It was around word 705 that I realised my review of Demon's Souls was absolute rubbish. Don't get me wrong, the writing wasn't any worse than normal and I think it was reasonably entertaining to read, something just didn't feel right. Then it dawned on me, Demon's Souls just isn't a game that deserves a simple review. I can't describe to you how much you'll loathe this game, in the same way that I can't describe the adoration you'll feel for it, this is a game then that simply deserves to be played.
So this isn't a review, if you're looking for that there's plenty out there, don't worry though, they will all tell you the same thing; the game is hard, the controls are tight, the combat is satisfying and the game is extremely deep. What I want to share with you are two of my favourite aspects of the game; the difficulty and the online integration.
When I was asked to describe the difficulty of Demon's Souls to a friend I said "it will rip you limb from limb and then have its way with your girlfriend". Thankfully, I was kidding, Demon's Souls isn't hard as everyone makes out, it is however, completely unforgiving. There's no checkpoints to save you, no learning curve and no easy setting. When you die you go back to the start of the level you've spent the last 30 minutes working through, all those nasty Demon's are back, you'll lose all the souls (the games only currency) you've been collecting and finally, just to kick you while you're down, all those Demon's are now a little bit stronger.
At this point the game might not sound like much fun but that is where you'd be wrong. Demon's Souls is never cheap and never unfair, it just expects you to learn from your mistakes. If you die during the game (which you will) there's a 99% chance it was completely your fault. Maybe you healed at the wrong time, maybe you blocked with your shield instead of rolling out of the way, maybe you timed your attack wrong, or maybe you were just rushing. These are all mistakes I made but I quickly learnt not to make them again. When I learnt to stay focused, learnt my opponents attack patterns and learnt to walk/run away from a battle I couldn't win the game suddenly made a lot more sense.
This isn't a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare where you can just run and gun through a level, this is a game that demands you plan carefully and approach with care otherwise you're going to lose. Above all though Demon's Souls offers a sense of pride and accomplishment few games can match. When you do finally beat the level that's been kicking your ass you'll get up and jump around your lounge feeling like a million dollars, at least I did anyway.
Demon's Souls is the most innovative use of online gaming that I've seen in years. There's no traditional modes and no voice or text communication, mostly it's just hints that you're not alone. While exploring a level you'll see ghosts of other players who are also battling their way through the level on their own game, you can't interact at all, it's just a little reminder that you're not completely alone. You'll also see bloodstains on the ground where another player has met their end, but if you touch this bloodstain you can watch the last few seconds of their life. These final few seconds might save your life by showing you that a Demon is ahead or that there's a nasty fall around the corner.
Players can also leave messages for each other on the ground of each level. These messages must be constructed using a selection of words that the game provides meaning they're never too specific or long winded. Most players use these messages to inform you of an upcoming battle, a certain weapon type to use or valuable treasure hidden ahead, but be warned, some players will use these messages to lure you to your death.
Finally players can interact in a much more tangible way by joining each others worlds. However this ability can be used for both good and evil. Blue Phantoms are players of the friendly variety but Red Phantoms are their much more vicious cousins.
Blue Phantoms can only join your game by invitation. For example if you're stuck on a particularly tricky level you can summon a Blue Phantom to your world for help. You can't communicate at all (except some minor gestures such as a bow), you just both understand that you're trying to beat the level and you need help. When you beat the level (or die trying) the Blue Phantom will fade back to their own world, and most likely you'll never see them again. While this process might sound rather distant and cold it's actually a very rewarding experience and I've received many thankful messages through the PlayStation Network after helping someone clear a stage.
Red Phantoms aren't so helpful however, these players invade your world with the single goal of killing you and stealing your souls (the games only currency). While the game does allow you to prevent these invasions I found myself looking forward to them as the rush you get from someone suddenly and violently invading your world is akin to beating a large boss. Demon's Souls also cleverly makes sure that any player that invades your world is of a similar skill level so every fight is a fair fight.
All these uses of online integration are extremely well thought out and the game wouldn't be the same without them. I hope that other developers pay attention to Demon's Souls and start using online integration in even more imaginative and unique ways.
Read some proper reviews of the game, but put simply Demon's Souls goes down as one of the best games of 2009, if not the best. If you have a PlayStation 3, like Action RPG's and enjoy a challenge, you simply can't look any further than Demon's Souls. No game will suck you in like Demon's Souls does and when it finally lets you go, you'll go crawling back for more.