Review

Demon's Souls Review: Shield Up

  • First Released Nov 12, 2020
    released
  • PS5

Bluepoint delivers a Demon's Souls remake that is as much its own as it is From Software's, and it shows off the power of the PS5 with it.

There's much to praise about the remake of Demon's Souls. It's a remarkable technical showpiece for the PlayStation 5; a gripping gameplay experience that oscillates between exhilarating, nerve-wracking, and downright heartbreaking; and a faithful recreation of the seminal title that birthed the Souls-like subgenre. But developer Bluepoint's greatest achievement is that it took something I'm intimately familiar with and made me feel like I was venturing into the unknown.

Fundamentally, Demon's Souls for PS5 is what it has always been. Barring some small tweaks, the design of the game is identical to From Software's original. The core mechanics are unchanged, the enemies are placed in the same positions and behave in the same ways, the devious tricks and traps are still there, ready to catch the unfamiliar off-guard.

And yet, while retreading a well-worn path through the kingdom of Boletaria, I find myself without the confidence I should have. I'm cautiously approaching basic enemies with my shield raised, knowing their every move and how to overcome them, but fearing them still. I stand paralyzed at the end of narrow stone tunnels ominously lit by flickering torches, knowing exactly what awaits in the darkness, but still needing to will myself forward. And as monstrous demons step into arenas in which I've bested them dozens of times, I begin to doubt my chances at victory once more.

Yes, Demon's Souls is undoubtedly an impressive technical achievement. But what makes it special is how Bluepoint has applied its own creative vision to From Software's original to remake the game not just as it was, but as it was meant to be, realizing its full potential. The result is a title that pays homage to From Software's work, but at the same time stands as brilliant in its own right.

In breathing new life into Boletaria, Bluepoint has taken some artistic license with From Software's work, for better or worse depending on your perspective. While the body of the game may look vastly different, its soul remains intact--I could feel as much as I stood in familiar places and absorbed the overwhelming amount of new details. As a result, it was as if I were experiencing the game all over again with a fresh pair of eyes, and in doing so, the emotions I felt on my first time through were stirred once more.

Stepping into The Nexus, the hub area for the game, felt like coming home, but what I once perceived to be an abandoned prison for the souls of wayward warriors now felt like a welcoming place of respite. Candles bathed the cold otherworldly architecture in a warm glow, statues were shrouded in brilliant, hopeful white light, and a fuller, richer version of the orchestral theme played to drive home the melancholic mood of the hidden temple.

Every facet of the environment is rich in detail, from the rippling water in the central pool to the intricate stone carvings and metal detailing on the archstones used to transport you to distant lands in search of demon's souls. Even the people who occupy The Nexus have more detail, which in turn gives them greater depth. Stockpile Thomas, a forlorn figure who sits in a nook of The Nexus and offers to look after your excess items and equipment, tells his story in a way that wasn't possible before. His wife and child were killed and his ineptitude in battle meant he was unable to save them. This is the first time in many hours of playing Demon's Souls that I've been able to read the expressions on Thomas's face, and the pain is visible as he recounts his tragic loss. His eyes look reddened and puffy, as if he'd just been crying.

Though their lines may be brief, the voices of these characters sound familiar--some have been re-recorded with the same actors, while others are new. The way Blacksmith Ed chastises you for not making use of his services, the Maiden in Black's oft-repeated prayer whenever she uses her abilities to strengthen you, Patches' insincerity as he tries to hide his deceitful nature--it all sounds right, and where new or tweaked writing and vocal performances appear, they still evoke the intended effect.

That is true of every area in the game. Each of the five archstones takes you to locales that are jaw-dropping visually and distinct atmospherically. The Boletarian Palace lies in ruin, with battlements barely standing or entirely destroyed. Mindless dreglings wander around, attacking you on-sight with a frenzy of sword swings ending in an exasperated sigh of exhaustion. This is a game that, in numerous ways, serves as a showcase for all of the PS5 signature features, and hearing Demon's Souls is as gratifying as seeing and playing it. Thanks to the 3D audio through headphones, the heavy and threatening breathing of a Blue Eye Knight told me it was nearby before I could even see it. Buzzing flies and the ragged caws of pecking crows made the sight of a decaying horse carcass all the more unsightly. And as archers fired arrows, the sound of them whizzing by my ears revealed just how narrowly I had escaped.

Unlike Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro--From Software's follow-up games--Demon's Souls has a loose structure to progression. It encourages, and sometimes by way of insurmountable enemies, deadly bosses, and locked doors, forces you to travel to locations on other archstones until you are equipped to forge ahead again. This means it can be difficult to get comfortable with any location--it's always ushering you toward dangerous unknowns, and Bluepoint's technically and artistically stunning graphics mean each new area is an absolute joy to behold, as well as an anxiety-ridden nightmare to venture through even for veterans.

[Bluepoint's Demon's Souls remake is] a title that pays homage to From Software's work, but at the same time stands as brilliant in its own right.

Crucially, in each location, the new effects, beautiful lighting, and gorgeous modeling never upend From Software's intent and, in fact, create a truer representation of it. Advancement in technology and game design have given Bluepoint tools to do what From Software couldn't on the PS3 back in 2009. The maze of tunnels in Stonefang feels even more claustrophobic and as you venture deeper, the rippling steam coming off lava makes the sweltering hot environment feel oppressive. The Valley of Defilement's wet wooden scaffolding looks perilous to walk along, and torches burn bright blue, violently moving as if agitated by an unseen toxic gas--you feel gross just standing there.

