On the case
Vintage Game Club: Thief

Tough sell


Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.
                           --Margo Channing, All About Eve

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a fan of Atlus USA and its quality work localizing Japanese games for the western market. I subscribe to their email newsletter, and over the last few months I've noticed a fascinating strategy emerge in the marketing for Demon's Souls, their online RPG that hits shelves tomorrow. Atlus is going out of its way to make sure we know Demon's Souls will be HARD. Really hard.

A few select quotes from Atlus' official blog and press releases:

  • Are you tough enough to face the most brutally challenging action RPG on the PlayStation®3? Then get ready for Demon's Souls
  • Are you tough enough to face the impossible...and win?
  • Few games kill the player off quite as many times as Demon’s Souls, or offer quite as many situations where even one mistake can prove fatal.
  • In many ways, it isn’t what Demon’s Souls does that makes it harder than other games as much as what it doesn’t do. The game does not hold the player’s hand.
  • Some games let the player get away with an obscene amount of careless hacking and slashing. Demon’s Souls will quickly dispose of you if you fail to properly defend yourself, or heal at the appropriate times, or use your inventory wisely, or use your roll dodge effectively. The game doesn’t ask a lot of the player, just that they abandon many of the bad habits other games have let them get away with for far too long.

In its trailers for the game, Atlus includes on-screen quotes from early previews of the game:

  • Unforgiving, creatively cruel - Eurogamer
  • This game will chew you up and spit you out - RPGFan
  • Demon's Souls is one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences RPG fans will have this year - Game Informer

It's an interesting approach, and I'm curious to see how it fares. In a gaming environment dominated (at least in terms of sales) by Nintendo and a marked rise in casual games across various platforms, it's easy to see what Atlus is up to here. Lots of core gamers fear what they see as a gradual and persistent industry slide toward easier, some would say 'dumbed down' games, and Atlus appears to be reaching out to that audience and reassuring them that Demon's Souls will offer them stiff resistance.

Atlus' specific target is so-called hardcore RPG fans, and I'm struck by how the imagery and gameplay shown in their trailers reinforce the impression that this game is a big, violent, fantasy-themed western-style RPG, with plenty of footage to reinforce the real-time combat and character customization features fans of Bethesda games enjoy. In fact, it's hard to walk away from these trailers without thinking Demon's Souls looks like the offspring of Oblivion and God of War - and I'm guessing Atlus wouldn't mind that impression at all.

Atlus USA may have recently decided to rein in the hardcore hype a bit. In their latest newsletter they address the issue of difficulty:

Now, this might take some of the magic away for the masochists out there who suddenly think the game is a cakewalk. It’s not, believe us. It's as deep and nuanced as an action RPG needs to be, with secrets to find, rare items to loot, weapon and shield upgrades, and more. But it is not the unfairly brutal, inhumanly difficult game some would make it out to be.

I haven't played Demon's Souls yet, but I'm intrigued (especially by its cooperative online elements), and I look forward to its arrival tomorrow. If you don't hear from me for awhile, assume Atlus wasn't kidding about the difficulty and send a search party, would you?