Our review of Demon’s Souls Remastered, developed by Bluepoint Studios/SIE Japan Studio. Released on November 12, 2020 for PS5.
WHAT IS IT?
A high-def remaster of the original Souls title, the one that unleashed this scourge upon the gaming world.
IS IT GOOD?
For masocore enthusiasts, absolutely. Do I count myself among them? Partially.
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
That dude who beat Dark Souls 3 using a DDR dance pad.
DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS
Oops, you’re dead.
Aaaaaaaand… you’re dead again.
Welcome to the original Demon’s Souls, the game that first dared to ask, “what if we took the difficulty of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, mapped it into a masterfully rendered 3D world, and then removed half the checkpoints?” The game that dared to ask such a ludicrous question, only for the gaming world to respond, “give us more.”
I remember the first time I played Demon’s Souls. A mid-generation PS3 action-RPG, it was all the rage in hardcore-gaming circles: deliberate, slow, and brutal. The point of Demon’s Souls, we were warned, was to learn from our mistakes. That first rolling boulder will definitely kill you. The second time, you’ll be ready to dodge it. The third time, you might even make it all the way across that bridge.
I remember the excitement with which I picked the game out of the Blockbuster bargain bin (yes, it was that long ago), took it home, played 2 hours of it, then literally threw the disc across the room. After ejecting it from the system, of course. I’m not crazy.
Demon’s Souls, to my twenty-something self, was the epitome of all that was wrong with so-called masocore gaming: difficult to the point of sadism, embraced as a kind of nerd’s champion’s belt by those foolish enough to brave it. I never went back to Demon’s Souls. I never regretted it.
Soulslikes, however, are a different story. Some of them I’ve actually enjoyed!
Developer FromSoftware has, since the original Demon’s Souls, released a series of thematically similar games, including the bafflingly popular Dark Souls series. If Demon’s Souls was the prized possession of the masochists, Dark Souls and its successors are the games that spilled out into the mainstream. People love Soulslikes. Young people love them because they offer the kind of challenge that modern games simply no longer offer, thanks to autosaves, regenerating health bars, and other concessions to the ever-expanding gaming community. Older gamers love them because they hearken back to the good ole days of Ghosts, Contra, Battletoads, and everything else that predates the invention of the Memory Card.
Revisiting Demon’s Souls now, I have a new appreciation for what it has to offer. It’s not my favourite game, by any means, but it sure feels cool to dig into.
YOU ONLY DIE TWICE
My favourite Souls title is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a ninja action game that largely eschews the deliberate pace of its cousins in favour of rapid, stealthy, grapple hook-assisted gameplay. As I wrote in my review last year, “Punishingly difficult and distressingly repetitive, the only reason why it’s at all enjoyable is that it does deliver those rare moments, after several days (literally, days) of trying to beat the same boss, when you triumph over a seemingly insurmountable challenge.”
Clearly, that was written from a place of pain, and I’ve since softened my view of Sekiro somewhat. While it’s true that every Souls, including this new remaster, is painfully repetitive, it’s also true that, a year later, I have fond memories of triumphing over the most incredible of Sekiro odds (including the giant apes).
Demon’s Souls is much the same. In the heat of the moment, palms sweaty, heart racing, you may well be tempted to hurl your DualSense into the nearest wall after your umpteenth death against a giant Armoured Spider. But when said Shelob-alike finally bites the virtual dust, it’s an accomplishment like nothing else in gaming. Not even beating the Genesis Ghouls ‘n Ghosts matches up – and I did that twice.
Truth is, if you’re ready and willing to face the gauntlet that is Demon’s Souls, there’s a good time to be had here. The world is beautifully rendered and ingeniously interconnected, and the bosses, long a selling point for the series, are truly some of the most remarkable confrontations you will come across in a video game. It’s one thing for a dragon to look and sound like a dragon – plenty of games do that. It’s quite another thing for that dragon to actually feel like a dragon, to loom over you like the insignificant insect that you are, instilling that sense of absolute terror when you realize it could burn you to a crisp at any moment.
My advice: use the early levels to get intimately accustomed with the controls and the many item options – figuring out the best tactic for each enemy type is a must – and just accept that your first or fourth or thirtieth time in each new area will result in certain death. I like to imagine that there isn’t one Souls protagonist but actually an infinite number of them, each knight identical to their deceased predecessor but for the fact they’re a tiny bit more knowledgeable. Brought into being to scout ahead and find out all the ways to die, so that the next one to come along is that much more prepared. Super Mario taught us to do that 35 years ago; the graphics have just improved a bit.
NEXT GEN NEXUS
Demon’s Souls certainly has a lot of the selling points of a next-gen launch title. It’s graphically remastered and is one of the finest looking PS5 games I’ve seen so far. It comes with some handy new upgrades, including new weapons, armor, and rings, and a brand new equipment-type called “Grains” which grant temporary immunity to various status effects. And while the gameplay is as deliberate and slow as ever, the frustration of 10,000 deaths is mitigated somewhat by the rapid PS5 load times that boot you right back into action after a Game Over.
At the same time, Demon’s Souls isn’t here to make friends. If you were lured in by the visual marvel of the dragons or giant manta rays, you should accept that you may never actually make it that far. Indeed, the remaster actually restricts the number of healing items you can carry, creating an artificial difficulty imbalance not present in the original game – and we’re talking about a game that was very unbalanced to begin with.
Like Ghosts ‘n Goblins (original Japanese title: Demon World Village) before it, Demon’s Souls is here to make you suffer. But if you’re so bold as to persevere, it’s also here to make you feel like the greatest knight since Arthur.
You’re a slow and clumsy knight, to be sure, and you’ll die a lot. But, eventually, you’ll somehow make it through. And unlike Arthur, you won’t even need to wear heart-covered boxers to do it.
Final score: 8/10 rage quits.
Visit the official page for Demon’s Souls here.