Review – Demon’s Souls
Every time a brand new console is released, its manufacturer must have a killer app ready at launch. That one game that makes you drool for that expensive piece of hardware. The Nintendo 64 had Super Mario 64, the Xbox had Halo, and the Switch had Breath of the Wild, for instance. Sony’s trump card for the Playstation 5’s launch lineup isn’t Astro’s Playroom or Sackboy. No, its big killer app is the brand new remake of one of the most important and underrated games of all time, the father of Dark Souls and the soulslike genre as a whole: Demon’s Souls.
The PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls comes courtesy of Bluepoint Games, a studio that has already proven its worth with its fantastic Shadow of the Colossus remake for the PS4. This game follows the same pattern as SotC: you’re getting the same exact game released years prior, with brand new visuals, physics, improved framerates, and some controller features. If you’re looking for actual new content, you won’t find it here. There are no new bosses, no new weapons, and that broken archstone in the Nexus remains broken. You are getting the PS3 game in a version worthy of its importance in the gaming industry.
The visual and performance improvements are already worth the admission ticket. Demon’s Souls is a truly gorgeous game, featuring staggering landscapes, lighting effects, and jaw-dropping enemies to marvel at and kill before they do the same to you. The once foggy kingdom of Boletaria is now a phenomenal postcard of a level, with a shockingly beautiful backdrop and really impressive textural work. The same can be applied to most areas in this remake. The Smithing Grounds’ sunset takes full of advantage of the Playstation 5’s lighting effects, and the Prison of Hope looks like the most unsettling Lovecraftian nightmare this side of Bloodborne.
These brand new lighting effects are a blessing and a curse, however. There are areas in this remake, such as the Swamp of Sorrow, that are so dark to the point of being pitch black in some places. Traversing that annoying swamp, having to deal with little lighting, slow mobility, and being poisoned at every five seconds, proved to be an exercise in patience. Another little gripe with the visuals is the overall quality of the human characters, be it the NPCs or your playable hero. They don’t exactly exude a “next-gen vibe”, for lack of a better term. The same cannot be said about the big demon bosses, thankfully enough.
The best thing about the PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls, without a single doubt, is its amazing performance. This is what makes the game a true next-gen exclusive. I am pretty sure these gorgeous visuals could have been replicated to a certain degree on the PS4 (The Last of Us Part II is as pretty, if not prettier, than this game), but the framerate, oh boy, there’s no way a PS4 Pro would have been able to run this game as well as the PS5. Demon’s Souls runs at a buttery smooth 60fps at all times. I’m not exaggerating: literally, at all times. It doesn’t matter how chaotic the action is onscreen, you will never witness a single hiccup.
This, coupled with the fact that the hitboxes don’t suck (a first for a FromSoftware game), makes Demon’s Souls‘ combat the single best the series has ever seen. The only thing that annoyed me was the wonky camera in some smaller corridors. It might not be as aggro or fast-paced as Bloodborne, but it’s the tightest and most responsive in the entire series. In no moment you will be damaged by an unfair enemy attack, yet the same applies to your attacks as well. It’s balanced, it’s fair, and of course, it’s still really challenging at first, when even the weakest of grunts can chip off half of your health in a second.
Do I really need to stress that this is a difficult game? It’s a Souls game, for crying out loud. Stating that Demon’s Souls is hard is like saying that water is wet: you won’t win any Pulitzers by stating the obvious. With that being said, I felt like the real challenge was traversing levels and not the boss fights per se. Having to deal with traps, mobs of enemies, and a surprising limited inventory was way harder than any boss fight in the entire game (more on that later). Just like in Bloodborne, you don’t have Estus flasks, meaning that you have to collect healing items either by killing enemies or buying them at merchants.
The other challenging aspect is the fact that every time you die, you respawn with only half of your health available. You will only have access to a much more limited health bar whenever you’re in soul form. Imagine playing most of game as if you had Dark Souls 2‘s curse stat on at all times. You can only restore your human body by consuming a very rare item, the Stone of Ephemeral Eyes, or by killing one of the game’s many bosses. Speaking of which…
This might be one of the things that prove how Dark Souls is a much better title than Demon’s Souls. Given how this remake doesn’t add new bosses, nor changes anything when it comes to their attack patterns or behavior, you’re basically fighting the same enemies created in 2009. They’re… not exactly as challenging or memorable as the bosses featured in future Dark Souls games, or Sekiro for that matter. They don’t feature multiple stages and their attack patterns are actually easy to memorize.
