11 years is a long time in the video game industry. In that time, games graphics have gone through several rounds of upgrades and the way games are made, to the way people play them have evolved considerably. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the love we have for certain titles. Maybe time has a funny way of making the heart grow fonder, but the good ones hold up against the test of time.
And with the Demon’s Souls remake coming to the PlayStation 5, a reunion of sorts is at hand. It’s definitely not the joyful reunion you see in romance movies, but even if you’ve never played this game or heard of it, you can probably relate to the similar feeling of getting back together with something familiar, and rekindling that long-lost relationship.
Except this one involves a lot of getting beaten to a bloody pulp, dying, getting up and trying again. Virtually, of course.
“We’d always wanted to do a remake of Demon’s Souls,” says Gavin Moore, Creative Director for Japan Studio confidently in a recent interview with Geek Culture.
“I mean, it’s the most beloved game in the PlayStation catalogue. It’s the one game that everybody will continually ask for a remake of. But we never felt that we could actually handle the challenge of Demon’s Souls [before]. And because it’s so beloved, we didn’t want to do any injustice at all. So it was only after we set the standard for a remake with Shadow of the Colossus on PlayStation 4, we felt that we could actually take on that challenge.”
One of the most beloved games in the PlayStation 3 generation, Demon’s Souls was somewhat of a cult favourite when it first launched in 2009. Back then, the phrase “Souls-like” never existed but now, it’s a bona-fide genre of its own. Somehow, gamers were enthralled with the prospect of taking on the daunting challenge of going at it against insurmountable odds in the form of demons, dragons, and all manner of horrific beasts with just a sword and shield, dying, and trying over and over again until they succeeded. That’s madness, some would say.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the video game landscape is somewhat different. While Demon’s Souls was the godfather of the Souls-like genre, it never really got the love it deserved unlike its spiritual successor, Dark Souls, did. But for those who grew up slaying beasts and getting slayed in the bowels of Boletaria in 2009, seeing it getting not just a remaster, but a full-blown next-gen overhaul, on the PlayStation 5, will feel like justice is finally served.
But for the team at Japan Studio, it wasn’t going to be a simple remaster that will do this game the justice it rightfully deserves.
“Obviously, the game is 11 years old. And the language of games and how we play games has changed in 11 years. And then obviously, with this exciting new generation console in the PlayStation 5, we really had to be careful that we didn’t just go, ‘Oh, we can do anything we like’, says Moore.
“We had to be careful about making sure that everything would change or everything that we create fits perfectly with the original vision of the game.”
Moore says that one of the biggest challenges in playing the original Demon’s Souls was not the dying, but waiting for the game to load again. Back then, the PS3 wasn’t exactly known for its quick load times and upon dying in the original game, or at least heading to a new location, folks could literally get up, make a cup of tea, and have some time to stretch before grabbing the controller for another go. It got to the point where it became a slog for many players who died frequently, and became “frustrating” to actually complete the game as a result.
With the new SSD on the PS5, which allows for load times to be cut down significantly, Moore is confident that players will get so much more out of an already incredible game simply due to the fact that they can get right back into the action without having to wait around for long periods again.
“The frustration with the original PlayStation 3 title was the difficulty that people perceived was not dying, as it is part of the experience. It’s the frustration of waiting for the game to load. It took minutes to load the game back in and you were just sitting there, thinking ‘I want my souls back, I want to take revenge’… and [the loading] made it feel very difficult, because then you would probably die again, and you have to wait again. So with the power of the new SSD, you can literally load straight back in and that frustration is gone. So the challenge doesn’t feel so difficult because of that,” said Moore.
While we couldn’t get too deep into the nitty-gritty of the PlayStation 5, another fundamental aspect of the new technology that Japan Studio and Bluepoint Games could work with was the new DualSense Controller. This controller essentially makes players feel as if they were the ones donning the armour and taking hits from enemies due to the enhanced haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, as well as the new integrated Tempest 3D audio that made the game that much more immersive.
Having playtested Demon’s Souls for a considerable amount of time now, Moore is happy to report that the enjoyment of the game is certainly more “incredible” due to the presence of the DualSense Controller.