Bosses are treated with the same kind of care, either true to the original or changed to more closely embody the spirit of it. The Vanguard looks less like one of those rubber Monsters In My Pocket toys from the '90s and more like a disgusting demonic executioner. The Tower Knight looms above you, striking a presence that is both heroic and terrifying, and when it hurls a soul spear in your direction, the booming sound and the screen shake accompanied by the DualSense's arresting vibration will make you think twice about stepping out into the open. The Flamelurker fight, because of how good the animation work is, made me feel like I was a matador trapped in a lava pit with a demonic flaming bull constantly bearing down on me. The thundering sound of its erratic movement coupled with the intense visual feedback turned it into a desperate, panicked battle for survival.

Technically, Demon's Souls is astounding. On Performance Mode, it displays gorgeous visuals rendered at 1440p and upscaled to 4K at a consistent, smooth frame rate. Cinematic Mode runs at native 4K, but this seems to come at the cost of performance, as I found the frame rate to be much less consistent. I stuck to Performance Mode, and did so with the new offset camera view, which I found to frame the game in a more cinematic way. Features such as the ability to make the UI dynamically fade in and out do a great deal to improve immersion. There are also multiple graphical filters available, including the more muted, greener palette of the original PS3 release (although I think Bluepoint's version, with its richness and vibrancy, should be the way you play the first time through). If it wasn't clear, Demon's Souls on PS5 is one of the best-looking and -sounding games I've ever played.

Outside of its presentation, Bluepoint has employed a defter touch. As mentioned previously, Demon's Souls on PS5 plays very much the same, mechanically speaking. However, Bluepoint has clearly spent a great deal of effort on improving the feedback so everything is more impactful. There's a weightiness and heft to the game that is communicated visually and through audio. Everything from movement to attacks, evasion, and even consuming items has a physicality to it. There's a real sense of inertia and momentum as your blade cuts through the air, and noticeable resistance as it meets the steel of armor or the flesh of an enemy. Heavy weapons come crashing down in an incredibly satisfying way, and you'll be thankful for your shield every time an enemy's attack bounces off it. If you pick a magic-based build, you can send your spell off into the distance and watch as it travels, lighting up everything it passes before erupting like a little star going supernova.

Even though enemies haven't changed as far as the kinds of attacks they do, when they use them, or how much health they possess, the visual feedback instills a greater sense of danger. You don't want to get hit by things because it looks and sounds like they hurt, on top of actually taking massive chunks out of your health bar. The physicality now supports and reinforces the deliberate, methodical nature of Souls combat. And that's what stripped me of some of my confidence; the difference in the way it feels--along with actually being a little rusty--has forced me to once again respect Demon's Souls, because it is as ruthless as it has ever been, and in many cases more ruthless than the Souls games that followed it. New additions such as unique attack and finisher animations give weapons more of an identity then they had in the original, and landing ripostes is such a rush that you'll want to try and parry every enemy.

But by sticking so closely to From Software's framework, Bluepoint has also carried forward some of the more idiosyncratic aspects of the Demon's Souls gameplay experience. Although World Tendency is explained a bit better and more readily visible to the player, that doesn't make the underlying issues of it any better. It's still, for all but the most learned players, quite obtuse as a concept. World Tendency can skew the state of the various locations towards white or black, depending on certain actions that you take or happen to you, though these aren't ever explained. Most players will notice their health is capped while in Soul form and use an item to restore their human form to access the restricted pool, not knowing that dying in human form makes the world skew towards black tendency, where enemies hit harder. The idea of a player struggling, dying, and the game becoming harder as a result is suspect, but it is nonetheless intact in the remake.

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Demon's Souls for PS5 also features the same finicky multiplayer system that it had on PS3, and that From Software's games continue to have. There are specific conditions that need to be met and items employed to enable jolly cooperation, but the information around this isn't surfaced in a clear, visible way for newcomers to understand. It then falls on the player to figure it out through a frustrating process of trial and error, seek out guidance from someone in the know, or go hunting for information in a sea of forums and threads written around the 2009 version of the game.

But I can't fault Bluepoint for leaving it untouched, warts and all. The studio is in the unenviable position of remaking one of the most beloved games of all time, which has an incredibly passionate and vocal fanbase. And what might seem like a reasonable change to one person could be an undermining of what makes the game unique, distinct, and memorable to another. While the dissonance between the game's modern look and feel and some of the more outdated aspects of its design is noticeable, it doesn't impact the experience significantly. Although I would have liked to see Bluepoint address the more obviously flawed elements, playing it safe and honoring the work and legacy of From Software and Demon's Souls was the right move.

Quirks aside, Bluepoint's remake is an unmitigated success. It is a technical tour de force and a true showpiece for the PS5 and the power of Sony's next-generation console. But, more importantly, it's also a creative marvel coming from a studio that is clearly showing the world it has its own voice. Bluepoint has taken From Software's original game and expressed it in a richer and fuller way, and in doing so given me something I thought was impossible: the opportunity to relive the experience of falling in love with Souls games for the first time.

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The Good

  • Gorgeous visuals that show off the power of the PS5
  • A respectful and faithful adaptation of an iconic game
  • Silky smooth performance that makes it a great-feeling Souls game
  • Meaningful, immersive implementation of audio

The Bad

  • Obtuse elements of the game aren't explained with enough detail or at all
  • World Tendency can still suck

About the Author

Tamoor played Demon's Souls for 30 hours on a PlayStation 5 and plans to do multiple runs through the game. Both the game and console were provided by Sony.

Demon's Souls

First Released Nov 12, 2020
released
  • PlayStation 5

9
Superb

Average Rating

8 Rating(s)

8