Developed by Bluepoint Games and Japan Studio
Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released 12 November 2020
Available and reviewed on PS5
Time Played – 17 Hours
Over the years, FromSoftware have become one of the most respected developers in the industry today, known for creating challenging but fair games, full of intricacy and depth in their world and game design. Although it was Dark Souls that launched them into the mainstream, it was in fact Demon’s Souls that gained them their first jump of notoriety amongst players. While we wait for FromSoftware’s next project, Elden Ring (when are we getting some more info?), the king of remasters/remakes, Bluepoint Games, have given us a stunning remake of this beloved cult classic.
The game takes place in the kingdom of Boletaria. A dark being known as the Old One was awakened from its slumber after forbidden magic, called Soul Arts, was restored by King Allant. Boletaria is now being consumed by a magical fog and the demons it creates. As an adventurer who enters the decaying kingdom, you are killed and sent to a place called the Nexus, where you are bound and given the task to travel the various regions, slaying demons and arch-demons, eventually gaining the strength to face the Old One and lull it back to slumber.
The game is split into 5 different regions, as well as the Nexus itself. Each of these regions is incredibly distinct from one another, with their own lore, unique enemies and general atmosphere. The Nexus acts as your hub area, where various NPCs, such as merchants and other characters that are already there, or appear later on when you discover them out in the world, reside. It’s also here where you will level up your character. What makes this game pretty great, is the level of freedom it gives the player to explore and complete the different regions in whatever order they wish, with a few exceptions. While each region gets steadily harder as you progress through it, for the most part, nothing is stopping you from staying in that region to complete as much as you can. Likewise, you can keep switching between areas and completing them all at an even pace, or ignore one till last that you’re particularly struggling on. The game really encourages you to explore and complete at your own pace. Exploration is also greatly encouraged, where various secrets, weapons, armour and other items are there for the taking. The risk-reward nature is so inherently rooted in the entire experience, not just in its exploration.
FromSoftware have become well known for their excellent and intricate world design. While Demon’s Souls is nowhere near as interconnected as their later games and often pretty linear, it’s still well thought out and Bluepoint Games has done a phenomenal job at adding so much more detail and nuance for this PS5 remake. The high walls of Boletarian Palace are darkly elegant and full of detail. Here you’ll traverse the crumbling bridges, claustrophobic alleyways, while fending off the soulless husks of the kingdom’s soldiers and avoiding dragon fire. The dingy Stonefang Tunnels are full of twists and turns that can get you lost and in dire situations, if you’re not careful. The eerie Tower of Latria is full of grotesque creatures and wizards of eldritch likeness. The sheer contrast of every location keeps the exploration and gameplay fresh, where you’ll often have to switch up your strategy and even weapon types, across the roughly 15-20 hour experience. This goes for the enemies you’ll encounter across the regions as well. There are so many different enemy types in this game, each with their own unique attacks and patterns to learn. This makes traversing each level all the more exciting, as you’ll never know what new and menacing entity you’ll fight next.
This game is an Action-RPG at its heart, meaning you’ll need to master various mechanics and systems in order to excel at this challenging adventure. At the start, you’re given the option from a variety of classes to choose from that will set you up for the early game, but it won’t restrict or define your build for most of it. You have various attributes to consider when levelling up your character, using the souls you accumulate from defeating foes. Depending on the type of build you’re going for, focusing your souls on increasing the levels of certain attributes is key. Not understanding this quickly will make the whole game more challenging in the long run. There are many different types of weapons and armour to find and buy across the regions, picking the right ones for your build are also very important. Things like item and carry capacity are affected by your attributes and will in turn, affect how fast you move and roll. This can all be very overwhelming for new players, however, veterans of the series will grasp this pretty much instantly. Depending on your knowledge and experience of these games, it can affect how difficult the game is. But overall, once you understand how these systems work, it becomes much more rewarding and enjoyable to progress through.
