If you had told me that the only first-party PlayStation 5 exclusive at launch was a remake of a game from two generations ago, I would have raised an eyebrow. After all, while launch games may not necessarily display the best of what a platform has to offer in the future, it can help set the tone of a platform going forward – and serve to highlight its unique capabilities. But upon hearing that this game would be FROM Software’s original Demon’s Souls, this changed things. Known for its challenging and compelling gameplay, complemented with a fantastic atmospheric soundtrack and a design choice which while lacking finesse had a memorable design to it – if done right – remaking it could be a fantastic showcase for the PlayStation 5.
Developed by Bluepoint Games, Demon’s Souls was remade by a studio who are not unfamiliar with bringing games from the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 over to newer generation consoles. Previously they have been behind many ports, including those for Uncharted, Gravity Rush, and Shadow of the Colossus among others. While this is billed as a remake, the core levels and gameplay systems are mostly in-tact. Instead, the most substantial changes involve much-improved level/character designs, new items to collect, several bug/control scheme fixes and a photo mode which is very much welcome!
What has not changed about Demon’s Souls is that it can be an incredibly brutal game. With new threats hidden in every shadow or turn of a corner, the game encourages you to hone your split-second reflexes and take a cautious approach to managing each challenge. While some smaller enemies can be taken out by flailing your sword around, others may quickly pummel you if your stats are too low or you don’t hit them just the right way – if they can be hit at all. Then you have the environmental factors to deal with, as stray boulders, fire breathing dragons and the sudden lack of flooring can all put a premature end to your adventures. No matter how cautious you are, you will die… a lot.
For the most part, Demon’s Souls has a similar gameplay loop to other games in the Souls franchise or action RPGs in general. Players are given free rein to create a custom character in a revamped character creation system, hone their skills to be more inclined to melee weapons, ranged weapons, combat magic or supportive magic – and then explore one of five challenging areas of Boletaria as they face off against its denizens and all-powerful bosses.
Death in Demon’s Souls will be a frequent companion on your journey. When your character is killed, they, fortunately, do not lose any held items. Instead, they lose all held souls (the most valuable in-game currency) and a permanent halving of their life bar. That is right, when you die once, say bye-bye to your health bar. You must then go into a level and defeat its main boss to resurrect, only to then be killed again later on. If you die, you can regain all your souls by revisiting the bloodstain you left provided you don’t pass again on the way there. Therefore part of the game is progressing through it, and the other part is ensuring you don’t lose an hours worth of grinding due to your mistake.
Souls are essential in Demon’s Souls. You are required to have them to purchase everything from weapons, healing items, both black and white magic spells, repairs and upgrades to your weapons and armour and most importantly, increasing your soul level which increases one stat of your choice. Whilst this is cheap at first for about 700 souls for the first upgrade for the Royal Class, it soon rises to several thousand souls each very quickly. There is no specific class system in Demon’s Souls, but this does mean you need to plan very early on about what gameplay style suits you.
Demon’s Souls‘ online functionality is back, offering a range of features including:
- The most well known is the Floor Speak, which is where other gamers can leave you hints in the levels such as “X works best for the enemy ahead”, “I wish to be resurrected…”, “Beware of the enemies trap” et cetera. There is a review system implemented, but, you never know if someone is being honest with their tip.
- Blood Stains which litter the floors and allow you to view the last few seconds before another online player died. So if they died because of a fall up ahead, you would know about it.
- You will see the ghost of gamers from parallel realities and be able to see briefly what they are doing, allowing you to see if the path ahead is safe.
- A big one is the Eye Stones which you get throughout the game. These allow you to do various things such as ask others to enter your game and vice versa, kick out people from your world, invade others worlds to kill them as a red phantom or host a PvP duel.
The gameplay mechanics in Demon’s Souls is fantastic, and especially back when it was first released on the PlayStation 3, rightfully deserved its place as a genre-defining gaming experience. It might not have the enhanced functionality offered in later Souls games, but it remains one of the better Souls experiences to this day.
The newly orchestrated soundtrack, re-recorded voice acting and enriched visuals are all icing on the cake for a marvellous albeit challenging experience. The design is of particular note, going from punching below its weight to well above it! Complemented by HDR support, every inch of Boletaria is designed with improved textures and amazing use of mood-setting atmospheric lighting – adding to the suspense as you wander through a medieval-style castle or descend into a dank, poorly-lit cavern.
If there is one thing that Demon’s Souls lacks on the PlayStation 5, it is that sixth level which has long been teased to players. As the development of this project was done by Bluepoint Games rather than FROM Software directly, it would have been interesting to see even a post-game world developed by a different studio. But other than that one minor qualm, if you are an adult with an adequate gaming skill level who owns a PlayStation 5, this game should be at the top of your to-buy list if you haven’t already. It is dark, it is challenging, but it remains oh so satisfying!