different weapons and support items on the fly using the d-pad, though there was also a full inventory system for swapping out armor and whatnot.

If there's something that sets Demon's Souls apart from the long line of dark fantasy dungeon crawlers that precede it, it's not apparent from the TGS demo. While it's certainly got some rough edges, that's pretty forgivable for a game not scheduled for release until next year. Hopefully by then From Software can find some way to make Demon's Souls stand out.
18 Comments
Posted by Ryan
This screenshot is very misleading.
While I've long subscribed to the sentiment that you should always give games some benefit of the doubt when they're in an unfinished state, it can sometimes be difficult to muster up that much optimism. Demon's Souls is a PlayStation 3 action RPG being developed by From Software, a company best known out West for its Armored Core series, that's making its debut here at TGS. It's entirely possible that this is a game that requires more than the brief 10-minute demos that Sony was allowing--a good portion of which was soaked up by character creation and a slow-moving opening narration--to get to the good stuff, but so far Demon's Souls is looking pretty generic and disposable.

That opening narrative sets the stage for much dungeon crawling with a kingdom that has fallen prey to demons who have taken to feasting on the souls of its citizens. As delicious as those innocent souls are, apparently they are but the proverbial stuffing for the even tastier Thanksgiving turkeys that are the demons' souls. Many an adventurer have failed to return from quests to slay these demons and harvest their dark power, but you play as a character who seems to stand more of a fighting chance, seeing how none of those other guys got their own video game.

The version being shown at TGS is thick with Japanese text, but most of what was on display was pretty self-explanatory. First there's the character creator, where you can choose gender, facial features, and character class. There's a good amount of customization options for your character's appearance, though it seems like it might be a bit of a challenge to make a face that doesn't have the kind of bland, patched-together appearance that pervades character creators. Things fare much better from the neck on down, and there's a good amount of visual differentiation between the character classes. I went with a pretty straightforward fighter, though it would appear that you can expect the different character classes to feature varying levels of proficiency with close-quarters and ranged combat, as well as magic use.

With my character created, the demo dropped me off in front of a mossed-over medieval castle, one staffed by the brittle husks of the kingdom's now-soulless populace. Demon's Souls gives off the impression of a game that the people up in arms over the color palette in Diablo III might make, all bleak and dreary and cloaked in shadows. Indeed, apart from the game's third-person camera perspective, Demon's Souls owes quite a bit to Diablo-style dungeon crawlers, with a focus on simple combat and loot. While I can't speak to all of the different classes, my character had two basic attacks and a shield for defense, and each action was mapped to a different shoulder button. The combat itself felt really clunky, particularly when faced with multiple enemies, where targeting became a bit of an issue. I could equip different weapons and support items on the fly using the d-pad, though there was also a full inventory system for swapping out armor and whatnot.

If there's something that sets Demon's Souls apart from the long line of dark fantasy dungeon crawlers that precede it, it's not apparent from the TGS demo. While it's certainly got some rough edges, that's pretty forgivable for a game not scheduled for release until next year. Hopefully by then From Software can find some way to make Demon's Souls stand out.
Staff
Posted by MasterSplinter

I guess that screenshot really is misleading. Sounds generic at best, but maybe it just didn't demo well.

Posted by BiggerBomb

It's great to see that Ryan isn't pulling any punches when it comes to previews, too many sites sugarcoat the crappy games.

Posted by Reetesh

Ah, so From software is making Ninja Blade for 360 and this for Ps3? A very different approach I must say.

Posted by exfate

Good preview!

At least From Software isn't making another Enchanted Arms...

I like the aesthetic of Demon's Souls. It seems inline with what you might expect in a European developed RPG, darker and bleaker than a US developed RPG would be. Add in that it seems to keep some of the stranger elements of Japanese fantasy games, i.e the screenshot featuring a giant manta-ray in the sky, it certainly has potential.

In my opinion they should get a pass on the framerate considering it is over a year away from Japanese release -- It's openworld, apparently. I just hope those controls are improved a lot. Looking at the tons of cam gameplay videos of this that are online now, getting the character to attack straight in the direction of the enemy seems difficult. Looks like the ragdolls are way to floppy and light to be dead bodies as well.

Anyway, the idea of a non-linear openworld RPG from a Japanese developer is inticing, and a definate break from the norm. Hope it turns out... but From Software are more miss, then miss again, than they are hit.

Posted by luffylol

I like your unbiased honesty in the preview.

we all know its early, and it might change, but its good you give an honest preview of the current situation.

Posted by DragoonKain1687

I realized it was nothing out of this world when I saw it in action. Who knows, for fans of Baldurs Gate 2 Dark Alliance, and the Champions saga this will be an entertaining game, but for the biggest part of us gamers, it will be to slow for our liking. Still, AC is a great series, so this guys could have something that as they said, cant be seen in a 10 minutes demo

Posted by Torb

I agree, looks generic. I don't have much hope for From Software...they look like a slowly dying company...

Posted by majnuker

About that Screenshot, i would think it is misleading. That demon looks oversimplified and crappy!

Also, great first impression there Ryan. Obviously, if they waited so long to show it off, then it won't be a very good RPG. I don't think anybody even heard about it before now. And with much better games coming out, well, this one will be in hot water.

Posted by Ikiryou

This game might be boiling in a crockpot sooner than you think, courtesy of Level5's White Knight Chronicles' and its proposed co-op player modes.

Posted by LoZone

sounds ok,  pending more details.

Posted by JamesKond

Ok, From Software is officially on my list on 'Worst Developers Ever' list, Ninja Blade looks very crappy, Armored Core was very crappy and this doesn't look all that much better :)

Posted by shadystx

It's great too see complete honesty in a preview.

Over the year's i have seen countless of positive previews only for the review(from the same site) be the opposite of what was being said in a preview.
I know developers/publishers give site's the typical vertical slice in a preview showing what they believe to be good enough to garner positive previews but sometimes i could tell from game play video's from the preview that the game was looking bad, an example of this was Superman for 360, Gamespot gave it a glowing preview and from the video's i could tell it was destined to be terrible and sure enough the GS review proved my intial thoughts to be right.

Very few site's post honest preview impressions or very few sites include the negative points in a preview and im very pleased to see giant bomb doing just that.

I was looking forward to seeing demon souls in action after the screen shots and synopsis of what the game would be but as soon as i saw the first game play video my first thoughts were this game is nothing to get excited about, i know there's quite a bit dev time left but key things like combat look basically broken, enemies were hidden fences of some sort doing nothing i assume and you had to brake away the fence to let them out basically so you could kill them, that equals poor level design IMO.

First impressions of demon souls are not good.

Posted by Gorlith

Eh, I might still and up picking this up since me and a buddy like playing random dungeon crawlers some lazy Sundays lol.

Posted by MagusMaleficus

Shouldn't it be Demons' Souls, with an apostrophe at the end of "demons" to connote the soul from more than one demon? Given the description of the story, Demons' Souls makes more sense.

Yes, I can be an English language Nazi at times.

Posted by Evilross

I know this was from a long time ago but......
 
Man, Ryan really got this one all wrong.

Posted by Karkarov
@Evilross: 
 
No kidding, he couldn't have been more wrong if he tried.  I guess this is why you don't write reviews based on the japanese versions of games months before they see real release after only actually playing them for 5 minutes of character creation and 5 minutes of game.  Of course it is partially from softwares fault anyway for even doing 10 minute demos.  10 minutes in this game isn't even long enough to clear the tutorial for a new player.
Posted by xxMarkIt8Dudexx

Hilarious in hindsight. This game was the best game of 2009.