While the PlayStation 2 was the home for RPGs, it's a bit tougher to say that about the PlayStation 3. While the PS3 certain has its fair share of exclusives, like Disgaea 3 and Valkyria Chronicles, it isn't the sole system for RPGs anymore. From Software's Demon's Souls, however, is looking to be an extremely interesting addition to the PS3's library — one that is sure to attract the attention of RPG fans regardless of their preferred system. Demon's Souls isn't just a regular RPG; it's built around the concept of online play in a way that few other RPGs ever have been. The end result is a very unique experience unlike any other available on the PS3 — or perhaps any current-gen console.
Demon's Souls is set in the kingdom of Boletaria, which used to be a successful, thriving kingdom due to its king's ability to use the power of souls. The kingdom fell into darkness one day when a mysterious fog shrouded it, trapping everyone inside with a group of terrible demons. Many warriors have entered the fog that shrouds Boletaria, seeking to either be heroes who free the land from its plight, or glory hounds who harness the power of the demon's souls for their very own. Players take control of one of these unlucky devils, who finds himself trapped inside Boletaria and ensnared in a mysterious Nexus; he's unable to escape until he finds a way to solve Boletaria's problems and seal away a terrible creature called the Old One.
Demon's Souls is an action-RPG with a fairly interesting combat system. Players actually have a surprising variety in what they can do in combat. Melee combat is built around your close-range weapon and your shield. The R1 button will attack with your weapon's fast thrust, and R2 is a strong but slow strike. The amount of times you can attack in a row is determined by your character's stamina bar. A high stamina means you can launch repeated attacks, while low stamina means you'll have to wait longer or use fewer attacks. One neat feature is the ability to put away your shield and instead wield a weapon with two hands, sacrificing defense for power at any time. You can also try to dodge enemy attacks by pressing the Circle button, which drains your stamina in large bursts.
On the other hand, your shield can be almost as deadly a weapon as your sword, if used correctly. Holding L1 will allow you to bring up your shield to block attacks. Doing so lowers the damage you take but massively decreases your stamina recovery. Pressing L2, on the other hand, performs a parry, which brings up your shield for a brief moment to try to knock the enemy off-balance. If you time it during an enemy's attack, you'll actually stun them. A stunned enemy is open for a riposte, which is a special slow-motion move that does ridiculous damage, and it's done by pressing attack during the brief window after the enemy is stunned.
Close-range combat isn't your only option in Demon's Souls. Players can also use magic and bows to their advantage, and each has its distinctive strengths and weaknesses. Magic is fairly traditional: You cast a spell, and it takes away from your MP bar. There are actually two kinds of magic that you can use: regular spells and miracles. Spells are basically black magic; they tend to be attack spells with specific usages, although you'll also find various buffs and debuffs. Miracles are closer to white magic, and they include healing spells, revival spells and various other useful things, although there are some potentially offensive spells as well. Bows are long-distance weapons that require arrows but have the potential to be some of the deadliest attacks in the game. A bow can attack from a greater distance than any other weapon in Demon's Souls, and with much greater accuracy. Being able to pick off foes from a distance before they can rush up and stab your tender flesh is essential to surviving some of the tougher areas.
Demon's Souls offers a ton of character customization options. Player can choose to focus on all kinds of ranged or melee combat. You can wear light armor and play as a dodge-focused swordsman, trying to get behind enemies to perform critical strikes. You can wear heavy armor and try to parry and riposte attack. You can be a swordsman who augments his fighting abilities with magic, or a sneaky devil who snipe enemies with bows from a distance. Every option in the game is available to you, regardless of how you play. You select a character class at the start of the game, but these classes only define what your starting stats and abilities are. In order to earn new abilities or increase your character's stats, you'll need to collect souls from defeated demons. Souls function as a mixed currency and experience points system; you can spend them to buy and repair equipment, or you can upgrade your character's stats and learn new spells and miracles.
