The original Demon’s Souls in 2009 wasn’t just a game, but a digital masterpiece that birthed an entire genre. FromSoftware’s arguably most important work, was one that caught the entire industry by storm. It’s unshakable difficulty, genius game design, and methodic gameplay rendered the studio, FromSoftware, and it’s creator, Hidetaki Miyazaki, into absolute legendary stature.
During the first half of the PS3 lifecycle, Takeshi Kaiji, a producer at SIE Japan (than known as Sony Computer Entertainment Japan), had a passion for Western RPG’s in the vein of Wizardry and King’s Field. He and co-producer at From Software, Masanori Takeuchi, aimed to (in Kaiji-San’s words): “Try and revive a lost breed of the action game.” This title would eventually be known as Demon’s Souls
However, Demon’s Souls launch wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. The game was originally released in Japan to middling sales, major technical issues, and no real support to actually bring the title over to Western markets. In the commercial realm, the game was on life support, and was thought to be a curious experiment, but one that ultimately got passed over by Sony Computer Entertainment themselves. Boy was that a mistake.
Greatness, doesn’t slumber, and thanks to importers, enthusiast message boards, and every PS3 being region-free; it didn’t take long for word to spread. Hardcore gamers quickly found out that Demon’s Souls was unlike any game available on the market. It wasn’t trying to imitate Elder Scrolls, Zelda, or Final Fantasy. This was a game whose mechanics and substance merited what would be known as: The Souls Genre. You either got better, learned from your mistakes, and adapted – or you moved on. This was a game about challenges, not about holding your hand.
Eleven years later, we find ourselves at the launch of the PlayStation 5. Bluepoint Studios, a studio whose cut their teeth on Remaking some of the most technically impressive titles in the modern gaming era, were tasked to do something no one saw coming: Recreate Demon’s Souls from the ground up on PlayStation 5. Today we are here to answer one question: Does the Demon’s Souls on PlayStation 5 live up to the original?
Spoiler alert: It’s even better.
This is RemotePlay’s review of Demon’s Souls for the PlayStation 5.
Like most Souls games, Demon’s Souls begins with you in a create-a-character session. The build allows you to modify gender, abilities, class, and overall aesthetics. Soul’s games have always had a dearth of options. In the Bluepoint remake, it is absolutely fantastic to see some of the expressive choices given to the player. Players can modify an appearance from the jaw size, brows, facial hair, or even decals. The new detail and fidelity system also insures that characters, when they emote, looks spectacular in all their high fidelity glory. The underpinning to all of this is the freedom of personal expression. For reference, I went with a Female Priest in my personal play through.
Before I begin describing the narrative of Demon’s Souls, I should forewarn you, that the game is rife with rhyme and riddle. There aren’t many grand and massive exposition points. Soul’s titles have a tradition of using world building, passive research, and context clues as keys to craft an overarching plot. What is given to the player is a framework from where they perform their own study into the larger lore.
Demon’s Souls is a story of a Wanderer (the Player) tasked to save the Kingdom of Boletaria. The Kingdom’s main antagonist, the Old One, has cast a spell that has cursed all within due to their irresponsibility with the dark arts. King Allant of Boleteria, the man responsible for this circumstance, awoke a slumbering Demon catastrophe. It is now up to the player to remove the curse and the “Fog” that surrounds the city.
As the game begins, the Wanderer is tasked to take out the game’s first boss. Upon which, you die. Soon the player is transported to an area of limbo called the Nexus. It is here where the core of the game is revealed. Within the Nexus lie Archstones which house a powerful demon. The Player is to travel to each of the five Archstones, destroy the powerful Demon’s within, and ultimately free the Kingdom.
Are you with me so far?
The first thing new players will notice about Demon’s Souls is that unlike Bloodborne/Dark Souls, the game isn’t one giant connected open world. Instead the game is divvied up into giant five giant levels or dungeons to explore via the Arch Stones. Each level represents its own difficulty, handicap, and thematic framework. Whether you are in a mineshaft, rushing past a dragon, or avoiding the perils of toxicity. Each and every level has a distinct flare.
