Sunday, January 23, 2011

Demon's Souls Comprehensive Review

+++ Flamelurker, Penetrator, and False King boss fights are fantastic
+++ Extremely smooth and intuitive control scheme, possibly the best for any Action RPG ever
+++ Best usage of Dragons in any visual media period
+++ Boletarian Palace
++ Stonefang Tunnel
++ Shrine of Storms
++ Close to infinite replay value
+ Capacity to beat every boss with Melee, Ranged, Magic, or a combination of the three
+ Solid Graphics
+ Decent Score
+ Most of the regular enemies are challenging and well designed
+ Character Tendency is well done and interesting
+ Mephistopheles and Yurt
+ Extremely difficult
--- Valley of Defilement
--- Essentially no storyline to speak of
-- World Tendency, while an interesting idea, doesn't function very well at all
-- Giant Depraved Ones
-- A large number of things could happen that could fuck you over completely just on accident
-- Vast majority of the bosses are easy
- Inability to see is often the most dangerous opponent
- Tower of Latria
- Much of the extraneous portions of the game would take hundreds of hours to figure out on your own (i.e. upgrade system, crystal lizards, crow lady, tendency areas, character tendency vs. world tendency)
- Weapons and Shields are wildly imbalanced
- Warding can trivialize portions of the game

This game is easily the most hit or miss game I've ever played, though the general trend is great. I think the best way to review this is world by world, giving each world an individual score and then adding them up and dividing by 5. I know what that number will wind up being but I'm still debating whether to give it a 0.5 bonus for being so unique and wondrous or not. I probably will given the preponderance of high scores I've doled out already. I'll keep an approximate death counter for each world for your entertainment as well. I played essentially the whole game blind aside from the first area.

Those are corpses in his mouth

Boletarian Palace
Listen to this while reading: Theme of the False King
This portion of the game is resoundingly atmospheric with visual cues for each portion of the palace which is quite large and extremely detailed. The first area is basically the first level of the game and isn't particularly difficult but still gives you a taste of a variety of enemies and methods for dealing with them. Phalanx is a good introductory boss though it may be possible to brute force him. The second area is where things start getting interesting, a gigantic badass firebreathing dragon comes down and lights ablaze sections of a bridge that you have to cross in a well timed fashion.

This is what made me buy the game is knowledge of how awesome this sounds and looks (and made Yahtzee hate it conversely). There are even garbage enemies standing there that get massacred the first time he goes over that particular section. Without giving too much of the game away this video shows off the first appearance of the dragon (which is still in the first area). Dragons have always been an awesome sort of creature in your head but visual media has never really captured the full effect until now. Tower Knight is a solid boss that smurfed me with his shield the first time I walked in the door, though I did beat it on the second try with relative ease. This game does difficult bosses both well and poor and also does easy bosses both well and poor, keeping with the hit or miss theme.

The third and fourth areas (not unlocked until you fully clear another world) are probably the best looking part of the game, you fight the same general soldiers that you encountered before but they're much tougher. You also fight Red Eyed Knights and Fat Officials which are both well designed enemies. The Fat Officials in Stonefang Tunnel were the first difficult enemy I faced and I died several times before figuring out how to dodge effectively while still damaging them. While there is no awesome dragon in this area there's still a lot of dangerous enemies and bizarre traps. I suppose if you found yourself here in Black World Tendency you'd be completely fucked early on but assuming you magically know how World Tendency works it's not that bad. Penetrator is easy if you fight him with Biorr but very challenging without Biorr and also very well designed. He has a huge attack radius but doesn't move as rapidly as Flamelurker. With fast rolls it's still possible to avoid much of the damage and as such the boss is feasibly beatable even as he tears out your soul and eats your children.

The Fourth area brings forth another Dragon which hits even harder than the last and an incredible procession area lined with statues and dead corpses as the road to the de facto Final boss. The False King is once again an outstanding boss with a variety of attacks and great music. He, along with Flamelurker, took me 5 tries to beat though I did almost beat the King on the first try. Quite the epic struggle it was. Each time you die you have to corpsewalk to get your souls (leveling power and currency) back which will inevitably cause you to die again and lose all of those souls, but the King himself has a nice soul suck attack that takes an entire soul level away from you. Assuming you fight him last that's around 50,000 souls. While this is easy enough to avoid it is still quite brutal when it does hit at the end of a long attack chain. You can still, fortunately, get those souls back as long as you can get to your corpse again whilst fighting the boss after proceeding past the fire breathing dragon, 2 ministers, an assassin, some crossbowmen, and a Red Eyed Knight that can nearly one shot you. And that's one of the easier run-backs the game has to offer. Bahahaha...

