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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Demon's Souls: A Lesson in Humility

When I started playing Demon's Souls last Thursday, I had no idea just how frustrating the game would get. I read the reviews and heard people whining about the difficulty but I was tough enough to take on the game, right? To be truthful, I've thought about trading the game in repeatedly over the past couple days. It's a great game and quite fun to play when you're making forward progress. Of course, forward progress becomes extremely difficult quite early in the game.

It took me about 4 hours (two nights) to finish off level 1-1. I did get stuck at one part and had to consult YouTube for help. The problem was that I wasn't daring enough to throw caution to the wind when attempting to cross a particular bridge. In my defense, dying while attempting to cross that bridge would have resulted in no less than 20 minutes of backtracking.

When I finally faced off against the level 1-1 boss (Phalanx), I came away victorious on my very first attempt.  And it felt damned good!  It's hard to describe just how satisfying it was to win.  Beating Demon's Souls' first real level is a feat unto itself. For the record, I was playing as a knight and had no firebombs or turpentine to help me out. My character, aptly named Klopzi, was restored to life and I set off to seek my fortunes in one of the other newly-accessible worlds (there are five in total).

I continued my journey on level 4-1. I was going to be extremely careful because I wanted to hang on to my freshly-restored body. I lasted all of ten seconds. Here's a pretty accurate transcript of those ten seconds:

Okay...here we go...what is that...? Is that a skeleton? What's the...damn it!
I did manage to get through the first fog gate in 4-1. But when I saw the monstrous enemy awaiting me in the distance, I decided to turn-tail and run away. I took my knight to level 1-2 instead.

And here's where things got frustrating. In my past four attempts, I've managed to reach the 1-2 end boss (Tower Knight) only once. If you've watched any of the Demon's Souls developer walkthroughs, you'll have likely seen this particular enemy. Imagine a knight in full armour with a rather nasty looking shield and lance. Oh! And picture him about fifty feet tall! He's incredibly intimidating and as deadly as they come. And after a thirty minute lead-up to my encounter with this impressive foe, I lasted five seconds and died. Where did I respawn? Right back at the very beginning of 1-2 and forced to fight my way through Hell to get back to this boss fight.

It was at this point that I put down my controller, took the game out my PS3, and cursed Atlus for making such a grueling, unforgiving, addictive, and fun game. I wanted to play Demon's Souls but I didn't want to sink thirty minutes into the game only to be quickly killed off by the Tower Knight.

Since my low point on Sunday afternoon, I've done a few things to help me with the game. First off, I checked out RE4freak4's excellent Demon's Souls YouTube channel. This guy makes Demon's Souls look easy.

I decided started a new game of Demon's Souls as a Royal character. From all that I'd read, the Royal class gives beginning players a substantial edge in the early going. I tested this theory yesterday afternoon and totally agree. I cleared most of  level 1-1 (only boss fight left) in about twenty minutes using only my character's sword and his default spell of Soul Arrow. Soul Arrow alone makes the Royal a great starting class.

Over the weekend, I also started playing Infinite Undiscovery for a change of pace from the tense and unforgiving world of Demon's Souls. Even Infinite Undiscovery has its own challenges and learning curve. It isn't much less stressful than Demon's Souls.

I really wish J-RPGs would stop using the "save point" convention and start using the save anywhere feature. I'd even take the "Save and Quit" functionality from Demon's Souls over save points. Unlike Infinite Undiscovery, Demon's Souls allows me to quit my game at any time. When I come back to play the game at a later time, I can pick up right where I left off. Of course, if I die, I need to restart play at the last checkpoint (i.e. the beginning of the level). If J-RPGs would simply let me save, quit, and resume my game, I'd be happy. I don't need to reload my game from this artificial save point if I die but it would be nice to be able to stop playing whenever I like.

My plans for tonight are to play little Demon's Souls (going to kill a dragon) and perhaps some Dragon Quest VIII if I manage to get my lazy butt back on my exercise bike. I'd keep playing Final Fantasy XII but I need a break from real-time play. Dragon Quest VIII looks bright and cheerful; I'll need bright and cheerful if I ever expect to finish Demon's Souls.

Have a good one!