The Gameplay in Demon’s Souls is what you’d expect from the Master himself. Tight responsive attack animations are married to parry-counter attacks. Players have a roll button to help get out of harm’s way, but they need to keep track of a Stamina gauge to insure they aren’t expending all their vitality. Enemy patterns become increasingly difficult, but never unfair. Ultimately, the player has the tools necessary, it’s up to them, however, to master them.
Before we continue, I’d like to also take a second to talk about the amazing use of the DualSense controller. Each and every swipe, arrow swoosh, and counter attack has a distinct rumble, trigger tension, and a deliberate sensation. It goes a long way in immersion and helps ground you within the world.
This brings us to the eccentric and esoteric gameplay fundamentals of Demon’s Souls, and one, that is hardest to convey. The game has a core mechanic called World Tendency. When you die in the game, the game has a specific internal stat modifier that actually increases difficulty. Yes, the game gets harder the more you die. This is a punishing, crippling, and anxiety ridden mechanic, but also one that offers the greatest reward and victory when you actually overcome it.
The problem with World Tendency isn’t so much the mechanic itself, but how it’s explained. The game’s UI is rather vague (to Bluepoint’s credit, they have managed to actually streamline it a ton), and half of the stats, insignia, and items probably won’t make any sense, unless you are to go out of your way and look them up online. This is absolutely intentional, so no, you aren’t going crazy. The game is getting harder. And no, you didn’t miss anything, the game is purposefully not telling you what item’s X, Y, and Z represent.
With all that said, Bluepoint has done a ton to the game to make it more accessible than ever. The first and most important change? You can now roll in any direction. The original Demon’s Souls handicapped players by only allowing them to roll / dodge in four directions. The multi-directional roll makes things feel far more fair and less clunky (especially for those of you used to the fast paced antics of Sekiro and Bloodborne).
The second big change? Quality of Life. You can now send items back to the Nexus when you are officially maxed out on capacity. In the original, imagine hammering out a near hour long play session, only to find out that you cannot progress further because a fundamental item will no longer fit into your limited item allotment. Finally, the UI itself. The vague, overly complex, and the larger misunderstood elements aren’t completely gone, but are far easier to track and make sense of.
As player’s continue on the journey, I expect most will spend upwards of 15 hours on their playthrough if they are familiar with the game and the genre. A lot of that time will be spent farming – which is more complex and management heavy than any of its successive title. The challenge represented here is both harder and easier than Dark Soul’s, but also represents a very unique and experimental direction of a first born creation. There is nothing quite like Demon’s Souls.
Graphically, as of this writing, Demon’s Souls is the best looking game on any platform. Players have the option of opting to play at 1440p in 60fps performance mode or a fidelity mode that locks the framerate to 30fps with a 4K resolution. Whichever option you choose, the game is just pure eye candy. Materials are life like and exhibit excellent use of reflectivity. Lighting is tasteful and realistic. Enemies, character models, and the environment are assembled with the highest polygon counts and the most detailed texture work I have ever seen. This is a game built from the ground up for next-generation hardware, and it shows. PlayStation 5 has been done justice.
The Soundtrack by Shunsuke Kida has also been fully orchestrated and given a nice uplift. Haunting and somber melodies of chanting, the chilling blasts of gothic instrumentation, and an oppressive and claustrophobic tone are expertly explored in the game space. The much talked about, 3D audio implementation is also quite fantastic. Arrows are heard whizzing around, Dragons can be heard overhead, and enemies can be pin pointed precisely. This is aural wizardry.
With all that said, Demon’s Souls on PlayStation 5 is everything I wanted and more. Bluepoint have managed to the impossible: pay homage to the original game and make it better in every possible way. While purists may find contention with one or two points, no one can deny, that the 2020 remake of Demon’s Souls is an absolutely essential play and one that will be talked about for years to come. Bravo Bluepoint games.
A Review Code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Developer: Bluepoint/ Studio Japan / Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: 12/11/2020