Your goal in each level of Demon's Souls is to find your way through the worlds and defeat powerful demons that lurk within. Along the way, you'll come across many traps and dangers. One area may house dangerous pitfalls and traps, while another is menaced by a fire-breathing dragon. The levels tend to have fairly interesting designs, filled with all sorts of dangerous traps and enemy ambushes. The interesting thing about the way the stages are designed is that you can actually use the traps against enemies. If you come across a giant staircase, you may have a hard time fighting enemies on it, but you can also lure a powerful foe there and trick him into falling to his death. Enemies may try to lure you into a room of explosive barrels, but clever players will be able to turn the death-filled areas into weapons of their own. However, even the most skilled player will learn that Demon's Souls can be a very dangerous place indeed. Enemy ambushes are common, and tricks and hidden dangers are around every corner. However, there is a very neat feature that makes this a bit friendlier for new players. At the touch of a button, players can leave a message on the floor. That message will not only exist in the player's game, but also in the games of other online players. If you enter a dangerous zone, you may find the floor littered with the scrawling of other players, warning you or offering advice about upcoming pitfalls.
The first thing to be aware of in Demon's Souls is that you are going to die — probably a lot. It's almost unavoidable. Enemies are strong, powerful and placed in clever locations around the stage where they'll be able to do terrible things to unwary players. A few mistakes will probably lead to a brutal and painful death. The good news is that Demon's Souls is a game where death is expected, and sometimes even encouraged, so it shouldn't be a problem for most gamers. At most, death is a minor setback. A player begins in his regular body, but when he dies, he reincorporates at the start of the level as his soul. The only things that the player "permanently" loses by dying are the souls that he's collected from defeated enemies. If the player can reach the spot where he died without dying again, he'll be able to get back all of the lost souls. The soul plays almost identically to your regular body, but it has a few differences. You do slightly more damage when in soul form, but also have roughly half of the HP. You'll be able to play the game as normal as a soul, and in fact, there are certain benefits to staying "dead" for an entire level instead of reviving. This is good, as it is very difficult to revive your character consistently in Demon's Souls. With the exception of a fairly rare item, the only way to revive your character is to defeat a boss or travel to another player's world through the game's multiplayer mechanic.
The soul and body play a very important part in the game's multiplayer mechanic. Each character has his own version of the world, which is his alone. However, someone in soul form has the ability to travel to another player's game world, and this can happen in a few different ways. One way is for a host in body form to find a marking left by a spirit. If he finds that marking, he can summon that ghost to help and journey along with him. All of the soul players who aid the body host will earn souls as they battle. Most importantly, however, helping the main player defeat the boss of the stage will cause everyone on the team to be revived.
A player can also revive another player through the use of a miracle spell, which allows a body-form player to call for help in exchange for reviving the dead assistant later on. For those who prefer to be cruel, players can use a special item to break into another player's game world. In this world, the invading player is actually a special enemy whose goal is to travel through the stage and hunt down the world's player. Killing him not only earns the invading player a hefty dose of souls, but also revives him into body form. There are some restrictions involved here, so it's generally possible for both sides in an invasion to emerge the victor. Regardless of whether you play as friend or foe, traveling into other player's games is a major part of Demon's Souls.
Your actions, both in your own world and in the world of other players, actually have consequences. Both your character and the world may skew toward light or darkness, depending on what you do in the game. These "tendencies" are influenced by what your character does and what happens to your character. A player who assists other players, defeats invading enemies, or kills powerful demons will find that he's skewing toward light. Invading other worlds or dying may turn your own worlds toward darkness, while killing friendly NPCs or murdering other players will make your character become more evil. The color of your world has great importance because the closer you are to the light, the easier the game is, but it also becomes harder to find rare equipment and items. Darker worlds are more dangerous but more profitable. To add to that, certain special events only happen in worlds of a certain tendency. These events are usually required to get special equipment or items, so if you want to see everything in the game, you'll have to learn to alter your tendencies.
Demon's Souls is unusual. It's far harder than most RPGs, but it's never quite unfair. Demons will ambush you, monsters will launch seemingly unavoidable attacks, and the odds will constantly be against you. When you know what to do, though, you can defeat any foe and get by any problem, and this makes Demon's Souls a very rewarding game.
The sheer amount of customization and gameplay options are through the roof, and whether you're a magic-loving sorcerer or a twitching-gaming swordsman, you'll find a play style that suits you. It's rare to find an RPG that rewards skill and patience as much as it does high stats, and the online features are perhaps the game's strongest element. It's one of the few titles that deeply encourage players to work together, but the ability to invade other gamers' worlds adds an interesting element of risk. The forgiving death system means that losing in combat, whether it's to an enemy ambush or an invading player, is only a minor setback. Despite the lenient death system, Demon's Souls is not going to be a game for everyone, but for those PS3 owners who are looking for a challenging, interesting and very unique RPG, Demon's Souls looks to be right up your alley.
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