Demon’s Souls – A Glass That’s Half Empty

Demon's Souls Playstation 3 Game ReviewGaming has changed quite a bit since its beginnings in the 1970’s with Magnavox’s Odyssey and its first steps into mainstream pop culture in the mid to late 1980’s with Nintendo’s NES.  Games have gone from tests of skill with steep learning curves such as Deadly Towers and Ghosts and Goblins to more cinematic titles such as Halo and Heavenly Sword.  Developer “From Software” has produced a title that attempts to bring these hard-boiled games of yore back into the modern spotlight with Demon’s Souls.  Demon’s Souls is a third person action RPG placing the player in the ruins of the kingdom of Boletaria, which has been invaded by Demons bent on taking the souls of humanity.  You play as a demon hunter who intends to free the kingdom of its pestering demon problem, and gain some ever powerful demon’s souls in the process.

 Demon's Souls

A heroic knight ready to save a fallen kingdom

The game is divided into five worlds.  Each world has two to three levels.  Each level ends with a battle against a boss demon.  The player can initially choose from one of ten classes for character creation.  The character’s class determines initial character stats as well as starting equipment.  The player is given a sophisticated level of control over their character’s appearance as well.  Once created, the player goes through a brief tutorial and is then killed.  This is where the meat of the game begins.  As a dead soul, the player’s avatar must complete the first level in order to reclaim his body and unlock the ability to spend “demon’s souls” on upgrading his character’s stats.  This all-in-one currency also acts as money for purchasing weapon upgrades and items.  The main selling point of Demon’s Souls is the fact that if the player dies, he loses the souls hes collected by defeating enemies.  This along with the many upgrades and purchases that require souls are the primary attempts at making this game difficult to master.


What we liked about Demon’s Souls>>

Bones we have to pick with Demon’s Souls>>

Our conclusions>>


What we like about Demon’s Souls…


Sam: First off, I wanted to compliment From Software on their combat system.  I found that when I was facing off against one or two other enemies, the fighting mechanics lent themselves to a very patient and controlled fight.  When I fought against bosses or a single powerful enemy, I found myself analyzing their fighting style, their tendencies, and looking for holes in their attacks to lay that deadly blow.  This was exhilarating and very rewarding when a foe was defeated.  It managed to integrate the strategy and intelligence of a sword fight into the system instead of just brutishly hacking away.  This was especially apparent when facing off against either knights or the final king boss of the first world.

Demon's Souls 

Sam getting his tail kicked by a nasty demon

Dan: Yeah, I found that to be true as well.  When it came to one on one boss battles and single enemy encounters, the combat system worked very well.  However, in mobs of enemies, the combat system seemed to be clumsy, mainly because it was hard to quickly do multiple tasks at once.  The targeting system didn’t always behave like you expected with multiple enemies either.  Still, I have to say I really enjoyed the boss encounters in the game.  They are definitely the highlight of the game.  They were challenging but never impossible and were rewarding to beat.

Visually I thought the game looked amazing.  This game had a great attention to detail.  It handled interior and large outdoor environments very well and you got a great sense of size, especially on the castle map.  It felt very dark and gritty which I liked.  All the weapons had believable and unique animations.  This helped give the weapons personality.  It did not feel like I was swinging the same sword with a different skin, and I appreciate that.  Enemy animations were also overall smooth and believable.  Larger enemies had a sense of weight when they walked, and there was a distinct movement for each enemy.  The sounds and music were acceptable and felt like they went with the world; the changes of the music during boss encounters is a nice touch.

Sam: I agree.  This game was very pretty to look at.  I was especially pleased with how each world in Demon’s Souls took on its own color palette.  In my opinion, this gave each world its own visual identity.  This helped to make each world more memorable and distinguishable.  One could look at a still image from any one world and be able to instantly identify what world was being shown just from the colors.

