So, Demons Souls. New out on these shores for the PS3, despite being released more than a year ago in Japan (although by some small consolation, the UK version comes bundled with an artbook, soundtrack CD and strategy guide)
It's basically an RPG, albeit a very combat heavy one. It's a typical JPRG in that it's also very stat heavy, albeit it makes a refreshing change that blood type hasn't featured as a stat so far. Take note, Tekken and Street Fighter. The plot is typical fantasy twaddle; Kingdom under threat from great awakened evil, blah de blah, lone hero goes to fight great evil and collects the souls of those he kills to upgrade/repair his/her equipment, increase his/her stats, so far so anorak-with-D20-filled-pockets.
And then dies a lot.
By which I mean a lot.
Demons Souls is by far the most unforgiving game I have ever played in my 28 years or so of computer gaming.
No checkpoints. You die, anywhere during the level, and you're sent right back to the start. And all of the enemies you've ploughed your way through have all respawned. The closest thing the game has to checkpoints is the ability to open a portcullis - the portcullis will remain open, thus leaving a shortcut when you next respawn. However, you won't start finding any of these until right near the end of the level. Any equipment you used during your last life? Gone. Weapon broke during your last life? Tough - you're going to have to spend a fortune repairing it or switch to another weapon.
Upon dying, all the souls you've collected have gone. The only way to get them back is to find where you previously died and touch your bloodstain. But woe betide if you die before you can achieve this, the bloodstain from your most recent death only holds as many souls as you claimed up until then with that life. That bloodstain holding some 3000 souls from two deaths before? Vanished for good.
The combat is very, very difficult. There is no such thing as cannon fodder in this game - if you're careless, even one of the lowest minions can kill you with a few careful blows. It's no Soulcalibur. Combat is a tactical affair; you and your opponent circling each other and carefully considering the moment you each dare to let your guard down to strike a desperate blow between holding shields aloft and protecting yourself for all your might. One opponent is tough enough, before the game starts throwing two and three at you - about fifteen seconds into the first level.
So why don't I, with my incredibly short attention span, hate it? I really should. The amount of times I've thrown my PS3 controller on the floor swearing loudly followed by me switching the PS3 off (still swearing, albeit less loudly by now) I should have taken the game back for part exchange or at least burnt the disk ritually.
But ultimately, the game is awesome. When you die, it's not because the game is unfair. It's because you got cocky and rushed into a fight or didn't react quickly enough to raise your shield. It's because you used way too much important equipment taking out minions when you should have saved it for the big guys. It's because you insisted on taking the two handed Bastard sword down some tunnels when it's not wide enough to swing to get a proper blow in. It's because you used a healing herb when you still had 15% of health left - you should have risked saving it until later. It's because you let that guy get around your back when you should have taken him out first.
Every inch you progress with every subsequent life is a minor triumph. Taking out a boss is cause for a small party, earning enough souls to level up cause for an even bigger one. It's a proper gamers game, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Oh, and it looks gorgeous.
Is it just me or do the generous checkpoints in 99% of modern computer games take away from the basic tension of it all? Where's the threat in that if anything goes wrong, you'll be placed ten metres back from where you were before with everything you had? Or can hit a 'quickload' key to achieve much the same aim? Demons Souls takes advantage of how harsh it is - you're putting everything you can into every fight because you don't want to do that last half an hour of game all over again - and controversial though it might be, I think it's all the better for it.
Just be prepared to see the 'You have died' screen a lot. In fact, you'll see it so often it'll end up burned onto your television, so you might have to invest in a new one of those as well.