In a year filled with highly anticipated releases, the unexpected announcement of the remake of FromSoftware’s Demon’s Souls managed to shoot the game right to the top of my release radar. So much so that I preordered a PlayStation 5 to play it.
Demon’s Souls is a dark fantasy action RPG with several elements that made it stand out from the crowd in 2009. The game is mostly remembered as the originator of the “Souls-like” genre in 3rd person action RPGs. Games in this genre are typically defined by having memorable bosses, minimal player direction, difficult yet fair combat, and a distinctive online single-player experience. These elements remain intact in the remake, now with a sublime modern presentation boasting some of the most beautiful visuals I have ever seen.
“The ability to customize your appearance is easily the best of any of the Souls games.”
While not story-driven, Demon’s Souls has intriguing lore presented throughout the environment, characters, and item descriptions. The premise of the story is that King Allant, ruler of the fictional kingdom of Boletaria, had led his lands to prosper through his use of the forbidden “Soul Arts.” In doing so, the king inadvertently awakened an ancient demon known as “The Old One.” With the Old One’s awakening comes a scourge of demons and a “deep colourless fog” which engulf Boletaria. The player assumes the role of one of many adventurers coming from afar seeking glory or riches.
You can choose from ten classes, though these only determine your starting stats and equipment and don’t lock you into a specific playstyle. Players of the original game will notice a few differences during character creation. Firstly, the ability to customize your appearance is easily the best of any of the Souls games. While one can still make the goofy avatars, it is now possible to make more detailed and realistic characters. Secondly, the gift system from Dark Souls has been introduced, whereby upon creating a character, the player may choose an optional starting gift. These gifts, some of which are items new to the remake, provide the player with some small starting bonuses but otherwise do not significantly impact the game.
“Performing certain actions changes the tendency of that world.”
Once you have created your character, you are dropped into the tutorial where the basics of the game are explained through messages written on the ground. This introduces the player to the first of several online single-player features. Players can leave each other messages constructed from predetermined templates. These are typically used to provide warnings or reveal the location of hidden treasure. Demon’s Souls’ level design can seem esoteric or obtuse at first; however, between environmental clues hidden throughout the levels and these player-generated hints, one can overcome the tricks and traps of the game.
World tendency is similar in that performing particular “good” or “bad” actions in each world changes that world’s tendency. As the world tendency increases, the player becomes more powerful, and enemies become less potent. As the world tendency decreases, the player becomes weaker, and new, more powerful enemies will spawn. However, manipulating world tendency is the primary motivation because hidden items, areas, and enemies are found at very high or low world tendency.
“At the core of Demon’s Souls is the combat system.”
One common criticism of the original is that the world tendency system is never clearly explained in-game, which remains steadfast in the remake. Hence, if you are likely to be frustrated by the game’s difficulty changing without understanding why, I would recommend reading online about the system first. In the original game, the world tendency made use of a “server average” tendency, while in the remake, only your actions affect the world tendency.
When players die, they leave behind a bloodstain in your game. When you touch these bloodstains, it shows the final moments of that player’s life, which can hint as to what danger might be present in that area. So, while the level design in Demon’s Souls can be brutal, it is fair and rewarding if you work your way through it thoughtfully and make use of the tools you have been given. In an age when it is easy to search online how to beat any part of a given game, Demon’s Souls integrates the experience of receiving help online into the game world in an immersive fashion.
“Boss fights in Demon’s Souls are quite a spectacle.”
At the core of Demon’s Souls is the combat system. Combat can be conducted with melee weapons, magic, or bows, though the latter primarily supplements the first two options. Almost all actions, including attacking, blocking, parrying, and dodging, consume stamina, meaning players need to fight strategically. Combat feels weighty, intelligent, and satisfying, and it’s not difficult to see why many, myself included, consider the Souls games to have one of the best 3rd person action RPG combat systems ever.
You receive “souls” when you defeat enemies, which act as the currency for just about everything. Souls are required to level up, buy items as well as upgrade and maintain equipment. Upon death, you lose all your souls, which will be contained in your bloodstain. If you make it back to your bloodstain alive, you can regain your lost souls. If you die again, however, you will lose those souls permanently. This adds gravity to death in Demon’s Souls and encourages the player to be cautious and methodical.
Boss fights in Demon’s Souls are quite a spectacle. They are often large, imposing, creatively designed, and each has a unique gameplay gimmick that makes them as much of a puzzle as they are a battle. Compared to later entries in the Souls series, the bosses in Demon’s Souls are relatively easy to fight once you have figured out their unique weakness or mechanic. The real challenge lies in the levels, which are often far more punishing than the bosses themselves.
“New players might find the AI to be a step backward.”
The core gameplay mechanics in the remake are almost identical to the original game. Traversing the Boletarian Palace for the first time in the remake felt eerily similar to experiencing it for the first time in 2009, as the developer, Bluepoint Games, have developed the remake by building on the original game’s code. This means, for better and for worse, the AI appears almost untouched. Enemies still fall to their deaths in the same areas as before (as goofy as this seems, this is to indicate a pitfall to the player), agro can be manipulated and abused, and you can cheese certain boss fights.
