Since the release of the PlayStation 5 I’ve been spending my hours being reacquainted with an old friend, “Demon's Souls”
Remastered from the ground up by Bluepoint to succeed its 2009 FromSoftware former self in every way, It looks drop dead gorgeous, the movement is better, the combat is better, and it comes with the oh so familiar periods of time sat staring at “You Died” screens caused by unseen foes or that one mistimed parry.
(Credit: PlayStation) “Demon's Souls” 2020 is a gruelling, challenging and altogether unforgiving game, and this remaster really shows how this strong base led to an entire “Dark Souls” universe and its splinter, “Bloodborne” on the PlayStation 4. This is of course the main appeal to fans of ‘Souls’ Titles, in that the blend of action-RPG and challenging combat, forces players to assess every engagement and is often punishing on gung-ho actions, instead favouring those who plan an engagement before entering the fray. Do you commit your limited stamina to defeating a foes defence with a flurry of light attacks, let them tire themselves against your stalwart defence, or go all in and parry that filthy casual? The choice is yours! This sense of choice is a constant feature throughout “Demon Souls” with character creation and progression being great examples of this freedom, character builds you may have chosen at the beginning can be moulded to better suit your playstyle or can become almost unrecognisable from their vanilla brothers and sisters with the introduction of unique armours, magic, weapons and skills.
I can confidently say that no other game or series can occupy my mind quite like Souls, from the moment you quit in a rage from losing yet another small horde of souls, to the point you get home from work the following night telling the game “nope, you’re not gonna beat me mate, I've been thinking all day of how to kill you” before promptly dying yet again to the same boss, then proceeding to curl up in a ball of maniacal laughter and tears… This is what peak “Demon's Souls” looks like, haha. Now don’t go thinking “this just sounds like a game for masochists and self-loathing people” I mean… it is… but it’s also for casual gamers looking to up the difficulty in a game that rewards planning over quick reflexes. To complement the endless seemingly insurmountable challenges, and despair, is a real sense of reward and accomplishment when you do finally defeat a boss for those rare items and equipment, or succeed in clearing a particularly difficult area in any of the 5 worlds you explore.
The 5 Worlds themselves change up the pace of the game in an unusual way, each feature 4 sublevels and unique challenges, bosses and above all unique rewards. But their differences are not simply defined by weaker or tougher enemies; some feature enemies resistant to specific damage types, others feature environment-altering enemies that block your progress. The best part? You are not locked to completing these worlds in any particular order! Sick and tired of being roasted by dragons? Why not rest your bones in the poison lake, or take a vacation with your long dead relatives and their bony comrades? The point is, like combat, how you tackle the worlds of “Demon's Souls” is entirely your choice.
Now not every part of “Demon's Souls” 2020 is better than original 2009 release; multiplayer remains the same as we've seen in all Souls games, though it is missing the covenant system to reward your comrades, which came later in “Dark Souls”. Some of the Boss fights are very little changed beyond their new stunning visuals – though some would argue that is enough. The much-maligned original resource system is also back in its full anti-glory, adding unnecessary levels of complexity to the upgrade system, those who have played the “Dark Souls” series will know of the ‘Estus flask’ which was a simplification of this 16-resource upgrade system alongside a much better weapon upgrade system. The game continues its trends toward the grindier side of things in collecting items, I found this particularly apparent on my first character seeming to run through healing items faster than I could possibly replenish them from defeated foes, this is to be expected with new players or returning ones like myself fresh from much more forgiving games, but did require me to ditch my first profile in favour of a smoother start with replenished resources. In any case its always a question of time; start over, farm souls to purchase items and forgo upgrading your character, or slowly collect them from felled enemies… or of course as im sure the comments will say “jUsT GiT gUd…”.
Its not going to end on a sour note though, oh no, as these negative points are quickly subdued by the immense number of improvements introduced by the changes between the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 5. The ability to roll in any direction was once the imaginings of a madman, now made reality, The addition of the Tool Belt allowing quick selection of 4 items to maintain the tempo of combat, Weapon durability being on display in the HUD, and the use of archstones to reset areas without having to leave the level and return to the Nexus, are just some of the changes made to improve quality-of-life for players. But the improvements don’t stop at gameplay QOL, “Dark Souls” runs like a dream on the PlayStation 5’s SSD meaning an unfortunate death doesn’t keep you out of the action for long, and as any veteran player will tell you, “prepare to die, and die a lot”, at least with this new generation of consoles we can get back in the action as quickly as were removed from it rather than staring at our dead eyes in the loading screens reflection after the 12th try at defeating the Flamelurker.
Now I’ve mentioned how this game looks great twice, but I believe it’s a disservice to not really get into just how intricately detailed it is. From blood spray sticking to your armour and weapons at the point it contacts it, enemies facial animations changing mid-combat, right down to the volumetric lighting that remains accurate to surface emissivity and the sources it emanates from in an almost uncanny valley level of realism, it’s the little details like this that really transform a simple game into something much more. That’s not to discount the completely redone soundscape and atmosphere either, with these audio elements tying everything together to pull you away from reality and immerse you in the world of “Demon's Souls”. To put it simply, this is beyond any of the 10 or so games I’ve tried on the PlayStation 5 so far, and by a country mile at that, this truly looks and feels like a next gen title utilising the new Sony powerhouse to make it all a reality.
Overall, “Demon's Souls” Remaster by Bluepoint is, at least in my mind, an absolute triumph in resurrecting a legendary title with a cult following and doing so with both respect for the source material, while also acknowledging its faults. This game remains maddeningly difficult with controller-through-the-wall levels of rage inducing combat, but has been given the makeover of a lifetime visually, audibly, and through quality improvements to ensure it remains a legend among the hall of GOATs for another generation of gamers.