It seems oddly fitting that a remake of Demon’s Souls, FromSoftware’s original punishing cult masterpiece, would be a launch title for the PlayStation 5. This is the game that kickstarted an entire genre, paving the way for dozens of pretenders and emulators over the last dozen years. Going back to that original version, even after Dark Souls released, was hard work though. Demon’s Souls was never the most technologically sound game, launching with a host of issues and glitches on the PS3, but going on to garner a cult following among gamers who considered it the pinnacle of action RPG challenge.
Fans have been clamouring for a remake or remaster for almost a decade, and it was finally revealed earlier this year that it would be Bluepoint Games, the talented developers behind Shadow of the Colossus, who would be handling the remake. Even working from the relatively solid foundation of the 2009 version, what Bluepoint have done with the remake is nothing short of spectacular.
The very best remakes don’t simply present an old game with new bells and whistles; they present an old game in a fully modernised form, rebuilt, rebalanced, but crucially maintaining all the elements that made the original popular or successful in the first place. Demon’s Souls on PS5 is exactly that: mesmerisingly beautiful, thick with atmosphere and ambience, and eminently playable. This is a reverential remake of one of Sony’s most famous and enduringly popular exclusives, and Bluepoint have treated it with the respect it deserves.
It begins with an incredibly detailed and comprehensive character creator that allows you to make and shape your avatar, adjusting their appearance and selecting the starting class and gear. For those who may be coming into this unaware, this is only a base for your character, and the actual development is free-form. It’s nice to start a ranged character with a high dexterity class, for example, but the nature of Demon’s Souls’ progression system is such that you can alter this as you go.
By now, most if not all of you will be familiar with the structure of FromSoftware’s Souls series. Punishing difficulty, huge, intricate level design, massive, terrifying bosses, and a host of secrets, Easter eggs, exploits and shortcuts awaiting those players intrepid enough to tackle the challenge head-on and learn from it. Death is to be expected and used as a learning tool. Even incremental progression is progression.
There are elements of Demon’s Souls that still go largely unexplained here though. You’ll still need to use a Wiki page or other online resource to fully understand how “World Tendency” works, but essentially the idea is that each of the five worlds you can journey into from the central hub, the “Nexus”, has its own Tendency, a balance affected by your actions. Killing or saving certain NPCs or triggering certain events will shift the Tendency towards White or Black, which causes chain reactions that you may or may not feel, such as NPCs arriving in the Nexus, aiding you or attacking you, and then availability of certain bosses or items. It’s not a complicated concept, but Demon’s Souls doesn’t explain it clearly.
For example, when you die you become a spirit. While you’re still able to carry out all the same actions as when you have a body, you’ll have reduced HP. Using a particular item will restore your corporeal form, allowing you to summon other players for aid against bosses or in tough areas, but it will also shift the World Tendency of wherever you are towards Black. Killing a boss in that world, though, will shift it back towards White.
Typically, you’ll need to consult an item’s flavour text to understand what buffs or debuffs it will impart, as again, the game isn’t always clear – of course the benefit now is that Demon’s Souls has been rinsed out millions of times since its release and the internet is awash with build guides, strategies, secrets, and optimal paths through the game’s free-form world.
Your task as a wandering hero is to gather together half a dozen Archstones with which to overcome the horrific darkness devouring the kingdom of Boletaria. While you can play much of it in co-op, this requires you to be in human form, which also leaves you open to invasions by other players, some of whom have been invading worlds for twelve years and have gotten pretty damn good at it. For an uninterrupted adventure, you’re best off playing in spirit form – unless, of course, you welcome the challenge of PvP.
Each world in the remake has been reimagined to a staggering degree. Fire is used to great effect, and highly detailed environments sing in 4K and 60fps on PlayStation 5. 2009’s Demon’s Souls was rife with issues, from tanking frame rates to visual bugs, but the 2020 version runs like a dream. Combat feels wonderfully fluid, attacks land with ferocity, while the power of the DualSense 5 makes you feel the thrill of every severed soul you consume, every arrow you launch, spell you cast and blow you strike. It’s an immersive masterstroke, and brings Boletaria to life (or undeath) in ways no previous console could.
It’s difficult to find fault with the Demon’s Souls remake. It still has minor annoyances, such as hit-boxes that can feel a little inconsistent in places, and occasional moments where the physics work against you and you can’t understand how or why you fell off that ledge or bounced off that wall during a drop. But these complaints are so minor they’re barely worth spending time on.
So much of Demon’s Souls 2020 impresses. From an atmosphere that fully consumes you to the fluid combat, nightmarish enemy design, superb world-building and level design, and the sound direction that you need to hear to believe. It may not feel as harsh and unforgiving in this post-Dark Souls world as it did in 2009, but it’s still a steep challenge that will test newcomers and even veterans of From’s later work.
Bluepoint have outdone themselves, making subtle changes to certain areas, adding in a few new items, a revamped UI, and re-recording a lot of the original voicework, but everything they’ve done has added to the experience. As a launch title for the PS5, Demon’s Souls is both a stroke of genius and a strange choice, depending on your standpoint. It’s the former because it’s a tremendous showcase for the power of Sony’s new console; it’s the latter because, quite frankly, not everyone can or will enjoy it due to its punishing difficulty.
But fans of From and the Souls genre will fall in love, and anyone who picks it up and manages to push through the fog of challenge will find a stunning world of danger and excitement to get lost in for dozens of hours, min/maxing builds, seeking out rare and unique gear, and facing down screen-filling bosses. The Demon’s Souls remake is a masterpiece, and the best possible start to Sony’s next generation.
Some weird physics
Tendency still not explained properly