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Geek Review: Demon’s Souls (PS5)

At some point in our lives, we’ve all encountered that one friend that left a lasting impression in our childhood, but somehow lost contact with them over the next decade or so. And then they reappear somehow later on in life, looking all dolled up and mature, but still the same, awesome person you’ve met all those years ago.

For many gamers, that perfectly sums up the Demon’s Souls remake on PlayStation 5.

After skipping the PlayStation 4, fans of the iconic PS3 game that came out in 2009 who might have missed out on the original have their prayers finally answered with this dazzling new remake by Bluepoint Games and Sony’s Japan Studio. And as a TL;DR of our review, let’s just say Bluepoint really blew (blue) it out of the water with this absolute stunner of a remake.

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First thing’s first — Demon’s Souls looks absolutely gorgeous on the PS5. Even if you weren’t a gamer, or a fan of this franchise, you’d be stopping to just admire the incredibly detailed and sprawling vistas this title has to offer. 

From the majestic yet forlorn halls and battlements of Boletaria, to the dark, dank depths of the Stonefang Tunnels, each location is just rife with character and atmosphere and looks nothing short of breathtaking. Yes, even the poisonous swamp of death that is the Valley of Defilement looks hideously awesome, what with its many dilapidated huts littered across a putrid pool of pustulence.

We totally understand if you happen to pause for a moment just to look around the various environments across the five different worlds, and maybe even dying in the process. The new processor and graphics card really did the classic game wonders, and even one who has played the original may even feel like they’re jumping into an entirely new game altogether, even if it’s only for the first few moments.

Going from the background to the foreground, character and monster models are also both beautiful and grotesque in all the best ways, as opposed to their more simple and primitive-looking counterparts from 2009 that now, by comparison, look like moving sacks of potatoes. Seeing their armour glint under the candlelight, or their cloth articles billow at the slightest gust of wind are nothing we’ve seen before in this era of games, but given how far Demon’s Souls has come in terms of visual fidelity, it’s like watching a kid all grown up and feeling proud for them.

However, the facial animations for human NPCs feel a little too overdone. In just one conversation with Stockpile Thomas in The Nexus, we saw at least five different facial animations in just one sitting to comical effect. It feels like Bluepoint tried a little too hard in the name of achieving photorealism in this game. But it’s something players will just have to get used to in this remake. 

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Regardless, Demon’s Souls is still really pretty to look at, and to have everything run at a smooth 60 frames per second? That’s the killer, right there. As slow and methodical the pace of this game is, it always helps to be able to look and move around as smoothly as butter. When moving around the hulking bosses such as the Tower Knight or Adjudicator and rolling to avoid their massive, sweeping attacks, it always pays to be able to react a hair’s breadth quicker due to the speedier framerate, which makes gameplay all the more enjoyable as a result.

And as a launch title celebrating the release of the PlayStation 5, how can we not talk about how Demon’s Souls utilises the DualSense controller? 

Let us first preface that while we can absolutely describe the feeling of the nuances of holding the DualSense while playing this game, it, like the rest of the PS5’s launch slate including Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Astro’s Playroom, is something you’d have to personally experience in order to suss it out for yourself. 

Every swing of the weapon feels impactful, and that is enhanced by the strength of the vibration applied by the motors in the DualSense controller, and this intensity varies depending on the weapon used. So a greatsword will feel massive and weighty compared to the faster, more subtle dagger. External effects such as lightning hitting a tree or flames nearly scorching your character can be felt with even more subtle rumbles on the controller, which truly make for a much more in-your-face sensation.

Even sounds such as hitting enemies or getting struck yourself are replicated on the internal speakers of the controller really well, so even if you’re playing the game while your TV is muted, you’ll still be able to literally hear the crunching impact of such elements literally in your hands. Sure, while one can just say it’s a series of varied rumble effects, it does make for a much more cinematic gameplay experience that, in a way, makes you feel almost as if you were the one holding the weapon or being hit by enemies in turn.

When we spoke to Japan Studio’s creative director Gavin Moore, he said that the hardest part about Demon’s Souls wasn’t actually the gameplay itself, but the ridiculously long loading times on the PS3 system. Those that played the original can certainly attest to this, having had to wait the upwards of 20 – 30 seconds just to get back into the thick of things after dying. 

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On the PS5, however, all that is almost gone! The processing power of the new console is really demonstrated to amazing effect here, and after dying to the Armor Spider for the umpteenth time, we were frustrated, but not because of the loading time, but because we couldn’t get our timing right when rushing in to hack away at it. 

The point we’re making here is that with the nonexistent load times, we could really focus on what matters at hand – “getting good” and familiarising oneself with the environment, the monsters and bosses, and not dying until reaching the next Archstone. Nothing kills momentum (and eventually, enthusiasm) more than having to wait before you try again. It’s like having to wait incessantly to get on a ride again when you’re the only one in line, and it’s awesome that Bluepoint found a way to practically eliminate that.