 Demon's Souls

The musky, dirty pallet of the swamps

I also loved the style of the armors, weapons, and other equipment.  All of these items looked just as cool as they did deadly.  When I would see one of these items on an NPC or equipped one myself, I stopped and took a few minutes just to study it.  Every item had its own distinct design and I was very appreciative of that.

As far as the design of levels goes, I was especially impressed with the design of the castle world (the first world) and the tower world.  These worlds seemed to focus on all of the strong points of the gameplay of Demon’s Souls.  The enemy counts were controlled well, there were never many unfair ledges that could lead to accidental player death, and each world did an effective job of establishing the world’s function in the game world as well as establishing itself in a real world area.  What I mean is one could look towards the horizon and see mountains, forests, and other buildings.  These worlds felt like real places and not just isolated areas to kill baddies in.  Overall the layout was interesting to explore, the enemies fit well in each world and were themselves fun to fight.

Dan: Another notable feature I liked about this game was the checkpoint system.  The levels would open up as you progressed through the map.  For example, you start the game on a bridge looking at a huge gate and two smaller gates left and right of the large gate.  As you progressed through the map you would find levers to unlock these gates making replays easier as you didn’t need to go through the whole map, and eventually unlock the main gate to the boss.  So after you had gone though the whole map the path to the boss was usually easier when you needed to retry.

Sam: The flow for the castle map was very cool.  I also liked how well the checkpoints were integrated into each level.  Given the fantasy nature of this world, I could imagine there being a temptation to simply place teleport nodes in each level and explain their existence away with a lazy story addition.  Instead, each checkpoint has an activation method and function unique and appropriate to the world it’s based in.  One example of this is the wooden plank bridge that the player must knock over to bridge a gap that connects the beginning of the swamp world’s 2nd level beginning to the boss portal.  The shanty style bridge fit with the rest of the theme and activation made perfect sense.  This was very creative and certainly deserves mention.

Dan: One bad thing that this checkpoint system introduces is it makes it hard to make levels enjoyable to replay.  They don’t change much overall so after one walk through many areas never need to be explored again.  I do understand that the game has a thing called world tenancy which causes new areas to appear and disappear, but these are few and far between.  These branches are also optional and therefore not needed to beat the game.

Sam: Overall, I really liked how the art direction and environments told much of the tale of Boletaria through the demon’s exaggeration of the more negative points of the kingdom.  I had started to question the purity and greatness of this kingdom due to the demon’s exploits of the darker side of Boletaria.  From the apparent treatment of the mentally insane to the slave-like treatment of the miners of Boletaria, this dark angle added a lot of depth to the presentation of the game world.  The concept of dropping the player in the middle of a ruined kingdom without any explanation was brilliant.  I felt like I was given the opportunity to explore and form my own conclusions about what Boletaria was and why these areas existed.

 Demon's Souls

The nexus, the hub area of Demon’s Souls

Dan: I found the story very hard to get into.  There really wasn’t much substance to the story.  It felt like story was tacked in after the game was done.  The locations felt very separate with very little connecting them other than as you being the “chosen one” your required to go there and beat up anything that moved. I felt the story was generic and shallow.  One thing I missed was lore. I wanted some way to learn more about the world I was in.  There was no journal or place to read about Boletaria.  The only source of lore were the few conversations I had with NPCs.

Sam: This is very true.  The dialogue wasn’t much to write home about.  I do feel that the stark differences in the world were both necessary and did not feel isolated.  Each world was able to establish a visual image by being so different and I feel that the architecture and level of technology shown helped to keep all of the worlds connected in the same general area.


<<What we liked about Demon’s Souls

Bones we have to pick with Demon’s Souls>>

Our conclusions>>


Bones we have to pick with Demon’s Souls…


Dan: The first thing that really bugged me was how short and useless the tutorial was.  Sure you learn how to target and attack, but that’s about it.  By the time you are done with the tutorial, you are thrown into the real game, and I still didn’t know how to do everything in the game.  I quickly found on my first character that after dying 3 times trying to beat the first map, it was better to re-roll a new character than to try to salvage the current one as I used up all my heals and could not afford new ones or repair any of my stuff.  Also, I should mention some classes start out a lot better than others.  The barbarian starts naked with a club while the Temple knight starts with full suit of armor and a great weapon which you can play with the whole game though.

