Demon's Souls First Play
Although retaining our own currency and having a general dislike for the mainland, we here in the UK are sadly still lumped in with Europe when it comes to getting screwed over by overseas publishers. However, as Josh recently returned home from a New Year's holiday in the US, I was able to get my clammy hands on a copy of Demon's Souls, a moment I had been relishing for some time following repeated reports that the game was downright odd.
So, a brief struggle with the plastic wrapping later, the disc was in the PS3 and my brain was happily soaking up information about crazy kingdoms and a nasty spate of killer demon fog. Then I arrived at the character creation screen. Setting up your avatar in Demon's Souls is less like being dropped in at the deep end and more like being pushed out of a helicopter over the Mariana Trench. There is no in-game explanation about the difference between many classes you can choose from and I was left scratching my head for a while wondering if I'd accidentally skipped something, until I had a crazy idea to look at the instruction manual. Yup, that's right, the papery thing in the box that we all assumed was a complimentary coaster.
Once fully versed in the differences between soldiers, royalty and wanderers, I decided to go the way of a bread-and-butter knight and moved onto designing a look for my character. When it comes to fine tuning specific facial traits using sliders, I'm sure it can't just be me that doesn't know a lip overhang depth from a vertical cheek ratio and ends up creating something that's looks like it's been molested by a rabid chimpanzee on heat. I don't know why developers persist in providing these options without a middle ground for those not versed in advanced anatomy, so I had to resort to my usual tactic of mashing the randomize button for a good ten minutes until good old dumb luck turned up a face I was happy with.
With these initial frustrations behind me, I was plunged into the tutorial level, which did a much better job of acquainting me to the gameplay mechanics than the character creation did introducing me to my Demon's Souls avatar. Controlling your character is a standard third-person affair with no real surprises other than those caused by my own brain confusing the button layout with that of Darksiders, which I had been playing an hour earlier. The combat feels tight, with weapon swings and impacts feeling more tactile than you would expect from a typical RPG, the only thing detracting from the experience being how a strange rag-doll engine taking over enemies when they become corpses, making their bodies fly around the floor like a body-popper on acid. By the end of the tutorial, I felt comfortable with the controls and excited about plunging further into the harder aspects of the game, already happy with the brooding medieval atmosphere and architecture of the initial dungeon.
About thirty minutes in you get dumped in the hub level of the game where you first experience interactions with other players via glowing messages and blood splatters that initiate their last few seconds before death. So far my experiences with these aspects have been limited to watching people throw themselves off the highest point in the hub and leaving messages asking people to rate messages about asking people to rate messages, but I can definitely see how they're going to be an interesting mechanic later on.
Then I broke the game.
You can blame my 'out-of-the-box' thinking but during my exploration of the hub level, I wanted to practice the combat a little without starting one of the levels as it was getting dangerously close to you'll-regret-staying-up-this-late-at-work-tomorrow time. So, a few swipes of my trusty sword later I was going head-to-head with one Stockpile Thomas, who also happened to be the only way to access the character's bank. What I didn't know until I Googled it later on was that if you manage to get him to below half of his health, he will become permanently aggressive and you can say goodbye to any intentions of using the bank again.
Now while I condone a bit of causality in games every now and then, I was rather miffed that such inventive play could result in something that is not far off game-breaking, especially so near to the beginning of the game where the average player is still experimenting with the world. Luckily for me, the tutorial is skippable and so I could effectively jump straight back in with a new character without losing any play-time, but still, it is definitely going to make me very cautious of my actions from now on. Perhaps it's not particularly the Japanese way, but I don't like the idea of being irrevocably punished without at least a little bit of warning.
All of this aside however, I have enjoyed my first dip into the world of Demon's Souls and grumpy bank owners aside, am looking forwards to getting my teeth into the game proper.