Some of you will already know all about Demon's Souls, having imported it from Japan or the US last year. But many of you will be seeing it for the first time when it's released in Australia tomorrow. So what you can expect?
Demon's Souls is an action role-playing game developed by From Software for the PlayStation 3. It's not like other games. But it's precisely those differences that make it such a memorable experience.
To help you decide if Demon's Souls really is for you, below are five reasons why you'll love it. Think about what these five things mean to you and whether you enjoy them in a game. If you don't, leave Demon's Souls well alone, it's not for you. If you do, prepare to lose yourself in the harsh world of Boletaria.
You'll love Demon's Souls if you love...
Dark Fantasy: Boletaria is ever-so-grim. Dirty. Dark. Brutal. Demons have destroyed the world, decimating the population and drowning the lands in wave after wave of fog. It tells the tale of an endless troop of demon soul hunters trapped in some kind of twilight zone between the living and the dead, relentlessly searching for an escape, and dying over and over again in their struggle.
You can smell the fetid water in the dank, cobblestone dungeons. You can feel the ubiquitous fog choking you at every turn. The world is broken, littered with the decayed, rusting remnants of civilisation. The architecture is bleak and imposing and utterly, deathly cold. Almost everyone you meet is out to kill you. Final Fantasy this is not.
Building A Character: Like any good role-playing game, Demon's Souls lets you shape your character the way you want. There are ten classes to choose from at the outset, each sporting a range of different skills and abilities suited to different play styles. Broadly speaking, you have the typical melee, ranged and magic archetypes, but there are plenty of options within each to explore: your melee fighter might be a tank equipped with a heavy sword and shield or she might be lightly armoured, relying instead on nimble acrobatics.
The way the levelling system works, you're not stuck with the skills you initially chose. Your class is but a starting point from which you're free to mould your character as you see fit. Add to this the wealth of options to upgrade whatever weapons and armour you find, and it's unlikely you'll encounter two player-characters who are alike, even if they did start out as the same class.
Mastering A Challenge: Combat is never easy. Especially at the start of the game, and as you move into each new area, pretty much every enemy you face can kill you quickly if you're not on your game. The typical action-RPG throws plenty of sword-fodder at you early on as you grow accustomed to the way combat controls. Here, even the lowliest skeleton can slice you up with a couple of hits.
Combat is never about mashing buttons or delivering powerful combo attacks. Rather, it's about precise timing of each swing of your sword, about positioning your shield effectively, about knowing when to retreat and heal or use a ranged attack, about managing your stamina, and about exploiting each enemy's weaknesses. It's deliberate and tactical and demanding. You will die if you're not properly prepared.
Replaying A Game: Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the game, it's for this reason that many give up on Demon's Souls. The structure sees you only able to save your progress in the hub area known as the Nexus. Die outside and you'll be returned to the Nexus in soul form, but stripped of any progress you had made. When you step back out of the Nexus, that world you'd been exploring is (mostly) reset.
You'll spend a lot of time replaying an area until you discover its intricacies and secrets, learn how to best tackle its denizens, and grind, grind, grind for souls and gear. This creates a finely balanced risk/reward mechanic whereby you'll often retreat to the Nexus without finishing an area in order to keep all those souls and items you've earned. What stops it from becoming repetitive is this risk/reward mechanic combined with the constant threat each enemy can pose. You're rarely mindlessly hacking through an area (at least, not unless you're revisiting a really early stage with a powerful character); instead you're always revisiting a location with a strict purpose in mind.
Unconventional Online Play: Is it co-operative, competitive, massively multiplayer? The answer lies somewhere in between all three. Or perhaps all three at once. At the most basic level, you will see glyphs around the world, each one a message written by another player warning of some danger ahead or pointing you toward a treasure. You'll also see bloodstains which, upon touching them, show you how they came to be formed as another player met his doom.
Eye Stones can be used to join another player's world and either fight alongside side, helping them complete the current level, or - if you're feeling particularly callous - hunt them down and kill them. Players can also meet to simply trade items and you'll often catch glimpses of ghostly figures running around - they're other players, too.
If it all sounds like a mess, it's not. Each element - co-op and competitive, synchronous and asynchronous - gels perfectly with the world fiction. To play Demon's Souls is to devote your soul to wandering its corridors for eternity. Er... or something like that.
So... for the uninitiated out there, have I convinced you to give Demon's Souls a try?