The most pivotal aspect of the game by far, is the combat. If this wasn’t any good, then the entire experience would suffer tremendously, therefore, it was an important aspect to nail. Luckily, there are various parts that together, create a truly satisfying and challenging combat system. Let’s go over the basics. There are three bars you’ll need to keep an eye on, health, mana and stamina. Depending on your build, you can ignore the mana bar entirely if you won’t be using any magical abilities. There’s the light attack, which is faster, deals fewer damage and uses up less stamina. Then there’s the heavy attack, which deals more damage and staggers enemies better, but is slower and use up more stamina. Alternating between the two and using them at the right times can be hard to gauge at first, but is very useful later on. Equipping a shield and using it to block attacks is vital in this game, saving your life countless times. The many you find also have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some allow you to block all physical damage (a priority most of the time), while others might have higher resistance to magic or certain elements. Rolling is another key feature that will allow you to avoid attacks and can often be much better than simply blocking. However, like with pretty much everything in this game, your attributes will affect your rolling expertise, depending on your equip load. You really need to pay attention to your stats in this game, providing much depth and detail to its mechanics, it’s great.
Perhaps the most crucial aspects to learn in this game, in order to have a pretty easy time, is backstabbing and parrying. The former is simple and consistent to pull off and allows you to deal a huge amount damage to nearly all enemies you encounter in the world. The latter is far more risky and awkward to execute. However, once you can get it down, a riposte (counter attack) after a parry can deal much more damage than a backstab and can even be used on some bosses. After hours of practice while going through the game, they become second nature to perform and feel great, especially with the unique animations for the various weapon types. Furthermore, there is also the choice of using ranged weapons like bows and crossbows, adding even more choice to the many ways to play. The combat in general can feel a bit clunky and off at times, especially in comparison to more recent versions in Bloodborne, Sekiro and Dark Souls 3, but it still remains a great system that rewards those that take the time to use and master all it has to offer.
If you’re like me and pretty much always try to use magic in every game that allows it, then making use of the various spells and/or miracles is a must. Spells focus more on dealing damage with a few defensive ones, miracles meanwhile provide various healing and defensive powers, while still offering a few damage dealing variants. Raising the intelligence, faith and magic attributes is a must in order to excel, however, while magic is very powerful, it’s also limited. If you run out of mana, it won’t recover on its own, you’ll either need to return to an arch stone, equip a certain ring or consume particular items. This can leave you vulnerable while traversing areas unless you are decent enough in other weapons. Being aware of this is super important if you’re considering mostly using magic. Wielding the different spells feels so satisfying, where the DualSense controller works well to mimic the vibration and crackle of different powers. The visual design of each spell is striking and bright, contrasting well against the more muted and darker tones of the landscape. The sheer variety of spells and miracles means there will be some use no matter what build you have. Even if you just have a single one or use many, the magic system and overall gameplay has been designed with careful consideration for all play styles. But like I mentioned earlier, you can also quite easily ignore magic all together and the game’s design is flexible enough to accommodate that.
Unlike the Souls games or Sekiro, healing works differently, similar to Bloodborne in fact. Instead of a flask that regains its uses at checkpoints (bonfires, arch stones etc), you need variants of moon grass to heal yourself. There are different types of this, which vary in how much health they recover, corresponding in name to stages or versions of the moon. Half-moon grass restores some of your health, while full-moon grass restores most of it. You find these from enemy drops, items found throughout the world, as well as buying them. This adds a level of frustration similar to Bloodborne, where you will likely have to waste time grinding for them. It’s a poor design choice that does nothing more than add unnecessary, dull grinding that can ruin the pace of the game. I was lucky that later on, I was able to find a spot close to an arch stone that allowed me to easily get powerful moon grass from a group of enemies. Having said that, it does seem to be a way of counteracting the fact that you are able to carry a large amount of moon grass at one time. If it was easy to collect them, it would remove a large chunk of the challenge, but a better solution would be to have a system like the Estus flask from Dark Souls.
Wielding the right weapon and wearing the right armour and accessories can mean the difference between having a more difficult or easy run. There are countless different weapons and armour for you to find or buy from various merchants across the regions. While the combat can be a bit clunky at times, the different weapons all feel excellent to use and are appropriately weighty when wielded. Daggers offer quick strikes in succession, while great swords deal more powerful blows, but require more patience and are slower to swing. Weapons in particular are important to look at in detail, since these scale to certain stats. Meaning, if a weapon has a letter rating next to a certain attribute, then its damage output increases the higher your corresponding attribute is. How well it scales can also be improved by upgrading it. This is yet another feature that rewards the keen-eyed player, adding greater complexity and consideration to its mechanics. Upgrading your weapons requires souls and particular components that have a chance of dropping from enemies and can also be bought from merchants, depending on what level of crafting material it is. There are also unique weapons and magic that can be created from the powerful souls you gain from bosses. Whether you use those boss souls to create new gear or gain more levels, is completely up to you.
