Demon’s Souls (North American version): hands-on preview

Demon’s Souls is hard.

When we say hard, we don’t mean ‘quite difficult’. We mean ‘the tutorial has a boss‘. Specifically, we mean ‘the tutorial has a huge boss whose sole purpose is to send you to the next area by killing you with humiliating ease’. So in case you were wondering, no; the game’s infamous difficulty doesn’t seem to have been tampered with for the North American release.

The first thing to hit you about Demon’s Souls is atmosphere, which it has in spades. The industry has been wading through more fantasy RPGs than is surely healthy for a long time now, but very few succeed in creating a sense of being in a unique time and space. The opening (visually impressive) cut scene sets the tone for a forlorn and damned city wonderfully, and this is maintained throughout gameplay. Exploring grand man-made structures, you’ll find that friendly faces are few and far between. Most of your time will be spent battling twisted humanoid shapes or strange monsters. Most disturbing of all perhaps, are the ostensibly normal people in these same areas who attack you on sight.

The Nexus, which is essentially the world hub, is the only area to offer a respite from attack; but even here hopelessness, bitterness, and lost glory remain. You first enter the Nexus after being killed (in the tutorial, did we mention that?). At any rate, we did. You’ll initially find an emo witch, a grumpy Scottish blacksmith, a man torn apart emotionally by his final memory of life before the Nexus, some chap bitter at being trapped in the Nexus after death, and, er, a woman sitting next to some candles. Most of this hub area is empty and lonely; but there are lines of corpses to be found upstairs. Not a happy place.

Did we tell you that this game is also extremely difficult?

The emphasis is most definitely on combat. Whereas many RPGs are happy for you to charge through waves of enemies bashing the controls like an alcohol fuelled game of whack-a-mole, Demon’s Souls will punish such a tactic. You must carefully watch and exploit attack patterns if you wish to have any chance at all of seeing more than five minutes of gameplay. Why? Because mistakes are punished ruthlessly, especially when fighting a group of enemies; and there are no checkpoints.

That’s right, no checkpoints. And the first level is a bloomin’ castle. And every single enemy you’ve killed (boss excluded) respawns every time you die. Used items, including healing items, stay used. You always respawn right at the start of the level. And you lose every last ‘soul’ (the game’s currency) you’ve collected from fallen enemies unless you can make it all the way to the spot you died without dying again. Which you won’t, if your weapons and armour have degraded from use too much. Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned the ambushes or the exploding barrels. Or, indeed, the fact that you can not pause the game. We must confess, we found this title to be none too easy.

Demon’s Souls has an online element, which is exploited in unique ways. Rather than choosing between single player mode or multiplayer mode via a menu, online play blends seamlessly into the single player experience. Your first sign of this is the occasional appearance of a ghostly player character; who will completely ignore you and go about their business. What you’re seeing here are the actions of another player in their own game. This idea is explored further – and more to your advantage – via the bloodstains system.

When playing whilst signed in to PSN, you will sometimes come across a bloodstain on the floor. Each bloodstain represents the death of another player in their own game, in the area in which you find it. Touching the bloodstain summons a ghost, who acts out the last ten seconds or so of the player’s actions before death. This is of course intended to provide you with warnings and tips about upcoming dangers – but for us, has often provided good comedy moments. So many times we’ve seen how a player has died in what we considered to be a relatively simple section, or how they’ve jumped to their death from a great height for no apparent reason. These players are almost exclusively American games journos. Score one for the British indie journo scene!

We’ll cover co-op and versus play in the full review (to be published in plenty of time for the October 6th release). This is partly because you can’t actually access these features until you’ve killed the first ‘proper’ boss.

Did we mention this is a rather demanding game?

If for some strange reason you feel you haven’t learned enough about Demon’s Souls here, you could always visit the official site. Or perhaps you’d prefer the official blog, because it sounds cooler.

See what else Atlus U.S.A. have up their sleeves at

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.


  1. KrazyFace /

    Hrmm, sounds hard. Lost Levels hard. TMNT on the NES hard. Platnum for WipEout HD hard. Am I close?

  2. Patrick G /

    I hearing thats it’s Ghouls ‘n Ghosts hard :). Can’t wait to get my copy

  3. Kevin M /

    Sounds pretty good apart from the ‘uber-hard’ difficulty. I’m intrigued with the online aspect of the game. It sounds really interesting and different to other online games, which can only be good.

Leave a Reply to Kevin M