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Demon's Souls
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: From Software
Genre: Action RPG
Format: BD-ROM
Release: US 10/06/09
Japan 02/05/09



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Your enemies are truly dangerous to you, and they look it.
 
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Look - it's you! No, not him. The little guy in front.
 
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Sure, they're the same size as you, but this still looks like a very bad situation.
 
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Finally, something you can deal with. Just two skeletons.
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John Tucker
First Look Preview
08/27/09
John Tucker

Earlier this year, Atlus released Demon's Souls, an action RPG for the PS3, in Japan. US gamers will have a crack at it beginning October 6th, and I got the opportunity to sit down with Atlus' Aram Jabbari for a demonstration of the near-final build and the chance to ask some questions.

As James mentioned in his review of the original Japanese version, Demon's Souls is difficult by design. You can expect to die a lot in this game. However, one thing that is immediately striking about Demon's Souls is that in this game, death is not the end. It just means the loss of any unused experience points. Once you've died, you can still try to fight your way back to your corpse, although you're given a shorter health meter, so you can expect it to be an even bigger challenge than it was while you were alive. Of course, this time around, you know what's coming, so you can try to avoid making the same mistakes you did before.

Playing while dead also allows you to do some things you can't do alive, so it's not necessarily an awful thing. The biggest gameplay feature available only to the dead is the ability to initiate co-operative and competitive multiplayer. While you're dead, you can offer your help to the living. Help them to kill a level boss, and you get your body back, as well as any experience you earned while helping them. The player you helped can also rate you as a helper, and since getting a good rating grants you bonus experience, and your rating is visible to all other players whether it's good or bad, it's definitely in your best interest to be a good assistant. On the flip side, you can also take a darker path and try to invade another player's world and kill them. Pull it off, and you get your body back. However, if they manage to kill you instead, you will lose a point of your best stat. If they manage to "escape" to the level boss' lair, you get sent back to your own game with no penalty. After all, it's no fair attacking someone while they're up against a boss.

As was true in the Japanese release, you can't choose which player to help or to attack, but the game tries to keep things fair by restricting players to games where the character is within a certain number of levels of their own. All in all, my impression was that the developers have put a lot of work into balancing this potentially scary gameplay element, but that they are going to get a lot of criticism for sticking with the "strangers only" multiplayer. The multiplayer aspect is very important to this game, and there will be many players who would rather stick with their friends rather than deal exclusively with random strangers.

Another way you can try to help your fellow gamers is by leaving messages for them. You work from a fairly comprehensive template system rather than getting to type in whatever you want, which should help eliminate the number of messages you'd otherwise see whose sole purpose is to question your sexual orientation or relationship with your mother. Other players who see your messages can rate them, and you'll recover some health if they give it a good rating, another way that being helpful is rewarded.

As you might expect from the existence of these choices, Demon's Souls features a reputation system, which is known as Tendency. As you progress through the game, certain actions will lighten your Tendency, and some will darken it, and having either a light or a dark Tendency will open up things for you that aren't available otherwise. As in some other games with a reputation system, having a dark reputation carries its own rewards, just as a light reputation does. And it's not just the character that has a Tendency; each of the main areas in the world has its own Tendency as well. Your actions within a given area affect its Tendency, and you'll enjoy benefits that come with both light and dark. For example, enemies in an area with a dark Tendency have more HP, but they also drop better loot. In addition, an area's Tendency can open up or block off certain paths, which definitely helps the game's replay factor.

Once you've beaten an area, you can come back to it and fight your way through again, although the boss will no longer be waiting for you at the end. Every enemy you defeat earns you "Soul Points," and you'll probably want all of those you can get, because they serve as both the game's currency and experience points. It seems odd to think of using the same points to buy, upgrade, or repair your sword that you do to improve your stats, and only hands-on experience with the game will tell me how I feel about it in the end.

Also affecting replay value is the fact that you can start your character in one of ten classes, and then completely customize them from that point. If you want to build a spell-casting barbarian, feel free. When you finish the game, you can start over with a new character, or take the New Game Plus option to play with the same character on an even higher difficulty level. And if that level's not hard enough, you can keep playing with the same character over and over again until it is. The game should take between 20 and 40 hours to complete, so those of us who tend to spend hundreds of hours with an RPG will probably really appreciate this feature.

Demon's Souls is already out in Japan, and the core gameplay isn't changing for its upcoming US release. However, the developers clearly tried to take lessons learned from the original release and change some of the little things to make the combat the hard part of the game, and not the menus. Many things that were abbreviated in the original have been typed out fully, such as a change from "Phys Def" to "Physical Defense." Despite the fact that I didn't witness a final build, I was impressed at the short length of the loading times, especially considering that we were told this game doesn't require installation. I was impressed by some of the graphical touches as well: some of the enemies look really scary, and the effects on dead players who enter your game are very appropriate.

The Playstation platforms have always had a reputation as the best choice for RPGs, but the Playstation 3 has yet to build a very large library in the genre, especially in terms of exclusives. Fortunately, Demon's Souls got respectable reviews in its original release, and only six weeks remain before US gamers get the chance to find out for themselves what kind of contribution it will make to the RPGs available to us. Watch RPGFan for continuing coverage and a review as the launch date approaches.



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