For new players especially, this is a great boon as it lets them get familiar with the Souls-like system of trying, dying, and trying again, as many folks would want to maximise their time playing on the PS5 (especially if they have kids). Other aspects that make this game so much more accessible than it previously was 11 years ago include eight-point rolling, which lets players roll diagonally in addition to the standard front/back/sideways rolling. The ability to climb ladders faster is also a welcome new feature too. 

These may seem small inclusions, but they’re actually massive improvements to the original overall, as it gives players much more freedom and control over their movements to be able to reposition themselves in fights and avoid death much more easily. Of course, this is complemented by the snazzy 60fps on the PS5, which makes the new player experience all the richer.

But of course, for all the amazing polish and gloss that Bluepoint has added to Demon’s Souls, the decision to port most of the original game’s code over to the PS5 means bringing the title’s every single quirk (good and bad) to the new console too. Most prominently, the sometimes erratic AI is back to haunt players once again. On the occasion, enemies will take a good two seconds to notice you’re within their attacking range, and by then, you’ve either darted past them to the next area, or have been reduced to nothing but a mass of Souls with which you can use to level your character up. 

The most problematic AI issues actually come with the bosses, which produce a good mix of frustrating and comical moments. The Flamelurker will sometimes hop from side to side as if it were dancing to some weird tune; the Maneater continues its notorious streak of being incredibly nasty to deal with because there is absolutely no way of telling just what it‘ll do — it can either floor you within seconds with a flurry of attacks with little telegraphing, or just roam around like a total idiot as you hack away at its form. 

Unfortunately, this AI pathing was something Bluepoint seemingly neglected, or didn’t have the resources for, or just wanted to leave there just as a tongue-in-cheek way of honouring the original down to a tee. Regardless of the reason, it has the potential to make for either hilarious or hair-pulling moments, depending on how (un)lucky you are when meeting with these issues.

Another point of contention regarding Demon’s Souls overall player experience is its pace, which, in our opinion as seasoned Souls-like fans, didn’t exactly age well, but that’s ultimately dependent on who is playing. 

When juxtaposing it against original developer FromSoftware’s much more recent titles such as Bloodborne. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and — dare we say it — even Dark Souls 3, all of which encourage some form of speed, tenacity and aggression in order to gain the upper hand in combat, it does feel like a step down in difficulty when coming back to Demon’s Souls. Enemy attacks feel sluggish and incredibly easy to read as a result, making going through the various levels feel like a breeze. This, of course, is assuming you’ve played at least one other game in FromSoftware’s rich history, or even other Souls-like games for that matter, and the genre’s godfather does feel like a dinosaur in that regard.

That is not to say that it’s an inherently bad thing, as this slower pace will benefit players who are just getting into the franchise with Demon’s Souls. This allows for newcomers to the genre to really hone their skills and instincts in getting by. The fact that players can freely travel across the five different worlds (at least after defeating the first boss, Phalanx) as they each have their own sub-levels with increasing difficulty makes for a much more varied player experience as one is free to pursue the game at their own pace, as opposed to having certain areas locked behind, well, locked doors and blocked paths in previous FromSoftware games. 

In a sense, Demon’s Souls serves as a great 101 for the entire genre, simply due to its more forgiving pace.

But when we say forgiving, it’s really only the slow speed at which most enemies attack that makes this game so. The original Demon’s Souls was notorious not just for its ridiculously long load times, but also its ridiculously complex death system. So when players die in the game, they respawn with half of their maximum health in Soul Form. To recover their Body Form (and their max health by extension), players either have to defeat a boss, or consume a Stone of Ephemeral Eyes (a rare item which can be found, bought, or dropped from specific enemies). 

Additionally, if players die too much in one area, it’ll affect the World Tendency of that location — a circle that, if turning black, will cause that entire world to spawn much tougher monsters. Fun times, right? But of course, as many hardened fans of the franchise are aware, it’s all part of what makes this game so fun. And again, owing to the technical achievements of the PS5, we were able to make the most out of our time improving the craft of not dying so much.

When all is said and done, Demon’s Souls is by far one of the best, if not the best, examples of what a console launch title should look and play like. Bluepoint Games really did a number on Hidetaka Miyazaki’s creative vision and beefed this title in ways none have anticipated even when the trailer first dropped back in June.

The remake plays to the technical strengths of the PlayStation 5, even on the DualSense controller, and though it is still pretty much the same game at its core, old players will be able to appreciate the amount of polish the game has received, even while retaining its original flaws. 

And most importantly, the fact that it still remains a PlayStation exclusive all the more makes owning a PS5 so much more significant, as it is a little piece of the platform’s (and FromSoftware’s) history that many will have to finally get to try in this console generation.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Demon’s Souls on PS5 is by no means a perfect game. After all, it retains everything that made the original so beloved, good and bad. But what Bluepoint Games has done here is really give the love letter that diehard PlayStation fans have been asking for for over a decade — to be able to play one of the most celebrated games on the PlayStation system once more in its full glory, and then some.

Overall
9.1/10
9.1/10
  • Gameplay - 9/10
    9/10
  • Story - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Presentation - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Value - 9.5/10
    9.5/10


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