Upon dying for what felt like the sixth millionth time, to a lowly boss in the middle-sections of Demon’s Souls, I genuinely felt like running the disc through a shredder, crawling under a table and sobbing in the foetal position. This is a cult title by curious Japanese developer From Software, a studio most recognised for the Armoured Core series, though I will always remember them for 2004’s Metal Wolf Chaos - a game which featured the president of the USA climbing aboard his giant mech and quelling a coup d'état. Demon’s Souls, however, is a vicious, bleak and painfully difficult action RPG, and it just so happens to be one of the PS3’s finest exclusives to boot.
You kit a lone warrior out with all kinds of spangly loot and have them hack their way through (or, more likely, get slaughtered by) shuffling zombies, run-of-the-mill soldiers, creepy leaping skeletons, glowing octopus-esque mind flayers, oily black blobs of evil goop armed with shields and, while you’re at it, a spooky nun. This is all done while plodding through some of the darkest and dingiest video game environments created since the original Diablo, with the game encouraging you to turn the brightness down to a level only an owl could possibly feel comfortable moving about in.
It’s a methodical game, and even though there’s a run button you’ll rarely sprint into the unknown because something horrible will probably jump out and lop your head off. Disillusionment can (and probably will) seep in fairly early on, as the game chucks you into a brief tutorial sequence only to brutally murder you as soon as you’re starting to feel like you understand with what’s going on. The moral of the story is that you will never, ever feel comfortable playing Demon’s Souls.
Death is frequent and terrifying but never the end, as you simply respawn at the start of the stage, albeit in a spirit form where health is reduced to half of your maximum. In practice it’s more like three-quarters, though, as you're given a health boost if you equip a magical ring found in the corner of the very first level that you should absolutely, definitely and positively pick up before you do anything else.
The only way to get back into your physical body is to slay one of the 22 boss monsters – and they don’t respawn, either, so you can’t even go back and clear out an early level to reclaim possession of your flesh and organs. You can, however, reclaim your physical form by allowing yourself to be summoned into another player’s game to help them tackle a boss.