|Quintin Smith said:
Demon's Souls is a heavy game, which is to say it's all about weight. The emotional weight your character carries having been separated from his soul. The weight of your decisions, which can and do kill you. The weight of fear, panic and the unknown. The weight of your equipment and loot, which sometimes has you wincing with each extra pound. And the weight of the constant combat, which pays enough attention to heft and tactility to make you think best the close-quarter fighting games of the past were doing it wrong.
But the benefit of From Software taking pains to make Demon's Souls a tactile game extends beyond the combat. In making the way your character moves and fights feel so real, they're increasing your immersion in this world they've made. That ends up being much appreciated, because the world they've built is phenomenal.
This is what separates the good dungeon crawler from the great one- an understanding that the crawling, the exploration of an unknown space, is half the game. In Demon's Souls pushing through the kingdom of Boletaria is nothing short of a total joy. The art design, level design and sheer imagination of the team make every new section an expectation-shattering treat, the only constant the idea of a once-majestic kingdom corrupted by demons.
Course, this doesn't change the fact that Demon's Souls is still a game which points you in the direction of certain death and tells you to walk. It also boasts side-paths guarded by stationary enemies triple your level, obvious traps that goad you into triggering them, treasure that glints on the far side of pits that are a touch too big to jump and so on. There's no denying the game is rattlesnake-mean, but then so are the best dungeon-crawlers. Where on Earth is the excitement in exploring the unknown if you know you're safe?
The only thing that matters here is that the trepidation that builds inside you when you're in unexplored territory is fierce enough to keep you safe. The artistry From Software have deployed here is in creating a world that's consistently lethal and foreboding enough to build fear, immersion, excitement and great caution in the player, but not so dangerous as the same caution won't be enough to keep them safe nine times out of ten.
The potential loss of body and soul in Demon's Souls are design decisions worth studying because they deliberately punish the player for death, something big Western developers now try to erase completely from their games, and yet it works, implying we're missing a trick.
The tension and excitement that comes from forging into dangerous areas is magnified and elevated by the knowledge that you have something to lose beyond having to replay a tiny scrap of the level. Walking into the lair of a new boss demon becomes as petrifying as "walking into the lair of a new boss demon" sounds like it should be.
It doesn't happen often, but occasionally a Japanese developer will create something fascinating by approaching an area long-established in the West with none of the traditional wisdom. Breakdown for the original Xbox, for example, which was Namco's skewed vision of an FPS, or there's Chromehounds for the 360 which earned a cult following by bucking plenty of team-based multiplayer traditions.
Demon's Souls does the same thing with its online functionality. It's the product of a bunch of guys who sat around a table for a very long time and did some thinking without the burden of preconceptions.
It plays like an adrenaline spike, and has a very important lesson to teach about what we're losing as so many developers and publishers continue down this path where mass customer satisfaction is the primary concern. Demon's Souls is cold, and hard, and brilliant.