The Old One has awoken from its long slumber, releasing a horde of hungry demons into Boletaria. By fang and claw, they snatch the souls from any human who crosses their path. Many of the people who remain see this scourge as divine retribution – a sacred test from God itself.
Bluepoint Games must know how they feel. Charged with awakening their own Old One, the developers at the studio famous for rebuilding classic games such as Shadow of the Colossus have their biggest challenge yet – bringing the original game in a series that spawned an entire genre up to modern standards. Luckily for them, they absolutely nailed it. The secret? Faith.
You see, Bluepoint sees Demon’s Souls as sacred, too. The original game code – the computer language that powers the PS3 release – is completely intact and untouched underneath the gloss and the sheen. The game plays exactly as it did, its soul intact – it just looks, runs, and sounds better. Even where the developer added new animations for things like death blows, the team ensured these grisly executions lasted precisely the same amount of frames as the original ones. This modernization elevates an already excellent game to another level.
The original Demon’s Souls became the blueprint for the Dark Souls series, but this is where FromSoftware was finding its feet. It doesn’t quite have the same level of consistency as the world of Dark Souls, with its intricate, looping, seamless world, instead opting for a series of levels with their own smaller loops and shortcuts. It also suffers a little from some trial and error boss encounters (instant-fail stealth boss, anyone?) and clumsy platforming, which I’ll get to later. But most of Demon’s Souls’ biggest issues were technical, and these have been vanquished.
Remember how the original game’s camera used to get stuck to level geometry so you couldn’t see whatever hellspawn was murdering you? That’s fixed. The new camera comes in a little closer and dynamically adjusts to the environment as you move through it. It makes for a more claustrophobic feel and heightens the taut atmosphere, working with the incredible audio to pull you in and grip you like some tentacled beast that wants to suck your soul out of your face. Walking through the Prison of Hope as a sorrowful NPC sings a mournful melody, the cries of pain calling out from nearby cells, and the jingle of a mindflayer’s bell ringing out from some distant hall, you’re swaddled in this world like a baby in a blanket – except the blanket is made of rancid meat.
Playing in Performance Mode, the game runs at an unwavering 60fps (at 1440p, which still looks incredible), and I haven’t seen any hitches. Parries are easier to pull off, and it’s less difficult to judge a walk across a tight beam above a deep chasm. The updates to the character models are excellent, bringing out more detail so you can see the rage in the face of a doomed soldier as he takes a wild swing at you. There’s also less friction – you can jump between the Nexus hub and the different areas in seconds, thanks to PS5’s SSD. Everything else is exactly how it was.
World Tendency, which dynamically adjusts the challenge and opens up new pathways, encounters, and NPCs depending on how you and other players are doing, is present and correct. You can still become another player’s boogieman by invading their game and unceremoniously murdering them (or you can help people take down bosses if you’re not evil). You still see glowing items, think you know how to get to them, and fall to your death in the process of pulling your dumb plan off. The frustration and elation of a Souls game is intact – that sacred core – but it’s all heightened by the new stuff.
I remember playing Demon’s Souls over and over back on PS3. I don’t know whether it’s because I wasn’t thinking about games as critically back then, but I don’t ever remember feeling bad about my deeds (apart from that one time a player invaded me and I stood next to them as they spawned and unleashed a massive fire spell, killing them instantly – etiquette be damned). On PS5, the Prison of Hope made me feel like a beast. Its harrowing halls are filled with inmates, and it’s impossible to tell which ones will throw their hands in the air to surrender and which ones will shank you with a poisoned blade. Naturally, you club them all to death – it’s the only way to be sure. But now you can see their faces, and you can see the fear in their eyes as your greatclub comes down on their skull with a wince-inducing crack. It’s distressing.
This approach to a remake does come with its own issues, however – it means the developer brings over some of the less refined aspects of the original game. Some things FromSoftware improved in the Dark Souls series are still maddeningly frustrating here, like when you need to drop down onto platforms to make your way deeper into the mines. The game doesn’t feel built for this. You could argue that dropping down 100 feet in small increments while wearing full plate armor would be clumsy in real life, but the Souls series is meant to be about fairness and the controls don’t allow for precision platforming – bumping off a wall on the way down and bouncing to your doom is never fun.
Demon’s Souls also doesn’t have estus flasks – the healing items you use in Dark Souls that replenish upon death and at checkpoints – and instead relies on healing items. Having to grind for healing items adds nothing to the game, but it’s supposed to force you into picking up some magic to complement your other skills. I’m a warrior and I switch between my sword and talisman to fire off healing spells, which works functionally the same as estus. It just depends on whether the player realizes this, or they just endlessly grind for health-giving grasses. Magic is much more significant here, and that takes a little time to adapt to after playing the more recent Souls games.
Because this is a series of levels, rather than one interconnected space, the distance between checkpoints can be pretty harsh as well. But one advantage of this approach is that you almost always have four options – four different environments you can progress in. If you hit a wall and get frustrated with one, you can simply try pushing forward in another direction, grow stronger, then come back later.
Bluepoint Games has proved itself once more, nailing Demon’s Souls with a remake on the same level as Shadow of the Colossus. At this point, I’d hand the developer the keys to everything. Let the studio make a 60fps Bloodborne. Give them Metal Gear Solid. Let’s have a Bluepoint Games Ico. Demon’s Souls is the best PS5 game you can play at launch, and I’m sure it will go down in history as one of the best launch titles of all time. The Old One has awoken and I hope this review feeds it more souls. It deserves a full belly.
Version tested: PS5. A review code was provided by Sony.
Next: Sackboy: A Big Adventure Review – A Charming Platformer That’s Light On Inventiveness But Big On Fun
- Game Reviews
- Demon's Souls
Kirk is the Editor-in-Chief at The Gamer. He likes Arkane games a little too much.
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