10 years ago, Demon’s Souls was released and thought of as such a niche, unpopular offering that it led Sony to pass on publishing it outside of Japan. Humorously enough, it would go on to spawn one of the most influential game franchises of the 2010s.
On the advent of Sony’s latest console release, Demon’s Souls has come full circle. Still releasing exclusively on PlayStation, only this time around it’s the headliner and not the hidden gem. Beautifully realized, intriguing, and addictive as ever, the remake of Demon’s Souls is a testament to how maybe old dogs don’t necessarily need to learn new tricks to win best-in-show, but rather how a little grooming can go a long way.
What Is It?
A one-to-one remake of the PlayStation 3 classic rebuilt from the ground up, Demon’s Souls is all of that and then some. It’s exactly what you would expect out of a Souls game — create a character, choose a class, fight, grind, die, and revive to do it all over again. All the while, collect souls from the various demons you slay to level up certain attributes of your character however you see fit. Virtually everything from the original title makes a return, coupled with several quality-of-life updates, new items, and even new secrets sprinkled throughout that help define 2020’s Demon’s Souls as the definitive version of the game.
Why Should I Care?
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Demon’s Souls is how much it values player choice. You can choose how they look, what equipment they don, as well as what to improve about them when leveling up. Depending on what you decide to upgrade, all sorts of character builds are possible, allowing you to build a character that allows you to conquer this monumental challenge however you want to.
Having played Bloodborne prior, I initially tried to play Demon’s Souls with an offensive style in mind. My attempts at parrying and counter-attacking were generally hit-or-miss, and more often-than-not, I found myself either using way more healing items than desired or simply dying outright because I couldn’t get the timing down. I eventually decided that the risk involved with parrying wasn’t one I was willing to take, and opted for a more distant approach.
My solution to conquering each level, enemy, and boss, all while preserving my souls, was to build my character into an archer so I could pick enemies off from a distance. Should I have to engage in close combat, I’d ensure I came prepared with an upgraded dagger to perform backstabs with. All-out, direct combat was featured heavily in the promotional material for this game, but never factored into my gameplan, and the game never tried to push back, which colored me impressed. Being able to draw my own route to success allowed me to “get good” at the game, but on my own terms.
You can also see first-hand how other players are “getting good” through the online multiplayer. Charitable players may leave a blue marker laying around a level. Interact with it, and you’ll find yourself joined by an allied player, manifested in-game as a Blue Phantom. Once summoned, they help you conquer whatever challenge you wish. I found that the most interesting online encounters happen when you team up with someone whose character is the polar opposite of yours.
In my case, I summoned a Blue Phantom to assist me right before taking on the titanic Tower Knight, who is aided by a slew of archers stationed in high places. Utilizing my speed and ranged capabilities, I took out the archers quickly before raining arrows down on the boss. At the same time, my ally, donned in heavy armor and wielding a large sword, kept the Tower Knight busy on the ground, something that I certainly would’ve thought twice about.
Our two play-styles couldn’t be more different, but seeing them go hand-in-hand made for an incredibly valuable cooperative experience that felt a tinge bittersweet by the time it was over. Once the boss was vanquished, my ally returned to their own world, and I hardly had the chance to thank them. It’s not likely I’ll encounter them again, but the memory of tag-teaming the Tower Knight is one that is sure to stick with me.
And you, too, can be one of those nomadic players who assist those in need, or you could be something more malicious; opt to invade another player’s world as a Black Phantom, and you’ll find yourself with a perfectly good opportunity to ruin someone’s day. Fighting against other players is a thrilling, dynamic experience. My more patient tactics involving my bow-and-arrow weren’t nearly as fruitful against human-controlled opponents as they were against the enemy AI, which called for me to adopt some more unorthodox tactics. One encounter saw me trying to lure another player towards enemy infested areas to force distractions upon them, so I could go in for a backstab.
Being invaded can be just as exciting. It’s easy to execute a plan for getting through a level, but when someone invades you, or if there’s even the risk of someone invading you, it adds a layer of unpredictability to your experience that keeps you on your toes. However, it’s easy to see how this feature may be seen by some as more irksome than exhilarating. Fortunately, Demon’s Souls’ online features are all entirely optional, so if you don’t like the idea of someone barging in, taking your life, and possibly losing your precious souls, you can simply turn it off.
The concept of choice also bleeds into the levels you’ll explore. Akin to the design of a Mega Man game or even Super Mario 64, Demon’s Souls tasks you with conquering five different worlds, and it’s largely up to you what order to tackle them in. Having the option to swap between levels at will allows any challenge you face to seem just a little less daunting; if you’re having a tough time in one level, there’s little stopping you from simply trying to succeed in another one, and returning once you’re a little more powerful.
Each of these worlds also feature an alignment system — World Tendency, which dynamically adjusts the difficulty based on your in-game actions. Fighting off invading players and killing demons brings your tendency towards White World Tendency, which makes your enemies just a little weaker, giving you more of a fighting chance. The inverse is true for Black World Tendency; kill innocent NPCs, for example, and the game becomes substantially harder, however you’ll be rewarded with more souls for your struggles.
The World Tendency system seems like a fine way for players to further tailor their experience, but it’s also one of Demon’s Souls’ shortcomings. The game never explains this system in a concise, digestible manner, rather imploring you to figure it out as you go. But the game rarely gives you enough explicit feedback to help you understand what this system is or how it works; my full understanding of it only developed after reading a guide for the original game that had a breakdown of it.
Furthermore, for as much choice as Demon’s Souls offers, it fails to offer what could be considered the simplest one — an easy mode. As someone who enjoys the challenge of these games, I, personally didn’t mind this too much, but based on the discourse surrounding last year’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, it’s evident that Souls games alienate those who might otherwise be enamored by the games’ aesthetics or world, but either don’t want to, or in many cases literally can’t, deal with the challenge presented. As one of the headlining games at the front of a new console generation, it’s a shame that Demon’s Souls doesn’t seem interested in inviting all gamers to its next-gen welcome party.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Demon’s Souls is a game designed for multiple playthroughs. Immediately after you finish your first playthrough, you start right back at the beginning; this time around, every enemy is stronger, and every item, equipment piece, and soul you’ve gathered throughout your journey stays with you. In New Game+, you can keep building your character to your heart’s content, and as someone who felt a bond with the character I created, akin to how one might feel when it comes to their own Dungeons & Dragons characters, I’m looking forward to seeing the different ways in which I can continue developing my character.
If that’s not enough for you, or if you’re a Souls veteran who knows the original title like the back of your hand, then there’s always the new Fractured Mode. By making a large offering of souls, the entire game flips horizontally. I grew to know each level fairly well by the end of my first playthrough, but upon enabling Fractured Mode, I found myself completely thrown off, as I had to relearn each level’s layout all over again. It’s a seemingly small change, but it goes a long way towards adding replayability to this title.
As shocking as it is, Sony chose to put a Souls game out front and center at the dawn of the PlayStation 5, and I’d say their wager mostly paid off. This game does so much right, but when it stumbles, it falls hard. Its disregard for accessibility feels dated and opens up the door for all sorts of gatekeeping at the start of a new console generation, which is terribly unfortunate. Even so, it’s hard to deny how pitch perfect an experience this is. The emphasis on player choice and progressing on your own terms make every playthrough feel unique and tailored to your preferences. The changes made indicate that Bluepoint Games wasn’t merely interested in recreating, but rather rebuilding Demon’s Souls. Souls fans are sure to love it, and if you’re a newcomer, depending on your difficulty preference, you might too; just don’t be afraid to have a guide nearby before taking off across Boletaria.