Can you face the impossible, and win?
Trying to describe how good this game is, is like drinking from a fire hose.
Demon’s Souls is the most realistic RPG I’ve ever played. What does it mean for a fantasy RPG to be realistic? A couple of things. First, Demon’s Souls immerses you completely in a hopeless, despairing world on the knife-edge of total destruction. As you start to play, you immediately realize the odds are stacked against you — heavily. Enemies attack in groups. Levels are designed to lure you into ambushes. Traps lie in wait that can kill you instantly if you’re not careful. And even when you do find allies, the NPC’s you rescue are not a cheerful lot. They can lose hope and go mad, or commit suicide and be resurrected as demons that you must fight. The game’s commitment to creating a sense of dread and danger is total.
The realism gets stronger with the elegant combat system — which is handled, like the entire game, in real-time without even a pause button. In addition to Health and Magic, you also have a status bar for Stamina. Stamina is required for all physical actions more taxing than walking — in other words, blocking, attacking, sprinting, and dodging. With the addition of the stamina bar, your strategic considerations increase exponentially. Mashing on the attack button too quickly will leave your stamina depleted and make you a sitting duck. Blocking an attack from a strong enemy will drain a significant amount of stamina or even break your guard and leave you vulnerable to attack. The strategic trade-off you have to account for with Stamina is a masterpiece of game design.
So you are probably asking — what’s the draw? Well, when you finally hit that breakthrough and clear the first level, you will feel a rush of satisfaction that few other games can provide. You have touched death itself — and emerged victorious. The level design is difficult, but never feels cheap. Once you clear that first level, things start to CLICK, and you realize how to play and succeed at this game. And that’s when you realize you are entering into a richer and more rewarding adventure than most games can even dream of providing.
Then there is the multiplayer. No matter how bleak the odds in Demon’s Souls — you are never alone. The first thing you see are messages and visual echoes. Messages are short phrases left by other players, things like “Behind you!” or “Use ranged weapons on the next enemy.” The context of these messages isn’t always clear, but in the right situation they can be a life saver.
There are also, around you at all times, the visual echoes of what other players in your world are doing at that very moment. I call them White Phantoms. They only last for a few seconds, and blink in and out at random. But it gives you an odd feeling of comfort and solidarity with your invisible fellows. You also see Bloodstains — a recording of the last 10 seconds of what a character was doing before they died. Touch a bloodstain and you will get a tip of what foes lie in wait around that next corner, or if a pit trap looms ahead.
Then there is co-op. You start the game in Soul form, but if you defeat a boss, you get your body back. When in body form, other players in soul form can offer a blue eye stone for you to summon them for co-op. Players can’t communicate directly in the game, but can exchange emotes like a bow or a cheer. Summoning a phantom to your game makes the perilous boss fights a great deal more manageable. If you destroy a boss while helping as a Blue Phantom, you get your body back and return to your world. Then you can summon more blue phantoms to help you in a virtuous cycle.
Finally, there is player versus player. When in body form, other players in soul form can invade your world as a Black Phantom. If they kill you, the Black Phantom get its body back, and you are robbed of yours. Computer-controlled enemies will ignore Black Phantoms, which gives the invader a great advantage if they choose to take a sneaky approach. However, to balance out this advantage, the host can summon up to 2 blue phantoms to help, so the odds can quickly stack up against the invader. And the penalty for being killed as a Black Phantom is the loss of a soul level, so the invader must weight their chances carefully.
Without exagerration, I would say this is the greatest game ever made. This game gives you a visceral sense of fear -- and euphoria -- that no other game can provide. At the time of this review (Sept. 2010) they just dropped the price too. Go out and get a copy, you will not regret it.