I never liked “Souls” games. Too punishing for my particular tastes and set in oppressively depressing environments, From Software’s library just didn’t click with me at all as the likes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne earned rave reviews. And yet fast forward a few years later, and I was ready to give the genre a second chance.
Demon’s Souls, now in the trusted hands of Bluepoint Games, was getting a remake that had the Souls community weeping tears of joy. As the game that helped launch a genre and a plan to launch on the PlayStation 5, this new take on a beloved classic had a lot to live up to. After spending a good chunk of time with it, braving dungeons, facing nightmarish creatures, and experiencing a constant cycle of rebirth, I can honestly say this:
I still don’t like Demon’s Souls…and yet, I still think it’s one of the best games of 2020.
At its core, Demon’s Souls is an old game at heart. The next-gen trappings are there, they’re a sumptuous feast for the eyes and the controls truly do benefit from the PS5’s magnificent DualSense controller, but little else has changed in the 11 years since the original Demon’s Souls became a cult classic on PlayStation 3.
This is still a game where you always feel like the smallest fish in the sea, a warrior in armor who is one single mistake away from being cast into the Nexus and starting your journey all over again. You’re Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill for all eternity, although in this case the boulder is a dragon god who’s happy to cast you right back down the hill with a puff of its hellfire breath.
Everything you remember from the original game is still here, reinvigorated and reborn on the PS5. Five worlds await you, each one presenting a new layer of challenge and inevitable death in your journey. That damn dragon roasting my buns in the Underground Temple, a labyrinth I regularly got lost in, and that one world where I was very happy to be playing as a mage against tenacious foes, it’s all still there.
As are the numerous bosses, each nightmarish obstacle still giving players a run for their money more than a decade later across the many encounters you’ll barely survive! Like the original game, there’s still a grind that you’ll need to endure if you plan to stock up on healing items, the vast number of materials necessary for upgrading your weapons, and the farming of souls to improve your avatar.
But where the game takes a positive step forward is in the area of quality of life updates. Full credit to the Demon’s Souls reddit here for educating me on this, as my novice take on the game would never have picked up on the tool belt that allows handy-dandy items to be equipped, a better camera to keep track of your environment, omnidirectional rolling, and so many more smaller yet substantial tweaks to the system.
The PS5 differences are also plainly evident, resulting in a remake that had to skip a generation so that the full weight of its impact could be felt. Death is a constant in Boletaria, but with the PS5 SSD at least you’re a mere handful of seconds away from being reborn. I also cannot stress just how marvelous the game looks (especially now that I have an OLED TV), with every corner of the game boasting Keanu Reeves levels of breathtaking detail.
Detail is also the name of the game here, as Demon’s Souls is filled with them in every facet of its design. Creatures actually emote, cannon fodder enemies come at you with anguished expressions of pain and fury, your armor actually picks up splatters of blood during your journey, and you can see the impact that your weapons have on everything around you.
You’ve also got the prerequisite visual modes on offer: A 60fps offering which cuts some graphical fat off the devilish rump for a 1440p presentation that is upscaled to 4K, and a more cinematic mode turns the special effects up to 11 for a 4k 30fps visual mode. It’s still a lot more tasteful and atmospheric when compared to Godfall’s use of next-gen tech which happens to involve throwing all the particle effects at a player and seeing what sticks.
But by the old gods, does the haptic feedback on the DualSense controller make a difference. The reaction to landing attacks and taking them, drawing a bow with a notched arrow or raising your shield in time, it’s all translated beautifully to the DualSense and it succeeds at taking you further into the game world. It’s a distinct level of dread that you’ll feel when the controller starts amplifying its vibrations, eventually culminating in an explosion of rumbles as you face an impossible challenge. Which all combines for several awe-inspiring moments that you see and feel.
On the audio side, special mention has to go to the Demon’s Souls soundtrack. An orchestra of despair and a brass horn section of unfiltered doom make for a thrilling soundtrack that is louder, grander, and bigger than ever before. You’ll never listen to the original game’s boss fights ever again, after being subjected to an epic collection of harmony that perfectly paints the nature of your struggle in that game.
And yet, I don’t like it. I’m a gamer who adores a power fantasy, and that’s not the kind of game that Demon’s Souls is. It was a brave decision of Sony to greenlight development on what is a beloved game with a niche appeal to a very particular audience, but the end result speaks for itself. There’s no doubt that Demon’s Souls grabbed an established selection of fans when it launched for the PS5, but the undeniable quality of Bluepoint’s remake is bound to bring in a new generation of fans who’ll fall in love with the product.
I may not be a fan now or ever of the Souls franchise, but even I have to admit that Demon’s Souls is more than just a fantastic launch game. It’s a benchmark for how a remake can preserve the soul of the original game while updating it for a new audience.
Last Updated: November 25, 2020