Our time with Demon's Souls at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo was much too brief to appreciate the game. Thus, we were pleased to get some hands-on time with this unique action role-playing game, as well as get a demo of how some of the multiplayer features work. Atlus came by to show us how brutal Demon's Souls could be, but that didn't stop us from creating a new character from scratch. This PlayStation 3 exclusive has been out for a while in Asia, and it's been easy to import because some versions have English translations. But Atlus plans on releasing the game in North America in October, with a deluxe edition for those who are patient enough to wait.
Patience is definitely a virtue and a trait that you must have if you're even thinking of trying Demon's Souls. It's a fascinating single-player role-playing experience, but it can be unmercifully difficult and incredibly frustrating if you're used to the pacing of RPGs now. You have to understand that you will die countless times--unless you progress slowly and cautiously--and that death is a huge part of the game. When you're not leaving bloodstains along the stone pathways of Boletaria, you are fighting demons of all shapes and sizes, collecting their souls in order to level up, as well as upgrade your stats and weapons. You are just one of many adventurers who are trapped in this hub called the "Nexus" and must kill demons to save the kingdom from being plundered.
Early in our demo, we saw how other players online could be summoned into our game. We stumbled across a couple of soul signs that were left by people who were playing online. When you come across a soul sign, it means that a player in your level range would like to join your game. By clicking on it, you can bring that player into your game and proceed through the level together. Up to three people can play cooperatively, so we summoned a couple of players to help us get to the boss. There are no options to choose whom you want to play with, nor are there friends lists. We were told that the designers of the game wanted the multiplayer features to enhance the single-player experience. They wanted people to play with strangers, and because of the high level of difficulty, they wanted to build a community of players that would be willing to band together and support one another, regardless of whether or not players know each other. We didn't get to see any player versus player, but we were told that at a certain point in the game--once you've received a particular stone--you can force your way into another player's game and vice versa.
Because you're playing the game online, you can see the outlines of players fade in and out of your game. They aren't physically in your game, but their presence is there through death replays and cryptic messages. Bloodstains of fallen heroes are scattered throughout the area, and by clicking on them, you can see how others have died. You can piece together set words and leave messages on the ground to warn others of the dangers ahead. By rating another player's message, you can boost his or her health in his or her game and vice versa. Even though you're playing solo, coming across a bloodstain or a foreboding message may help you make the right decision and hopefully avoid a gruesome fate.
Our demo took us through the second area of the first region in which we had to run across the shaky battlement of the Boletarian palace and avoid being roasted by the flames of an impressive-looking dragon flying overheard. One mistake or mistimed step guaranteed that we would get sent back to the beginning of the level, losing all the souls we had collected so far. After multiple tries, we finally made it to the other tower and faced the level's boss, a tower knight. This was a fitting name because the knight was literally as tall as a tower of the castle, with a suit of well-crafted full-body armor and an enormous shield that he could bring down to snuff out our pathetic-looking hero in an instant. The demo ended there, but it made us eager to jump into the world and explore the fog-ridden realm.
We created our own character, as we did at E3, and jumped into one of the five archstones in the Nexus to get to Boletaria palace. There's actually quite a bit of customization available in terms of creating the look of your character and 13 classes from which to choose. It's not often that you can tweak your gender so that you're male with some feminine features. From our short experience with the game (because we didn't get very far), it took awhile to get used to the controls and camera, as well as figure out our timing so that we landed our blows before the enemy stabbed us from behind. Reading messages will help because they do warn you of dangers ahead. It's wise to progress an inch at time, making sure that you don't run into an ambush because you can't take very many hits. If you die, all your soul is lost, and unless you can make it back to the spot where you died to regain it, you're going to have to start collecting all over again. Despite the difficulty, the game can be fun if you're the type who loves a good challenge and you feel immensely satisfied when you've made some (or very minimal) progress.
Demon's Souls is very dark, in terms of its story and aesthetic. Boletaria is a kingdom shrouded in a perpetual mist, giving off a sense of hopelessness and despair. Visually, the game is still beautiful, though, with its foggy landscape, majestic structures, and hazy sky. We didn't come across much in terms of music while we were exploring. It was only when the gigantic boss was looming over us that we heard the thundering sound of drumbeats and rhythmic chanting. Otherwise, the general atmosphere was quite creepy because of the silence. The sound of an enemy's blade clanging into your sad-looking shield will likely be what stands out most, aurally. Atlus representatives said that they will not be making any changes to the English voice acting because it's already very good, but they will localize the text so that it fits their style.
Developer From Software continues to make improvements to the game, but at this point, we didn't come across any problems except some frame rate slowdown when other players jumped into our game. Hopefully, any outstanding issues will be smoothed out by the time of the game's release in North America. The game should take most players more than 80 hours to complete, but be warned that it's not the type of game for everyone. Atlus' deluxe edition will come with a strategy guide and an extra slip case for $69.99. The regular version will also be available, if you don't want to shell out the extra $10. Demon's Souls will be available exclusively on the PS3 on October 6.