Souls games are all about paying attention and learning. Figuring out how enemies work, where they are, and what the layout of each area is like. The unhelpful mantra of “git gud” is often said but the real wonder of Souls games is the scrappy moments that happen when you barely make it through a fight.
Demon’s Souls kickstarted the Souls series and the remake from Bluepoint sticks closely to what made it work originally. Its upgrades though show the power of the PS5 superbly.
The Importance of Worldbuilding
At a basic level, the story of Demon’s Souls is that you’re someone that has been brought to a kingdom to help defeat an evil. Things happen and you are trapped in a loop of life and death.
Dive deeper though and Demon’s Souls tells so much of its story without really saying anything. It sets things up at the start with some cutscenes and a tutorial level and then kind of leaves it up to you to do the rest. There’s not much in the way of quest markers once you’re past the tutorial. It’s all kind of open for you to digest as you see fit.
Yet when you’re on your travels exploring there are so many things you can stumble upon. Whether it’s a nonplayable character in the hub area of The Nexus that you didn’t see at first or a random person hidden in a room off the beaten path, the world of Demon’s Souls says so much without the need of any dialogue.
Whereas most games hit you with wave after wave of cutscenes and talking Demon’s Souls says most of what it has to say without a word. A flaming tower, an item description or the gradual change of an area’s surroundings tell you everything you need to know.
Notes left by other players help add more to the world too. They feel like helpful advice left from a spirit that made a mistake and learned from it… which is kind of exactly what they are. Bloodstains also tell you how players made their grisly demise, which can help you not make the same mistake.
On more than one occasion I found myself looping around an area trying to figure out where to go next. Slowly growing more and more frustrated but also absorbing myself in the world further. Finding new things each time. It gripped me and led me to not wanting to put the controller down because I needed to find more. I needed to understand more.
Graphics and Sound Design
Demon’s Souls looks fantastic. It has a few odd moments with models clipping a bit or getting stuck on scenery but these moments are few and far between. The way the models look, the way the lighting bounces and the care taken in the level design means everything just pops.
Some of this is down to the base work done by FromSoftware in the original game but Bluepoint has really elevated it to the next level. This is the best a Souls game has ever looked. The amount of variety in each world also means that each section feels different.
It’s not just how the game looks though, the sound design is also top-notch. Clashes of steel, haunting wails and everything else helps make Demon’s Souls totally absorb you. Especially when coupled with the worldbuilding and gameplay loop.
Demon’s Souls is the Souls game that kickstarted the series. In its original form, it was a bit clunky. The remake makes movement feel much smoother and the game is much better for it. Running through areas, locking onto enemies and even the awkward platforming sections all feel improved too.
The main loop of the game you’ll find yourself in is trying to survive long enough to open a shortcut, trigger a boss area or just collect some souls to level yourself up. How do you collect souls? Defeat enemies or find them as items. There’s a constant gamble to pushing on through an area when you have a high amount of souls. Why? Because if you die you temporarily lose them.
If you can get back to where you were without dying you’ll get them back. Sometimes this leads to organic quests occurring when you’ve gone exploring and lost your souls. Even though you know it’s not necessarily the right way to go to get them back it’s up to you whether or not the souls are worth the detour.
Getting back to where you were may not sound too difficult but there’s also the slight issue of enemies respawning. Every time you die the enemies you have defeated come back. This is where the key gameplay loop of Demon’s Souls comes in. It’s all about learning enemy tactics, learning where traps are and… well… learning.
In many ways Demon’s Souls is classic game design. Redo a level until you know what everything does well enough to complete the said level. Due to the speed of loading in Demon’s Souls though the “annoyance” of death is far less. It’s the improvements of loading that really help the Demon’s Souls remake. The game sets you up to fail repeatedly and failure isn’t a bad thing but it used to be a very time-consuming thing. Now you can jump back in and be ready to go again in a matter of seconds.
There’s plenty of weapons, armour and items to experiment with, ways to level yourself up and things to find. The game rarely tells you everything you need to know so experimentation is key. Combat is satisfying and there are plenty of ways to approach fights differently.
There are even hints (sometimes misleading ones) left by other players to help you. It makes the world feel more alive. Being able to summon other players to your world to help you, or have them appear to hinder you, adds another layer that makes nothing ever quite feel the same. It also means that you really feel a sense of community when someone helps you out on a section you’ve struggled with.
With so much variety and such a satisfying gameplay loop, Demon’s Souls is a game that will keep you coming back for a long time.
There are no difficulty options in Demon’s Souls and there are plenty of variables that can randomly make things harder. The game is kind of helped by enemies always being in the same place, so you can at least learn that but their attack patterns are not always the same.
The start of the game offers some of the accessibility options the game has. It allows you to adjust brightness, contrast and saturation settings and the general language you’ll see in the menus (of which there are multiple options). You can also choose your voice language, subtitles language and subtitles, which can have backing. Unfortunately, there are no size options for the text.
If you dive into the main options on the menu screen you can turn on HUD backing, choose protanopia, deuteranopia, or tritanopia options for colourblindness and more. This includes adjusting motion blur, changing visual filters, audio levels and camera settings.
I’m not the world’s biggest Souls fan and yet I’ve still found Demon’s Souls a fascinating experience. It has allowed me to go at my own pace. Timidly stepping into rooms with my shield raised and spear ready I’ve been able to gradually claw my way forward.
Even stepping into fights unprepared hasn’t meant immediate death. The improved controls and general experimentation has meant I’ve succeeded on many occasions when I really should’ve failed. It made those moments feel like a victory that I truly worked towards.
Demon’s Souls is absorbing. A superb experience that will truly engross you from the start if you let it. It’s difficult and yet still enjoyable at the same time. Improved load times mean that the more spaced out checkpointing in the game is far less of a problem than it used to be.
It has a few small problems. On notes left by others in the world the text overlaps with the numbers on some occasions. There’s also a few moments of clipping or enemies acting oddly but these small problems aren’t enough to lessen the impact of Demon’s Souls.
Whereas some remakes try to add in new things the Demon’s Souls remake seems to work more on making itself the best it can be whilst staying true to the source material. It succeeds in doing so.
Featured Image Credit: Bluepoint Games
Reviewed on PS5. Code for review provided by PlayStation