In 2009, when gaming was just beginning to toy around with deeper characterization, more nuanced storytelling, and vast Hollywood budgets, FromSoftware’s Demon’s Souls dared to be unconventional. Its ambiguous mechanics, cryptic story, and brutally difficult combat were not only utterly compelling on their own, but actually spawned a new subgenre entirely. Now, eleven years later, Bluepoint Games has revived this pioneering adventure for the launch of the PlayStation 5, and I’m thrilled to answer your biggest question first: Yes, it’s really damn good.
Bluepoint is no stranger to revisiting classic titles, but whereas their beloved 2018 Shadow of the Colossus remake was a nearly 1:1 recreation with enhanced graphics, they’ve opted for a slightly different approach with Demon’s Souls. Here, they’ve prioritized modernizing the overall experience, such as redesigning the camera, adding some attack animations, and replacing four-directional movement with omnidirectional movement. Everything feels smoother to control as a result, and you can switch between a 4K/30fps fidelity mode and a 2K/60fps performance mode to allow for even more fluidity.
Otherwise, the game’s core remains virtually untouched, leaving enemy AI, bosses, and locations intact. You still find yourself in the kingdom of Boletaria where you’re bound to a central hub known as the Nexus, a strange and somber temple that houses five Archstones, which teleport you to unique biomes to overcome. But while the level layouts are identical to their PlayStation 3 counterparts, it’s not an exaggeration to say that – despite largely taking place in such locales as gloomy swamps, dark and claustrophobic caverns, and labyrinthine castles – this is one of the most beautiful games ever made.
This visual revamp means that some areas look nearly unrecognizable – in a good way – with immaculately-detailed assets and completely new environmental flourishes to help you feel as though you’re inhabiting a living, breathing world. It’s astonishing to behold how a once bland and lifeless castle interior is now teeming with overgrown vegetation and crumbling archways accentuated by stunning lighting and reflections, or how lightning strikes a tree in the distance and sets it ablaze as you wander across a perpetually storm-ridden island. I could never go back to the original game after seeing the splendor of this enhanced version of Boletaria.
This all extends to NPCs and enemies, too, and it’s most notable in the end-of-level battles you have to tackle to open new locations within each Archstone. There are a few easy and mundane showdowns that disappoint, but from giant flying gargoyles and hulking fire spiders to fast-moving humanoids, the majority of bosses in Demon’s Souls are exceptionally well-designed, and their gorgeous aesthetic redesigns make them feel almost like new encounters at times. I’m not ashamed to admit that I occasionally died from simply staring in awe after passing into a boss room.
Of course, dying is unavoidable for most players, because Demon’s Souls is filled to the brim with horrifying creatures and environmental hazards that desperately want you dead. Journeying through the game’s oppressive levels requires patience, rewarding you for analyzing your opponents and studying your surroundings before and during engagements – lest you make a wrong move, die, and drop all of your earned experience, leaving you with only one opportunity to retrieve it before it’s gone forever.
Your goal is to reduce your chances of that happening by practicing the delicate dance of managing your stamina to attack, block, and roll to avoid damage during conflicts. Like other games in the genre, you can level a variety of stats to best suit your playstyle, amass a collection of weapons that can be upgraded using unique materials, and obtain magic spells that allow you to attack from a distance or heal yourself – but it doesn’t matter how hard you try, Demon’s Souls is an unforgiving title, and death will prove to be an inevitable part of your growth as a player.
That’s why newbies and genre enthusiasts alike will be equally appreciative of how Demon’s Souls makes use of the PS5’s blisteringly fast SSD. There are no load screens at all – respawning from death and loading into new areas is instantaneous. In a game where momentum is paramount, this ensures that when you get beaten down by a nasty boss, you’re back in and ready to seek your revenge before you lose your adrenaline or confidence.
If things get too overwhelming for your skill level, however, you can always find summoning signs laying around the levels that will allow you to summon up to two friendly players willing to help you tackle an insurmountable section of the game. Just be aware that while you’re online, you can be invaded by other players looking to slaughter you, too. Succeeding in such PvP encounters requires plenty of tenacity and mastery of your build, but it can be immensely rewarding and adds a lot of longevity to the game.
Demon’s Souls makes excellent use of Sony’s new DualSense controller, too, using haptic feedback to engross you in all of that fighting even further. Timing the perfect parry to set yourself up for a riposte is satisfying enough on its own, but it’s astounding how the tactile sensation of metal on metal can inform you of your success even before it registers with you visually. It’s a very difficult thing to convey to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but once you’ve played the game with such enhanced feedback options, it feels considerably less impactful to play with them turned off.
Even with all these fantastic new upgrades, though, I’ll admit that I’m annoyed that there weren’t changes made to Demon’s Souls’ obnoxious inventory encumbrance, which weighs your character down based on how many items you’re carrying at the time – a divisive feature that thankfully didn’t return in later games. Being unable to pick up and use things I found along the way because of some arbitrarily-imposed limit on my capacity only served to irritate me rather than make me think critically about anything meaningful. Items that can’t be held at the time can be picked up and sent to storage, but that only shines a brighter light on the fact that it’s a logically inconsistent and pointless mechanic to begin with.
Still, though I might’ve preferred the remake make some more substantial modifications to some of its outdated features, I can nevertheless respect that the developers walked a smart line between making minor alterations and implementing drastic overhauls that might have undermined the integrity of Demon’s Souls as the idiosyncratic and intriguing black sheep of the Souls franchise. Indeed, it’s that very careful application of new features to the framework of the original game that makes this such a familiar yet enthrallingly fresh adventure from beginning to end.
Demon’s Souls is not a fundamentally flawless game, and this revision doesn’t seek to fix every blemish, but make no mistake – Bluepoint deserves a standing ovation for their achievements here. Veterans will love that this definitive version allows us to finally witness Boletaria how we imagined it so many years prior, and newcomers now have a more polished and accessible way to experience a title that changed the landscape of gaming forever. Whatever your history with Demon’s Souls, this is a marvelous game to help you welcome the PlayStation 5 into your life.
This review is based on the PS5 version. A copy was provided to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment.