There’s nothing quite like a new lick of paint. Bluepoint Games performed a masterwork with its last remaster, Shadow of the Colossus, but has managed an even more impressive feat with Demon’s Souls. This is a faultless remaster of a huge, detailed challenge – and it’s required playing on the PS5.
Released in 2009 to mainly cult interest outside of Japan, Demon’s Souls is the first Souls-like game from designer Hidetaka Miyazaki and developer FromSoftware. It laid the foundations that have borne so much fruit across the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne and Sekiro, in the form of crushing difficulty, nefariously intricate level design, and a miasmic, unsettling tone.
Now, in 2020, it’s reborn and refreshed as a PS5 launch game, with muddy and spare visuals swapped out for jaw-dropping detail and astonishing vistas, while its gameplay feels in every way just like it did all those years ago: hard as nails and wonderfully rewarding.
A classic formula
Demon’s Souls sees you tasked with rescuing the kingdom of Boletaria from an invasion of demons, triggered by its ruler dabbling in dark magical arts. This involves steadily exploring five key locations, each with multiple stages and mazelike layouts, to vanquish powerful demons and restore light to the world.
You do this after creating a character – the first of an endless array of areas in which the game is impossibly more attractive than before – and choosing a class. Opting for a melee fighter is the most traditional approach, but magic users are enormously powerful. If this is your first time, however, then the Royalty class is almost a must-pick, in our view, for its early spellcasting and shield. Trust us on this one.
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Your class only restricts you a little in the early game, though, and you’ll soon be chopping and changing weapons and armour as you experiment with playstyles. For our money, a shield is a must to soak up attacks in ways that Bloodborne and Sekiro made so difficult. Combat is all about timing, especially if you decide to aim for difficult parries to maximise your damage, but the learning curve isn’t so steep as to be insurmountable.
Each level, meanwhile, effectively positions you to run a gauntlet of enemies, pushing through to a distant save point guarded by a fearsome boss. Each enemy killed yields collected souls, effectively experience points and currency, to be accumulated as you go. Die, though, and you’ll forfeit those souls unless you can get back to the point of your death on the next run.
Unlike subsequent Souls games, though, death will also see you return in spirit form, lacking a body. In practise this restricts you to half your health pool until you can beat a boss to reclaim your body, or use rare items to become corporeal again. This mechanic felt harsh in 2009, and is all the more so in 2020, and will surely have new players frantically Googling for help, before following guides to locate the early-game Cling Ring, an item which softens the blow.
This sort of struggle, guidance and relief is as much a part of the Demon’s Souls experience as the more hardcore option of just pushing through without help. It will put some people off, for sure. For those who persevere, though, the reward is considerable.
Also returning is Demon’s Souls’ asynchronous multiplayer, a system that lets you travel to other players’ game worlds, and allows your own to be visited in turn. If you’re in body form, your world can be invaded by hostile players for nail-biting fights that will stop you in your tracks and have you cursing your opponent.
Equally, though, you’ll occasionally get the chance to summon in friendly strangers to help you push through to the next boss and vanquish it in a gang. When this sees you through a fight that was kicking you down repeatedly, you’ll feel like naming your firstborn after whatever cringeful gamertag you’ve been saved by.
The more ever-present online aspect of your game, though, will be the messages that players leave around the game world for others to read and upvote or downvote at will. These flickering red scrawls will warn you of hidden dangers, point towards easily-missed loot, and occasionally mislead you entirely. Reading at least most of them is an essential way to get by, and you’ll also get the chance to touch players’ bloodstains to see how they died in your vicinity. It’s a clue-gathering process that will you save you countless times.
A complicated final pair of systems muddies matters somewhat – World Tendency and Character Tendency. Both your character and each world can veer from pure-black to pure-white on a spectrum of tendencies according to your actions, with shifts triggered by NPC-killing or demon-vanquishing. These tendencies can have an impact on the game’s level of difficulty but, even with Bluepoint making it easier to check their status, are obtuse enough to warrant real investigation only on a second playthrough for the eager (or stuck).
Upgraded in every way
Right from the off Demon’s Souls offers such astonishing peaks of visual performance that you’ll be desperate to see what it can present next. From decaying castles, underground lava flows, and craggy stormbound islands to dank prisons, foetid caves and vaulted cathedrals, its gothic environments are some of the most gorgeous ever created.
In all cases, Bluepoint takes the visual identity of the PS3-era original map and replicates it perfectly, before layering it with appropriate and well-judged detail and depth, all while ensuring that obstacles, enemies and secrets remain in precisely the same places. It’s an astonishing act of preservation combined with tastemaking, and deserves all the applause and acclaim it’s getting.
Two visual modes are available: a cinematic mode that’s locked to native 4K at 30fps; or a dynamic resolution mode with fewer effects that’s a steady 60fps. Purists will opt for the former, since the original was a 30fps title (well, when running smoothly – which it often didn’t), and it certainly looks amazing. Playing extensively with each has confirmed that it’s really a matter of taste – you’ll still be hit with the same amazement at key moments regardless of which you use, and they can be swapped between instantly in a pause menu.
Demon’s Souls is the perfect showcase for the PS5’s visual power, then, but it also makes the most of the console’s upgraded audio tech to amazing effect. You simply need to play this with a headset on – you’ll hear a gurgling enemy waiting around a corner, the distant shouts of an ally in need, the dull pounding of your feet on magical glass, all of it three-dimensional and atmospheric. It adds another layer of immersion to the pile, and nicely-judged haptic feedback on the DualSense controller only hammers that in further.
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