It wouldn’t be a Souls game without countless bosses for you to test your skills and patience against. Let’s start with the positives, namely the design. Each of the bosses are so unique to one another, not just in how they look, but also in their mechanics and attacks. More than any other FromSoftware game, the bosses seemed like care was taken to make sure they all felt distinct and that there was no overlap in design. Despite gripes I have with them that I will get onto soon, one thing for sure is that I will be able to remember most, if not all bosses. Bluepoint Games should really be commended for their work in bringing these bosses to all new heights, where the level of detail and vibrancy is stunning. Flamelurker and Armour Spider are especially impressive, easily standing as some of the best in these games. In terms of mechanics, there was one that could sense you by noise and movement, therefore, I was able to equip a ring that made me harder to detect, allowing me to get in close and avoid him more easily. Another great feature is how the battlefield is often integrated into the boss fight itself. The stairs and high ground are there to use against the Adjudicator, if you’re more of a ranged build, to get at his weak spot. The Tower Knight and Storm King use the battlefield in similar, impressive ways. Having said that, it can also be a bad thing. Two words, Dragon God.
The Dragon God boss fight is perhaps not only the worst in this game, but the entire Souls-like series, right up there with the Bed of Chaos from Dark Souls. The entire fight has you trying to run and avoid the Dragon God’s gaze and countless one-hit kills. This, coupled with very questionable hit-boxes/range makes this a frustrating and unfair boss, filled with artificial difficulty. Apart from this and a few other, more genuinely challenging and well-designed bosses, like Flamelurker and Maneater, they are pretty easy. I know how challenge can be pretty subjective, but many would agree this is by far the easiest of these games. I was able to beat most of the bosses on my first try, without any real grinding, in about 17 hours. Some of the bosses were laughably easy, like the Storm King and Maiden Astraea. Even the one that could be seen as the ‘final boss,’ False King Allant, was one of the easiest in the entire game, who had easy to read and dodge attacks, that I beat first try without using hardly any healing items. The only time I needed to grind for a bit, was for crafting materials and moon grass, where I didn’t really need the latter in the end. As I said, difficulty is subjective and if this is your first Souls-like game, then you might find it challenging, but it’s really no more difficult than you’re average game. I never really got that feeling of relief and triumph that the other games had when defeating a boss, since I was breezing through them pretty easily. To be honest, the challenge actually came from progressing through each region itself, not the bosses.
An important aspect to note, is the nature of human and soul form. In soul form, your health pool is halved, while in human form it’s at maximum. However, there are also ties to other mechanics. World Tendency is a unique system in Demon’s Souls that affects the gameplay and actual world around you for each region. In Black Tendency, enemies are stronger, but drop more souls and better items. White Tendency reduces the strength of enemies but the rewards are worse. The extent of this is affected by how close to full Black or White Tendency it is. Beating bosses moves it towards full White, while dying in human form moves it towards full Black. Furthermore, new locations and secrets also appear and disappear depending on the Tendency. Weighing up the pros and cons at any given point, potentially choosing to stay in soul form to prevent it moving towards full Black, are all important and really adds a unique flare to the gameplay loop, as well as greater strategy.
