Demon’s Souls (PS3, From Software & SCE Japan Studio, 2009)
Score: Not that good, but things get personal.
Demon’s souls, and particularly his cousin, Dark Souls, is (in)famous for being terribly difficult. That’s why I say things get personal. If everyone says it’s so challenging, you have to beat it, dammit!
So why is it difficult? See, in this game you collect souls, which count as experience points and also currency. If you die, you lose every soul you were carrying with you, and you can only recover them if you go to the spot where you died and touch your bloodstain. If you don’t get killed in the way, that is. If that were to happen, because you slipped and fell down a cliff, for instance, your previous bloodstain disappears and all those souls are lost forever. There is no way to store your souls away, you can only keep them, spend them, or lose them. Also there is no selling that sweet, sweet heavy armor you looted and you can’t wear because you happened to build a mage. You can only stash it and forget about it.
Mainly for this reason, that you will lose your progress if you get killed, this game makes you play like a coward. A lot of corners and corridors are badly lit and hide a monster, or a cliff, so you learn to walk very slowly and look all around for nasty surprises, and also to backtrack and go home to spend your precious souls, lest you find a ridiculously overpowered monster (or you fall to your death in a ridiculous way) and you’re left without anything, pretty much like a player in Who wants to be a millionaire? So you have to repeat every stage, a lot, pretty much until you know it by heart and you can finally beat it.
On the other hand, even a mediocre player like me can beat it because all it really takes is learning the obstacle course by heart and trial and error and then devising a strategy for beating it (or looking it up on the internet). There are ridiculously cheap ways to beat difficult monsters, such as throwing poison darts at them and hiding or tricking them into falling down a cliff or a flight of stairs. For instance I killed both Scirvir and Old King Allant by poisoning them while they just stood there like ‘Gee, I’m feeling a little sick, I think’, threw fireballs at Garl Vinland until he got bored and died, sniped all the dragons and basically sneaked my way through 5-2 because I hated that level. And I’m not ashamed of it, isn’t not cheating, just really boring. And I want to think that the final boss fight is the biggest trolling I got from a developer since I finished Mass Effect 3.
Also something that makes it easier than it looks is that monsters are incredibly dumb. They just patrol their area and attack you following exactly the same patterns time and again, so they’re mostly easy to counter, and if you can’t beat them, go do some farming and come back later. If you run away from them fast enough they will lose interest and go back to their post. Oh, I didn’t mention it, but you can’t pause the game. You can open the menu but the action will go on. This only means you can’t change your equipment during battle or pause to heal and you have to get used to using hotkeys quite fast, but it’s not really difficult once you get used to it. And if you need to go to the toilet you can park your character in a dark corner away from the monsters and nobody will care to find you.
Even with all this downsides, or upsides, I don’t know, it still gets quite frustrating from time to time. It has taken me very, very long to beat it mostly because sometimes it gets past the territory of challenging fun and into the territory of ‘it feels like doing homework’. As I said you can beat it even if you’re a not very good player like me by using insane amounts of farming (insane for a Western player, nothing comparable to what you need to get 100% in Tales games or Star Ocean 4). You can do it the difficult way or just level up until the monsters of the level you’re stuck in just tickle you. This will take hours of repeating a particular section that nets you a lot of souls in a short time. Special mention goes to The Valley of Defilement, which made me start the game over again by being basically unbeatable with the poor build I had made for my character.
I didn’t mention the story because it’s not very elaborate and the artistic design is ugly, but it’s safe to assume it was on purpose. Apparently an evil fog has come down to the Kingdom of Boletaria because its king had never heard of a faustian deal and thought it was the greatest thing ever. You also go to a mine, an abandoned jail, a ruined castle full of skeletons and flying mantas and to a sort of dumpster where corpses and aborted fetuses stack up knee-high. It’s really, really ugly and depressing and there are so few NPCs that you might as well be in purgatory.
All in all, it’s a refreshing experience, especially if you’ve only played videogames for the last fifteen years or so. If you played before, probably you’ve played old-school stuff that was more challenging than this. Also note that despite having a quite Western look it’s a Japanese game, so expect to find common tropes of JRPG.