Demon’s Souls Remake Review: The World Mended

Demon’s Souls Remake Review: The World Mended

The perfect hardcore launch title.

How do you review one of your favorite games of all time? The knee-jerk reaction is to say, "It's easy. It's already good and you know it." That's not far off, and it would sure make for a short piece of writing. But it's also not fair. Remakes of games don't often come with the weight of expectation that the Demon's Souls overhaul has. The original maintained a dedicated cult for a full decade, even after being eclipsed by Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Demon's Souls had its faults, but it boiled over with ambition and forward-thinking design. It was a shame to see it fade into the ether when Atlus shut down its servers in 2018.

I cannot be objective about this game, as if objectivity in a review of anything were even a worthwhile pursuit. It is a part of me, and seared into my life since its release. It is a game that I have begged—literally begged—people to play. If this remake from developer Bluepoint games is weighed by expectations, mine are among the heaviest. I want this release to be good like I want the sun to rise tomorrow. And it is good. It is good. But from the second that I returned to the Nexus to just moments ago, two full runs of the game with a sprinkling of NG+ tomfoolery on the side, I am nagged by a singular thought:

Who is this extremely good game actually for?

This is an honest question. Bluepoint is a development house that is very good at remastering games, but this is no mere remaster—it's a total rebuild based on the original source code. Well, it is definitely for Sony. A launch title for a brand new, ultra-powerful piece of hardware is the best possible time to flex technical muscle, and the team at Bluepoint have not skipped leg days. Rubble and battlements in Boletaria look real enough to be picked up by your hand, while murky puddles in the dank underworld of Stonefang reflect just enough light. New weather effects for every area of the game enhance the mood without distracting from the superb level designs. If ever there was a game to show off your new PlayStation 5's prowess, this is it.

Demon's Souls looks spectacular on PS5. | Sony Interactive Entertainment

Still, pictures barely do this game justice. The original game had a frame rate that constantly fell below 30fps (some instances in the single digits), so the frame consistency while in performance mode, with seemingly every single object in the background subtly moving, is a marvel. With the variety of graphical filters, you can further suit the visuals to personal taste. All of this can be captured in a fantastic photo mode with enough robust options to keep you busy for months.

Beyond the visuals, though, much of the guts of the original have been left untouched. Indeed, the physics return largely intact from the original. Enemies and objects will occasionally clip through walls in tight spaces ever so slightly, to both the advantage and disadvantage of the player. Stats don't feel any different. Item placement is unchanged. The World and Character Tendency systems that stymied so many original fans have returned with zero adjustments. Yes, there is both item weight and equipment weight. This is the same game we've been playing for the last ten years, only much, much prettier.

Which begs the question: is this remake for the hardcore superfan? Well, sure. As a launch title for the PS5, it certainly feels like a make-good for that kind of player base, especially given Sony's handling of the original game's Western release. Yet, it takes a level of measure and control to not mess with some of the more busted aspects of the 2009 game. Bluepoint's Demon's Souls may be one of the most beautiful games ever made, but the enemy A.I. is dumb as ever, especially when it comes to the bosses. It's clear that Bluepoint didn't want to risk the wrath of the fans by fixing what worked, even if it was actually pretty broken.

That's not to say there aren't some differences, of course. Take poor Stockpile Thomas' dead wife and daughter, for example. In the original game, their bodies were simply generic human forms, their character models sharing the strange distinction of not having hands. Here in the remake, though, we clearly see two female bodies wearing the ragged peasant clothing that can be acquired from them. It's a great small detail.

Environments have likewise been fleshed out from the original game. The Valley of Defilement looks like an actual valley and no longer a black mass surrounding a swamp, lights peppering the cliffside walls where the unlucky inhabitants live. The towers in Latria sport lightning effects in the skybox, which occasionally light the prison for brief moments when they crack in the background. Haptic effects will never let you forget that the environment is a living thing. Demon's Souls always had a sense of place, but Bluepoint has found ways to give it a sense of feeling, which is a great achievement.

Bluepoint has also seen fit to add in some new content of its own. A late-game quest is now much more involved-to the point of needing to acquire a specific armor set to complete it. New consumables and adjusted item names are also sprinkled throughout (I never used them, so I can't speak to their practicality). As I write this, the fan community is still compiling the new mysteries that Bluepoint has dropped into the game. All of these are fine, really. At most, they're small gifts to returning players to tinker with that don't ultimately add much to the overall experience. At least, until we find out what's behind the secret new locked door.

