By now, Dark Souls is a legendary franchise, but, I can remember a time before. Back when there was no Sekiro or Nioh or “get good”. Back when people were excited about a mysterious PS3 game that seemingly came out of nowhere, getting hugely positive reviews, but taking its sweet-ass time getting to Australia (about eight months after the US). Back when there was only Demon’s Souls.
Due to Sony Interactive Entertainment retaining the rights, original developers FromSoftware went their own way with their revised Dark Souls franchise, which has left remastering-wizards Bluepoint Games to give Demon’s Souls a top-to-tail remake for the PS5’s launch. Having already shown their chops with their recent remake of Shadow of the Colossus, Bluepoint continue to showcase just how deeply they understand their source material, and how capable they are of taking these games into the future, as the Demon’s Souls remake retains everything that was great about the original, with few of its flaws.
In Demon’s Souls your character is an adventurer, who has come to the fog-filled land of Boletaria thinking they can help cure the realm of its recent invasion of zombies, monsters and demons. Turns out in hindsight, it was a bad move on King Allant’s part to use ancient ‘Soul Arts’ which have awoken the Lovecraftian ‘Old One’, now laying waste to the kingdom. Your hero enters Boletaria to be promptly killed by its dark forces, with their soul bound to the abyssal ‘Nexus’ from which there is no escape until the Old One is sent to slumber once again. So, you re-emerge with half your health and new reason to act a lot more careful as you creep around the crumbling kingdom. While you may regain your human body, upon the defeat of a demon boss or the use of special items, it’s only ever a temporary fix as death and return to the soul world is never very far away.
The Nexus gives you access to five parts of Boletaria, and after a brief tutorial and defeat of the first boss, you’re allowed to adventure through any of these five areas at your own pace. Traversing Boletaria is simpler and more disconnected than later Dark Souls games, while each area is quite large, it does miss the scope and scale you get from being able to literally walk from one end of the game to the other in FromSoftware’s other works. That said, the entire world looks gorgeous. As a PlayStation 5 exclusive, Demon’s Souls is one of the best showcases for the leap in technology that you can get right now. Every area is intricately detailed, and while not supporting ray-tracing, still lit incredibly well from moody, melancholic castle walls to dank and dark prisons, to the roaring flames of dragons just plowing through an entire army on a bridge. It all just looks incredible. You can choose to run it at 4K 30fps, but the ‘Performance’ mode is where it’s at, running at a dynamic resolution with a silky 60fps that makes the game so much smoother to play compared to the original. The score has been re-orchestrated as well with a full orchestra and choir, giving it a whole new depth which sounds amazing.
The DualSense controller, too, brings a new dimension to the experience, with Bluepoint trying out some interesting things with its new haptic feedback. You can feel the drawing of a crossbow by an enemy, giving you a bit of extra time to react and dodge, as well as the roar of a dragon flying overhead, or the unique rush of a spell, each of which prompt different vibrations. It’s not quite as big a showcase for the tech at launch as Astro’s Playroom, but it’s definitely impressive.
It all feels a lot smoother to play as well, with tighter control over your character and dodging, as well as a new sub-menu you can access at any time with the touch pad, which lets you use four additional equippable items (or access emotes, messages and photo mode). Bluepoint have even made some other smaller, but greatly appreciated quality of life adjustments too, like letting you send unwanted items into storage directly from your menu, rather than having to physically haul your ass back to the Nexus. Despite being the originator of the entire genre, in many ways this Demon’s Souls feels like the most modern. But, some things have stayed the same. Demon’s Souls is much tighter with its checkpoints than later Souls games, doling them out only after successfully beating a boss – meaning that you’ll need to re-attempt the same large stretch of a level again and again all the way to the boss, in order to actually make any true progress. It’s not too much of a stretch for experienced Souls fans, and truth be told, Demon’s Souls does feel a little easier than some of the other games, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be times you’ll be cursing the game for being so miserly with Archstones.
There’s still a great deal of depth in customising your character, among choosing their class, levelling up their gear and skills using captured souls. For a classic experience, you can roll out with a Knight-build (it’s on the cover of the game after all!) and get to grips with the game’s combat the way it feels it was meant to be played, with well-timed dodges, parries and lucky strikes. However, magic was more powerful in Demon’s Souls than any other Souls game, and that remains the case here as well, allowing you to breeze through an initial playthrough with something like the Royalty class and their free MP regeneration, or modifying your melee-build with one spell like ‘Soul Arrow’ later on. The replayability of Demon’s Souls is one of its greatest aspects, with systems like the ‘World Tendency’ even introducing a kind of karma to the game, where the more ‘evil’ you act in killing NPCs, the more brutal the difficulty becomes.
Of course, what makes Demon’s Souls so memorable is its boss battles, which set the standard for the franchises that followed. Even the very first fight against Phalanx, a writhing sea of goop covered in shields and spears, stands out as you work out a strategy to remove its protective armor and get to the creamy middle. The Leechmonger and Dirty Colossus, the Storm King – everyone will have their favourites, but for both old-time fans and newcomers they’re mostly excellently tense and enjoyable fights that feel immensely satisfying once you work out ‘the trick’ to beating them – although generally, the trick almost always involves that old Souls lesson of keeping your guard up as much as you can and never being greedy with your attacks.
The asynchronous multiplayer is also back, and on a personal note, it’s nice to see it super active again after the original’s popularity waned over the last decade, before ultimately being taken offline in 2018. For those unfamiliar with how it works, while you’re setting off on your own solo adventure, you can leave messages for other players to find anywhere in the map, which can either help or hinder depending on how devilish you’re feeling. Players can help each other tackle difficult bosses, although only upon regaining their human body, or ‘invade’ others’ campaigns to wreak havoc. It’s all still great fun, especially with an updated line of emotes at your command to befriend, or troll, your comrades.
Demon’s Souls was a classic on the PlayStation 3, so much so that it changed the Action RPG genre, with effects that can be felt to this day. And, with what Bluepoint have pulled off with Demon’s Souls on PS5, feels like a re-affirmation of just how excellent that original game is. While there are some aspects that have aged, or have long since been evolved in other Souls games, the job Bluepoint have done in beautifying Demon’s Souls into a next-gen experience can’t be understated. From the intricately detailed visuals and impressive lighting, to the orchestral score and immersive DualSense integration. Demon’s Souls is yet another landmark achievement for Bluepoint, but it’s also a testament to how addictive and fun its core gameplay loop and boss battles are, given they not only still hold up today, but are exciting enough to launch this new-generation. If there’s one game to own on Day One for PS5, and you don’t mind dying a lot, Demon’s Souls is a must-have.
Demon’s Souls was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a code provided by PlayStation Australia.
-Bluepoint have done a wonderful job remastering the original Souls game into something spectacular for the next-gen PS5 -The tough-but-fair formula Souls is known for was established here, and it's endured for a good reason -Tons of replayability, with customisable characters and a tonne of classes -Asynchronous multiplayer is still fun to get involved in -Cool and unique uses of the DualSense controller
-As the very first Souls game, it can feel a little basic compared to later entries, especially in its less interconnected world