Demon’s Souls is the weird uncle of FromSoftware’s masocore series. It’s the distant relative at the dinner table who thoroughly tries to convince you that it was better and more aesthetically pure back in his day. And to some extent, though he’s worn by his age, he’s quite right.
Even if you’re familiar with the Soulsborne ilk, this precursor to the franchise is abrasive, challenging and utterly mysterious. With arcane boss fights and meticulous environment design, there’s really nothing that looks or feels quite like it, even if you consider yourself a Souls veteran. As such, it has garnered a devout following of fans who worship its inimitable atmosphere and spiky design.
This is why it was such a gambit for Sony to remake such a heralded game – one that is only 11 years old – and make it the flagship launch title of its next-generation console, the PlayStation 5. And of course, Bluepoint Games was put in charge, the master of remasters which delivered a stunning refresh of Fumito Ueda’s Shadow Of The Colossus only a few years ago.
Bluepoint has kept a lot of the original artificial intelligence and systems in place in order to maintain the art, while refining how Demon’s Souls looks and plays to make such a peculiar game accessible to another generation of gamers.
My own history with Demon’s Souls extends to a feverish few hours on the PlayStation 3, where I cut my teeth on the opening areas and then found myself overwhelmed. It felt like a bad dream that I couldn’t wake up from, and I mean that in the best way possible. I was more than early to the Souls party, but back then, I couldn’t quite commit to the game’s strange, suffocating atmosphere. It didn’t feel right. But now, with many more Souls games under my belt, I finally feel up to the challenge.
When I first dug into this strange, spooky game on PS5, I caught wind of those same exotic feelings that intrigued me years ago. I still don’t quite understand it, but there’s a refinement to the character and armour design in Demon’s Souls that distances it from its successors in an eerie way. From the curves on the Fluted Armour to the shuffling horror of the Latrian tentacle priests, it feels like a game that curses anyone who dares play it.
It’s easily one of the more difficult mainline Souls games, especially if you’re going in blind. A mechanic called Tendency means that the more you die in a certain zone, the more challenging it gets. So you get punished for being punished by the strong variety of enemies, who all have strange animations and unwieldy, unpredictable attacks. Mostly, they all just look completely distant, like they’re marked by their tenure trapped to this mysterious mortal coil.
The swamp-slick enemies are undoubtedly the stuff of nightmares, but even the most human archers come across as unsettling, with their glassy eyes and groupthink. Everything comes together to create this all-consuming fog that pervades through the many worlds of this terrific game. Instead of guiding the player through a narrative, you must find it for yourself throughout a number of arch stone teleports, accessible right from the beginning.
This freedom is a blessing and a curse, made even more enthralling by the unique power of Demon’s Souls’ hub, The Nexus. It’s where you’ll meet up with the game’s major players, who all seem wholly defeated by the dark world of Boletaria. It’s a melancholy place that doesn’t seem to care too much about your in-game progress.
Other games might ply you with rewards for beating bosses and finishing quests. At best, In Demon’s Souls, you’ll get a quip from a feckless soldier about your Sisyphean plight. This isn’t a bad thing, even though it may be off-putting for some. The oppressive ambience is a gigantic part of the allure.
The vendors and quest givers now emote with facial performance capture, an eerie part of the remake’s upscaled visuals – also a first for the series. Across the board Bluepoint has succeeded in replicating the gloom of the 2009 original, especially in areas like the Tower Of Latria, where a lonely singer’s warbling tones dominate the soundtrack and emaciated prisoners bray as you pass. It’s only made even more effective by the PS5’s 3D Audio, accessible on most headphones.
A few areas like the more stoic, medieval Gates Of Boletaria are slightly forgettable and look a bit too much like early Dark Souls areas. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just ends up being slightly derivative and less effective than the more unique environments.
Another thing that separates Demon’s Souls from its siblings is that the approach to boss battles is consistently unique – you won’t get through by simply slapping devils and ghouls with gigantic swords. There’s a tactical element to most of them that goes far beyond statistical domination, and it makes a lot more sense within the absurd world FromSoftware built many moons ago.
Of course, Bluepoint has also added its own twists to the formula, letting players send items back to storage if they’re over-encumbered and increasing the weight of healing items so you can’t cheese your way through the game. I’m no purist, so I’m pretty happy with these quality-of-life features, and the nice additions like a mirror mode to provide an extra challenge for Demon’s Souls veterans are welcome. There’s even a mysterious door that is puzzling fans, likely leading to Bluepoint’s only real material expansion of the original.
The Demon’s Souls remake is a magnificent achievement for Bluepoint, taking something so coveted and wiping the crumbs from its cheeks without any demerits. I can’t think of a more deserving game to get the ultimate remake treatment, to breathe life into something that absolutely deserves to be played.
You can’t miss Demon’s Souls if you pick up a PS5. Just dive in and don’t look anything up. Pretend you’re just as naive as the first players who got to explore this forgotten land in 2009, and you’ll have one of the most unforgettable gaming experiences of 2020.
The ‘Demon’s Souls’ remake is out now for PlayStation 5.
I can’t think of a better launch game for a new console, especially for fans of the storied Souls series. Demon’s Souls understands the exciting spirit of exploration, and thanks to Bluepoint’s TLC, I think it will hold a similar legacy to Bloodborne, which persisted in conversation even through the twilight years of the last generation.
While it might not be a bastion of unsustainable AAA realism, I almost always stop and stare at the vistas it presents in incredible 4K at 60fps, aided by lightning-fast loading times. I’m utterly enraptured by Demon’s Souls’ inimitable atmosphere, and I’m sure you will be too when you go hands-on.
- Bluepoint has refined the original’s inimitable atmosphere
- Every boss battle feels memorable
- Mind-blowing loading times and stunning fluidity on PS5
- Some areas have received more love than others