From PlayStation Studios and Bluepoint Games comes a remake of the PlayStation classic, Demon’s Souls. Entirely rebuilt from the ground up and masterfully enhanced, this remake introduces the horrors of a fog-laden, dark fantasy land to a whole new generation of gamers. Those who’ve faced its trials and tribulations before, can once again challenge the darkness in stunning visual quality with incredible performance.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: PS5
Also available for: N/A
Cast: Eve Karpf, Evetta Muradasilova, Ella Dale, Peter Marinker, Clare Corbett, Dino Kelly, Tom Chapman, Michael Carter, Sean Barrett, Clare Corbett, Anthony Howell, Jenny Funnell, Jonathan Keeble, Chris Reilly, Will Vanderpuye, Anthony Howell
Developer: Bluepoint Games, FromSoftware (original release)
Creative Director (Bluepoint Games): Gavin Moore
Director (FromSoftware): Hidetaka Miyazaki
It’s been eleven years since FromSoftware released Demon’s Souls for the PS3. A game that was initially only released in Japan, but got a wider release following mass imports. Like a wildfire, I remember the tales of Demon’s Souls high-difficulty spreading around several podcasts I was listening to at the time. I never played it; the game scared me. That was until now. Bluepoint Games, whose previous works include 2018’s remake of Shadow of the Colossus, have taken upon the mammoth job of remaking not only a game many consider a classic, but also a game that saw the birth of an entire sub-genre.
At its core, this is the same rewarding, and infuriating experience that captivated many and springboarded a genre to the forefront of mainstream appeal. The core mechanics that evolved into Dark Souls and Bloodborne remain. You create a character (there’s an excellent level of customisation) and pick a starting class. How you build your character from there is up to you. As you play you’ll collect souls from dead enemies and if you return them to the Nexus — the hub world — you’ll be able to spend them on skill points in health, stamina, magic, endurance and other things. Combat is brutal, and every enemy in the game can kill you. If you die, you lose all your souls on the spot and return to the start of the level. If you make it back to them, you can reclaim them, if not, they’re gone for good.
As someone whose primary soulsborne history lies with Bloodborne, I was quite pleased to discover Demon’s Souls leans a lot heavier into H.P Lovecraft and Cthulhu inspirations than I’d assumed. The opening cinematic perfectly sets the tone as dark and mystical. The villain is laid out as the all-powerful being ‘The Old One’, a monster that is quite obviously inspired by Lovecraft‘s nightmares. Once the game begins, how much you care to read into the story is up to you. Ultimately your goal is to slay several demons and help put a stop to King Allant who awakens The Old One from its slumber and a demon army along with it.
Your journey begins at the locked gates of Boletarian Palace. Skeletons and zombie-like dreglings attack you from behind fortifications and castle debris. Roaring above them red and blue dragons guard the inner sanctums. You know your goal lies at the palace within the walls. You must stop the King, but many before you have failed. You will too, but like all other souls games that followed, in Demon’s Souls dying is simply part of the journey.
The first level tests your ability against simple enemies and asks you not to be afraid of death. As you reach a long bridge, the massive red dragon will rain fire from above seemingly making it impossible to cross. Players fresh to the franchise may wander tirelessly looking for a secret way through, but you must time your sprint correctly and not be afraid of losing the souls you had collected up to that point if you happen to meet the dragons’ breath. It’s a lesson you’ll take forward through the rest of the game. Often it’s best to try something than be afraid of losing your souls. Levelling up is nice, buying health items is nice, but not being willing to try things is the ultimate challenge you can present against yourself in Demon’s Souls.
After you defeat the first boss, you’ll have several other areas open up to you. Travelling back to the Nexus you can now travel to four new regions via their Archstones. Stonefang Tunnel is a mining area where enemies wield pickaxes and lizards spit fire. Tower of Latria is a Cthulhu-ridden monster maze where you must collect keys and work your way through the levels of prisons for magic users. Shrine of Storms is home to death-itself and manta-ray creatures that hail ice shards down from above. Finally, the Valley of Defilement is a swamp area where poison is often your worst enemy and plague dealers and creatures of the swamp block your path forward.
This freedom to explore any area you see fit is something that took me some time to adjust too. The souls games I’d played previously never had such options. Demon’s Souls itself never thoroughly explains you have these options properly either. After I beat the first boss, I was hurling myself at the next section of Boletarian Palace to no avail. Oddly the game is designed in such a way that the last region you’ll complete, and the most challenging region in the game, is the one you begin in — Boletarian Palace.
Unlike other souls games, there aren’t many shortcuts to unlock in any of the worlds. There’s only one Archstone at the start of each level; another only appearing when you’ve defeated a boss. Other than Boletarian Palace, each region has a total of three boss fights and three Archstones. In some ways, I felt like the design of Demon’s Souls levels were more demanding than other souls game I’d played. Sometimes the journey to a boss was more challenging than the fight itself. The second boss in Shrine of Storms, in particular, had a very tedious and dangerous path to it, with no way to unlock a shortcut at all. The boss, however, was relatively easy to defeat as long as you took advantage of its weakness.
Even with some minor gripes about tedious paths to bosses, the fact that the level design in Demon’s Souls still feels exciting and not at all like a game that released over ten years ago shows just how well done it was by FromSoftware in the first place.
Of course, the souls games are known for their boss fights at the end of the day. Often scary and always demanding, they’re the bread and butter of the franchise which leads to some of most butt-clenching moments you can have in games. The fights in Demon’s Souls are oddly more puzzle-oriented than other entries later developed by FromSoftware. Although beasts like the Flamelurker test your patience and ability to maintain stamina while dodging and attacking, other fights have more straightforward solutions. An Elder Dragon boss requires patience over raw power, and a Maiden simply gives up if you can defeat her noble Knight. My favourite duel in the game came from within The Tower of Latria. An almost fourth-wall breaking finale, that I won’t spoil, gave me quite a shock.
There are a handful of weak fights in Demon’s Souls. Several bosses see giant beasts only swing with two, maybe three attack patterns and this is where Demon’s Souls shows its age. This is especially true if you’ve recently played Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3 where FromSoftware has mastered their enemy patterns. Those games also often featured fights that would see a boss change form one, maybe two times as you whittle their health away. Demon’s Souls doesn’t have any of that. Even the last fight in the game, which was quite challenging, still didn’t see a dramatic change in character form or attacks as the fighting continued.