I received my copy of Demon's Souls on PS3 from Japan this morning and I've played it for the last few hours. Even though I still have a lot to discover, I thought I would post some of my initial impressions.
The game was created by From Software, the team behind the PlayStation's King's Field series, and in many ways it's a spiritual successor to those classic titles. Demon's Souls is basically a very atmospheric dungeon crawler, featuring impressive visuals and great use of sound.
The atmosphere the game creates brings to mind PlayStation 2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and there's a real sense of scale and solidity to the world.
Choosing between 10 different classes - from Shinto Priest and Knight, to Wanderer and Hunter, the player sets out in an epic adventure to capture the souls of demons.
The first 10-15 minutes acts as a tutorial, getting you used to combat and movement. This brief section ends with a boss battle, where you'll last approximately 15 seconds, as this grotesque beasts beats you down in one or two hits! Don't worry, though, this is supposed to happen.
You are then transported to the Nexus, the game's gloriously detailed central hub. Initially, all you can do here is store items and upgrade weapons. However, more opens up to the player later in the game.
It's then off to the first level proper. This is where things start to become interesting. Downed enemies release their souls, which you collect automatically. These green-tinged clouds are the game's currency. They are used for everything, from buying new gear to upgrading your stats.
However, if you die, not only are you sent back to the start of the level, but any souls you were carrying are dropped. To get them back, you have to find the spot where you died and collect them. It's an interesting concept, and one which brings back memories of EverQuest's notorious corpse runs. To make matters slightly easier, you retain all your equipment, so no Roguelike worries here, then.
When playing through this castle-themed first level, complete with ferocious fire-breathing dragon, you cannot gain levels or increase your stats. Only by completing the level does the rest of the game open for you to explore.
That means having to fight a giant fearsome boss. Now this giant black, gooey blob is a right pain, and it took me several attempts to vanquish him. However, seeing this greasy blancmange melt away was extremely satisfying. You can then head back to the Nexus, where you are now free to store items, upgrade weapons, buy new spells, increase your stats, level up and chat to locals.
All the game's other areas also become free to explore at your leisure from this point, all accessed via the Nexus and this is where Demon's Souls properly starts.
After nosing about at the top of this monolithic structure, I found a Hall of Heroes. People who have completed the game are enshrined here, and insignificant low level characters, such as myself, can gaze in wonder at these gods of the game. All their stats are layed out for all to see, accompanied by a rotating 3D model of their character - each one resplendent in fabulously shiny armour and gargantuan weapons and shields. If any inspiration is needed, this is the place to come.
As you explore the levels, other people who are playing can be seen scampering about in ghost form. It's also possible to team up with them at certain points, using special stones. I haven't had the chance to try this out yet, but it could be fun.
Now, Demon's Souls is incredibly tough. One mistimed block or missed swing, can end in disaster. You really have to plan your attacks and blocks, and there's no way you can hack and slash your way through. As such, it's not a game for everyone. Fans of Shiren the Wanderer and Monster Hunter will have a blast with this, but those who prefer their games light and fluffy should seek their enjoyment elsewhere. If any proof was needed, the game's cover features a noble Knight, slumped against a wall, obviously dead, with a volley of arrows embedded his shield!
Currently, the game is only available in Asia and Japan. If importing, try and find the Asian version, as all the voice work and text is in English. I was mistakenly sent the Japanese version - cue much gnashing of teeth. Although the voices are still in English, the text is in Japanese.
Demon's Souls will last dedicated players well over 100 hours, and with new modes open when the game is completed, this is definitely one for hardcore dungeon crawlers.