“We really wanted to make the combat grittier and darker. But I knew I couldn’t change the cadence and timing of the animations, because that would change the gameplay. So using the haptic feedback [of DualSense], we can enhance the feeling of actually being in combat. So now you can actually feel when your sword hits the shield of your enemy, it feels like metal against metal in your hand. That’s incredible. You can feel the worst of a boss’s attack as it comes over the top of your head as you roll away; you can feel that air passing across you in your hand. That’s an incredible feeling that returns emotion to the gameplay experience.”
And of course, the 11 year gap has allowed for more tweaks to the game, brought about by the exploding popularity of the Souls-like genre in the last decade, that has seen developers from all across the globe trying their hand at adding something fresh to the genre and hoping it would stick. Japan Studio and Bluepoint Games have naturally picked up things from the industry that enabled them to enhance the Demon’s Souls journey, by giving players more ways to customise the way they play the game, without sacrificing its intended play experience.
As such, Moore explains that faster loading times are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to quality-of-life improvement returning players can expect out of the remake. Other new features coming to the remake include eight-point rolling, as opposed to four in the original, which makes for a much more dynamic and fluid style of play (and of course should result in less deaths), the ability to switch between a 30fps cinematic mode for those that want to literally want to take the scenic route in Boletaria, or a 60fps performance mode at a dynamic 4K resolution for folks who prefer to focus on not dying with more precise movement and controls, or want to try their luck at record-breaking speedruns.
This approach to making the Demon’s Souls experience that much more enjoyable and accessible also meant that the team dedicated a lot of love and effort to the true stars of the show: the bosses.
The trailer above sees an extended look at the player character squaring off against two of the game’s more memorable and popular monsters: the Armor Spider and the Flamelurker. To jog your memory a bit (though you probably didn’t need to depending on how much time you spent in the original), the former had to be fought in a narrow tunnel, where it would eventually spew cloud-like flames that would engulf the player in huge chunks of damage if they didn’t roll away in time. So it wasn’t just remaking the game from a graphical standpoint for Japan Studio; it was also utilising the technology available to them to convey gameplay elements in the best way possible, so players can have the smoothest gameplay experience possible.
Explains Moore, whose personal favourite boss in the remake is the greatsword-wielding Penetrator, “Originally, the Armor Spider had an attack where it used to kind of put out a gas cloud that would burst into flame. We’ve now replaced that with the oil that the spider kind of spits out onto the ground and it rushes towards you… Whereas on the PlayStation 3 version, it was a cloud so you didn’t know where the edge of it was, where it would hurt you or not. Yeah, where’s this liquid you know whether you’re in the liquid or not in the liquids You know, if you’re going to be saved, if you don’t know you’re going to be saved, and that adds more tension.”
But not all bosses were given such subtle yet meaningful changes, such as the aforementioned Flamelurker, as the team felt that the original design or other bosses were tight enough to be brought forward to the remake. As such, all they needed was a graphical overhaul, which made the fights against them much more cinematic and intimidating due to these new special effects and visuals.
“The Flamelurker is exactly the same, just because of the power of the PlayStation 5, and the way we’ve been able to have more effects and brush up all the animations. The animation timings are the same, as is the AI, in fact. He just becomes more threatening because we’ve redesigned him and added so many more polygons into him. He feels like he’s there and the effects are stunning. So when he hits the ground, things explode, and you’re thrown through the air like you were before, it just feels more impactful because of how we’re just exaggerating everything in that boss battle,” says Moore.
With a few weeks left until the PS5’s launch, many will no doubt be thrilled to know that Demon’s Souls is a launch title. And what better way than to celebrate the genesis of a new console generation than with the return of one of the most beloved games from Sony’s extensive catalogue? Whether it’s a whole community of returning players licking their lips at the prospect of returning to Boletaria, or an entirely new generation of players that didn’t get the chance to experience the original, Moore and Japan Studio are more than excited to get the game into their hands once it finally launches.
“As you said, Demon’s Souls really started a new genre of gaming. So it is the one game that I really urge everybody to pick up and play. And, hopefully, this version on the PlayStation 5, you’ll really see how much we’ve done. So it should not only attract players of the original PS3 game, but a whole new generation of gamers like yourself who didn’t play it at the beginning. And I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.”
Demon’s Souls launches exclusively on the PS5 on 12 November.
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.