Who would have thought the best game to kick off next-gen would be an obscure one a decade old?
But then Demon’s Souls isn’t just any old game. Originally only released in Japan, the hardcore action RPG gained reverence through pure word of mouth, eventually leading to the more successful Dark Souls trilogy, which went on to influence whole generations of game developers, even if very few could ever match its greatness.
What was once a cult game has then suddenly springboarded into becoming a handsome blockbuster launch title for the PlayStation 5, remade from the ground up by BluePoint Games, the masters of remasters like Shadow of the Colossus. As the only genuine exclusive in the console’s launch line-up, Demon’s Souls’ greatness more than fills the spotlight on it but without losing sight of developer FromSoftware’s original vision.
The set-up is a familiar one now to anyone who has played a Souls game: your hero is out to save a dark fantasy world consumed by powerful demons, where every step you take is another step into the shadow of an unknown threat that can and will kill you.
Bound to a mysterious place called the Nexus, it’s up to you to journey through the kingdom of Boletaria to slay archdemons to increase your power and face the big bad only referred to as ‘the Old One’. It’s otherwise very vague and cryptic in its narrative, and that elusive world-building remains intact even as this remake rebuilds the world so beautifully detailed whether it be the dragon-scorched ruins of Boletaria Palace or the dark dank pits of the Valley of Defilement.
It’s a true graphical showcase for the PS5 - it’s almost uncanny seeing characters’ faces so clearly with lip movement. The same can even be said about your own character, as there’s a richer array of presets and customisations than the original (you even have options for your teeth!).
Can a remake look too good? Purists might nitpick over a few embellishments but you’ll still be walking cautiously shield-first into often very dark spaces or becoming enraptured by the other people you meet in the Nexus. More importantly, a Performance mode option gives the game a solid silky smooth framerate. Even the DualSense’s rumble, while a lot more subtle than the effects you get in Astro’s Playroom, help immerse you in its atmosphere.
Souls of Hard Knocks
To be clear, while Demon’s Souls is remade with ridiculously higher production values than the original game, this isn’t a modern reimagining like Final Fantasy VII Remake but uses the same original code, retaining its treacherous level layout and challenging gameplay.
Despite being positioned as a blockbuster title, BluePoint have wisely not deviated from its uncompromising design. They haven’t snuck in Dark Souls’ plunging attacks nor have they included more checkpoints to make your life easier, and when you die, not only do you lose all your souls (your currency for buying items, upgrading gear or levelling up your character back at the Nexus) but, rather than give you a leg up, your HP is also halved.
It’s some devious game design for sure, but there’s also some unique features that haven’t been seen in other game since, such as the mysterious World Tendency system or how, despite how most areas are seemingly nature, you also have the freedom to travel between each area of Boletaria after the first boss, allowing you to approach each challenge as you see fit. It’s definitely worth not just going down one obvious path since another might have really vital resources.
Thanks to the PS5’s incredible load times, death is also literally fleeting as you can jump back into the action in a couple of seconds to get good even quicker. That said, we did run into a couple launch day hiccups where the screen stayed foggier than the SSD should have allowed before appearing into the world, while another error forced us to delete and reinstall the game more than once.
There are still nonetheless a few small tweaks and changes, such as the removal of some glitchy exploits - meaning you do have to fight the dreaded Maneater boss fair and square - or limiting the number of healing grass items you can carry by changing its weighting.
While the online multiplayer process of summoning or invading other players won’t be immediately obvious to new players, these have also increased the maximum number of players allowed in a game world while a password system introduced in the later Dark Souls games has also been implemented here for people who don’t want to play with strangers.
Following other first-party games, there’s even a Photo mode (the closest you have to a pause button) that lets you take some epic or silly screenshots you otherwise wouldn’t be able to focus on in more stressful situations, even if it’s not as quick to bring up if you’re trying to take an action shot.
The joy of Demon’s Souls, once you’ve conquered its challenges, is always to just keep playing again, whether as another build or mining Boletaria’s rich hidden secrets, so it’s also interesting that there are a couple sneaky extras, such as its own twist on Mirror mode, which comes with its own new mystery for dedicated players to solve. Not that we’re ones for spoiling anything - embrace the dark and find out for yourself.
Demon’s Souls verdict
Demon’s Souls is an incredible and lovingly attentive remake from BluePoint Games that transforms a game once mostly known through hushed tones into the first must-play blockbuster of this new console generation. It’s still going to make you work for it though, as underneath all that shiny new coat of next-gen paint, it remains a uniquely foreboding challenge - albeit a lot more interesting than later Souls games that double down on difficulty almost for the sake of it.
It might not be an instantly accessible or festive title to kickstart PS5 celebrations, but simply experiencing and overcoming Demon’s Souls is its own reward. The new console generation has already set a high bar.