Sam: Well, I can’t completely complain about the tutorial’s length.  It was refreshing that the game didn’t bog me down with a long tutorial before starting.  Many RPGs and actions games will force the player to devote 15 – 30 minutes of the beginning of gameplay to instruction and tutorial.  I appreciated the fact that the game tried to get me in the action quickly.  That being said, after the first level I did find that certain features and functions (such as how to aim a Bow and Arrow) would have been extremely helpful.  I had learned some needed skills purely by accident.  It could have been longer, but at least they tried to make is short and sweet.

 Demon's Souls

Aiming your Bow, one important undocumented feature

Dan: Bows, spells and miracles were not covered in the game very well.  While they are in the manual, their description is short and I really prefer all the stuff you need to know about your game to be included in game.  I was getting so annoyed with the NPC that was supposed to teach you spells because I had the intelligence to remember spells but apparently not the magic.  While playing in-game, there is no indication that my magic ability was too low, he just kept telling me to piss off.

Sam: One very big issue I had noticed was the often troublesome menu and UI system.  I found that the menus for changing weapons and selecting specific items took up the whole play screen.  While this would be fine normally, Demon’s Souls does not pause the game when the user goes into a menu.  I feel that if the user cannot pause his game, then the main game screen should always be visible.

Dan: I found that the menus did get in the way very often, but I hated how you could not drop or deposit equipped items.  Furthermore, when you are trying to scroll through your quick spells or quick items, it becomes very easy to accidentally pass by the desired item.  When this happens, you have to scroll through everything else again to get back to it.  Usually the time taken proves to be too long in situations that require quick use of items.

Sam: Exactly.  Also, I found trying to change items while holding up my shield and strafing very difficult.  If I was fighting a boss or something, I would have to perform some very interesting finger gymnastics around the controller in order to get it to do what I wanted.  I think the item-switching process should have been simplified or at least provide me with a paused menu to properly change strategies.  This isn’t to say the control scheme was completely broken, but it only worked well about 60% – 75% of the time.  This left a lot of moments where I was fumbling my controller more that I cared to.

Dan: Another thing I didn’t like was the targeting system.  The lock-on didn’t work on stairs sometimes and didn’t always target the thing you were expecting.  Flying enemies cause a lot of issues at times as it would lock on to them and spin the camera quickly and made you disoriented.  It was frustrating.

Sam: I know exactly how you’re feeling.  I found that I would fall off ledges, turn my back to an attacking enemy, or just have to stop short to re-adjust my lock-on due to its sporadic implementation.  This game would cause me the most frustration when my character’s death was caused by these issues.  I felt cheated and out of control of the results of the battle.  This is an example of how the battle system would break when too many enemies were in a battle.  Aside from a lack of nimbleness, this lock-on made multiple enemies and ledges much more deadly than they had to be.  I would have appreciated some sort of ledge-grab mechanic to give the player a chance to recover from slipping off of a ledge.

 Demon's Souls

Players will see this screen….a lot

Dan: The back of the game says it is an “Ever-changing World,” but in actuality it is a very static world with one or two doors that open or close based on “world tendencies.”  Even where the enemies are static, they are always in the exact same spot standing there waiting.  It’s really amusing to back-stab all the monsters in the previous section of the map as they are all facing the wrong direction, but this gets old quick.

Sam: Yeah, I had noticed how static the levels felt.  Even when checkpoints were toggled, and thus changing the level layout, the enemy placements and items were still statically placed.  Considering how much this game relies on grinding in order to progress, I would have really appreciated some deviation in enemy placement.  After running through a level for the eighth or ninth time, I knew where everyone was and was never surprised.  If the developers expected players to grind, there needs to be more dynamic content.  Otherwise, the player ends up just going through the motions.

