The countdown of my personal picks for the best games of 2009 is drawing to a close. After a week and a half we've reached the final three. And at #3 we plunge our sword through a demon's chest in slow motion...
3. Demon's Souls (PS3)
Most video game box art illustrates its protagonist in heroic pose, weapon held aloft, eyes fiercely determined, legs standing firm. He - or sometimes she - is full of purpose and geared for victory.
The Japanese box art for Demon's Souls depicts a heavily armoured knight slumped against a cold dungeon wall, shield a pin cushion of arrows, mist curling around lifeless feet. He - or perhaps she - is dead.
Almost all your time in Demon's Souls will be spent dead. And when you're not dead, you soon will be. In perverse fashion, Atlus have designed a game where death is not only plentiful but meaningful every single time it happens. It's not just a matter of losing progress that would otherwise, in any other game, be saved by a convenient checkpoint; it's more that when death can arrive so easily, you value every step, every second of survival all the more.
As you've no doubt heard, Demon's Souls can be a bleak, harrowing experience. Combat is brutal, in the clang of steel on steel and the visceral impact of your blade sinking into flesh. A sombre palette of grey and brown hangs heavily on the toweringly grim architecture and the desolate remnants of civilisation strewn through its complex, twisting halls. But mostly it's in the exquisitely balanced risk and reward structure where you're forever faced with the dilemma of cashing out part way through a world to repair and upgrade or pressing on in the knowledge you could lose it all.
Demon's Souls is ultimately about testing yourself. It's about realising you've got to earn the right to that heroic pose and knowing that victory will mean so much more when you've failed so many times on the way there.
Kotaku AU's Games of 2009 are my personal picks for the best games of the year. I make no claim to have played everything released this year, nor do I pretend to be any way objective in my rankings. I look forward to debating my choices with you in the comments.