With the exception of maybe two enemies, the Flamelurker and the Maneaters, I didn’t have a hard time fighting any of Demon’s Souls‘ bosses. Keep in mind this is coming from someone who still hasn’t managed to kill the Pontiff in Dark Souls III and who also took twenty tries to kill Micolash in Bloodborne. There is also one boss that’s relegated to being a puzzle battle and not an actual fight per se: the Dragon God. Just like the Bed of Chaos in its spiritual successor, this is a puzzle battle in which you have to run through a huge battlefield and activate two harpoons to kill the gigantic beast. You’ll do this while hiding behind pillars and debris to avoid being caught, and subsequently killed in one shot.
There’s another thing that showcases Demon’s Souls‘ age: its level design. Don’t worry, I’m not saying it’s bad, on the contrary. However, this game was released prior to the resurgence of the metroidvania genre. Instead, we’re treated to a hub world, the Nexus, that reminded me way too much of Super Mario 64‘s Peach’s Castle. You select one of five archstones from the Nexus, to be then transported to the game’s levels, where the real action begins. Without any loading times, mind you. Bless you, SSD technology.
The first level in each world is usually the longest, being the template to what would eventually become Dark Souls‘ level design philosophy. Those sections feature the most puzzles and enemies to deal with, and are usually the hardest areas to go through due to the lack of any checkpoints from the beginning of the level up until the nearest boss chamber. Most second areas in each world are shorter than their predecessors, with less puzzles and optional areas to explore. The third areas are even shorter, more often than not being a literal corridor from the second area’s boss straight to the next boss arena.
You can basically notice that FromSoftware ran out of money before being able to finish Demon’s Souls‘ levels, as these final stretches feel somewhat unfinished in comparison. This results in a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion to each world, as these final areas usually feature the easiest bosses in the entire game, or at least the ones with the most exploitable gimmicks, such as the Dragon God or the Old Monk. Since this remake features no new areas to explore or bosses to kill, these areas feel as half-baked now as they used to eleven years ago.
Just like in any other Souls game, Demon’s Souls feature a somewhat unorthodox multiplayer component. You can visit other players’ worlds either as a helpful co-op buddy or an invader, resulting in some tense PvP battles. You can also leave messages to other players, just like in previous titles. Finally, there is a neat gimmick involving one of the game’s later bosses, but I won’t talk about which one in order not to spoil the fun.
In short, I loved what Bluepoint has managed to achieve with the Playstation 5 remake of Demon’s Souls. This is, without a doubt, the prettiest the series has ever been, featuring gorgeous graphics and a buttery smooth framerate to die for. With that being said, this is a very faithful recreation of the 2009 original, meaning that most shortcomings related to that game’s overall level design are also featured in here. Think of it as a blast to the past, a perfect way to replay one of the most important (and underrated) games of all time with the best performance and controls you could ever ask for. A worthy launch title and killer app for the Playstation 5.
Brand new lighting effects, geometry, and textures make the PS5 version of Demon’s Souls the most gorgeous Souls game so far. The improved framerate is also a blessing. Some areas are still stupidly dark, making exploration a chore, and human characters don’t exactly look “next-gen”.
It runs at the smoothest 60fps you can possibly imagine and the hitboxes have finally been fixed. The combat is a dream come true. It does suffer from a wonky camera in some situations, however.
Exactly what you would expect from a Souls game: no soundtrack during normal exploration segments, and epic orchestrated tunes when fighting a boss. The reworked voice acting isn’t half bad either.
A very faithful recreation of one of the most important games of all time, complete with everything that made it so special… and everything that feels dated due to the overabundance of sequels and clones that fixed some of its issues.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Demon’s Souls (remake) is available now on PS5. The original version is also available on PS3.
Reviewed on PS5.