Sam: The quality of the levels in Demon’s Souls for the most part had a reasonable level of quality.  The Castle and Tower worlds definitely stole the show.  As a stark contrast to this, the Swamp world was just god awful.  The ledge falling issues discussed earlier became immediately apparent considering how most of the level consisted of walking along narrow edgeless paths over bottomless abysses.  Add to this the inclusion of three different status effects that all cause a loss of health over time (two of which are rarely if ever seen anywhere else) and the overall effect was downright frustrating.  The status effects and ledges made the level treacherous and the enemies didn’t even drop a reasonable amount of experience.  I felt like I was in that level only because I had to be, not because I wanted to explore it.

Dan: The swamp was probably one of the worst designed maps I’ve ever played.  Especially the empty second section of the swamp world. It was a big flat map with poisonous water covering 90% of the map.  The wooden structures where also frustrating as it was hard to tell what you could walk on and what you couldn’t until it was too late and you fall to your death.  I found that the environment was killing me more than the monsters in this game at times.  Why are shacks built over bottomless pits anyway?  This doesn’t make sense.

 Demon's Souls

The endless flat abyss that is the swamp

Dan: One big disappointment was the online play.  When two of the three features on the back of the game mention online play, only to be really lacking, online is very disappointing.  There is no way to easily play with your friends in this game.  Your options are to summon or be summoned to help beat a demon, invade a random persons game and try to gank him, or if you could duel people on your second play through.  I felt that I had very little control over the online aspect.

Sam: To me, the online implementation seemed to rely a lot on circumstance and randomness for determining who you played with and if anyone was available at all.  That lack on control really made this feature feel half-implemented and more of a gimmick than a feature.  Furthermore, the benefits of joining an online game seem few and far between for the helper.  As the helpee, the player can progress through the game and collect boss souls.  As for the helper, the only reward they get is their body back.  Having one’s body only really allows for summoning others and increased health.  Considering that one could get their body back through use of a common item and the changes to gameplay are few, I don’t see why I would want to help some random person kill a boss.  This is especially odd since as the helper I wouldn’t get to progress in the game from the experience.  Given that the Playstation Network supports friends, voice chat, and other modern features, this anemic multiplayer feature has no purpose for being so underdeveloped.  It feels very half-finished to me.

Dan: Other than reviving your body and gaining experience, there was very little motivation to play online.  It helps the living player a lot, as he is progressed forward in the campaign as well as gaining the boss’s soul.  Helpers do not get either of these, so the experience ends up feeling like a waste.  Now while you are logged on to PSN, you can see hints and others playing the game.  The big issue is that hints are severely limited to fill in the blank.  “Beware of the enemies ****.”  No, seriously, that is a hint you can leave.  The catch is that you need to fill in the blank so it’s not nearly as funny to leave.  I have to admit with an item called “White Sticky Stuff,” you can make enough bad jokes.  This game desperately needed a way to talk or type to other players and plan attacks as all you can do is make hand gestures to other players.

Sam: When playing Demon’s Souls, the enemy AI seemed to show some major flaws at time.  There was one instance in particular in the first level where I could lead several enemies through a fatal bonfire.  By drawing the enemies’ attention, then standing so the fire was between the enemies and me, they would blindly walk into the fire and die.  Stupid moments like these happened rather often throughout the game.  While the fighting-AI was very good for one-on-one fighting, general aggressive approach-AI seemed to ignore many hazards that I would think a competent enemy would have avoided.

Dan: Definitely, the AI is dumber than rocks in this game.  They will walk off the map at the sight of you.  The “stealth” in this game is even more hilarious.  It really should be called the ring of apathy because that’s what it really is.  The enemies just give up very quickly when you have a stealth ability.  Ranged attackers can’t see you in plain sight until you are a few feet from them.  As the AI is mainly stupid, the challenge is added by increasing the heath and attack power.

