Demon’s Souls is one of the most brutal, beguiling games to have ever been made. This precursor to the Dark Souls series gained popularity on PS3 through word of mouth, quickly amassing a fervent fanbase around the globe as action RPG nuts obsessed over the game’s uniqueness. So much of this game was shrouded in fog – a sword that cuts both ways and one that will continue to ward off potential players many years later. You’ll see the words “You Died” so many times when playing Demon’s Souls, they’ll likely burn into your retinas.
Now a dramatically overhauled PlayStation 5 launch title, FromSoftware’s landmark title is just as devious in 2020 as it was a decade ago. This action RPG has you trawling maze-like levels, each one filled with demented foes and tricksy traps, all conspiring to consume your precious slither of a health bar. Death is not the end, however. Your warrior can rise again but with fewer hit points, having also lost their stash of souls. By returning to where you previously fell, you can retrieve them, but dying again will mean forfeiting them forever.
Demon’s Souls is all about risk and reward. Trial and error. It’s a game of perseverance where you’ll eventually master its ballet of swordplay and spellcasting only to fall down a chasm because you weren’t looking where you were going. Even if you manage to survive one of the game’s many gauntlets intact, each one is then bookended by a beastly boss battle. For the most part, the odds are stacked heavily against you. Coming into Demon’s Souls as a casual fan of the genre will catapult you into a Sisyphean scenario that can only go one of two ways: you’ll either want to immerse yourself up to the eyeballs for dozens of hours, or flog your copy of the game immediately.
Instead of crafting linear stories, the Souls series has always favoured lore and world-building instead. All you need to know is that you are the slayer of demons, harvesting their souls to save the kingdom from ruin. Along the way you’ll encounter a bizarre troupe of characters who, despite having very few lines of dialogue, form a memorable cast of misfits.
Everything about the 2010 original has been preserved and polished here in Bluepoint’s remake. In the same year that Demon’s Souls originally launched, Bluepoint wowed PlayStation fans with remasters of the first two God of War games for PS3. From there Bluepoint would go on to do the same for Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, and more, but they shifted gears in the latter half of the decade, first with the full-on remake with Shadow of the Colossus in 2018 and now this.
With Demon’s Souls, they’ve been incredibly faithful though it’s clear that the team have had more freedom and room to experiment. In our initial impressions of the PS5 exclusive we noted the change in art direction, Bluepoint having completely redesigned the look of character models and environments and it means that some of that carefully crafted bleakness has been lost. The game is far more detailed and still triumphs in depicting a dark fantasy world dripping with misery, though purists will have a bone to pick for sure.
However, what’s most important is gameplay, that central spine which has been painstakingly recreated to perfection. Demon’s Souls plays on PS5 exactly as it did all those years ago. From level layouts and boss encounters down to the basic feel of movement and swordplay, diving back into Demon’s Souls is like slipping into an old pair of slippers. Ones that are no doubt threadbare by now, stained with the tears from past playthroughs.
The game’s online features have also been revived with players able to help or hinder one another. Touching bloodstains left throughout the world lets you see where others have fallen, potentially avoiding the same fate. You can also read notes left by others, which can be simple messages of encouragement or more accurate tips and advice – there’s the occasional fib for good measure. As a Black Phantom you can hunt down other adventurers by invading their online session, or offer them your services as a ghostly companion.
On PS5, there are some extra flourishes to celebrate the launch of Sony’s newest console. Demon’s Souls makes subtle use of the DualSense controller, emitting nuanced audio as you play and using the haptic feedback to immerse players further. You will notice a difference when striking different materials such as stone, wood, or metal, the DualSense speaker honing in on certain sound effects such as the mechanical winding of an elevator.
Although the temptation was clearly there, Bluepoint Games never divulge the inner workings of Demon’s Souls. There are significant systems and mechanics at play (such as the mysterious “World Tendency”) that are never explained. In an age where most games insist on holding your hand every step of the journey, those first few hours spent with Demon’s Souls can be hugely jarring and will have you running Google searches back to back.
Love it or hate it, that’s the magic of Demon’s Souls. You only need to look at the mass of fan-made wikis and ancient message board posts to see how the community formed around this game, crowdsourcing answers to many of its secrets. Today, a new generation of fans will brave the fog to keep these beacons alight.