You don’t walk away from a game like Demon’s Souls without a few good stories to share. When I think back on my time with the PS5 remake, two moments that occurred fairly early on in the game spring to mind.
The first happened when I unlocked the door to one of the game’s first bosses. Excited by my progress, I ran down a stairwell to a nearby shortcut, took a wrong turn, and fell to my death. I could have easily walked into the boss room from the respawn point, but I was determined to retrieve my lost souls. Because I had died before actually unlocking the next shortcut, that meant having to risk going through the entire level again. It was ultimately a point of pride, and in a Soulslike game, pride and headlong actions are what get you killed. Ultimately, I decided to take the risk.
I made my way back to the spot where I had died. Just before I opened the nearby shortcut, I viewed a note that another player had left by the door. It read: “I’m proud of you.” It was a stock message likely meant for those who had just unlocked the first boss, but at that moment, it felt like a personal bit of support in a game that is otherwise notorious for its cruelty.
Stories such as that are fairly common in Soulslike games. However, the next moment I remember is fairly unique to this next-gen title. It happened when I was walking down a tight corridor packed with enemies wielding crossbows. As I slowly made my way towards them using my shield to block the incoming bolts, I felt my controller rumble. Specifically, I felt the very bottom of my PS5 DualSense rumble. As the threat neared, the console’s haptic feedback sent the vibrations further up the controller. I realized what was happening just quickly enough to turn around and watch a cluster of boulders bowl me over.
That’s what you get with the PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls: a next-gen version of one of the most important games ever made that impresses with its technical advancements, even as it leaves you wondering whether its developers relied a bit too much on the fundamental appeal of this genre and not enough on their own creative input.
As you probably know, Demon’s Souls is a remake of the 2009 PS3 game that (spiritual predecessors aside) gave birth to the Soulslike Action RPG genre. The remake is developed by Bluepoint Games, who you may know as the team behind the stunningly beautiful Shadow of the Colossus remake.
And that’s where any breakdown of Demon’s Souls must start: the graphics. Even if you typically don’t care about graphics, you’re going to be blown away by Demon’s Souls. The game certainly impresses from a raw technical standpoint (you can really see where all those teraflops went), but what really matters are the ways that the PS5’s power lets you appreciate the timeless beauty of FromSoftware’s artistic direction. Fans have long praised Demon’s Souls for its Gothic architecture and macabre aesthetic, but this remake makes it easier than ever to appreciate how even the game’s darkest corners were carefully designed to display a twisted sense of beauty.
In terms of visuals, I’d go so far as to call Demon’s Souls the only real next-gen game on the market. It could be months before we see a PS5 or Xbox Series X title that comes close to challenging its visual presentation.
That’s hardly the only way that the power of next-gen gaming improves Demon’s Souls. The PS5’s SSD eliminates Demon’s Souls‘ often crippling load times, which isn’t just a great quality of life improvement but makes soul and resource farming far more efficient. The DualSense controller adds an extra layer of immersion to the experience, while the PS5’s Command Center offers unique challenges for certain battles which allow series veterans to flex their abilities and creative muscles.
Release Date: Nov. 12, 2020
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Publisher: PlayStation Studios
Genre: Action RPG
The PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls is, in the ways that matter most, the best version of the game, but that still leaves us with the question of why you should care about Demon’s Souls in the first place.
Well, aside from its historical significance, there are many fans who consider Demon’s Souls to be FromSoftware’s best game. While much of that praise is rightfully reserved for the title’s art direction (which, again, shines brighter than ever in this visual masterpiece), others say that Demon’s Souls features some of the best Soulslike gameplay.
That last point is going to depend on your preferences. If you jumped into the Soulslike genre with Bloodborne, Sekiro, or Nioh, you’re going to find the action in Demon’s Souls much slower than you’re used to. More of an emphasis is placed on deliberately studying your opponents and playing defensively until the perfect time for attack presents itself. While magic users and some melee builds will be able to play a bit more aggressively, Demon’s Souls just isn’t designed to support that more active style of combat that has defined modern Soulslike games.
Personally, I prefer this slower style. At the heart of most Souslike games is a trial and error component which rewards persistence and forces you to learn the language of every encounter in order to survive. Faster-paced Soulslike games are absolutely capable of capturing that element, but there’s something to be said for how Demon’s Souls‘ more methodical combat really lets you savor the carefully constructed dance of every battle. It’s a better representation of the ways that the genre’s challenges so often come down to your ability to recognize and execute on an opportunity.
Yes, Demon’s Souls is often as difficult as this series’ reputation would lead you to believe it is, but I’m struck by how balanced much of this game feels. A big part of the credit there has to go to the game’s character building and equipment systems. There are some builds that are “better” (or more optimized) than others, but generally speaking, it’s easy to build your character based on your preferences rather than what you assume the game wants you to do. Some paths are more difficult than others, but even the act of getting there against overwhelming odds can be fun in and of itself.
The fact of the matter is that Demon’s Souls has, in most respects, aged remarkably well in the 11 years since its release. Yet, it’s that very quality that raises questions about whether or not Bluepoint really maximized its opportunities with this remake.
There is new content in the Demon’s Souls remake, despite what popular perception would lead you to believe. There’s a new character builder, new items, fresh mechanics, New Game+ options, and even new music that is remarkably just as beautiful as the game’s legendary original score. This is not just a strict remake of the original game with better graphics. But it’s easy to see how someone would walk away from this game believing that to be the. From enemy locations to attack patterns, many of Demon’s Souls‘ core mechanics are identical to the ones found in the original game. If you played the original, you’re going to know exactly what to do during your first playthrough of the game.
Is that a problem? That depends on who you ask, but there were times when I was begging for Bluepoint to take the wheel and make this game its own. Namely, there was a part of me that wondered what would happen if Bluepoint had remade Demon’s Souls as more of a Metroidvania-esque experience without the game’s hub world, or if the team had just added a couple of new enemies where you weren’t expecting them. These additions would undoubtedly be called blasphemous by longtime fans and purists, but the point is that Demon’s Souls and Shadow of the Colossus confirm that Bluepoint is one of gaming’s greatest restorative artists but we’ve yet to see what the studio’s team can do with a blank canvas.
Whenever I felt that Demon’s Souls could have done more, though, I remembered the Old Monk boss fight. See, the Old Monk is a unique boss in Demon’s Souls which can actually be controlled by another player if they invade your world at the right time. It’s a brilliant use of the series’ PvP mechanics that has been incredibly difficult to properly experience in the years since Demon’s Souls‘ official servers went offline. Well, the remake lets you experience the proper version of the Old Monk boss fight, which also benefits from better visuals, enhanced controls, and a crystal clear soundtrack. It’s a nice touch.
Demon’s Souls resurrects a game that could have easily become a historical footnote overshadowed by its more popular successors. In the process, it also manages to get everyone excited about the potential of next-gen console gaming. It’s the best next-gen launch game and a damn good entry into the Soulslike genre.