Like most other FromSoftware games, there are multiplayer elements layered into the experience, which you can turn on or off, it’s your choice. Players can leave signs/messages in the world for others to find, offering advice and directions to secrets, or attempting to troll new players into jumping to their death right before the next shortcut or boss. If you’re in human form, then you’re able to request help from other players who have left their summon sign around the map. If you’re particularly struggling on a boss, then getting available help is a viable method. While these games are generally considered difficult, having this feature adds a layer of accessibility to those that are struggling or aren’t particularly great at video games. On the other hand, staying in human form runs the risk of being invaded by other players. While this might seem like a good PvP aspect on paper, in reality, it’s so random and constant connection issues ruin it. While you might be invaded by someone close to your level, there’s a chance you could be paired with someone that’s overpowered to you. Being invaded when you have countless souls and close to the next checkpoint, can be utterly frustrating. It doesn’t help that severe lag completely ruins most invasions. I have fast, fibre-optic internet, yet most of the time, there would be so much lag that it looked like I was getting hit by invisible forces. It got to a point that I simply played offline, as I never needed help from other players and being invaded was a hassle that took away from the game. Overall, the online aspects can be a nice feature and feel like you’re sharing the journey with others, via the messages scattered around, but it can also be pretty pointless and more of a nuisance.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of this game is the story and lore. The main narrative overall is pretty simple and was honestly quite dull. I had no interest in the world or connections with any of the characters you meet along the way, so much so that I can’t remember a single side character’s name. You learn the majority of the narrative and lore from various item descriptions and handful of dialogue from NPCs. This has always had inherent flaws, but it’s especially more glaring here. I just found the overall narrative execution and world-building, boring and forgettable personally. The ending as well felt very anti-climactic, not helped by the lack of a real, epic final boss. It ends in a whimper, in a way mirroring the narrative conclusion. I won’t be remembering this game’s story any time soon.
One thing that is undeniable about the Demon’s Souls remake, is that the visuals and music are incredible. Right from the start, the character creation is brilliant with such high quality models, it’s impressive. Even more so when you consider the fact you’ll hardly see your character’s face up close in normal gameplay. Leading on from this, textures are of similar quality, where clothes, armour and other objects in the world have so much detail and clarity. The various landscapes are breathtaking to behold, I can’t count the amount of times I just had to stop and use the photo mode for minutes on end. The level of detail in the world really shows just what this new generation is capable of, let alone the performance enhancements. Enemies and bosses look so more realistic and animated than ever before. We already knew what Bluepoint Games were capable of with the Shadow of the Colossus remake, this just proves how much more they can do. The soundtrack is also stunning, capturing the more sinister tone of the Tower of Latria, while offering some truly heart pounding music for the many boss fights. It’s both haunting and epic.
There are two modes to choose from when playing Demon’s Souls, cinematic or performance. In cinematic mode, the game runs at a native 4K resolution, while locking the game to 30fps. I didn’t play long in this mode, however, with what I did experience, it was pretty much completely stable. In the performance mode on the other hand, the game runs at 1440p upscaled to 4K, while running at a near perfect 60fps. I played through the majority of the game in this mode, as the higher frame-rate was just so more smooth and important. There were only a couple of times it would dip below 60fps and even at 1440p, the image was really clean and sharp. You can notice a difference in the resolution, but it’s not a huge deal compared to difference between 30fps and 60fps, which is far more noticeable. I would highly recommend going for the performance mode instead of cinematic for a game like this, where the smoothness really helps the gameplay. Another incredible aspect of the game’s performance, is the load times. It now takes mere seconds to load up your save and even quicker when fast-traveling between arch stones and reloading after dying. It adds such smoothness to the gameplay and also takes out some of the frustration from dying. We’re at a time with console tech that load times are quickly becoming a thing of the past, taking much less time to get into the action. It’s incredible.
Demon’s Souls is a truly stunning looking remake of the 2009 original. Bluepoint Games have done a phenomenal job at bringing this PS3 title over onto the new hardware and making it seem like a brand new game. Its combat can be sluggish at times, feeling out of place compared to more recent games like Sekiro, but it’s also more methodical and still remains great to play, coupled with the satisfying magic system. The various bosses and many landscapes are full of countless detail and nuance, a real visual treat that is exemplified by the incredible performance and epic soundtrack. The game isn’t perfect however, being held back by a bland and forgettable narrative/lore, alongside a general reduction in difficulty, especially the bosses. I enjoyed my time with this remake quite a bit, but it really shows just how much the overall gameplay and narrative execution has improved in the more recent games. While it’s definitely a gorgeous and mechanically sound game, it ends up being underwhelming compared to most other FromSoftware titles. If anything, this makes me look forward even more to Elden Ring, to see the continuing evolution of the newer gameplay design and what else the developers will do.
Score = 7/10
Thanks for reading and let me know what you thought in the comments below. How do you compare it to other Souls-like games. Stay safe everyone and stay tuned for my next post.
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