Just in case you thought the rest of this area was too easy Old King Doran waits to massacre you in one of the optional (this one easily accessible relatively speaking) areas of this region. If the whole game was like this I'd be hard pressed not to give it a 10/10 and say it's just as good as Vagrant Story despite having no storyline whatsoever! Alas it was not to be.
Area Score: 10/10
Deaths: Tower Knight ~ 1, Falling ~ 3, Knights ~ 3, False King ~ 4, Doran ~ 10

The Dragon God

Stonefang Tunnel
Listen to this While Reading: Theme of Flamelurker

This area is fairly intuitive as a whole and has good shortcut systems throughout (though the short way to Flamelurker will take some trial and error). I find the elevator to Ed and up to near the Armor Spider is the best shortcut in the game. The first area is moderately difficult assuming you do it as the second area you go to, as there are boulder throwing douchebags and Fat Officials around to go with wolves, salamanders, and miners. This is the first time you'll be faced with having to vary your weapon selection (assuming you don't have something like the Crescent Falchion yet) to do appreciable damage. This isn't like Vagrant Story where it makes you do 0 damage all the time if you're not set up appropriately but it does speed things up to experiment. The first boss is, methinks, the fifth hardest boss in the game and is the long aforementioned boss where I died twice then said fuck it and brute forced it while using up all of my herbs in the process. This was quite tense and exciting at the time and since it was so early in the game I was ecstatic. Unfortunately most of the other bosses aren't as difficult. At the time I had no idea how the dodge system worked so I wasn't about to fast roll dodge everything. If I had not brute forced it it would have presumably taken a lot more than 3 tries.

The second area is much more atmospheric since it's not pitch black most of the time but there are the annoying bearbugs that have shitloads of HP while not being much of a threat which are the lone dark spot on this whole area. Fortunately it's possible to bypass them if you're into being suicidal and falling about 8 or 9 times to figure out the short route to Flamelurker. The area moving up to Flamelurker is lined with petrified enemies and dragon bones, just to make you think about how many times this Ifrit looking fellow has pounded your face in. Flamelurker is the best boss in the game, probably top 5 in any action game period, and while his theme song isn't that impressive it does have a sort of perserverant theme, he is the unstoppable relentless force that murders you over and over. Actually I did beat Flamelurker in relatively few attempts (5), but the first 2 fights I took him down about 5% before dying horribly just to make me respect his greatness all the more. I got substantially better each of the next two attempts before defeating him on the fifth, but one wrong step or too few dodge rolls and I'd have died horribly once more.

The third area is your first introduction to the gimmicky boss fight design of all the third areas. Aside from Penetrator (which still has a cheap exit with Biorr) each of the other four bosses are relatively easy, though I respect the Old Monk fight's design, they're sort of puzzle based where a wrong step can kill you instantly but gradually figuring out the puzzle is none too difficult. This sort of makes the Dragon God less impressive than the other two Dragons in the game since he goes down simply enough, though he'll probably nail you with his awesome fist of doom at least once.

Area Score: 9.5/10
Deaths: Armor Spider ~ 2, Flamelurker ~ 4, Miners ~ 2, Falling ~ 5, Fat Officials ~ 5, Dragon God ~ 1

Tower of Latria
Listen to this While Reading: Theme of Old Monk or Maneater

The first area of this zone was the first time I had to contemplate what the fuck to do to progress. The area is sort of a maze with very little light so it can be hard to avoid falling to your death over and over and over and... Yeah.  As you may have noticed falling is easily the most dangerous opponent in the game and this is the poster child level for falling to your doom. The bigger reason is the enemies in this area, evidently lovecraft inspired Squid headed guards that have three very powerful spells, 2 of which just do a ton of damage and stun you, the third paralyzes you so they can run up and stick their tentacles into you and kill you in one hit (at least as early as I went to this zone).

Now, the game does have a cheesy way to deal with these guys but I was nowhere near having it yet so I just had to get good at stealthily walking up to them and unloading before retreating out of sight once more. It was always pretty tense but this is probably where I got over the learning curve hump and actually grew competent in the game, 3-4 hours in. As I've said numerous times Vagrant Story's learning curve is much, much steeper than that, but a 3-4 hour curve is still mildly impressive. The first boss has a pretty stupid gimmick but ignoring that the fight is alright, not utterly trivial.