Those with unfulfilled wishes for new content, like the fabled sixth Archstone world, will be satisfied by Fractured Mode, which flips the whole game in a mirrored direction. At first, I found this whole concept to be wrongheaded, as if Bluepoint had the time to implement something new to the game, why not simply use it for something, well, new? Having spent a few hours in it, though, I feel that Fractured Mode is a good compromise. Demon's Souls levels are intricately designed, and even after all of these years I still occasionally get a little turned around myself. Fractured Mode had my head spinning a few times, even in some of the more straightforward levels. I doubt that I'll come back to this way of playing the game often, but it's satisfying for what it is.

Some changes, meanwhile, have been controversial since the remake was first announced. In particular, it lacks the stark tone of the original release; the washed-out color palette that players know so well is instead available as a graphical filter. Buildings, armor and weapons are more opulent here, and not the brutal medieval designs of the past. While I don't necessarily find these offensive in any way, returning fans may not take kindly to them.

More jarring is Demon's Souls new sound design. Simply, everything is just louder in this remake, which runs contrast to the creeping quiet of the original game. The player character will grunt and pant with nearly every movement, even in their ethereal soul form. As a ground floor Souls believer, I found it distracting and occasionally irritating. All of the music has been rearranged as well, often making it more majestic than it needs to be. The Nexus themes in particular now have a more pious tone to them, complete with choirs, which, again, runs counter to the starkness of the original game. On a positive note, NPC dialog has also been re-recorded, and mostly for the better. Many of the original cast reprise a few roles, but the cast has expanded to tackle a revised script that adds clarity to what's happening around you.

All of these changes are a matter of taste, most of them geared toward the Demon's Souls beginner. So, is this remake for them? Probably, especially since much of the Souls-like fandom came long after the original's heyday.

Demon's Souls reimagines some old friends. | Sony Interactive Entertainment

These are the players who will most appreciate the quality-of-life improvements that the latter From Software games have implemented, never knowing how cumbersome the original game actually was. The biggest and best of these improvements is a functional piece of the PS5's tech: the snappy loading. Gone are the long wait times when dipping in and out of the Nexus for necessary post-boss errands, the load times between locations measuring in only a handful of seconds. Archstones in individual worlds can now be used for fast travel as well, and after killing an Archdemon, a key item is given to the player that will let them fast travel to any open node, cutting down on a lot of unnecessary running around found in the original game. As players can now reload areas at a nearby Archstone, they effectively work as Dark Souls bonfires to refill health and reload enemies for easy grinding, which is a spectacular addition.

All of this, along with minor upgrades like quickly climbing on ladders and repairing all of your equipment with a single button click, lowers the considerable barrier to entry posed by FromSoftware's games. You can even effectively pause the game now with photo mode, an addition that the diehards will call blasphemous but in reality is a fine decision.

What matters is that Bluepoint retains the core of Demon's Souls's appeal. Few games have such an atmosphere and sense of dread, even looking further down the generational line of the FromSoftware output. Still fewer games force players to come to terms with its own challenging, baroque design while also being perfectly amenable to being broken in half. This is a game about experimentation, about observant play, about learning and adapting on the fly.

As a structural outlier compared to the later FromSoftware games, it has always been free to be weird in its way while still building the framework of how further games would play. It is the forerunner of an entire decade's worth of game design philosophy, something that this remake lovingly preserves. Even at its most base, having this game in circulation with functional online capabilities is a sacred text that needs to be experienced, and the facelift serves to further sand off its rough edges.

Like the original release, and every game that it spawned in the decade that followed, Demon's Souls is a game about experiences. It's a game that you have to completely give yourself to for you to see any sort of real reward. This remake is that reward for longtime fans and curious newcomers. I will always be partial to the stylistic choices of the original game, but this is not a deal-breaker, and shouldn't be for anyone. Put in the work and soak in the world, and Demon's Souls can be for you, too.

The Demon's Souls is a gorgeous technical powerhouse. Fans may differ on stylistic aesthetic choices, but the core game remains the same challenging and precise experience. It's a perfect way to begin a new console generation for the core gaming set, and an all-time classic you will beg your friends to play.

4.5/5

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