This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Demon's Souls.
Demon's Souls--that's Demon'sssss Souls, not Demon Soles, although they both mean the same thing, so why'd they'd go for the one that's incredibly awkward to say I don't know, unless they've been locked in a cupboard for two thousand years and have never heard spoken English, which considering it's a Japanese game could well be the case--is a pseudo-online fantasy hack-and-slasher that several people have recommended to me because apparently it's very hard. Which isn't a great selling point in itself; bread goes hard if you leave it out on the sideboard, but it's hardly an improvement. "Oh, but surely you'd appreciate a real challenge after all those generic mainstream titles that hold your hand like a creepy uncle," go the recommenders. And I suppose it's true. Most games these days seem to cater largely to people who are coming off the effects of general anesthetic, so what the hoo ha.
Demon'ssssssss Souls is a Japanese game that seeks to ape Western-style fantasy games, and judging by the character creator the developers got everything they know about Western appearances by watching muscle beaches through a slit in a piece of cardboard. So once I'd finished tweaking my boggle-eyed, fish-lipped avatar with a forehead the size of a fucking airplane luggage compartment, the intro cinematic clued me in.
Apparently some evil dark fog has descended upon the kingdom of Boletaria, and large numbers of adventurers have wandered into it and never returned. So obviously being some kind of world-class intellect, my character thinks the best idea would be to do exactly the same thing. But don't you see I am the world's last hope? Yes, just me and the other fifty thousand players who are hanging around.
After that, a brief tutorial runs me through what to expect. For example, it taught me that pressing circle would cause me to do a quick hop backwards in order to dodge an attack. "Alrighty," I thought, "let's try it out on this undead swordsman who's shuffling towards me." Nimbly I hopped back as he swung his sword, whereupon he took a step forward and cut my nipples out. "Oh," I said, "okay. A dodge move that can't dodge shit. Yeah, I guess that would make for a hard game, but it doesn't seem like I'm being given much of a chance here. It's like they've given me a crossbow that only works when I'm sticking it up my nose."
Anyway, after defeating the zombie and healing up by eating what I think was a punnet of watercress, I turned a corner and was immediately flattened by a giant turd monster. Things weren't going very well. Fortunately, my fecal friend was a supposed-to-lose fight, and I was transported to a new area where a mysterious lady with pancakes stitched to her face told me I was dead. Being dead isn't the handicap it used to be, though. All it really does is reduce your maximum health by half, but the pancake lady explains that I could be restored to life and therefore full health by defeating boss monsters. Truly, a game that stomps you to death 20 minutes in and tells you you can have your health bar back once you've proved you don't need it is a game that does not fuck around, and thus does the true Demon's Souls begin, or at least that's what the thing on the floor told me once I entered the first mission.
You see, the online gimmick of the game is that you don't actually interact with other players, but you sometimes see their ghosts that can help distract monsters and you can leave notes on the ground for each other like a bunch of passive-aggressive housemates with Post-its. Thus the difficulty is abated by camaraderie. For example, one message said, "Watch out for the fall ahead," and was positioned two feet away from a giant hole. Sadly, you can only leave messages composed of pre-selected words and phrases, so I couldn't leave a reply reading, "No shit, buttmunch!"
One of the things that makes Demon's Souls so hard is that there are no savepoints. When you die, you go all the way back to the start of the level and all the baddies respawn. It quickly teaches you to be very cautious and to scarf down healing watercress at every turn. Although you have to time that right, because you can only slowly and delicately pop it into your mouth like a gourmet sampling this season's brie and hope no enemies feel like sharpening their swords on your hip bone while you're preoccupied.
Eventually, though, I got through the first dingy castle full of jerks and found the first demon, which was a giant, slow-moving cow pat. Probably fitting for the very first tier, but I was starting to think the game was making fun of me. Anyway, some helpful prior player advised me via the medium of floor to use fire-based weapons. So I opened the menu to put some fire on my sword, whereupon I was cow patted to death, because opening the menu doesn't pause the game. "Pause," it seemed to say, "what kind of faggot are you? I don't care if you need to answer the phone. Real gamers have no friends!" Presumably this is something to do with accommodating the online players, the ones who so far don't appear to have done anything except warn me about cunning traps that are three feet away in plain sight.
Anyway, I eventually managed to return the monster to cow pat hell, which meant I was rewarded with an actual fucking checkpoint at last and being restored to life, filling my health bar to full and flooding my limbs with renewed strength. Boldly I stepped out onto the battlements of the castle, whereupon I was immediately instakilled by a fire-breathing dragon. "Whoops! Guess you'll have to wait 'til the next boss to come back to life again," smarmed the game as I entertained the thought of microwaving the disc and feeding the artbook and soundtrack CD to next door's goat.
I soon learned that I had to perfectly time when the dragon was flying over and sprint from tower to tower like a commuter in the rain. I did find an underground tunnel that probably could have let me bypass the fiery dragon security system, but going that route led me to getting torn apart by a pack of wild dogs. So finally I timed the runs correctly and reached the end of the dragon section, where a small group of elite soldiers and archers were waiting, who promptly turned me into a cold steel sandwich.
I felt the best way to review Demon's Souls would be to simply describe my entire experience, so in conclusion, fuck you, Demon's Souls! A challenge is one thing, but trying to break down a fucking cement wall with your forehead isn't a challenge, it's grounds for getting fucking sectioned! Although I suppose succeeding in breaking the wall down will give a great sense of accomplishment, which is just as well, because you'll have lost all your other senses by then.
Soul of a warrior, legs of a coward: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I tell you what I can't stand, it's those egg and cress sandwiches you get from service stations, christ, those things taste like the excretions of the queen alien
Christ it's hot in here