 Demon's Souls

An enemy knight stares in awe as the player clips into a nearby wall

Dan: While I previously talked about how good this game looks, there was one big flaw I didn’t mention.  The physics in this game make it hiccup and crawl at times as you destroy the destructible items in the map.  The rag dolls are very erratic as they flail around like weightless puppets.  The slowdowns due to the physics in this game are inexcusable.  This is a Playstation exclusive and Havoc is a common physics engine used in many games.  For there to be this kind of technical difficulty in this kind of game is ridiculous.

Sam: I was also disappointed that the physics didn’t really add anything to the gameplay either.  I think it would have been cool if I could have rigged falling traps for enemies or something.  It was cool to be able to break objects into pieces, but since none of that effected gameplay, it may have been a wasted effort for a purely cosmetic feature.


<<What we liked about Demon’s Souls

<<Bones we have to pick with Demon’s Souls

Our conclusions>>


Our conclusions…


Sam: Overall, I found Demon’s Souls to have some excellent one-on-one fighting mechanics.  These mechanics had trouble with several enemies and was further troubled by a flaky lock-on system.  When these issues did not occur, however, the player was left with a very satisfying experience.  Due in part to the difficulty and in part to the satisfying fighting mechanics, I often felt a strong sense of accomplishment when new equipment was found and levels were gained.  Demon’s Souls really made me appreciate the progress I made in it.  The art and environments were very cool to look at.  Each area had a unique feel and told just a little bit about Boletaria.  I was left with wanting more from the game though.  This game seemed to only scratch the surface of a fascinating land.  The armors and weapons were also designed in a very smart and cool way.  The artists on this project managed to bring the fantasy and darkness of Boletaria out in the equipment’s design.  Furthermore, using these weapons against bosses was great fun.  Between the great one-on-one fighting mechanics, fascinating weapons, and larger than life bosses, these fights felt very epic and tense.  I was very thankful that I was allowed to really fight these great demons as well.  Many modern games use cut-scenes, quick time events, or set piece gimmicks to keep the player safe.  Demon’s Souls took a different route and put the player in harm’s way by standing toe-to-toe with powerful bosses.

 Demon's Souls

Standing mono-a-mono against King Allant, a powerful demon boss

On the flip side, the fighting mechanics don’t work well at all with more than one enemy.  I found myself dying more often from clumsy movement and bugged lock-on targeting than from my lack of fighting skill.  To make matters worse, many of Demon’s Souls’ levels ignored these shortcomings and put the player in situations that seemed to showcase these flaws in design.  Many levels featured narrow paths with deadly falls, flying enemies that would bug out the lock-on system, and enemy placements that require a level of player maneuverability to prevent death that just cannot be done.  Many additional features, such as how to aim a bow and arrow, are never discussed in game to any extent.  Many of these features are required to fully understand how the game world operates in reference to the player’s decisions.  This lack of documentation was baffling and made much of my play though more difficult than it had to be.  The online feature also felt half-implemented and ultimately didn’t motivate me to use it much.  The addition of more communication options and control of who you play with would have improved this feature tremendously.  The act of invading other peoples’ games seemed more like a minor distraction than a true feature.

Overall, I would say Demon’s Souls is worth a $35 – $40 purchase.  The gameplay can be very enjoyable and the game’s length is 40+ hours.  However, many of those hours are spent grinding and the gameplay has some major design issues that keep it from achieving full listed retail value.

Dan: Overall, I was disappointed with Demon’s Souls.  I was expecting more of a game like Diablo 2, going into the game with lots of loot, monsters and multiplayer.  What I got was a repetitive single-player game with very little story and AI that gives up on fighting when faced with the powerful stealth ring.  It admittedly looked great and had some great boss battles, but after going through the game I felt like it was an unfinished game.  The game really hates you that first level.  They wait to unlock the rest of the game on until completion of that first map.  I gave up on my first try as a barbarian and suddenly had a substantially easier time with a different class the second try.  The difficulty curve will likely make many players frustrated initially, but after the first map the game gets a lot easier.  Grinding seems mandatory to upgrade your weapons or recover from a double death.  Since the characters are all statically placed, there are no surprises the second time running through an area.

