Demon’s Souls launched on the Playstation 3 back in 2009, the cusp of the explosion of the seventh generation. From Software will take another couple years to release Dark Souls on 2011, which would ultimately become its own genre with a group of diehards touting it for its unforgiving difficulty and rich lore that’s discovered by osmosis rather than exposition.
“Souls-like” is definitely not for everyone, and it takes a certain audience to really appreciate the genre. With the likes of Sekiro and many other similar games enjoying a cult status on various platforms, we can’t ignore the cultural significance of Demon’s Souls as this full remake makes its way into our homes, bringing with it all the technological advances from the years gone by. It’s been at least a decade since we last saw it on Playstation 3, and it’s return as a PlayStation 5 launch title could not be any more glorious.
Return to Foggy Boletaria
Back in 2009, playing the game was rather difficult because we literally had no primer or experience into what the Souls world had to offer. No one knew how this game would impact all others after it, spawning the likes of 2019 Game of the Year Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Bloodborne. Years later, Demon’s Souls still holds the same mystery and allure as the title that started it all, wrapped up in a visual package that makes dying a hundred times easier to deal with.
Bluepoint Games have flexed their remaking prowess once again and have conjured up a world that looks stunning – from the dimly-lit halls of the Boletarian Palace to the dreary caverns of Stonefang Tunnel and even to the gloomy Shrine of Storms – each venue is brought to life in wonderful 4K 60fps that many Souls players will very much appreciate. The game looks killer, and even by PlayStation 5 standards, is something that already make very good use of the hardware, giving players a silky-smooth experience with hardly any input lag whatsoever. Gone are the days when you can blame an underpowered console for your shitty reflexes. Everything is as smooth as butter in this remake, allowing you to experience the game as it was meant to be.
Remember that Vanguard tutorial boss from before? The one that’s supposed to kill you during the tutorial sequence? You’re immediately given a taste of the improved visuals as you see this big demon hulking around to give you a rude welcome to the game. Since the technique to beating this boss is to really stay behind him, you can get up close and personal to really see how everything moves and looks in Demon’s Souls, and it’ll make you appreciate the work Bluepoint has put into the remake. Who knew a Vanguard could be so jiggly?
The re-imagining of the Vanguard and many of the other foes in the game makes them truly fearsome, and tells you that you’re going to be in for a lot of hurt. It was really hard to appreciate the character designs from a decade ago but the remake really brings everything to life in stunning detail, easily reconciling their menacing looks with how much damage they can dish out to kill you in a few hits.
Even in the original game, the tutorial was well done, easing you into the world but at the same time only giving you enough to go with but not exactly giving everything away. As is a Souls-like trademark, almost none of the items and what they do are explained explicitly which makes reading extra important, and you’ll really have to find your way through the game on your own wits. No quest pointers, no map, it’s just you and a lot of fog to uncover.
Indeed, what is old is now new, and Boletaria never looked so good.
The Same Highs and Lows
Everything you’ve come to love (and hate) from the original game is back in the PS5 remake. Due to the leap in generational power, we really get to appreciate the game more due to the quality of life improvements, with loading times being one of the biggest and best ones the game can offer players.
It’s no secret that you’ll be dying a lot here, and nothing can break momentum more than almost beating a boss down to a sliver of health only to die because you just had to add an extra attack in your routine. Add loading screens on top of every death, and it’ll eventually feel like a chore. The PlayStation 5 remake completely eliminates loading screens, transitioning you back into the action within mere seconds of pressing the retry button. The next-gen doesn’t only look good, but feels good as well.
The DualSense controller also takes front and center in this remake, giving the players adequate amounts of feedback through haptics that greatly improves immersion. It really is hard to explain how transformative the DualSense is when applied properly to a title, as you’ll have to really feel it to believe, especially the levels of feedback when wielding different types of weapons. Apart from the haptics, one thing that the controller does is relay a lot of the audio into its built-in speakers, which, when paired with the haptics, takes the experience to a new level. It’s not mind-blowing levels of great, but it’s good enough for the game.
While Demon’s Souls may be a remake, there are a number of things that have been retained from the old game, such as shoddy AI and its very deliberate pace. More recent titles like Sekiro played out much faster, with Sekiro especially rewarding players who took the fight to the enemy due to its posture system. Demon’s Souls is much slower, which is understandable as it was really the first title that brought the genre to life, so it can serve as a good entry point into the genre. It does not make things totally easier, as you can still die in a couple of hits, but Demon’s Souls can be much more welcoming in this regard.
Souls-like games tests its players by asking them to defeat the first boss without having the ability to level up with the help of the preliminary souls collected. While the Phalanx isn’t that great of a challenge compared to the many bosses presented in other similar games, Demon’s Souls eases you in by spoon feeding the players with a relatively simple starting boss that teaches the basics of moving around and timing your attacks properly, which brings us back to the “tutorial” being much more effective here for newcomers.
What I appreciate about this game is that everything is earned through self-discovery. However, comparing it to a similar title I really enjoyed – Hades – the draw for that game is the subtle narrative cues, the entertaining characterizations, and the Civil Wars-esque soundtrack that kept me hooked even if the challenge was tough. While this remake may have a shiny new look with blazing fast load times, it is a souls-like through and through, which also means that while it caters to fans, it really isn’t a game that will change your mind about the genre. There is no realization of “Oh, I like the game / genre now” like Hades has, but is still a fantastic effort from Bluepoint nonetheless.
Kill, Die, Repeat
Once you have surpassed the first test and are ready to take on the challenges in the later levels of Demon’s Souls, you’ll follow a formulaic roadmap that follows the similar vein that other Souls-like games have done – collect souls, create a convenient path leading to the boss, beat the boss, repeat. There will be a lot of dying in between, but that’s already a given. That’s the charm of every Souls game somewhat, it lures you into the world where everything is earned and nothing is served up to the player- from the gameplay to its enigmatic story.
There’s some sick sense of masochistic satisfaction once you have overcome a difficult challenge, and that’s how I feel when I dive into a Souls-like game. While I felt that the faster frame rates with the performance mode helped with traversing the landscapes of Boletaria, there’s really no downtime I could think of the way in say Hades where one could roam around the palace and chat with eager denizens revealing more of their backstory. You have that with some of the shopkeepers in Nexus, but not to the extent that you grow attached to them as characters.
What We Liked:
- Graphical upgrade that brings a renewed life to the game.
- Faster frame rates, allowing for more dynamic combat.
- Performance and cinematic mode toggles.
What We Didn’t Like:
- High price tag not exactly a draw for newcomers.
- Not a lot of motivation during the First Act until the end of the first boss fight.
- After a while, it feels like work, just like other similar games.
Verdict: Buy It!
Demon‘s Souls is a beautiful re-imagining of a fan classic that would definitely resonate with its fans upon first glance. For Souls-like fans, this is definitely a must buy, a way for them to reinvigorate their love for the franchise and go back to where it all started courtesy of the new hardware. Coupled with stunning graphics, a great use of lighting and shadows, as well as little to no loading time, this is a dream to play on the PlayStation 5 and makes its case as a definitive launch title for the console. Bluepoint really have cemented themselves as remake masters, with Demon’s Souls as their latest triumph.
For newcomers to the genre who own a Playstation 5, the PHP3,490 price tag may be too much to pay for repetitive punishment at worst and a second job at best. The game, while fantastic, isn’t something that will change your mind about the genre. If you’re willing to give it a try, it would be wise to wait for a sale, because while this game does have its passion group, the rest may just want a game to relax to especially during these trying times.
*Demon’s Souls was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 via a review code provided by the publishers.