While those wanting an experience authentic to the original will be pleased, players who have played newer Souls games by FromSoftware may find the AI to be a step backward. However, despite feeling familiar, the gameplay holds up exceptionally well by modern standards.
“Load times are minimal on the PS5.”
This isn’t to say Bluepoint has not made improvements to the gameplay. One of the biggest and most sought after changes the remake brings is the addition of omnidirectional rolling. Additional quality-of-life changes include: consumables can be used in bulk and without closing the menu, players can now send items to their storage box at any point in the game, if you accidentally attack an NPC, you may pay a fee to have them become non-hostile again, and players can warp between different archstones without returning to the Nexus.
It is also worth noting on this last point that thanks to the PlayStation 5’s SSD, load times are minimal, meaning that warping to and from the Nexus takes almost no time. This is also fortunate as I have experienced three game crashes during my 70 hours of playtime while returning to the Nexus. Luckily the game saves progress frequently and boots right back to where I was in under 30 seconds.
“Photo mode allows you to take some truly breathtaking and entertaining images.”
Demon’s Souls would benefit from a few quality-of-life changes. For example, to invade another world, you must be in soul form. To achieve this quickly without affecting World Tendency (a karma-like system in the game for each level), one usually must kill themselves in the Nexus. While this doesn’t take long, it can become an inconvenience and could have been solved with a new item like the “Nexial Binding” but causes death. Similarly, a feature present in later From Software games is the ability to compare the stats of items in storage to equipped items.
The game includes several PlayStation 5 specific features as well. From the console menu, you can load the game to a particular level. The game also makes extensive use of the DualSense controller’s impressive haptic rumble abilities. Pulling back the drawstring on the bow increases resistance as you press the trigger, and you can feel the sensation of metal clanging against metal through the controller during fights. The PlayStation 5 also saves video clips of your most recent gameplay and automatically records when you unlock a trophy. This includes recording audio from your controller’s microphone, which has led to some amusing clips circulating the internet.
BluePoint has also added an impressive photo mode, which allows you to pause the game (though it will un-pause if you are invaded) and take some truly breathtaking and entertaining images. As part of the photo mode, one can also create custom visual filters and several premade ones.
“The audio design in the game is phenomenal, especially with headphones.”
In general, Demon’s Souls on the PlayStation 5 is one of the most technically impressive games I have ever seen. Being one of the first games optimized for the new console generation, Demon’s Souls is one of, if not easily the best-looking fantasy RPG I have played. The game has a cinematic mode, which runs at a native 4K resolution and 30 FPS, and a performance mode, which runs at a dynamic 4K resolution at 60 FPS. The difference in visual quality between performance and cinematic mode appears to be negligible, and the higher framerate is particularly lovely for a game such as this, so I would recommend playing in that mode
The new graphics and animations and the attention to small visual details found throughout the game create a truly stunning and immersive world. The environments are varied, and each has a unique character ranging from desolate to spectacular, all of which beg you to investigate the story behind each world. Simultaneously, a sense of danger and despair is ever-present, and finding the balance between exploration and caution creates a tense risk-reward system.
“Environments and architecture are more intricate and detailed.”
The audio design in the game is also phenomenal, especially with headphones. The ambient bell chimes, singing and screams of the Tower of Latria, and the thunder and rain of the Shrine of Storms make for an immensely immersive atmosphere.
While the soundtrack for the original game was low budget and the tracks were sparse, they made excellent use of pause and created a haunting atmosphere of despair and loneliness. The new soundtrack has much higher production values, and while it contains most of the primary motifs of the original, it fills out these pieces with more typical orchestral fanfare. These new scores work immensely well for some bosses and cutscenes to enhance the mood. In other cases, the orchestra and choir’s fuller sound and the reduced silences change certain fights and locations’ ambience. The atmosphere of the original Demon’s Souls was one of the most lauded aspects of the game, so the slight change in mood may put-off some purists.
On a similar note, the remake has changed several artistic aspects of the visuals. In general, environments and architecture are more intricate and detailed. Ruins are more dilapidated, and formidable creatures and structures are more exquisite. Bluepoint has shown off the power of the PlayStation 5, which initially was likely limited by budget, and hardware constraints.
“Playstation 5 scarcity means a less populated online experience.”
However, it seems a little odd that Bluepoint adhered to the original gameplay and AI heavily while also changing the artistic side more noticeably. Several characters or enemy redesigns feel a little less unique or quirky than their predecessors; however, overall, these changes shouldn’t affect one’s enjoyment of the game. They will only be noteworthy for hardcore fans of the original. Despite these changes, the game still has a haunting and sometimes oppressive atmosphere, even if a little different from the original in places.
Due to the scarcity of the PlayStation 5 at the time of writing, the online world isn’t as populated as other Souls games have been on release. Despite this, it is still possible to play multiplayer without too much waiting. For example, a certain boss acts as a PVP duel, and each time I have played this boss, I have not had any trouble finding another human player.
One last new feature in the remake that is worth mentioning is “fractured” mode. Unlocked for a cost, fractured is a new challenge mode where left and right are mirrored. This optional mode provides an extra challenge for masochists and contains a new secret Easter-Egg that Bluepoint has added to the game. Once fractured mode is unlocked, the player also gains the ability to modify their character’s appearance, which is useful for perfectionists such as me, who always spend too long in the character creator.