 Demon's Souls

Spending souls to upgrade stats, something hard to do with no souls

I would say Demon’s Souls is worth a $30 purchase.  While it looks nice and has fun bosses, there is very little past that I really enjoyed.  The multiplayer is a joke and not very rewarding or useful mainly due to the complete lack of reasonable means to communicate with others in this game.  Preset messages and hand gestures can not replace a voice chat or text chat.  The game’s story is very forgettable and lacks depth.  You are the chosen one and apparently can not have a more than one-sided conversation with anyone.  It’s like a medieval Gordon Freeman; people want to talk to you even though you are a mute and you are here to fix the world.  I felt this is a $30 price point because I’ve played more enjoyable RPGs on my DS.  When it comes to full game console RPGs, I expect a lot more from them, as they eat up a lot of time and chain me to one location to play through it.  The frame rate drops from physics are inexcusable.  This is an exclusive game on a system that has been on the market a while.  There really should be no technical hiccups on games like this.  Pick it up used in a year when it drops in price.


Demon's Souls - Sam vs. Dan


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5 Responses to “Demon’s Souls – A Glass That’s Half Empty”

  1. Brian White

    Congrats Sam and Dan on your first game review!

    This is the most impressive game review I have ever seen.

    If someone does not know whether they should buy or skip this title after reading your in-depth analysis and review, then they will never know.

    AWESOME job guys!

    I look forward to your next one!

  2. Gregg

    Grand job, lads! I feel like I’ve played the game myself after reading your work! You certainly provide the reader with pertinent info. I can’t imagine someone having many questions after concluding a review of your coverage.

  3. Chris B

    First of all, I have to say that it is refreshing to have a review that isn’t afraid to get very detailed with what the gameplay experience is like. Thanks for that Dan and Sam.

    That being said, there were some issues I had with the review. The progression of the review seemed clear enough in the beginning (Pros, then cons, then the conclusion), but the review didn’t hold up to that for long. Every now and then, the negative feedback slipped into the “What we like about Demon’s Souls…”, losing me a bit on where your argument was going. At the very least, I could tell you did indeed have “a few bones to pick” long before I arrived at the “Bones to Pick” section.

    One thing that lost me a bit sometimes as well was the justification for the length of the review. Don’t get me wrong, you guys had a lot of good information within the review and I would hate to see it taken out in any way. My problem was when you guys would repeat each other’s points without further elaboration. Points about how good the environment looked felt a little bit repeated at times, making me feel like you guys were forcing your format/writing style of the review rather than utilizing it to acknowledge counter-points like you do in other parts of the article. I’m sure if some of the repetition was edited out, the article would become that much more concise and engaging.

    My final thought is on how you guys choose to “rate” the game based on opinionated value rather than a number or letter score. I’m very interested in seeing how you two plan to further utilize this “Gauge” in future reviews. Again, this is a refreshing take on the typical “fandom-based” review.

    I hope some of these comments help and I wish you two the best of luck on your future reviews. Take care and congrats.

  4. Roger

    Overall it looks like a great game unfortunately I kinda got a little tired playing the same stage over and over and over and over again. I could not save. If you died an hour into it then you were brought back to the very begining drained of whatever items you lost instead of being aloud to keep them only to do it all over again. I’ve tried about 6 hours now and just decided to shelve the game, unlike another game I had I just pulled it out of the machine and snapped it into pieces. I really liked the idea of it though I thought it would be something i would really enjoy as I very much like that erra

  5. Dewayne

    Great job, guys. It’s really refreshing to read a review that’s not afraid to be honest about what’s good and bad about a game regardless of it’s popularity, or lack thereof.