Saturday, March 26, 2011

The In-Depth: Demon's Souls (Part 2)

This is the second article in a three article series that’s taking a deeper look at one of the more underrated games of this console generation, “Demon’s Souls.” In the first aricle, I gave a basic overview of the game, it’s unforgiving nature, and the risk-reward theme that runs through it. This time around, I want to talk about the character and equipment upgrade system.

As I mentioned before, all of the character advancement and equipment upgrades in the game involve souls, which are the main currency. When advancing your character’s attributes, you pay a certain amount of souls to advance a certain attribute by one point. Each time you buy a point, your level advances, so your overall level is a reflection of how many times you’ve advanced one of your character’s attributes. Choosing which attribute to advance is important for two reasons. First, each attribute affects multiple aspects of your character. So improving your Intelligence for example, affects the amount of magic you can cast, as well as how many spells you can remember at one time. Dexterity affects both your defense and your attack stats, and so on. The second reason each choice is important is that the cost for raising attributes goes up each time you advance. So, buying one point of Intelligence means that the next point you buy for any attribute will be more expensive. The cost of an attribute point quickly goes from hundreds of souls to thousands, to tens of thousands, and so on. Your first time through the game, you’ll never be able to significantly upgrade all of your stats, so you’ll likely want to decide early on how you want to advance your character. I leaned heavily toward a spellcasting build, so Magic and intelligence became my two most important stats. I am now level 45, and my character is a fairly powerful spellcaster that is good at attacking from a distance. This is a good thing, as I have really low health, and getting into a brawl with an enemy usually means a quick death for me.

Upgrading weapons is also tied to souls, but also requires you to have certain materials for whatever upgrade you’re trying to apply. There are different ores that can be found throughout the game, and each hasproperties that can be applied to weapons and/or shields. Basic materials are plentiful, so it’s fairly easy to initially upgrade weapons to give standard bonuses in combat. Rarer are the ores which provide magical bonuses, or elemental bonuses to weapons. For example, Moonstone will allow a weapon to give magical bonuses to attacks, but it can only be found on certain enemies and in certain areas of the game world. Much like character advancement, you need to figure out what your character’s style is, and then equip them with weapons that play to their strengths and offset their weaknesses. For example, my character has weapons that add bonuses based on my magic attribute score, which is my strongest stat.

Moreso than a lot of RPGs I’ve played, Demon’s Souls really forces you to heavily weigh your options when upgrading equipment and advancing your character. There is no way you will be able to really maximize more than a few stats and weapons during your first playthrough (unless you plan on grinding for hours and hours), so you really need to decide what type of character you want to play and stick with that theme.

In the next and final installment of this series, I’ll get into what I think is Demon’s Souls most unique aspect--it’s completely original approach to multiplayer.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The In-Depth: Demon's Souls (Part 1)

When “Demon’s Souls” was first released in late 2009, I grabbed it beacuse I had heard it was a challening and unique Japanese RPG. Upon playing the three or four hours of the game, I decided that it was way too chalenging for me, and I moved on to other games that were being released at the time.

Fast forward to early 2011. I’ve been hearing about how a sequel of sorts called “Dark Souls” will be published later this year, and it got me to thinking that I should give “Demon’s Souls” another look. I’m glad I did, because “Demon’s Souls” is a fascinating game that draws me further and further in the more time I sepnd with it. In this series of articles, I’ll be talking about some of the different aspects of the game and why I find them so interesting. This first article will focus on the world of the game and the player’s introduction to it.

The story in “Demon’s Souls” is that the king of a fictional kingdom called Boletaria sought to increase his power and his kingdom’s prosperity by performing a dark ritual. The kingdom was very prosperous for a while, but the ritual awoke an ancient evil. Eventually a mysterious, dark fog began to envelop the kingdom, cutting it off from the rest of the world. With the fog came demons that feated on the souls of the living. Now the area is populated with demons and undead, and the few remaining survivors are pretty much crazy. Many heroes have ventured into the fog from the outside world and never returned. Now the fog is starting to spread outward. You start the game as a hero from the outside world who decides to enter the fog, hoping to defeat the evil at the source of it.

There’s a few great things about your introduction to the game. First of all, “Demon’s Souls” is gloomy, atmospheric and beautiful at the same time. The tutorial for the game does a great job of immersing you into the world, teaching you the basics, and introducing the harsh reality that you are going to die in this game--a lot. In fact, death is a central conept in this game. While you begin in your full, physical form (called Body form), upon dying you are revived in the Nexus. The Nexus is kind of a Limbo-like place that contains doorways into different parts of Boletaria. When you die, you return in Soul form, and as you are less than whole, you only have half of your overall health. There are only a few ways to return to your full Body form, and one of them is to defeat the demon bosses located in certain areas of Boletaria.

Like most RPGs, “Demon’s Souls” has an advancement system. You can improve your attributes, learn magic, level your character and upgrade your gear. Central to all of these things is acquiring the currency of the world--souls. Each time you defeat an enemy, you are rewarded with the souls that demon had taken. You use those souls to buy upgrades and advance your character.

Another aspect of “Demon’s Souls” harsh and unforgiving nature is the fact that each time you venture into the world, you risk losing the souls you’ve acquired. When you die, you are returned to the Nexus with zero souls. The only way to recover them is to go back to your point of death and recover your lost souls before you die again. If you die a second time, the souls are lost for good. It’s this aspect that usually drives people from the game the first time they lose thousands of souls that they were saving to upgrade their character. What’s itneresting about this aspect of the game is that it makes every trip into the world a gamble. Do I gather a few thousand souls and then run back to the Nexus to spend them? Or, do I venture into the next area hoping to collect more souls and maybe find a cool item? Adding to the gamble is the fact that enemies respawn when you return to the Nexus, so if you haven’t completed an area and killed the boss, you’ll be fighting everyone all over again to get back to the point you left off at. If you’ve died, you have to fight all those enemies again just to get back to your body and reclaim you lost souls--a daunting task.

This risk-reward concept is ever present, and when combined with the way the game immerses you in the world, it creates an underlying feeling of both fear and excitement. It can also create maddening frustration, which is more likely to happen when you are a low-level character for whom every encounter is potentially fatal.

“Demon’s Souls” is certainly not for the easily frustrated or faint of heart. My first experience with the game left me very frustrated, and I walked away from it for two years. This time through, I knew what I was getting into, and I apporached the game with a completely different mindset.

Next time around, I'll get into the character advancement and gear upgrade systems.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The In-Depth

Based on my recent epiphany about consuming less media but taking more time to digest what I do consume, I've started a new series of articles on Secret Identity. Titled "The In-Depth," these articles will take a deeper look at movies, games, books and other media that I feel compelled to write about my experiences with.

The first series of articles deals with a wonderful Japanese roleplaying game (JRPG) called "Demon's Souls." Two of the three articles in the series are already up on the Games page over at Secret Identity, but I'll be reposting each of them here shortly.