Hard? You don't know hard.
Dark Souls is the epitome of the relevant throwback. Its predecessor, Demon's Souls, published by Atlus, was a sleeper hit to even From Software, who was surprised at just how many people desired an eerie, deliberate, excruciatingly difficult fantasy RPG. Oh, did I write "excruciatingly" difficult? I meant "throw your controller, cry yourself to sleep, keep dying until you remember how it was on the NES" difficult. And that's the point. It's supposed to be that way.
As a modern reinterpretation of classic gaming, Dark Souls is a response not only to the feeling that games have become too easy and forgiving, but that they've also become too reliant on formulaic gameplay and instant gratification. At the same time, it embraces more than several contemporary design concepts, notably an open-world environment elevated from the streamlined level-based hub world of Demon's Souls. Now, if you can see a forboding tower on a hill in the distance, you can go there; that is, if you have the desire, the mettle, and the luck.
Where Demon's Souls was the test run for From Software's ideas, Dark Souls is the full throttle—the same idea but fully realized. Sure, it's got almost an identical setup: Your character has been cursed by a ring and must reclaim his (or her) soul by battling through the unforgiving towers and hallways ridden with monsters, traps, and a general spirit of unfairness. Or as they put it: "surprise". But that's what its fans crave. Of course, it's more than that, since any game can be made unremorsefully difficult; Dark Souls is, in a word, challenging, but most importantly, with the right game plan and technique, beatable.
In becomes clear from the first level, as veterans will know, that running away is a legitimate strategy. Practice that. It may be cowardly and unhelpful to collecting souls for new equipment and character upgrades, but only fools charge into a gated dungeon thinking that their giant greatsword will save them from a horde of undead legionnaires twice their size. Sorry, this isn't Dynasty Warriors or some Diablo clone. Survival depends on attentive striking, blocking, riposting, and retreating, all while using choke points and spacing to your advantage. It doesn't matter how many healing herbs you have if you get flanked up the proverbial rear.
Luckily this time around, bonfires are littered about the battlefield and offer a quick rest and save point, not far beyond the familiar "tent" item in JRPGs. Though enemies respawn every time a bonfire is lit, it provides a great focal area to grind for souls and place to burn away your humanity—not literally (well, maybe) but statistically. Every player has a humanity attribute (not sure what happens when it's at zero) that can be burned to provide passive bonuses to everyone who's playing the game, particularly anyone who is near the bonfire of choice.
We're not sure on the extent of the bonuses at all, but one thing seem clear: the more people who play, the easier it will become. Consequently, the game will be the most difficult near the very beginning and at the very end of its life, though that ignores all the player-written messages that can be written on the walls of the world to alert you and your online brethren of any oncoming doom.
Prepare to die when Dark Souls arrives October 4, 2011. I should also remind you first adopters that the limited Collector's Edition is the same price as the standard edition, so pre-order it now before your soul is sucked.