The second area is one of the better looking areas in the game, though it is once again almost universally dark. This time instead of random ass pitfalls you walk along narrow ledges the whole time (though I only fell once or twice at this point) and new enemies. By this point in the game I was using a spear/shield setup which is pretty much the best way to deal with regular enemies unless you're a magic user (though I imagine most everyone who plays eventually comes around to using magic, bows, and melee weapons combined to the degree of their own taste) and it completely annihilated most of this area. There's another H.P. Lovecraft inspired Giant Heart which is nice and bloody and thumping while you go around, but it looked like a Marlboro to me to start with so I had no idea of this particularly atmospheric region, even while wading through blood below. This game does not have a precisely free camera, it isn't possible to look straight up so it is sometime hards to gage your surroundings, but in general it works well.

Yurt is also found in this area, and I believe he deserves an extra special aside. Yurt is in a cage from which you can free him (the cage is also an elevator to the floor below) at which point he'll wander off. He suggest he's there to help you slay demons but in reality he murders people. All of the NPCs who serve some vendoring purpose in the nexus save Stockpile Thomas and Ed will be murdered one by one by Yurt unless you kill him first, one for every demon you kill subsequently I believe. While this is pretty evil on the game's part I think it's pretty hilarious and the bonus is that if you kill Yurt and then go off and murder some innocent civilians you'll be tasked by Mephistopheles to murder those same people. This is probably the most creative quest the game has, though to figure this out on your own would be absurdly difficult.

The boss of the second area is Maneater, a pair of gargoyles who aren't especially difficult by themselves, you get about 1 minute to kill the first before the second one lands. However when both of them are active at once the fight is absurdly hard and the area is very constricting (just a long, narrow bridge with falls to your doom on either side) so it behooves you to kill one as fast as possible. I don't really have a problem with the design other than it feels like a gearcheck in an MMO, some of you may be gearcheck fans but I think they're pretty boring and prefer an individual difficult boss to one that forces you to just do an asston of damage in a short period. I wound up using the Clever Rat's Ring which got me killed about 5 times before I got it to work. While I did die the most during it this fight was boring overall. It might be the 4th most difficult boss in the game but it's just very tedious and boring as opposed to thrilling and terrifying action like the other top 5 bosses.

The third area of the Tower of Latria is a fight with the Old Monk's vessel, who if you're playing online can be a player who gets a special piece of headware. This is actually a pretty cool design and I would've like to see it in action but I don't play the PS3 online very much and it would've screwed up World Tendency stuff so meh.

Area Score: 7/10
Deaths: Falling ~ 12, Mindflayers ~ 5, Fool's Idol ~ 1, Maneater ~ 7

This enormous Manta Ray is called the Storm King
Shrine of Storms
Listen to this while reading: Old Hero's Theme

This area has the best designed regular enemies of any area in the game, with the Dual Katana black skeleton being the fairest (but yet still difficult) opponent who can nearly one shot you. If by this point in the game you haven't picked up on guarding with your shield a lot you will get mercilessly slaughtered by the regular rolling skeletons however. There are virtually no shortcuts in the whole area, which can make the bosses a slog.

The first area is fairly atmospheric and for once the game is not extremely dark all the time, albeit there is a ton of bloom instead. Whatever happened to normal lighting? As you progress you gradually realize you have to use ranged weapons to kill the Manta Rays floating around, which takes a very long time. The runback, assuming you don't know the very obscure shortcut, is around 25 minutes to the first boss which is the most painful portion of the whole game. While going through this area is fairly fun the portion along the cliffside with the heavy skeletons and manta rays beating the shit out of you while you can't maneuver can go straight to hell.

The first boss only took 2 tries but it took me 2-3 deaths just to get back there due to the damn cliffsides. This area of the game gives the most souls so it wasn't all that horrible but it was the first time I put up a music montage to make it less annoying. I'll pick several random songs while I go through a tedious repetitive part of a game and listen to them, this not only makes me play better but makes the tedium bearable and generally I'll succeed relatively quickly. That first boss is the first actively poor boss in the game, with very easy to avoid attacks and an annoying gimmick, but I did make it through about 30 minutes into my montage (GTA IV had two such missions that each took about 45 minutes).

The second area features Grim Reapers that summon infinite ghost monsters that are fairly difficult themselves. The reaper hits very hard and is fairly difficult in melee but if you learned from your Manta Ray shooting gallery experience they're not too bad. While this also has a long runback featuring cliffsides and no shortcut it's not nearly as bad as the first area and you'll be making nearly a soul level per trip to start with. Assuming you're wearing the Thief's Ring (which you should for the vast majority of the whole game) the Manta Rays aren't as annoying as they are in the first area and there's actually room to maneuver around the Gold Skeletons of doom. The next boss, the Old Hero, is interesting because he's blind, but he also hits ridiculously hard and crushes your soul if you aren't careful. I beat him on the first try but had a few close calls since 1 hit took off 90% of my HP.

The third area has the Storm King, who is only defeated using either ranged attacks (you're insane if you do that the first run through the game) or the Storm Ruler sword which has a nice special effect in this region where it rends the sky with a hugeass wave of destruction that murders those oh so irritating manta rays that have been tormenting you for the past 4 hours. Next to the Dragons in Boletarian palace this is the most visually impressive and "coolest" thing in the game. The Storm King can kill you in one to two hits if you're not dodging effectively but the fight isn't all that difficult. It is the best example of a good easy boss design as opposed to the triviality of the bosses in the next area of the game, that slog through a river of shit called the Shawshank Redemption Valley of Defilement. /shudder

Area Score: 8.5/10
Deaths: Black Skeletons ~ 5, Falling ~ 7, White Skeletons ~ 3, Ghosts ~ 2, Gold Skeletons ~ 3, Adjudicator ~ 1, Storm King ~ 1
Maiden Astraea
Valley of Defilement
Best song in the game: Maiden Astraea's Theme

Well, if the rest of the game rounded out to a 9.5 you had to know something was going to come out of hell itself to shit on your face. This wondrous place features the three easiest bosses in the game and a mindblowingly stupid second area. While it is atmospheric in the sense that it feels like a river of shit and is a river of shit even if you do Shawshank like Andy Dufresne at the end it still sucks horribly.

The first area of this zone isn't that bad, you're faced with Ratmen (Depraved Ones) fairly early on but they're much easier than the Shrine of Storm's basic enemies until you realize how annoying they can be when grouped up. One of the normal Depraved One's attacks is this charge where he flails about in an inch or so range in front of him, but it has comically ridiculous reach and will still hit you 8 or 9 times if you don't block it. Joy! Fortunately Spear/Shield massacres them so you're fine in this area up until you reach the last 2 rooms, where there are Giant Depraved Ones. Fuck them.

Let's just call them Ogres for short but they have a hugeass club that knocks you on your ass and stuns you until they get off another attack and you die, while you only have to fight 2 of them in the whole game (there's a lot more you could fight but you can just avoid them). I don't necessarily have a problem with the attack as long as it didn't have a weird ass hit detection radius and hit you 90% of the time even if you're rolling out of the way. To go along with this you're fighting the first 2 in narrow rooms and can't maneuver around them as well so it pretty much comes down to you dying, coming back, dying some more, and then pondering why this is in the game. After fighting these retarded beasts of death and destruction you find yourself at the first boss, who's a joke and falls over a minute later unless you run off the opening platform to your death... At which point you yell gibberish.

Believe it or not they somehow managed to make the second area worse than the first! This time you're walking through a poisonous swamp. Yes walking, never running, the most you can manage in the swamp is a brisk 2 MPH jog that drains your stamina. You can't roll, nothing. There's Giant Depraved ones again but you'll avoid them all costs if you have any sense. Oh and there's a Black Phantom with a Meatcleaver that one shots you as you feebly try to walk away slowly. I only died to it twice but it was still rather annoying, I like the enemy design just the placement is awful. Even if the swamp wasn't poisonous this area would be annoying as hell. Then you reach the second boss and he also falls over within a minute having done very little damage to you. Amazing!

The third and final area is the fight with Maiden Astraea and Garl Vinland, which if the game had a storyline would be wondrous and amazing. As it is its a great contextless scene with an awesome theme song that isn't all that difficult. I certainly love the song and the dialogue in this area and I even like the plague swamp in the area that has little plague enemies that eat you alive if you fall in. Granted as long as you play it smart it's very easy to avoid him damaging you, but it's still much much better than the rest of this hellhole. Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit.

Area Score: 5/10
Deaths: Falling ~ 3, Giant Depraved Ones ~ 5, Meat Cleaver BP ~ 2, Plague Babies ~ 1

Compiling we find the score is 41/50, or 8.2, I'll be kind and bump it up to 8.5 but this game could've easily been a 9-9.5 with consistent design. If they managed to make 5 Boletarian Palaces it'd be the best game ever, but alas. Hopefully they'll make a good sequel (as seems to be the trend) and improve upon the original a bit. Still, I very much like this game and look forward to my New Game + kill of Flamelurker wherein he one shots you always (enemies do substantially more damage in NG+). Took 2.5 hours to write this, wee.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Dark Souls Posts: Preview Day One Week One Week Two Week Three Week Four Review

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